Frontiers Records: A melodic passion

Frontiers Logo

Most of the time, in the world of music, the word “fan” is associated with people who like an artist. It’s less often associated with a record company, a commercially-minded entity that provides a base for musicians who come and go (almost) as they please. And yet, it is that very word that Mario De Riso, marketing director of Frontiers Records, uses to talk about the people who show an interest in his label as a whole. And it’s precisely to kindle these fans’ passion that the record company has decided to create their own festival, the Frontiers Rock Festival, whose second edition took place at Trezzo’s Live Club, near Milan (Italy), on April 11th and 12th.

There’s nothing surprising there: Frontiers Records are one of those labels that have built an actual trademark, a true individual spirit. Hard rock, classic rock, AOR, so-called melodic rock and metal, even heavy metal with 80s roots and a certain fringe of progressive rock – that’s the DNA of the Frontiers Records stable. Some people have grown attached to this line of conduct, and they trust the label to discover new talents or follow certain big names.

We were lucky to conduct an exclusive interview with Mario De Riso ahead of the festival to talk about the big event, but also about the label, its spirit, and its favorite music, to try and understand better what Frontiers Records stands for.

Mario De Riso & David Coverdale

« The festival is also a proof that we’re not afraid to dare and try new avenues to promote the music that we work with. »

Radio Metal: What triggered this idea of a Frontiers Rock festival in the first place?

Mario De Riso : Frontiers Records general manager is Serafino Perigino and he’s also the A&R person of the label, and one day he basically came to the office and said: “I really wish to do a live event which can create more enthusiasm and interest among the fans of the label.” One of the things that we’re trying to build up more and more these days is to have a profile of a label that offers several services to the hard rock, melodic rock and melodic metal fans. We thought that we needed to complete the offer, not only by, of course, releasing records every months but also trying to promote the label and a lot of the artists that are important to the label and for various reasons are unable to perform live shows in Europe. So last year we made a big effort to launch the festival. It was three days. Unfortunately, because of different date and situation problems that forced us to anticipate the show to early April, we can offer only two days this year. But we thought that this was a good setup, so I think for the future it’ll be similar.

And what are the reasons for having the dates changed from May to April?

The reason had to do with the fact that Milan was chosen to host the International Expo, which begin the 1st of May, which was exactly the date that the festival started last year. In order to make the costs more manageable, particularity for the groups and for us but also for the fans that would attend, we had to anticipate the festival in April, because otherwise we would have to postpone it after October which we thought wasn’t a good thing to do.

Last year was the first edition of the festival. A first edition of a festival is very difficult since you start from scratch. How did it go?

I think it went really well. It was a new spirit for everyone who was involved in it. I think people were really happy. We saw a lot of smiling faces when they left the building and really we had a ton of requests to make it happen again, because last year, to be honest with you, we didn’t really know if there was going to be a follow up or not. But, you know, the fans wanted a follow up and we give them a follow up. They said “we wanna have this sort of event once every year”, so we try to give them this event once every year. We even had requests to have this festival in France or Germany or UK. Maybe we’ll move it! Maybe we’ll make it a little bit different next time. Who knows? We’ll see! Why not? I mean, I know that there are tons of fans in France, in Germany and UK, and not everyone can afford to come over to Italy. Maybe it’s a little bit more difficult to organize over there but it’s something that we can consider, and we’ll see what happens. Certainly it’s something that helps a lot to create awareness for the label and the products that we have.

Did you learn some lessons from this first edition, for this new one?

Yes, absolutely. Bear in mind that running a record label and organizing a festival are two completely different jobs. We had to learn everything from scratch! We didn’t know how to do this thing. We made certain mistakes, for sure. We’ll try to fix everything that we saw was a mistake and that people brought to our attention as being a mistake. We’ll try to give people a better service this time.

How do you choose the bands that will play on the festival? Is it exclusive to frontiers bands?

Yes, it’s only for Frontiers bands. It’s a mixture of reasons why certain bands are brought over and others not. Basically, we try to have the bands that have albums being promoted around the event. For instance we have two albums from Jim Peterik and from FM which will be available for the first time at the festival, while they will be delivered to the shops one week after. We’ll give the fans the possibility to purchase these albums at the festival before the official release date. There are also bands that are going to perform who have albums that have been recently released or that are going to be released within the next few weeks or months. I’m thinking of Harem Scarem that have had a new album in December, Joe Lynn Turner who had an album with Rated X released in November or House Of Lords that will have a new album in June 2015.

Was it important for you to put the accent on some hard rock heroes that aren’t as popular as, let’s say, AC/DC and that the youngest generation may not know?

