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Midwest Metal

I have known Tom from MidWest Metal Fanzine for years and he put 28 issues of his great zine before recently calling it quits. I just got back in contact with him recently and I sent him over an email interview to find out why he folded his zine and also to get his take on the underground metal scene from today and yesteryear and here is what he said to the questions I emailed him:

MC: Tell my readers a little bit about yourself.

TOM: Well before I begin, I have to say this is a trip. I've been a reader of Metal-Core seemingly forever, so to be on the opposite end of a Chris Forbes interrogation is very cool. So about me? I'm Tom Trakas, or Tom Vader (ÒWarriorÓ was already taken) and IÕm a Metal writer from the Chicago suburbs. I'm a Heavy Metal Rock N' Roll/ music geek and collector who loves to talk music with likeminded folks. If someone is passionate about music, any kind of music then they're probably a friend of mine. I'm 38 years young and have been writing/interviewing professionally for over 18 years.

Midwest Metal was my magazine and main vehicle of expression and what led me to be right here. Over the years I've done some other promoting as well as band management which was all made possible via Midwest Metal's visibility and reputation. On a personal note IÕm married with two incredible children.

MC: How long have you been into metal and how did you discover underground metal music?

TOM: The initial Metal bug was implanted fairly early, KISS. It was all about KISS at an early age, however IÕm sure it was more visual stimulation than anything else. I'd have to say by 1981/82 I was heavily into Chicago Rock radio WLUP, WMET, WLS FM etc. Those stations played a variety of stuff like Van Halen, Krokus, Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Ozzy etc. ThatÕs what started me on the path to righteousness!

By 83/84 it was all over. I was in 7th grade and into the bands of the day Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, W.A.S.P., Manowar, Twisted Sister, Dio etc. Truthfully, I had no idea what underground music was until, fuck I don't even know when.

I remember hearing Whiplash by Metallica in 1984 in my 8th grade music class and that was insane. I always associated underground with raw, so I suppose by 1985 and definitely by 86 a decent portion of my time was spent listening to and searching for more underground stuff.

College radio, WRRG I believe it was, had an amazing Metal program that I'd tape religiously. I started my love affair with music magazines right around this time too. I've got thousands of mags, Circus, Hit Parader, Creem and all their off-shoots, Kerrang!, Metal Forces, Raw, Metal Hammer etc. etc. Years later when I got into high school it all exploded and the rest isÊ history. Fanzines played a HUGE part of finding things from 89/90 on. Thornado zine, a Chicago creation by a guy named Mark Kadzielawa was monumental in my development too. More on zines later.

MC: Looking back was doing a fanzine harder or easier than you thought and why?

TOM: It was harder because it was SO MUCH WORK! It cost SO MUCH MONEY and took SO MUCH TIME!! But in the face of those adversities, I was always out to prove I could do this. My first few issues, I expected instant whatever be it instant acceptability or instant credibility. I wanted it and I wanted it NOW!

That put a bit of a chip on my shoulder because initially I thought I was publishing Rolling Stone quality and the World [wisely] thought otherwise! I have to say there was never anything easy about any of it. Fun? Yes. God yes! But I'd never associate the word easy with Midwest Metal.

MC: How many issues did you put out and are you still doing it? If you are not what made you decide to lay down our pen of metal?

TOM: Starting in 1992/3 to 2008 I was able to publish 28 issues before calling it a day in October 2008. There are many decisions that led me to close shop and now that IÕve had the opportunity to step back from it all, itÕs easier to pinpoint to a few. Ê While time was always a huge obstacle, I have to also mention business.

The business changed, the people changed, the music changed and the fans changed a lot of these were definitely for the worse. I felt trapped by what I'd created and I couldnÕt wrap my head around the business structure of what the Metal industry has become. Ê The old ways of the recording industry are a dead institution and to me so is the independent fan magazines that spawned us.

MC: What were some of the great things about doing a zine and some of the pain in the ass things?

