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Simon Füllemann - Interview

Interview by Lariyah Perrin

photo by Janica Lönn

ViaOmega - Greetings Simon! So good to have you with us! It goes without saying that lately you are staying extremely busy! How are you doing after such crazy pandemic?

Simon Füllemann - Thank you for the opportunity and the interest! It's a pleasure and humbling to able to do this interview with you.

I am doing quite good actually! It looks like we are coming out strong in the end. I wont complain. I never do. Doesn’t change anything anyway but focusing does. And luckily I have a great family and friends around me

As you say, we have intensified the work with our clients during this period but on elements we did not focus on before. Meaning we tried to grow our clients with new means and ways beyond what we used to lay the focus on. We were innovative on many levels. Coming out of the pandemic now feels amazing. I do hope it lasts… Anyway, its not as it used to be before. To me, the whole game has changed. I look at our world and industry much different than I used to. It became even more challenging, diversified and demanding. Luckily our bands started out touring again with success. That was something I was keen on seeing how this will develop as many of the fans, especially older fans, just fell away during this period. Also here we upped the game for all artist to come out fresh and with a bang. With this said, we are doing great on all levels, and I am excited for what is there to come now in this “new world”.

VO - We will get back to that subject shortly, but first I’d like to focus a bit on you and your story. You are one of the most proficient and active managers I’ve encountered. Tell me where did your story begin? In particular, I would like to know more about your own music journey as you were an active musician yourself between 1989 to 2006 before you decided to focus on management - is that correct? Could you elaborate on your band?

SF: Thank you for the kind words! I got into music around the end of 1983/beginning 1984 for real. I became a maniac ha ha. I was brought into the music scene early by my cousin basically. He was in touch with a guy called Thomas who was very active and key figure in the underground scene. I owe those two a lot.

Back then my cousin was travelling quite a bit and brought home demos and LPs from the States we could not get here. I started tape-trading and writing tons of letters forth and back with bands and managers for Legacy (now Testament) or Possessed. And then also got into all the other scenes like Boston or DC when it came to HC/Punk or then Germany with Tormentor (now Kreator), Destruction, Sodom, Living Death. A bit later Napalm Death put out Scum and I was blown away. Started writing and tape trading with the UK scene. Ripcord, Heresy, Concrete Sox, Chaos UK, ENT. Sooo many great bands all over!

I was totally into it. The driver was the energy, the common ground, you could literally speak to your “heroes” by mail. It was fascinating to be so close and yet so far. It sucked in all my free time beside school. I even started travelling to London several times a year to just buy records in this totally fantastic and legendary record store off Oxford Street… cant remember the name…. that’s also when I met the boys in Onslaught and joined the fan club. I still love Power from Hell so much!

And then I got my first bass guitar from my dad. I wanted my own band so bad in 1987. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone able to play with me and for sure not what I wanted to play ha ha. So, I I have been in project without names from 1987 onwards. It started out for real when I met the best drummer I have ever worked with in 1990. We immediately clicked. I brought a bass player with from before as I switched to playing guitar around end of 1988, and one of our friends recommended a singer who he thought would fit – and he did. We started writing and practicing, put out 2 demos and played our 1st real gig 21.12.1991. It was supposed to be a support gig for Quicksand but they cancelled, so we headlined… that was surreal. But also the best kick-off you can have. This band was called Armicide. We played under that name until like 1994 and toured Europe and even the US east coast with our friends in Rorschach. On 12.06.92 was the most historic show I ever played. Its on youtube, look it up ha ha. In 1994 we changed our name to MINE and released a 7inch on Common Cause. It got great recognition and we played quite a lot of shows and a tour with Dystopia, ABC Diabolo and quite a lot of weekend shows with our friends in Dawnbreed that we release a split 7inch with in 1996. In 1996 we released our first and last album “Tetanus” that was extremely well received. It just took off. It was unreal. In 1997 we broke up. Ricki, the drummer, and me went on to form Damage ID. A pretty Cro-Mags influenced band that lasted for about 1 year. We did a demo and that was it. Then him, me and a friend, Greg, formed Cataract. I was in the band until late December 2006, then I dropped out to fully focus on my work behind the scene. Cataract was probably commercially seen the most successful and well-known band but MINE was the band I was into most. I always tried to push boundaries and fuse many music styles, mainly metal and hardcore as I grew up with both.I went on doing some minor project like Fear from falling Towers, Engelmaker during my time in Norway and Arma Gathas. I stopped using my guitar in 2013 for good and never looked back.

