Tech metal pioneers Coalesce are preparing to release their first full length in ten years on June 6 with OX. The band has long been known for indulging collectors with multiple vinyl versions of their albums and other special items. This week they’ve taken it to the next level with OX, announcing a number of special pre-order items including a deluxe art set, flask and wooden “stash” box. We caught up with vocalist and Blue Collar Distro founder Sean Ingram to discuss premium merch items, the importance of packaging and the band’s recent involvement with Atlanta’s Vice-Scion Rock Fest.
Where did the idea for doing such unique merch for OX (“stash” box, flask, elaborate art set) come from?
I founded and work day to day at Blue Collar Distro, and knew that I wanted to make something different than just a t-shirt for [this album]. I’ve been doing it for almost 10 years, and the art that Don Clark put together for this record deserved something as unique as the art itself.
How did you hook up with Don Clark (Invisible Creature / Demon Hunter) for the art set?
We hooked up with Don for the layout of the entire OX process. I’ve been a fan of his work forever, and the opportunity to work with him came up, so I jumped on it. We’ve become friends over the years, and he was kind enough to accept [the offer to work on OX] and be a part of the merch art set too. Don and I are on the same page when it comes to music packaging, [and we both like] to see it translated into the merch. I like that about him, because I can’t wear Coalesce stuff. I earned the nickname “Captain Coalesce” back in the day for always wearing Coalesce stuff, because it was free. Now I don’t own any shirts with any prints whatsoever. Assholes gave me a complex, haha!
Larger artists like Mastodon and Pearl Jam have seen recent success selling premium items with a new release. And while Coalesce has always been a collector’s band, it’s still unusual for a band of your stature to sell items like these. Are you confident the demand will be there? Did you research any previous similar pre-sales from other bands?
I take the art of OX every bit as seriously as the music of OX. It’s half of the package, in my opinion. The package and items tied to it contribute to its longevity. Therefore, I don’t look at how many copies I can sell of something to decide if it is worth having something unique or not. I look at what will be the coolest thing I can do, then I do it. I don’t agree with the notion that a band has to be a certain size to do something different or risky. I know other people do, and that might be contributing to the laziness of digital-only releases. But that is not to say that there weren’t certain parameters we had to be sensitive to.
With Blue Collar Distro at your disposal, do you have an advantage in being able to experiment with unique/one-off/collectible items and shirts? Are you able to make smaller runs of items to “test the waters” first?
Yes, totally. We had to be able to make these items in low quantities. That is how we were able do it. For example, if I had to order [a minimum of] 5,000 flasks, it wouldn’t have happened. I only had to make 20 [at a time]. That we could do. Those are the parameters I worked within, and that and I didn’t want anything [priced] over $30.00. The art set took ten times longer to make than a single Invisible Creature poster, but it’s selling for the same price. We don’t know what to expect with the launch of OX, but so far I haven’t had to make any sacrifices, and we are at little to no financial risk, which basically means I get my way and can’t get in trouble.
OX is the first full length you’ve released since 1999, and you’re sticking with Relapse to release it. How has the process of releasing the album changed in the last 10 years, particularly working with a smaller label like Relapse?
It’s kind of a hard question, because ten years ago we recorded 0:12 Revolution in Just Listening after we had already broken up. Back then we said, “Here’s the record, see ya!” We didn’t really have anything emotionally invested in the release, the art or anything as a band. So they did their thing, and they did a great job. We were just removed [from the process].
But I’ve worked with Hydra Head and Second Nature, both labels that put a lot of pride into their packaging, so I know what it’s like to work with a label run by artists. Working with the Relapse team on OX was on that same level. Relapse sometimes had questions like “You want to do WHAT?”, but they heard me and Don out, and if it was unaffordable, they offered alternatives. We only made one compromise on the record as a whole, and it was only a logistical problem with a paper we wanted that wouldn’t fold or show the spot gloss. To say I’m impressed with the team that Matt Jacobson [at Relapse] assigned Coalesce is a great understatement. They have been hands-on, available, helpful and [working with] genuine excitement for the project.
You played the Vice/Scion Rock Fest in Atlanta this year. What are your thoughts on free, corporate-sponsored metal shows like Scion and 2007’s Ozzfest? Do you think it works for the Coalesce/Converge/Neurosis crowd?
Yeah, that whole corporate vs punk stuff. I don’t know if I have a problem with it or not. I wasn’t looking at it as a Scion project as much as a Vice project. There isn’t anything Vice does that I don’t like. From their fashion magazines to their documentaries (Heavy Metal in Baghdad was one), they seem to me like a group of artists that want to do unrealistically big things, and have the brains and balls to get it done using someone else’s money. So in that respect, I thought it was much different than if it was just some Budweiser thing [putting together a show] because they know people drink beer at metal shows. I mean come on, how the hell did Vice pull that fest off? Are you kidding me? We knew for sure it was going to get canceled the day before, but it didn’t.
Why did they stick you in the smallest possible room at that show? It was a death trap!
They didn’t stick us on the small stage, we requested it. It was one of those amazing chances and we were just like “Fuck it, lets do a floor show, it will be epic.” The fact that they went for it was amazing. It was definitely one of our top five shows of all time. The idea that we feel entitled to something more than we get because a magazine puts us in their hall of fame, or some kids think we are pioneers of something, is not held by the members of Coalesce. We still have shows where we play to no one at all. But we keep doing this band because we love it, and for once we aren’t all at each other’s throats.