TOM: I have to say the great outweigh the pain in the ass stuff 10,000 to 1. I've had musical experiences and adventures that would've never happened to me had I not started clicking away on a typewriter way back when. I've interviewed people I've admired, I was given advance music (back when it meant something) for albums I would've probably camped out at the record store waiting to buy.

I was able to see behind the scenes shit I wouldn't have believed if it weren't right in front of my eyes. It was great to be a part of something, a movement, a musical explosion and to be right there for it? Amazing. To quote Hammer, I've been around the World, from London to the BayÓÉit was all because of a fucking fanzine!

The pain in the ass moments were there too, they usually revolved around someone not doing their job. I try not to focus on the negative aspects but will never forget them either.

MC: Did any label stop sending you promos due to giving bad reviews?

TOM: No, never happened. I wore out my welcome with Metal Blade in the late 90s or early 00s but that was based on advertising bullshit. I was aggressive as hell when it came time to finance a new issue and I was going after the record labels hard. Brian Ames was either an ad designer or something, we had words and that was that.

MC: In your opinion what makes a great zine and what are some of the great ones you have seen over the years?

TOM: Wow! What a question. To me a great zine was one where the editor or whoever was running the ship was just bleeding Metal. Not like an idiot or anything, but just someone where when you read their work it was a part of them. Over the years I've been lucky enough to have seen/read/collected some of the best. Some off the top of my head include Skull Sessions from Canada, Ill Literature, Jeff VanderClute's Metal Meltdown, MetalionÕs Slayer Magazine, Blitzkrieg Magazine from Washington, Pagan Pages, Inner Source, Coroners Report, Thornado (all Illinois gods).

Metal Assault from Arizona , Voices From the Darkside, Metal Curse, Portrait of Defiance and Dark Horizon from Indiana, Eternal Darkness was fucking awesome too! Earsplit, Wormgear, Metal Nightmare, Hell Frost from Milwaukee, Unrestrained! [R.I.P. Adrian], Peardrop, Lamentations of the Flames Princess, Kick Ass Monthly, (the short-short lived) Extremities Zine.

The Grimoire was great for a while, Headfucker, Snakepit, Sloth, Canadian Assault, Intellektual Spew, A Comedy of Errors, Feast or Famine, Curious Goods, Flak You Not, Berzerker from PhoenixÉMetal Core of course, FeH was godly, Subversive Agenda and Ilbasha Wild Rag, another short lived great was Symposium from Iowa. I could go on all day and I know I'm forgetting a lot.

MC: Is there any zines that you did not like for one reason or another?

TOM: Not that I can remember. I always hated when a mag came out like gangbusters and the Editors couldn't keep up with the work and it folded not long after the launch. Extremities was like that. I remember they even helped sponsor a tour with Vader, Broken Hope and Monstrosity and then seemed to fold the mag. Infernal Archives was another quick one, I know the guy went on to play/form Agalloch but he didn't last.

Cursed from Rhode Island I think, ads distributed up the ass but he couldn't hang. It's not that I didn't like these zines, but they were good mags (for the most part) and I wanted them to exist for selfish reasons! I had a love/hate thing with a lot of mags, loved to read them but hated their opinions or the me-first attitude when it came to the interviews. Like writers putting too much of themselves in the article.

I never understood that kid from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Jim. But at one a point was there a harder working writer in Metal than him? Doubtful. So I usually never had the problem with the zine, just the writer.

MC: Did you write for any other publications?

TOM: I did some writing for Ill Literature, Unrestrained, Terrorizer and Pit over the years but didnÕt really care for writing for others. I was honored to write for these magazines but I didnÕt get off on having the work seen like I thought I would. Does that make sense?

MC: How did you come up with your name?

TOM: A guy who I was working with at the time came up with it. He always said if he were to start a magazine he would've called it Midwest Metal. It was simple, Chicago being in the Mid-west and Metal. I lost the hyphen although thinking about it now I shouldÕve kept seeing my worship of the band Vio-Lence! So he came up with the name and I ran with it.

