I suppose the name of Herve Herbault will not tell you much. But I am sure you definitely know the name of the French label OSMOSE that has been releasing totally extreme albums during more than eight years. There’s no place for gothic and doom metal bands in the catalogue of the label. Just extreme death and extreme black! And everything was started out eight years ago, when a twenty-two year old Herve released the debut album of then quite unknown SAMAEL...
Herve Herbault doesn’t like to give interviews. From the twenty five interview offers that he received last year, he has accepted only two. Well, we were lucky!
“All right, let’s put it like that. OSMOSE was started back on the 1st of April ’91. At that time I was just a fan of music, of metal music in general. I was also running a fanzine. And just being in touch with a lot of bands, I also found out there were a lot of young and talented bands that didn’t get any interest from record companies. And for them it was really hard to find a record company. So, I just came up with the idea “OK, let’s try to do it.” I always had an idea of making a record company of my own, so I decided to make it finally. I didn’t know how to run it, I didn’t know how much it cost. I am thirty one now, and it was nine years ago, so I was twenty-two back then. Pretty young. “Osmose” is a French word, which means that I am in a good combination with what I am doing. “Osmose” means “one”. The music I produce, as well as the job I do, means “one”. One thing. To be in a very good relation with what I do.
“To tell the truth, I started OSMOSE with my girlfriend. And we are the real bosses of OSMOSE. Back then she quitted her job, she used to work at a factory. Back then in France they gave money to people who wanted to create their own company or whatever. So, the government provided some help in case if people quitted jobs for running their own business. So, she said: “OK, let’s try to do it. We have nothing to lose.” I used to be in a civil service and she worked at a factory. So, we had enough money to pay for one thousand compact discs and one thousand vinyl. That’s all. We didn’t even think about paying the rent of the house, paying for the calls and so on. Just food and all the usual things in your life. We spent all the money on those one thousand compact discs and one thousand vinyl. And that started everything. So, it doesn’t mean that you need a lot of money to start a company. No! If you have enough money to spend on the “right” band, to do the “right” things at the “right” time, then you don’t need much money. But you must be sure about what you do. And you must be absolutely sure that you want to run a record company. Because the beginning is really hard, but the following is even harder!
“Back then the metal scene in France was not really called “underground”. I would say there were not so many bands producing tapes or whatever. There were companies that mainly ran heavy metal music or power metal. But not death metal. There was quite a good death metal scene at that time but with very very few bands. It was the beginning of LOUDBLAST, MASSACRA, MERCYLESS. Though it was a real underground. And still I can say that nowadays the death metal scene, as well as black metal scene, is not huge. But there are in average six-ten thousand hard fans.
“Basically, what was very important when we started OSMOSE, was the idea to record any band but outside France. ‘Cos back then no one in France wanted to sell records. We were treated like stupid! But outside France people were taking us more seriously. I wonder why? May be we were the only French label that was able to work abroad! And back then it was our strength, that we decided to work that way. So, we starred to produce records every three months.
“SAMAEL were invited to play a show in the north of France. I was in touch with them, as a friend of mine was organizing the show. He said: “Listen to them, it’s a very good band and they haven’t found a record company yet.” And this friend of mine didn’t know I was starting a company. SAMAEL was not supposed to be the first to be released. It was supposed to be some other band but there were complete delays in everything and SAMAEL got everything ready, but no one was interested in them. Nobody wanted to put out the record. So, I met the band and I just told them: “OK, look at that. We’re building a company. We can put out your record but we can’t promise you anything. We will produce one thousand CDs and one thousand vinyl and then we will see.” And that’s how it was. We made a deal for one album like it was a piece of paper, nothing more nothing less. Everything started out with SAMAEL. Back then we had very good relations, everything was fine, perfect. And SAMAEL started to sell well. There were not so many people back at that time who could believe that SAMAEL could be sold, but it was the real revival of black metal. ‘Cos back at that time only BATHORY were still alive. VENOM were dead, MAYHEM were dead as well (This time literally - Ed.), and Norwegian black metal scene appeared a year after. So, people considered SAMAEL to be the ones who were returning the black metal scene.
“The selling of SAMAEL helped us to produce the next records. After we put out one thousand CDs and one thousand LPs, we printed again five hundred CDs and vinyl and so on. We sold SAMAEL mostly by doing flyers. And at that time we suddenly got a deal with SPV from Germany, they believed in us ‘cos we were so angry about the music situation back then! I got an album of STEAMHAMMER and saw the address of the label on the back cover. I took the address and wrote them a letter with the disc of SAMAEL enclosed. They said: “These people are crazy enough, so we must trust them.” It was unbelievable, but the manager of SPV put OSMOSE on the distribution list! Back at that time SAMAEL was so different. There was a revolution made by the bands like CANNIBAL CORPSE. SAMAEL was quite different, and only SPV trusted in the record. No one else! And at that time we also got a mail order from NUCLEAR BLAST. There were five or six mail orders in Europe then. So, they were selling our CDs as well. And it was developing like that, slowly but surely...”