VO - You used to work with your first company - All Access , where (if I understand correctly) you were helping people to expand their own careers as well as worked on their PR? 

SF: That wasn’t my first company though. I started out in 1996 with a company called Natural High Empire, together with a friend. We combined label / magazine (well, it was more a newsletter) and a booking agency – which became Drive To Play later, driven by another friend in Germany. After that fell apart,  I started a company called Image-In where I focused more on Management and brand-building while I still had a regular day job until 2006 when I took on Metal Blade as a client and started only focus on my own company. Around 2010, when I moved to Norway, it became All Access Agency that focused on Consulting, Brand-building, and Management. When I started to make more international it eventually became AISAmusic worldwide.

Regarding PR; I have been working many jobs within the industry and with many clients, including Metal Blade, Indie Recordings for example but I always knew I wanted to Management full time but I also understood to do the job perfectly you need to know all other things first: Label, PR, consulting, booking (which I did for Wardruna quite some years for example still) or Marketing. So PR was only a small part of what I did overall.

VO - Being a CEO of By Norse and AISA is what pushed your name further in the music business. How did the transition of such happened since you’ve worked with Indie Records? Was it something that made a big turn and narrowed down to specific genre?

SF: Indeed it did. It changed my life quite a bit. As said, my companies were there first, then came Indie Recordings into the picture. The move to Norway, close to where I felt musically home most, I met Einar and Ivar closer and that was that. We clicked just like that.

Also, branching out with AISAmusic, I always had the idea of doing the distribution part myself also. I wanted a company that can offer all out of one hand, our clients not giving away intellectual property or rights but choosing what they need to support their vision. So I did, and it became what it is today with 3 offices worldwide.

So, I left Indie Recordings to fully focus on that dream and expanded into the US with my partner Luis Alvarenga at the helm in the US office. The rest ist history ☺.

By Norse emerged from the idea of ​​implementing showcases and publications according to our wishes and ideas. We started in London with a three-day event. Bands like Wardruna, Enslaved, Skuggsja, Einar Selvik and BardSpec were playing, but also an art exhibition including paintings by Ghaal. The event was so successful that we organized further events with a local touch in New York and Oslo. New York took place at Scandinavia House and Webster Hall. Which also sold out in no time. Same for Oslo when we had Club Bla to ourselves for 3 days. At the same time, Ivar wanted to exploit the rights to part of his back catalogue. So it happened that we released Enslaved's "Vikingligr Veldi" for the first time as an official vinyl release. Around the same time, Einar and I were discussing releasing the next Wardruna album ourselves, which became a fact about 5 months after the band was founded.

It was the basic idea of ​​having everything in your own hands that drove us once again. We wanted to shape our lives as it suits us, so to speak, without compromises.

Both things for me fall under the same of what I did before but it was different nevertheless, so we need to differentiate it.

So my dream of doing all out of one hand and being 100% DIY became a reality completely. Its something I am so thankful for we could make it happen.

To answer your question: It didn’t narrow it, quite the opposite. We expanded into spheres we all didn’t dream of. My vision for over 30 years became a reality. To me a specific genre doesn’t exist. There is only the division between commercial and non-commercial music. Every music has its limits, especially with the vocal choice.

VO - Do you still find time to have any side businesses aside of your music management career? 

SF: Yes. But not my focus right now. My full focus is on AISAmusic and By Norse. There is other things I will do in my life after this, I know that. You will for sure get to hear about it in due time.

I also do invest and help in a family project where we support a village in Kenya for years. We build wells, schools, bring materials they don’t have and try to help them to get proper education.