Throughout the years I'd have this person or that person come on to write a little here and there. No one ever really lasted. The creator of the name, Kain, he was the closest thing I ever had to a partner, the initial ten/twelve issues I ran just about every detail past him for advice while we worked. A new issue coming back from the printer was a guaranteed dead day there (at work), the fucking phone bills I must've rang up too.

MC: How many issues have you put out and do you have a favorite issue and a least favorite issue?

TOM: Like mentioned a few questions up, I did 28 Issues. Definitely have a least favorite, that's a no brainer for me. Issue #22 was released in 2000 was one that I really came to dislike. A favorite? I love the last one I did, #28 I thought that was about as close to perfect I could've ever imagined myself to get. Issue #27 was also a highlight I've always said as far as favorite this or that, Issue #23 has my favorite cover of all time.

MC: Around how many copies did you release of each issue and are any back issues still for sale?

TOM: We started with 100 copies of Issue #'s 1-4, then went up from there. I'd say it peaked with 8,000 copies of Issue 25 back in 2003. From then on it was usually 2,500 until the end. We've still got a few here and there of the older issues, 26, 27, 28 etc. For now check www.myspace.com/midwestmetal for back issue cover and contents.

MC: Do you like pretty much all styles of metal or are there some styles of metal that you just hate?

TOM: I like to think I'm fairly open-minded when it comes to Metal. However I seem to hate more than I like. I tend to gravitate to either Thrash based stuff or Doom (stoner) Metal stuff like Electric Wizard, Sleep etc. I do not care for modern Grind-Core or Porno-Grind shit whatsoever. For Grind it's got to be the original Earache shit. The Relapse-Core grind, I just canÕt get into it. Female fronted Metal I don't seem to like either.

MC: Do you miss the days of sending out hand written letters and stuffing them with various flyers?

TOM: Yeah, in a sick way I do. That was the internet for us back then! The harder you worked the more business you did...it was as simple as that. I mean yeah it was time consuming as hell, but it all was. Writing, interviewing, reviewing, cutting and pasting, enlarging shit on a Xerox machine, making ads. It was all time consuming, but we did it. There was a reward at the end of the tunnel. Émail!

I mean getting mail from Norway or Sweden in the early 90Õs was fucking insane, all the business we were able to do with people from across the globe was not something everyone was involved in. We were. I mentioned my job at the time, I'm thankful that I had a job where I was able to offset some of the time and costs of the mag for a good number of years.

MC: Do you still have a lot of the demos and stuff that bands have sent you over the years?
TOM: Yeah, I do. I'm kind of a pack rat by nature so I still have a lot of stuff like that in storage. I've got weird promo items and letters and photos from different periods and of course all the magazines.

MC: What are some of the greatest concerts that you have seen?

TOM: Unfortunately I missed more than my share of shows. I had a real lack of transportation coupled with less than stellar grades all throughout my school years resulting in a lot of Òlock-down time. Still I saw my share like Rush/Gary Moore 84, Iron Maiden/Twisted Sister 84, Metallica/Ozzy a few times in 1986. Anthrax/Exodus/Celtic Frost 87, Testament/M.O.D./Vio-Lence/Sanctuary 88, Testament/Raven 88, Death Angel/Rigor Mortis , Slayer/Danzig/Trouble , Slayer/Motorhead/Over Kill, Candlemass/Athiest , Judas Priest/ Megadeth/ Testament 90, Death Angel/Forbidden, Vio-Lence/Defiance Death w. James Murphy, Gods of Grind (Carcass, Cathedral, Entombed and Confessor), Ê Deicide/Dismember 92, Complete Control Tour (Cannibal, Malevolent, Obituary, Agnostic Front) 92, New Titans on the Block (Sepultura/Napalm Death/Sick of it All/Sacred Reich) 93. Even some shows/tours from 10/15 years ago are still some I feel will never be topped. Seeing VoiVod/Soundgarden/Faith No More was a weird one, Slayer/Biohazard and Machine Head, Crowbar/ EYEHATEGOD/ Soilent Green, Morbid Angel/At the Gates/Dissection, Emperor, Thrash of the Titans in San Francisco 2001, like the zine question so many and many forgotten.