“It was like a dream for me to sign MASTER’S HAMMER. It’s clear. I couldn’t really believe it would be possible for OSMOSE to sign this band. I had had all the demos of MASTERSHAMMER even before they released their first record. I just sent them a deal as we had already been in touch with the band, and they said “Yes.” So, I was astonished when we got back the contract, I couldn’t believe the band was on OSMOSE! I was so happy, that we tried to develop them as much as we could. But there were so many personal problems within the band! Nowadays the band doesn’t exist anymore. Back in 1993 MASTERSHAMMER was the first band doing symphonic black metal music.
One day the guys from IMMORTAL sent us a tape. I listened to it and said: “Well, let’s make a deal.” And they agreed. Back then they were dealing with DSP but they were not happy with their cooperation due to some financial problems. So, they decided to sign with OSMOSE.
With MARDUK it was a bit different, ‘cos they’d asked us to sign them before they went to No Fashion, but we told them “No” ‘cos we couldn’t do it. We had not enough space, as everything was scheduled. We couldn’t put MARDUK on the schedule, we needed at least a year to do that. MARDUK decided to release their first album through No Fashion Music in Sweden, and ended up with OSMOSE.
“Actually, we sign bands not for a long term and they have an opportunity to decide whether they would like to stay with us or they would prefer to switch to some other label. If we are satisfied with them, we sign them again. Usually we sign a band for two records. That’s the good thing, they are free to decide whatever they want. We are currently facing a big problem with the one of “bigger” bands, they’ve completely fucked the things up! I can’t talk about that a lot, but anyway you will never know what band I am talking about. It’s one of the bestsellers of OSMOSE. They have fucked up everything, they are lying to us, they’ve even ripped us with the recording of their third album. It’s a pity we have to work with such people, but they just don’t give a shit to what is going on!.. Some bands like GEHENNAH are no longer on OSMOSE. After two years of our cooperation they were satisfied with the job we did for them and we were satisfied working with them, but we lost money during that period! We lost money, so we couldn’t stay with them, we couldn’t work with them anymore. Generally, we must sell three thousand records at the minimum. But we sold even less, you know. I must be sure that I don’t lose money like that with each band we produce. I can’t continue losing money when I know that I have to pay nine people! It was a hard decision, I explained it to the bands, paid them royalties and stuff, and still inform them of what we do...
“Of course, we had some problems with censorship releasing the albums of these bands. It’s typical. As long as you are doing with morality, it’s typical that you have problems. Distributors refused to take records, because of the lyrics or covers. But we managed it. So far we’ve had enough problems to be able to say that OSMOSE is experienced. It’s easy ‘cos we are fighting for our bands... I am not an Anti-Christian or whatever. Certainly not. I just don’t give a shit about religions at all. But my position is pretty much rebellious towards the system which wants to ignore this kind of art. We will be releasing records by all means! As long as it is artistic, I always support the musicians. That’s my point of view. I will not support the band if they stand for their own personal problems. I don’t care about personal problems. But so far such things never happened.
“There are bands that play thrash nowadays. Then, since I came from that scene, my first album I listened to, was probably SODOM, I found out there are good bands that play that music. People call it “retro-thrash”, but I don’t call it “retro-thrash” or whatever. They just play thrash music and that’s all. We were the first to do it. No one believed in it, but straight away thrash is coming back. So, what can I say? It’s not my fault if there are more and more thrash metal bands coming back! You can also see there are about thirty power metal bands coming out every month in Germany! It’s a nightmare! That’s how it is, that’s how it is. And don’t think it is very profitable. Certainly not! If it were so profitable INFERNAL would still be on OSMOSE, GEHENNAH would still be on OSMOSE which is not the case. They don’t sell well! So, it’s absolutely not profitable to sign a thrash band, definitely not! So-called “symphonic black metal” now works very well, and power metal also does. But not thrash metal. We have also some death metal bands like ANGEL CORPSE that does it strong, as well as RITUAL CARNAGE. But still they don’t sell so well. They sell may be ten times less than IMMORTAL!”