VO - Let’s go back to the pandemic. You had to move some of your planned tours and shows. Did the loss of performances highly affected you as a manager and the bands or did you manage to recover with some merch sales and other tactics?

SF: Monetarily and strategy-wise all went to hell. Everything we worked for and planned for the coming period was lying in ashes. It was incredibly hurtful to see but honestly, I am not a person to fall into self-pity. I am always thinking positive and will find ways to grow stronger. It doesn’t make sense to waste time on focusing what you can’t change. You need to focus on what you can change. And that is what I did immediately. We were one of the first, if not the first putting on streaming shows but not just streaming show but inventing a cinematic experience. Our first stream was April 1st, two weeks after Covid was a reality. That was Enslaved and we did 5 others after that and 1 one with Wardruna on big scale. All of them big productions, a visual experience that was more like a watching a movie. I wanted something new and fresh to make people happy. Otherwise you are just reminded on what they cant have due to Covid, which is counter-productive. We did a lot of other things like intensifying the release schedule on By Norse, merchandise campaigns, new shops and brand, and I was very active politically to help locally for people working in the industry.

When it comes to recovering. No, we won’t short term. All I do is always long-term. I am not the guy planning for the fast cash and never focus on money. I mean how can you do that but also do your best right here right now? Money is the outcome of your professional actions at this very moment. So focusing on anything else than what you do right here now to 100%, is a waste of time for me. We nourish the tree we want to grow. Funny enough I can see it already right after the pandemic that the strategy worked immensely well. So long-term we will recover and come out stronger than ever.

Most people didn’t understand that the most difficult period will be the one right after the pandemic when everyone has a choice again where to spend the money instead of supporting bands. Look at yourself, you go to the movies, into a restaurant, sports events, meet friends, everything you couldn’t do during this period. That’s where the money goes now, so I was preparing exactly for that moment all the time during the pandemic.

It affected me personally big time as I have a responsibility towards my people, family and friends, that I don’t take lightly. This is everything to me. Without those fine human beings, all this would not be possible. Luckily also privately I focused on what we can do. So we moved together, adopted a lovely dog and got married. We grew together, spent time to do exactly that.

I am a blessed and thankful man, every day.

VO - What I find extremely appealing is seeing your posts with the family, where you and your lady as well as your puppy manage to find time to enjoy living. You are also a big advocate of staying fit and in shape. One could say it is close to impossible to combine it all together while having so many duties! I am assuming you excel at time management as well :) 

SF: Thank you very much for the kind words. That makes me happy to hear. I am trying to do inspirational posts, something that you can take along and think about differently. Aren’t we bombarded enough with negative, ranting news and post that always focus on the same thing but change never happens? Imagine, how many stories, news, etc you pick up every day that actually have nothing to do with your life? Imagine taking all this energy and make it work to change your world, so you lead with good example and inspire people? Imagine everyone doing that, put away envy and just be happy for one another? What a world this could be. We all must focus more on who we are, look inside than outside. Even helping others, you can only do, if you know how. You only know that if you know yourself and what you can give – if that is what the other person needs is another question though. Hence why I am spending much more time on myself than ever, in a non-egotistical way - and especially asking questions instead of talking. I want my garden to be inspiring to others. You are not changing the world with words but with action, leading with a good example.

I am indeed very good at time management without bragging ha ha, which is extremely essential to me since the beginning. Say no is much more important than ever. I deny 9 out 10 things a day. It helps I tell you. The temptations always look best before you slept over it. The next day usually reveals your true gut feeling and most likely have much more information already for a fact-based decision. Again, long-term thinking and being considerate is key in all I do.

VO - What makes you very progressive is your perfect knowledge of how to lead bands to even bigger success, yet without making it (trivially said) ‘cheesy’ or ‘too much’. You find this perfect balance of representation of bands and their characters. How do you develop a ‘game plan’ for each of bands you manage? How does your evaluation process looks like? 