When I started working with record companies in the early 90s the list of live shows just gets ridiculous. I mean at one point in my life (pre kids) I was out four nights a week at all sorts of shows. Back when there were label reps out at the shows with expense accounts! Now thereÕs fucking street teamers!

MC: How has the response to your my space page been? Are you connecting with some old metalheads that you have lost touch with over the years?

TOM: Yeah, it's been really cool. I avoided starting one at first, but was glad I did as soon as I started running into old fans and bands, it's quite the marketing tool. Myspace replaced what MP3.Com was to musicians and took it to a whole new level.

It's been really cool to, for the most part, go right to the band themselves instead of having to go through bullshit publicists these days. Of course there's good and bad about everything, but I see Myspace as a lot of good.

MC: Do you think if back in say the early 90's we had all this technology we have now that your zine as well as many others might have sold more copies?

TOM: Well if they had the advantages back then like they do now they would've just gotten rid of us sooner! But seriously, I suppose so. But I do know the harder I worked at the mail the better I sold. If I sacrificed and stayed home to do mail more than go out I sold more mags.

If I networked and did more trades or sent out copies for review it usually translated into something

MC: Where did you get your zine printed and did you make any money or lose money with the zine?

TOM: I got them printed at Small Publishers Co-Op. I started working with them in December 97 and they were the best, they never let me down once.

I was actually going to do one last print issue last November (2008) and I couldnÕt get a hold of Small Pub and then heard they went out of business. Ê If they were still in business I wouldÕve done this last one. Ê I lost quite a bit at first, it was what it was, there were a lot of perks that helped.

Advertising in the later years was very healthy. When the Limp Biskit explosion happened in the late 90s/early 01s and the major labels (Polygram/Mercury, Geffen, Interscope, Warner) each had their Nu-Metal cash cows they had to find print zines to advertise with whether the mag covered the band or not.

MC: Do you still go to many concerts and do you go any check out other metal web zines and the like?

TOM: Yes. I'm still as into it as I ever was. I've found the secret to eternal youth and I cannot see it any other way. The scene has never been bigger or healthier. The outlet for these bands is almost too much! Every way they can think of to get their music out there it's happening. I will admit to slowing down heavily on any new bands. There's just way too many. I'm not looking for the next so and so, chances are after 25 years of being a Metal fan I know what I like.

I check out a few Metal sites, some tend to lose my interest after a while. I've been finding some Metal and some not so Metal related blogs that have been as exciting as any webzine.

I think a blog is kind of like a zine, a more streamlined (hopefully) zine. I check out Blabbermouth and BWBK for any news.

MC: Any advice for somebody who is thinking of starting up a web zine?

TOM: No, not really. The fact that my creation(s) exist these days only on the internet makes me a little bummed. I miss the actual product, the magazine! The fold it, read it on the train, read it in the bathroom whatever. A webzine can be an effective thing, but like modern music, every one knows everything already. No surprises.

I can't imagine feeling connected to a webzine the way I used to be able to devour an issue of say Ill Literature. Where IÕd talk about what I read and what I learned now it's just a way different vibe. Webzines definitely fit our society though. I suppose if you're going to do a webzine, have fun and don't make yourself sick over the details.

MC: Do you still get mail for the zine and bands still sending you stuff to review?

TOM: Here and there yes. I announced we that I was ending Midwest Metal and beginning my None But My OwnÕ blog back in October 08. Some got the message, some still send stuff. Right now I'm so burnt out on listening to anything new. Sure there's a band or two that filter through or come highly recommended or I'll review something if it catches my ear but I wouldnÕt count on it. I tell bands all the time, don't send stuff in, but some just want to be heard and I can understand that.

MC: I am out of questions. Horns up for the interview and any last words?

TOM: Definitely, check me out at:


Thanks for the interview Chris. Always much respect to you and Metal Core since day one.

Tom Trakas
PO Box 612
Downers Grove, IL. 60516