We try to choose bands that, first of all, we like, that play the music that we like. Secondly we look at what is realistic and possible to do. Of course we would be delighted and love to sign AC/DC for a new album, however they have a strong contract signed with someone else [laughs], which I think is Sony at the moment. So obviously it’s not possible. You have to bear in mind that a lot of the bands that have released records with Frontiers in the recent years used to have major deals but after grunge exploded in the nineties, they lost their major recording deal, so they had to become independent. Now Frontiers is in a position to offer them a service which offers the best of both worlds, given the fact that we have major distribution in several territories and we’re still a small, reliable and independent service with a very personal relationship with the artists, each distributer and marketing person that is working for the label. So this is probably one of the reasons that make Frontiers a successful entity on the market these days.

Frontiers Records

« When I started this job […] we seemed to be like lepers, people that were kind of put in the second-drawer or that were trying to do something with music that seemed to be completely dead! »

Frontiers is a label that is dedicated to hard rock and melodic rock. How has the audience of this type of music evolved during the last decades, considering the fact that extreme metal bands are getting more and more popular?

You have to bear in mind that when I started this job – that was in late 1997 – and working with this music, we seemed to be like lepers, people that were kind of put in the second-drawer or that were trying to do something with music that seemed to be completely dead! At the time, as you said, all the extreme metal bands were very popular and were selling a lot. Probably the most melodic things that were popular at the time were power metal bands, like Angra or Stratovarius. So what we managed to achieved during the years is credibility; credibility for the music and for the business that we offer to everyone. We gained a lot of respect in the various areas where we try to make business. And certainly the festival is also a proof that we’re not afraid to dare and try new avenues to promote the music that we work with. We certainly need to make more steps in the live circuit, for the live scene, for the classic rock, melodic rock and the heavy metal of the 80s in a way. So this is what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to build more interest, more enthusiasm. We’re trying to get more in touch with the fans. One of the most beautiful things that happened last year was the fact that we could literally speak in person with the fans. I mean, bear in mind that we’re based in southern Italy and there’s not a big scene over here, so you only talk to people via email or sometimes on the phone, but you don’t manage to meet them. So it was a great opportunity for us to have a thousand people gathering and coming to us and say: “Why don’t you sign this band?” Or: “Why don’t you bring this other band?” And get ideas, and get the enthusiasm, have the feeling of what the fans want and have the fans feel what we’re trying to do for them. I think we have achieved a lot during these years and we’re still going to do more and more for this music.

The seventies and the eighties are considered as the heydays of melodic and hard rock music. At that time, bands like Toto, Journey or Survivor ruled the airwaves and played in the biggest venues. Do you feel nostalgic for this era? Do you think that hard rock was at its peak back then?

“Nostalgic” isn’t the right word. Essentially, I think that the highlights of this music were achieved in this timeframe that you mentioned. I mean, hard rock music, melodic rock music, FM rock like they call it in France or even heavy metal probably had the best albums in this timeframe between 1970 and 1990, or probably a little bit more than that. Probably being creative is difficult but that said, I think that we managed to keep a good quality and what we have been doing is absolutely credible, and think that a lot of bands are still credible nowadays. I’m thinking about Toto that’s coming up with a really brilliant new album or the big bands like Journey or even Whitesnake. I’m also thinking about the latest Winger record that shows the great instrumental capabilities of the musicians. I think that a lot of these guys do have something to prove and to show the world. And in all frankness, I believe that these guys also have a future, regardless of the fact that a lot of them are in their late fifties or even sixties.

What are the current bands that will be considered as legends in ten or twenty years, in your opinion?

That’s a very good question. Sometimes it’s very difficult to measure what is going to be very popular in a few years. One of the discussions that we’ve had about this topic was a few months ago, with the head of our US office Derek Shulman who used to be a singer for a band called Gentle Giant in the seventies and he later became an A&R for several major labels, he had signed artists like Bon Jovi, Dream Theater and Slipknot. So he has seen a lot of thing over the years and he was also wondering: “What are going to be the legends in ten or fifteen year?” I don’t know! It’s difficult… Probably mainstream bands like Muse could be one of those. In our music, what I can say is that for what we’ve done, after a few years you realize that there are people that have certain records in their heart and these records become some sort of classics, even though you probably don’t even realize that when you work on the market, when you release these records or when you hear them for the first time. I think it’s very much up to the people, to the fans and the public at the end of the day. We’ll see. I really don’t know. On the other hand, I can certainly say that it’s somehow frustrating to see that a lot of the fans, a lot of people still go back to the usual names and don’t even try to put faith in or to give trust to new bands or new music. So we’ll have to see, of course. Only time will tell what’s going to be popular.

What’s interesting about hard rock is that this style of music manages to survive throughout the years and the different trends. Would you say that hard rock music is timeless and that it will survive, no matter the trends?

Yes, absolutely. I think so. I think it’s timeless because it has everything. I think it can go through changes, of course, it’s normal. It goes through different trends but it’s going to stay, absolutely. It has stayed for several years now, probably since the sixties. So I don’t think it’s going to just fade away. There’s no reason why it would because all of the old styles of music are going to stay. It would be the same question for, I don’t know, dance music or pop music or blues, whatever, it’s always going to stay. The demand for the music will always be there, regardless of the fact that the music industry’s not in a good shape right now or that fans are not listening to records anymore but downloading or streaming the music. It’s certainly something that is going to stay.

