When bar and venue Saint Vitus opened in Brooklyn in April of 2011, it didn’t take long for it to become a premier destination for metal fans and bands alike. Co-owned by Primitive Weapons members Arthur Shepherd and Justin Scurti, with the band’s David Castillo serving as events director, it’s an artist-friendly venue with a bar that won’t scare off non-metalheads. With the club’s second anniversary around the corner, Castillo and Shepherd have launched Sacrament, a combination label and merch company. The band’s first signing, Sannhet, has been announced, and the next Primitive Weapons album will also be released on the label. We caught up with Castillo to speak about how the new venture launched and what to expect from Sacrament.
How did you get to what you’re doing now?
I guess it really started when I started a blog called Chronic Youth with a couple friends of mine. We started booking shows in New York City about 5 years ago now. Eventually I started a band called Primitive Weapons with Artie. That led into me knowing those guys. I’d been doing a lot of shows, writing, bartending, and when Saint Vitus was set to open, they were like “we’re going to have a stage and we want to book a few shows.” I don’t think anyone foresaw what the place was going to become. They weren’t really sure whether it was going to be more of a bar or a venue. It was more of a multifaceted sort of thing. As time went on, you just kind of saw the writing on the wall that people loved coming to shows there. My role just started growing to the point that that’s I’m the event director there and that’s all that I do. From that point too, the place started to really take on its own vibe and it’s pretty noticeable when you walk through the doors.
The thing I like about it is that it definitely is a metal bar, but it’s not a dive bar.
No not at all. I think the décor is almost gothy and industrially than it is metal in a lot of ways like in the actual design of the place. More of what we put into it brings out metal culture; the music that’s played there, all the stuff behind the bar, the programming that goes on. Obviously we love metal, but I think the definition is a little wider. We throw a lot of goth shows, a lot of post-punk shows, industrial shows, noise shows, punk shows, hardcore shows. I kind of accredit it to how CB’s was always known for the punk and hardcore scene, but at the same time they did metal shows all the time. They did all sorts of shows, but they had that one defining characteristic. Metal is ours, but we do a bunch of other stuff, mostly in the darker music realm. There’s never going to be reggae night at Saint Vitus.
Tell me about Sacrament and how it came to be.
It really was just me and Artie talking. We had been booking and seeing our friends’ band Sannhet for a bit and I would be putting Sannhet on shows at Vitus to open up for Black Cobra, then they just continually started opening really cool shows. We just thought that they were fucking fantastic. They were really representative of a lot of the things we like that goes on in the bar. One day we ended up playing with them in Connecticut, we meaning Primitive Weapons. Artie was listening, and was like “dude why don’t we just put this fucking record out?” And I was like ‘dude I’ve been thinking the same thing.’ We got together with those guys. AJ [Annunziata] and John [Refano] are very talented art directors and designers as their day jobs. We spoke about what we wanted to do, what we wanted to do for them, and how we would sort of do it. It just came about really organically. We thought we could do a lot with this. Take it into using it as a platform to put into the culture of what we usually see at the club.
So Sacrament is starting out as a label, more or less?
Yeah, it’s going to be pretty much start as a label. We will be distributing merchandise and creating exclusive stuff around our bigger shows, like custom posters and stuff like that that to commemorate some of the stuff that we have going on. There’s a couple of things that I wish we had already done, like maybe make a special shirt for when Saint Vitus played at Saint Vitus, for example. We hadn’t had the capability or platform to do that. Sacrament serves that purpose.
Is Sacrament going to be its own kind of brand and have Sacrament shirts, or are you going to have merch for Saint Vitus and the bands you work with?
Right now what’s cool about it is it is a little open ended. We’re going to organically see how it goes. Yeah, I think it can grow into some of those sorts of avenues as well and I’m hoping to, but I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to play it yet. I think for us the main thing, the first step, was to get a release out there. Get some actual music out there because that was our first goal. After that, I see it in a way modeled around labels that we really liked and still do, like Dischord, Hydra Head, and even Motown. It’s about the area and that a lot of things that are going on around here, this whole Brooklyn thing that is sort of happening. It’s our main goal to work with those artists and kind of grow that thing. If there’s someone from somewhere else, it’s not like we wouldn’t do it, we’re not that hardcore about it. It organically grew out of that mentality.
Is the label distributed through anyone or is it online right now?
Right now it’s totally through us. We didn’t make a ton of physical product; the Sannhet stuff is 500 records. We’re going to put it in some shops that we really like around here and maybe a couple on the West Coast and stuff, but it’s nothing that we thought we couldn’t handle ourselves. Digitally, it will be available in North America, and well, everywhere.
Would you pact with someone like RED or ADA or a larger distributor?
We talked to a couple of people and felt like we’d see where the interest may or may not be. It’s one of those things where we didn’t need something like that to start. We just started the process and we’ll see from there what people may or may not offer us. It’s not like I’m some music industry guy, neither is Artie. We’ve been through the music industry as artists and live show promoters and venues, so we’ve seen it from a lot of different angles, but doing this venture, we took it step by step to see what’s going on. We want to make products that are really cool and that consumers would really like to purchase. So making a traditional jewel case CD does not really interest us too much.
Do you have designers in house for merch?
We have a lot of talented friends, which is really awesome. Friends of ours have worked with either a band, or Saint Vitus, or whatever. We were lucky that we had a good crew of people that just hang out with us. So I really think it’s a project by project basis. With Sannhet, they make all their own stuff. If we needed to do something for somebody else, or whatever, you can totally tap those guys or other people to try and create something that would fit for that project.
Sannhet is your first release, is there anything else in the pipeline yet or are you just letting this organically develop?
We have a couple of ideas. There are a few things out there. There’s a couple of things that I may not be able to talk about just yet, but there’s definitely some other stuff that I hope to at least digitally put out a couple more things this year and do cool things like that. We’ll see how it goes, but there will definitely be some more stuff from us before the year is out. [Ed. Note: Following this interview, Castillo informed us that Primitive Weapons will be releasing their next album via Sacrament and are no longer on Prosthetic.]
Are there any labels or companies that you look up to that as you’re doing this you’re looking for inspiration?
Yeah definitely. I think that Southern Lord does a really interesting job. They really know what’s going on on the ground. They’ve been able to take bands who have been doing well by themselves and have developed them and are putting them to the forefront a little bit more. I think that is very valuable.
Not to mention that they’re artists in their own right too.
Yeah, exactly. I think that they understand it from every angle. I also think that from a curation standpoint, Proufound Lore is killing it. I’ve never had to work with them or anything, but for what [owner Chris Bruni] does, in his corner of the universe, it’s fucking awesome.