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Def Jam Hasn't Slowed Roadrunner Indie Spirit

It’s been 2-1/2 years since the Island Def Jam Music Group acquired a 50% stake in Roadrunner Records. However, the longtime rock-metal independent label still feels like an indie despite its major label parent, president Jonas Nachsin says.

“In terms of the Roadrunner’s indie spirit, I don’t think we’ve lost any of that,” Nachsin says. “When the partnership was done, I think the first thing that was decided was not to do anything, which was a very sage and important game plan because when something is working, the last thing you want to do is start to mess with it.”

It was a major shift for Roadrunner, which was founded in 1981 in Amsterdam by its chairman Cees Wessel and made a name for itself by doing outside-of-the-U.S. licensing deals with such metal bands as Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth. The company opened its first U.S. office in 1986 and went on to become home to such bands as Fear Factory, Type O Negative, Coal Chamber and Slipknot.

“We have achieved much more than I think people would have initially thought we were capable of,” Nachsin says. “The obvious recent examples are with Slipknot and Nickelback. I really believe the company has two of the elite bands of the rock universe.”

From an acquisitions standpoint, Roadrunner was a finely tuned, hard-rock-producing machine. Shortly after the Island Def Jam deal was in place, Nickelback’s sophomore Roadrunner release, “Silver Side Up,” took off and became a multiplatinum-selling worldwide hit.

“Lyor (Cohen, Island Def Jam CEO) had a very good nose,” Nachsin says. “I think to the victor go the spoils. From my point of view, he was not into Roadrunner because of any particular act or record that was happening on the label at the time, he was really more A&R-ing the culture at the company. As a brand builder himself at Def Jam, he just instinctively knew the value of a very serious brand.”

Despite hard times that have fallen on the industry (which have most often hit joint-venture deals), Nachsin says Roadrunner’s operations have not changed.

“We haven’t lost one staff position the entire time we’ve been aligned with Island Def Jam,” Nachsin says. “The only thing that changed is that we have a bigger family (now).”

Nickelback’s follow-up album, “Long Road,” debuted on the charts last week at No. 6 and has sold more than 300,000 copies in only two weeks of release.

“It’s a marathon, not a race, and you always want to get out of the gate starting off well,” Nachsin says. “Just because you had a hit on the previous record doesn’t mean anything. There is always pressure to perform after you’ve conquered in the way the band conquered the last time around. It’s very hard to live up to that kind of billing. They just went into (the studio) and tried to keep blinders on and do what they do creatively. I think they ended up with a stronger deeper record than ‘Silver Side Up.’ ”

Roadrunner also is continuing to develop new acts. Nachsin says one of the company’s key focuses as been on Ill Nino, a Spanish-English New York-area hard-rock/metal combo. Other projects include Spineshank, To My Surprise and Devildriver. Slipknot also is readying a new album with producer Rick Rubin, to be released in the spring.

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