What are you the most proud of with Frontiers Records? Any band signature that meant a lot to the label?

Yeah, there are certainly a few. Probably I should mention Toto, which for a number of reasons is a signature release for the label and it’s probably the biggest band that we have on the label together with Whitesnake. Probably these bands are the two “flags” for the label in a way, one in the classic hard rock and the other one in the most melodic rock area. Probably also for the taste of the people involved in the label I should mention the band Journey. There are plenty of other bands that we love that have released albums that were extremely important for the label. I may also include one of the geniuses of pop music who’s Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra which was an incredibly important release for the label a couple ago ; it basically brought two releases at the same time in the top 10 in UK, which was a massive result for a small independent label. So I would mention those and if you asked me something more in metal, I would have to say Primal Fear or Jorn. These guys are certainly some of the best names nowadays in metal music.

Mario Serafino Kip Winger

« It’s somehow frustrating to see that a lot of the fans, a lot of people still go back to the usual names and don’t even try to put faith in or to give trust to new bands or new music. »

What does it take to convince bands like Whitesnake or Toto? What do you think made the difference for these bands that are used to really big record companies?

These bands used to be major, of course, but we are in a position to offer them the quality of a major service, particularly on the sales, but still in the environment of an independent and small label. That’s what they like because David Coverdale or Steve Lukather can call or email at any time Frontiers’ office and speak to the management in real time so they can ask for things. They can have a direct relationship with the marketing of their releases, which is something that they like. They prefer to have it like this these days. They don’t like to deal with people that come and go like in major companies where you have thousands of people that take care of this or that and no one is really responsible for what they’re doing. It’s something that they really bore in mind when they signed with Frontiers.

The venue you chose for the festival, the Live Club, has a responsible and sustainable management of resources and energy. Do you feel close to this ethic?

Absolutely, yes. I mean, it’s a positive thing. The venue is really one of the best that you can find in Italy and certainly this ethic is something that we’re on the same side of. I mean, we live on this planet and we have to take care of it as much as we can. Beside this, it is a really beautiful venue, it has a great sound, it has a lot of room for everyone and there’s also a really nine area on the outside, so if there’s a nice weather, people can also relax outside the venue during the two days. And there’s a restaurant inside and outside the venue, you can also go outside have something to eat. So I think it’s very nice and very well arranged and organized. It’s very close to the highway. I think that if you drive or wanna come over by car, it’s the best option, or if you travel by train or plane, there’s either a shuttle service that is arranged by the venue that’s driving you back to Milan, in the city, or surely you can rent a car to just drive and come to see us.

Do you already have some ideas on how you could expand the festival?

Yes, as I said, there are several ideas. There are several possibilities and we don’t rule out anything. At the moment we are talking with people interested in bringing this festival to Germany. It’s something that might be happening before the end of the year in Germany. If it happens, we’ll try to make some sort of announcement, probably, at the festival, so that a few of the real support might even consider coming over to some other place.

What can you tell us on Frontiers’ future?

I don’t have a clue! I don’t know [laughs]. We‘re here to stay! What can I say? If the fans still wanna hear some music, if they still want to support the people that are working every day, trying to bring this music to the masses, to the people, we’ll be here to stay for a long time. Let’s rock the house! [Laughs]

What artist would you dream to have on board?

There’s a fairly long list… If we just talk about dream bands, it’s a list that might include, I don’t know, Van Halen or AC/DC. I personally have a soft spot for progressive music also, so I would say that the dream would be to have a Genesis reunion. I would love to see a Rainbow reunion, that’s something I would really love to happen, even though, of course, Cozy Powell and Ronnie James Dio are not with us anymore but at least Joe Lynn Turner could do something again with Richie Blackmore. Some of the biggest dreams are in these names that I gave you.

You’re role in Frontiers is Marketing Director, Sales & Distribution Manager and legal affairs, but do you play music sometimes?

No, I don’t play. I tried to play some guitar when I was fourteen or fifteen years old but I just quit because I thought it wasn’t for me. Music is something everyone can enjoy, regardless of the fact that one plays or not any music. In this office we do have a couple of musicians, people that can play music but we are mostly music listeners. I don’t think that I’m missing anything from the enjoyment side. Certainly if I could play some music, I would have tried to become a musician, for sure. But at the end of the day, it’s fine as it is. It’s just fine to be in this environment and try to be creative as much as we can, regardless of the fact that we play or not music.

Interview conducted by phone 5th, march 2015 by Philippe Sliwa.
Retranscription, traduction and introduction: Nicolas Gricourt.

Frontiers Records official website: www.frontiers.it.
Frontiers Rock Festival official website: www.frontiersrockfestival.com.

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