An Interview with Beat Zeller of Voodoo Rhythm Records & The Monsters

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Header image credit: Deb Frazin at Cafe NELA (Los Angeles, CA)

Image courtesy of Voodoo Rhythm Records

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Beat Zeller, the founder of Voodoo Rhythm Records, and also the de facto leader of Psychobilly Punk outfit, The Monsters. Among other things, we touch on what he’s been up to during the lockdown, the origins of Voodoo Records, what’s next for The Monsters, his opinion of the Punk scene today, and what he’s looking forward to most once COVID-19 breaks.

If you would like to learn more about Beat Zeller, and his label, Voodoo Rhythm Records, you can head over to the label’s site, and dig in. If you would like to check out The Monster’s newest music, you can head here, and chew on that as well. Once you’ve done that, check out this interview with Beat. Cheers.

Andrew:
Beat I appreciate you taking the time today. How have you been holding up over the last year or so? What have you been up to?

Beat:
Thank you so much! Time was kind as always. It was crazy chaotic and weird but the strange thing was that it was not only me…it was everybody. It felt a bit strange as I am normally the outsider. In the last two years, everybody was on the outside too. I felt kind of that I’m turning normal just to be the opposite. [Laughs]. I reacted very fast and took the situation as it was. As a musician, I worked for a food delivery company here in Bern. Many bands in Bern deliver food to make some pocket money. So, I was on the road with an opera singer and regular street musicians. It was a lot of fun. I became friends with some and formed a new acoustic band. When the lockdown was over, we played and it was electric. Reverend Beat-Man and the Drunks is the name. Then with the label [Voodoo Records], I finally had time to calculate all the royalty statements, and stupidly, I paid all my bands at once and almost got back robbed. [Laughs]. So, I ate only soup for the next month and am OK now.

Andrew:
Before we dive into your professional career, let’s go back a bit. What first got you hooked on music?

Beat:
I’m from Bern, Switzerland. I grew up in the mid-70s and was born in the 60s, but we don’t have a big Rock ‘N’ Roll culture. Instead. we have Classical music or elevator music which was very hip at that time. My father had a Beatles album…I guess that was the most “extreme” thing in his collection. When I turned into a teenager in Switzerland we only had one radio station, and they played 1/2 music for the youth each week, and of course, we got hooked on that. The name of the show was Music From London. London was the hippest place for the youth to go back then. Anyway, I heard alternative music for the first time there, and I got hooked on Motörhead, and Iron Maiden, etc. I grew up outside of town in the countryside. We all loved Hard Rock — Status Quo, ACϟDC, etc., but Motörhead killed it. They kind of brought me to Rock ‘N’ Roll, and I was very curious how music could make such a noise, and why was I so in love with it. I knew then that I wanted to do exactly that too.

Andrew:
Who were some of your early influences?

Beat:
A friend of my parents gave them the records from a jukebox they had. It was all 50s stuff — The Teddy Bears, Elvis, The Platters, etc. Elvis was a big influence. I saw a satellite show he did live on TV in 1977, and I thought, “This is amazing.” Then, of course, all the Glam Rock — Sweet, Slade, etc. For me, the big break into “real music” was Venom and Einstürzende Neubauten…those bands changed everything I ever believed in. It was then I went back into the Blues with Howlin’ Wolf, and the amazing Lightning Hopkins. I was totally in love with the Blues. Everybody around me had no rhythm at all. But me? I had rhythm. [Laughs].

Image courtesy of Voodoo Rhythm Records

Andrew:
Let’s talk about recent events first. Your label, Voodoo Rhythm Records is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary. If you can, take me back through the origins, and progression of the label.

Beat:
In school I was always drawing imaginary record covers for imaginary bands…like Titan…or Dead Grave, etc. Stupid names with bloody record covers. When it was time to pick a job I told my parents that I want to be a record sleeve designer. [Laughs]. They just laughed and sent me to school to be an electrician. After work, I always went to live shows, and recorded them with my tape player, and made live tapes out of them. I traded it with other people who also made live tapes. That was a lot of fun, and I made the tape covers. Then I started my first band and nobody in Switzerland wanted to release it. Everybody sent back the tape with no words. [Laughs]. So, I did it myself. The first album I released was in the early 90s. It was a Swiss Garage Punk compilation called garage Punk Primitive Rock’n’Roll And Psychotic Reactions From Switzerland Vol.1. It was sold out in one day directly at the record release party. I think we pressed 666 copies. That was my first taste, and I loved it. I was addicted to releasing music from obscure unknown bands.

Andrew:
Voodoo Rhythm Records has a reputation as a “label for misfits.” Why has it been so important for you to give outsiders a place to call home?

