I've spoken before about Sangreal Records when I was highlighting the release of the Anghell/Bitchcraft LP the label released. Once I chatted a bit with owner Alejandra Amalia, and gushed over the bands she has introduced me to, I knew I wanted to learn more. I love the label and I love that she does not come across as a music elitist. Her knowledge of underground punk and metal as well as the history of the Detroit music scene is worthy of her having her own podcast or book. Until then, we got an interview with her to talk more about the label and to give us a insight on Detroit's well-known music scene which is still going strong today due to people like herself.
Tell us about yourself and how you got into becoming an independent label owner. Had you been/are you a musician?
I was born and raised in Detroit. Pretty early on in my youth I became fascinated with bands like Black Flag, The Stooges, The MC5 and The Ramones. I started to seek out more contemporary local punk culture. I became involved with some of the D.I.Y. show spaces and started setting up shows, flyering, working the door at gigs and stuff like that. I never was much of a musician but was always kind of looking to be around heavy and raw music. When I got a bit older a really dear friend and member of a band called Pirate Law was facing some very scary and unjust federal charges. In general, I’m not a very talented person but I found I had a really strong knack for winning writing and academic scholarships at the university I attended. I had more than I needed to cover my tuition as a result. Because I had a little extra income at the time I decided to approach four local metal punk bands who were also friends with my buddy facing prison time. What I proposed was that we release a four way split record as a benefit for our friend’s legal expenses and a sign of support. That record was called The Filthiest of Apocalyptic Detroit and featured Shitfucker, Perversion, Anguish and Reaper. All of these groups had a strong connection to punk and the D.I.Y. ethos of it so there was a lot of willingness to help. I genuinely consider that release to be the result of everyone’s efforts not just in laying down the tracks but in overseeing every aspect of production. My friend Tim, who was in Shitfucker and Reaper was doing the layout and asked for a label name to put on the jacket. I considered that comp to be a one off project but pulled a name off the cuff just to have something to put on the jacket . That project really kind of captured what the landscape of the metal scene was right before Detroit started to rapidly change. I never planned on doing additional releases but I developed a pretty strong passion for putting out records after the F.O.A.D. compilation.
It seems like hard rock and street punk are your favorite genres.
What is the label’s philosophy when choosing bands to release? Are there certain criteria that you gravitate toward?
I release bands that I am a fan of. The common denominator in all of them is that they have roots in metal and punk. They all subscribe to a tradition of dirtier and more traditional recording styles rather than having sterile or overproduced sensibilities. I really don’t care how cool or how big a band’s following is so long as they have a genuine spirit of metal or punk; they make music that is extreme in some capacity, and are not out there trying to commercialize a trend.
The label was once called Bitchy Witch Records, and you had releases from the likes of Shitfucker, Anguish and Perversion just to name a few. Then you changed the name. Was there a significant reason for this?
I changed the name from Bitchy Witch Records because I felt that it was evocative of some heavily used tropes. Bitchy Witch was a super generic name that sounds like 100 other metal labels, songs, etc. Basically, it’s really easy to forget. Plus, there is a popular social media presence in underground metal who goes by a really similar name. I wanted to prevent confusion.
Is releasing music from women important to you or is it something that just happens? Some labels focus on this, but you have a nice mix of the genders.
Until 2019 there was not a single woman on the label, sadly. Metal is generally a huge sausage fest so it seemed sort of inevitable that the label’s releases would feature mostly men. As time wore on, I actually found it to be really discouraging that there was not a single woman on the label. Detroit doesn’t have much female participation in terms of those who make metal music. I started to feel like maybe I was part of the problem if I wasn’t including them on the label. My concern wasn’t so much representation--I’m not very interested in identity politics. What I do fear is stagnation and uniformity on the label as the result of having only one type of perspective creatively expressed. I actually began to keep my eyes open for bands where the instrumentalists and song-writers were women making heavy music. Shortly after I came across Bonestripper, located in Cali, which is all female/non-male (one of the members is non-binary conforming).
Bonestripper are one of the bands you have released. In fact, you introduced their music to me! How did you find them, or did they find you? Do you have plans to work with them again in the future?
It was a stroke of good luck that Bonestripper and I found each other. An online friend posted a picture of them and said they were looking for a label to release their demo. The pic was a group of women/femmes dressed in fetish leather and really pushing the envelope with the sexual shock appeal aspect. It takes one hell of a backbone to play a show with your tits out but there they are doing it. I listened to their demo and it was really dark and primitive and noisy, in the vain of Hellhammer. It’s exactly a perfect fit for me. I’d love to work with them again in the future if they’re down for it! We don’t have anything set in stone as of yet but I definitely hope so.
You are based in Detroit and the music scene there is legendary. What is the scene like nowadays? I’ve noticed a lot of the bands you release are Detroit based.