SF: Thank you again for the kind words and acknowledgement. This makes me happy to hear. Well actually it starts with what I said above about understanding basic things about human being and culture. Being a manager is leading people, its knowing everyone you deal with the best you can, including cultural differences and how to turn that into an advantage.

I studied psychology, sociology beside other things so this of course helps but it’s with most people to feel, listen, ask and experience, meaning learn for each other.

So, to me the most important thing is find out what each person needs and how I can enhance what that person brings to the table, the best I can. Nothing beats a good team. Therefore, choosing the right people is key. And that makes the difference within AISAmusic and By Norse.

When that basis is done and have enthusiastic people, you can then again inspire them, share ideas, ask, develop, put your vision out there and make them part of it with their own dreams, ideas, visions. My visions for each artist are only as strong as the weakest link, so I care a lot about the weakest link not to be there as said above.

My strength I believe lies in knowing humans and being extremely fast at understanding personalities / needs. Also, I learned over the years like I wrote earlier how our industry works, what is doable, where you need to push the envelope and where you cant. Looking at the past years my whole team was very good a pushing the envelope based upon what we do right here and now, following a vision. Steady grows and accepting what is doable right here right now and what needs time to grow is important. Patience is key. You cannot be innovative if you are not understanding what’s here and now.

How I evaluate partners is the same as above and yes, I say 9 times no and 1 once yes. Out of the ones chosen to work with you can be sure 2 out 3 are not going where you want it to. That’s entrepreneurship ☺

VO - Do you actively search for new bands to manage or do you watch closely yourself and invite them under your wings?

SF: I do. I am a music nerd and literally spent every Friday and the following weekend listening to new releases. That’s one way to find interesting artist. 2nd, we use our network and contacts for scouting but most of the time the interesting ones come to us directly. That’s nature law I believe. You attract what you send out.

VO - I am assuming you receive a whole lot of inquiries from the bands to be considered as one of yours, am I right?

SF: No, you are not :D. We don’t receive that many I can tell you. As we are having quite a profile on what we manage, it makes only bands apply that feel attracted and fitting. Of course, there is some odd ones that you ask yourself why they sent in an application. Overall, I am really happy on the quality of applications.

VO - What do you think is missing in majority of bands that is needed in order to “make it”. To be unique lately is not as easy since technically there is nothing that has not been done. Is there any advise you might have for those who are trying to find themselves and their personality to be noticed in this ocean of bands?

SF: Correct, it is hard nowadays. What most forget is that building a career takes time. One hit wonders are … one hit wonders. It’s like in any other job. You know you are not doing an apprenticeship and then the next step is becoming the CEO, no, you work hard for years and educate yourself until you get there. The same goes for bands. You need work hard on all levels. What helps this is of course talent paired with luck. 80% of successful careers is pure luck paired with being there at the right time with the right feeling people need. I know a lot of bands who are unique and innovative but never made it or make it. Timing is something you can plan but feeling and emotions you can’t. So my job is to work the 20% so that if that moment comes, we are prepared and embrace it every day with hard labor, being good human beings and build exactly a career on what found fruitful grounds. You need to nourish your ground to reap what you sow. Simple.

For musicians: Do what you do best, focus on expressing your emotions the best you can as the instrument is just a tool. Be real, be you or be daring and invent a character. Nothing in-between works. Be aware that harsh vocals have a ceiling if you want to go commercial ☺.

The general advice I can give is to enjoy every moment to the max! You never know when it’s over, whatever you do. You can’t plan the future but dream, visioning. You can only act upon what you know. Success is plannable really.

VO - What takes your mind away from all the load of work? Any hobbies that you can share?

SF: Mainly my wife, my dog, sports of all sorts daily. Also good talks with friends about life.

VO - Lastly, can you share some of upcoming news and plans for By Norse and AISA? 

SF: I would love to but I wont ☺. We have MANY. Great things planned on all ends – if they materialize is a different question. The main thing is though, waking up happy every day, all of us, thankful for what we can do everyday.

VO - Simon, thank you so very much for your time. Truly looking forward to your continuous success ! 

SF: Thank you for the opportunity and the great work you do!

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