Beat:
I think outsiders, misfits, and inbetweens are the people that caught my attraction the most because they mostly have a brighter view of things. They can look further as they are not stuck in that factory everybody else is. Those people made jeans. Those people made Rock ‘N’ Roll. Those people changed the world for the better in art, music, and politics. Jesus for example…a total misfit so is Gandhi, or Martin Luther King Jr. Those are my people. Most of them got misunderstood in the beginning…but if you give them a platform they turn the world into the most beautiful garden you’ve ever seen in your life…that’s why

Andrew:
For many years you’ve been performing as a “one-man band,” and de-facto leader of The Monsters. Tell us more about the formation.

I started my first band, The Monsters, in 1986 and I love my band a lot. I’m a hyperactive person. I have a million ideas, and I have to create things in seconds and jump into other ideas at the same time. Sometimes, I’m light years ahead of my friends or even myself. It was obvious to form a one-man band. The first couple of years as a one-man band I had five songs in my set but I played up to twenty songs in the show, and fifteen of the songs I made up live on stage…stuff I just saw in the audience or on the way to the venue, etc. I had to create, destroy, and forget the songs again very quickly. To “create and destroy” was my motto. Now, I’m older, and I don’t have that extreme output anymore, and I’m kinda happy…it always killed me. I love to play in a band when everybody brings ideas, and we create something as a group. I like that a lot. I think we are at the peak now with The Monsters. We never were as good as we are on this new album. I guess…we really create our own music, and I think this is amazing.

Image credit: Cendre Noire (2019)

Andrew:
Throughout your career, you’ve straddled many genres from Psychobilly, to Rockabilly, to Punk Rock, and Blues. With that, which genre do you feel closest to, and why?

Beat:
It’s the Blues. It has followed me since I was born. The Blues are the roots of everything I do. I’m talking about the Blues that comes from Africa — from America — from Ireland — from Finland — from Portugal, etc. Every country has this melancholic depressive but very strong music. Besides that, I listen to all kinds of music — Rockabilly, Punk, Noise, Industrial, Synth/Electronic, Rap, Classical, Folk, etc.

Andrew:
Between the incredible sonic shifts in sound, and the poignant lyricism, your music has been a low-key cornerstone of your particular niche. With that said, looking back, how would you describe your influence and importance both as a musician, and record label owner?

I’m not sure if I’ve had an impact on people doing what I’m doing. I really hope so but I’m not sure. I see it in little things. For example, when I had a fight with the Swiss copyright company in 2004 about royalty payments, I almost got bank robbed, then people, labels, bookers, fans, etc from all over the globe gathered together, and made benefit shows for my Voodoo Rhythm Label, and they gained enough money to pay it all back. That was amazing. Sometimes you don’t see what you doing because you just do it as a reflex but I have the sweetest fan mail…I have people with cancer writing me letters saying, “This label and your music helped me through a very hard time and I made it. Thank you so much.” Same with my shows…people say when they see me live they see the light…I don’t…I only see the beer at the end of the show. [Laughs]. Still, it’s very sweet. When I played my first east block tour after the iron curtain fell I was in Latvia, I think…I did my show as Reverend Beatman, and I blew their heads off. Then, after the show, I drank a beer at the bar, and I saw a line of people in front of my drums, and everybody went up on stage to sit on my chair where I sat. Some people came to the bar and talked about their problems, etc. Anyway, I think I have something that my people can reflect on, and I think it’s something good.

Andrew:
Easy ones now. What are a few of your favorite albums and why?

Beat:
ACϟDC’s Powergage because it’s the best album ever made. Howlin’ Wolf’s Real Folk Blues because it has the best drumming that has ever existed on this planet, and I don’t even know his name (Junior Blackmon (tracks 1, 2, 6 & 7), Earl Phillips (tracks 3-5 & 9), Sam Lay (tracks 8 & 10-12). [Laughs]. Hasil Adkins’ She Said — this blew my head off, and still does. I’m his biggest fan, and I went to visit him once when I was young. It was a blast.

Reverend Beat-Man & Iszobel Garcia @ Gaswerk © 18.04.2019 Patrick Principe

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Beat:
I’m a movie fan. I love movies, and I love my girlfriend. She is my best buddy. We are the two craziest people I know. I love it!

Andrew:
In your opinion, what is the state of the music business these days? Should artists be hopeful? Scared? Both?

Beat:
The music business was always shit and still is the same. Do your own thing. If you cant stick with the underground then there are many great labels — In The Red, Goner, A Tree In The Field, Hummus Records, etc.

Andrew:
Last one. What’s next on your docket? What are you looking forward to most in the post-COVID world?

Beat:
It’s hard to press vinyl now. All the major companies took over, and small companies like us have a really hard time. We may go to the CD market now. [Laughs]. The online market is boring but we try to release albums and search for small pressing companies in Europe. If you read that — contact us — we want to work with you. We will release the best albums you have ever heard in your life. Soon, there will be a new Monsters album. Then, Bad Mojos, and from the USA we will have the Christian Family who is a killer Garage/Trash outfit, or Nestter Donuts from Spain who does Flamenco/Trash. All amazing releases.

Image credit: Cendre Noire (2019)

Interested in sampling the work of The Monsters? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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