“Concerning OSMOSE, we are considered to be one of the best-paying companies in the world. It is true that there are not many bands in the underground that can earn living playing music. It’s clear. They must do mainstream music. They have to decide whether to do the underground music, the music they stand for, or to do mainstream music and earn money. For example, MARDUK. They always do crazy music. If they decide to earn more money, they will play other music and thus stop being MARDUK. But you never know, people may deny them. It’s very hard to earn money from the underground music. It is not that easy even for OSMOSE. We are not even sure everything will work out the way we want. We have some bands on OSMOSE that can live for money they get from OSMOSE a year or two. Well, plus correct touring. There are some bands on OSMOSE that are really well-paid! They earn quite a lot of money from albums and while touring. Good money for OSMOSE. Of course, I don’t compare with mainstream music. Bands that sell forty thousand records must be very satisfied. IMMORTAL is the most successful band on the label. IMMORTAL with the album “Battles In The North” is the bestseller on OSMOSE.
“Since the beginning we paid for studios. We paid even for SAMAEL. We didn’t pay the whole amount ‘cos we agreed with the band to give them some CDs to sell and get money back. Still we paid some 70 percent of the record. That how it was with SAMAEL, later we paid royalties to the bands. We have our own style of work: we say to a band that we offer them to sign a deal, and we offer them the recording cost, we offer them promotion, which is CDs, advertisements, posters - whatever they want. And they are paid only from the sales. But we take the complete risk. So, then we must fight to sell records. And that makes our strength, ‘cos apparently no one works like that in Europe. We have been working like that since the early beginning. We are angry when we put out a record. It must work! ‘Cos we spent so much money on the band, that there is no matter - we must sell a certain amount of records to reduce costs to zero. But there were cases when we lost money. I must say honestly, we have put out ten records on which we lost money. It’s a complete risk. But as we have put out ninety records, it’s not so much.
“There are not many people working for OSMOSE. There are only five people in France and three in the USA. That’s all. There are companies like NUCLEAR BLAST or whatever, there are probably more than forty or forty five. We have one of the best salaries for our employees among the French metal labels. Our people are apparently the best paid and I am very proud of that. In Europe - I have no idea. Average income of our employees, it is not a secret, is $1700 per month.
“I had a friend of mine who once visited Milwaukee Metalfest in the US. He called me from there, and said: “Herve, take a plane, come here right away, you will see here is such a big demand of OSMOSE in the USA that you will now believe it!” I said: “Shut up, shut up! I don’t wanna hear about the USA at all!” I just didn’t pay attention about what was going on over there. And then, a year after, he came back from the USA, came to our office and said again: “Herve, you must have office over there. You can’t believe there are so many people wearing T-shirts of OSMOSE. I must have a look at it, you must go there to see the reality about your label.” So, a year after, I went there and... I was astonished. There were so many people who were into the thing we were doing! So, we decided to open an office over there, ‘cos it was more than necessary. And everything started out about three years ago. People, who work in the American office, are very dedicated, they do a good job and we are very satisfied with them. They work just perfect.
“We also have Kron-Age branch of OSMOSE. We wanted to create this direction ‘cos I listen to punk rock, rock ‘n roll, hardcore as well. We didn’t want to do it under the name of OSMOSE, we wanted to do it separately and created a second company. Well, it works. We are happy, ‘cos we can provide people with what we also listen to. We listen to so many different kinds of music!
“We listen to all the demos we receive. Tapes, CDs - everything. And if we discover a band that sounds good, and if we really really like them, then we contact them. It’s up to them if they are interested or not in our offer. What we love to do is to create a ‘name’ band from nothing. Of course, there are bands already established by other companies. One of the examples is EXCITER. They asked us if we wanted to sign them and I answered straight away: “Yes”. I am a fan of this band. But recently we have just signed a new band from Netherlands. We listened to the demo, it was excellent. And don’t think we pay a lot of attention to the image! Also, when I listen to a band, I don’t pay attention to the origin. The true situation is that Scandinavian bands provide a very good music. Forty percent of all the stuff we receive, come from Scandinavia. But as well as we got this tape from Netherlands, we got the tape from Japan. The band’s called RITUAL CARNAGE. We were really into what the bands did, so we signed them. Without any compromises. It doesn’t matter where the band come from, do they have an image or whatever, don’t care about the name until I like what they do. That’s how we work.”
“I think it is very important for a record company to start with a “right” band. Nowadays it is almost impossible. Even if you get the best band, it’s almost impossible that the distributor will take it to the consideration. I am not sure that if I quit OSMOSE and create a new label it will work. It’s so hard nowadays, so different from what it was ten years ago. There are so many distributors, so many mail orders, so many bands, so many records are out every month. So, only the strong will survive.”