I have a tremendous amount of pride in my city and of our music legacy, which has a lot to do with why I choose mainly Detroit-based bands to release. There is a specific way that Detroit shows up in music. For the band Anguish (who is a mainstay of Sangreal Records) there’s a really strong tribute to N.W.O.B.H.M in their sound and an element of just plain blues driven rock n roll. Detroit I think shares a creative thread with what some of the industrialized areas and working class bands of England have contributed to punk and metal--bands like Amebix, Discharge, Diamond Head, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest. These bands from different eras and different countries are connected by origins of bleak, natureless, poor places with a lot of violence and only a little opportunity. Anguish is one of a few bands on the label who really captures that for me. The band Reaper, who I love so much and is featured on the F.O.A.D comp, I think really gets across the kind of intensity and violence and mania inherent in punk life in Detroit at the time they were making music. It’s really moving for me to be able to take some of the creations out of this place and do my part to enter it into a very long and hallowed history of punk and metal. It gives Detroit artists the dignity they deserve.
The scene has changed a lot in the past ten years. It’s gotten pretty heavily gentrified and there’s a corporate veneer that does change the landscape of the music scene. Black and brown people are getting pushed out and it looks like a whack ass suburb in some neighborhoods. It’s getting to be trendy here and sustainability in punk and metal culture isn’t so easy in a trendy place. One year a dedicated fan will change their interests from stoner rock to heavy metal to whatever the next thing is. Growth and diversity in tastes is important but so is a self possessed nature and a commitment to the passions that positively impact a community. Many claim this city but there were really just a handful who gave their blood and sweat to build a legacy of really important music produced here. It stretches back to the advent of Motown Records. Punk and metal scenes cropped up more concretely as far back as the mid to late 1980’s with bands and a couple of private press record labels operating out of some pretty rough neighborhoods. It took heart to do that in the midst of such strong violence, racial tensions, and poverty. I’m just kind of picking up where they left off but under much easier circumstances. There’s promise in new ways for the scene here, though. More awareness is present now of what Detroit is creatively producing, which is a good thing.
Let’s talk about one of the recent releases, the Anghell/Bitchcraft LP. I almost died when I saw someone released this. Can you explain to our readers the significance of this band and how you were introduced to their music? (Thank you for releasing that BTW)!
Anghell was a group of women making metal music in Detroit in the early 90s. In that time they produced some really original content. They use some almost gothic, theatrical lyrical themes. The musicianship is amazing--there’s a lot of talent paired with their imagination as players. As a group, though, they were true performers. They wore black lace and leather. In old photos and footage it looks like Dracula’s brides formed a band. The singer was actually an actress. In some of the old videos of their performances she steps through fog, opens with some really poetic and dark lyrics and then they launch into fast paced heavy music. It’s really just a special band. At a certain point they faced some challenges and regrouped with new membership; again all women (although for a brief period there were other male players). This time there were stronger bass lines and a lot more death metal influence. They still carried the same spirit but their technicality is even more front and center as Bitchcraft. The lyrics are so one of a kind--they kind of focus on things that are a bit morbid or warped. I’m not sure who I first learned of Bitchcraft from. I’m thinking it was my friend Charlie, the former drummer of Shitfucker/Acid Witch. There was a burned CD floating around that I got to listen to. My friend Vic, who runs the label Dystopian Dogs at one point asked if there was anything he could do to support Sangreal Records. We have a similar mission with our labels. I told him I’d like to release Anghell/Bitchcraft and he put me in contact with the bassist of Bitchcraft named Taryn Carter. She provided me with the recordings for the release. This was very meaningful to me for a couple reasons--above all this is just good music. That’s the first thing. Secondly, these are Detroiters. Thirdly, these are the women instrumentalists and song-writers I had always been looking to release. It was very important to me that I do something to illuminate the history of women in metal as wider in scope than cocaine blondes trailing Motley Crue. That’s a legitimate part of metal history and I do not want to undermine the importance of the female presences of groupies and muses. But there’s a role beyond “supporter” that women had. There is a lot of music created by women in this genre that never broke through and received mainstream recognition because of the intense misogyny of the record industry. I do not want to see that content lost to the ages. I think that impacts the present of metal music where women aren’t as active because there’s not a lot of examples of female creators seen. (Click here to purchase this gem).
Do you have a dream re-release you wish you could do or a band you would love to work with?
If I’m operating on a total fantasy level I would love to reissue something by X-Japan. Maybe Vanishing Vision. The vinyl is super rare and inaccessible and deserves to be listened to on a format that’s meant to be cherished.
What advice do you have for women starting an independent business?
I operate two businesses and this is something I’m still learning myself. I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask that because I’ve made a lot of mistakes. But here’s what I can share from that experience: One of my biggest mistakes is letting my insecurities or a feeling of being an outsider or an impostor impact my decision making. Integrity means being more in touch with your purpose than protective of your image. Trust yourself as much as you do your mentors. Stick to what you’re doing and overtime it will grow. Do not make sacrifices for your business you can’t afford to make. When you go into business know why you’re doing it---if it’s status or recognition it’s not worth it because those aren’t things you can count on. Public opinion is volatile and unreliable and meaningless. Know what you’re objective is besides making money, because there’s a good chance that might not happen for you off the bat and you need a higher purpose to sustain your dedication. Prepare to take a beating as well as having rewarding moments.
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