Roadrunner Records has evolved -- over a staggering 25-year history -- from an unassuming Dutch import company into one of the most innovative record labels in the world. Fiercely independent since its start, graced with a passionate staff, and incomparable musical talent, Roadrunner has achieved something that many labels seek and never attain, let alone maintain for a quarter-century: brand recognition. The Roadrunner logo has come to mean two things to millions of fans around the world: a high standard of quality in musicianship and presentation, and an unwavering commitment to the best, most unique, and most intense in the hard rock and heavy metal genres.
Just as Roadrunner has taken the lead so many times on the artistic side, finding and developing acts that have literally changed the face of heavy rock, so too has the label come up with a brilliant and inventive way to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Paying homage to its past, giving a nod to its future, and framing both in the most creative terms possible Roadrunner is poised to release an album of original new heavy music, played by some of the genre's best and most highly-regarded practitioners.
“In June 2004, Roadrunner's owner, Cees Wessels, asked me to come up with an idea to celebrate Roadrunner's 25th anniversary,” recalls A&R visionary Monte Conner. “I knew that for it to be really special, we would need to come up with a record that involved many musicians, one that was truly a collaboration on a grand scale, with songs written by, played by and sung by different people. An album that would cover the entire history of Roadrunner and feature some of our most legendary artists from the past, right up to and including musicians from our newest signings.”
The idea was formulated to create four “teams” -- each headed by a “team captain.” Each team would consist of a core of musicians -- two guitarists, bassist and drummer -- who would lay down basic tracks for four original songs written by the team captain. Each song would use a different vocalist, and no player could appear on a tune by another team. The team captain would select a studio in which to cut the instrumental tracks, while the singer was free to record where it was convenient for him and was also instructed to come up with lyrics and a vocal melody on his own.
Roadrunner United was thus born in August of 2004. The label now had a year to assemble this vast and complex project, and the first things that were needed were the four cornerstone musicians -- the team captains. Several criteria were established: the captains had to be comfortable in the studio and know how to produce music; they had to be primary songwriters in their own bands; they had to be well-respected names in the metal field; and they had to encompass the Roadrunner history from its past to its future. The four captains -- Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison, Machine Head frontman Robert Flynn, former Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares and Trivium vocalist Matthew Heafy -- filled that bill admirably.
“I thought it was a great idea and was really excited about it, because it was a chance to work with a lot of artists that I really respected while I was growing up,” says Jordison. “I was just honored to be kind of the first guy they asked.” Like Jordison, Cazares was flattered to be considered: “It's definitely a compliment to be a team captain. I've been with the label since 1992, and we were a big part of Roadrunner history.” “It was awesome,” says Heafy about the experience of being selected to oversee one-quarter of this ever-expanding and important project. “Being able to see different musicians in the studio, and they way they work and play, was really cool.”
Roadrunner's impressive roster -- ranging from early black metal favorites like Deicide to progressive metal wizards Cynic to the Brazilian thrash of Sepultura, not to mention the Gothic stylings of Type O Negative and the pioneering electronic metal of Fear Factory -- gave the team captains a wide and unparalleled selection of musicians to choose from. “I started thinking about people that I thought would be cool to jam with, asked everyone in my band for their ideas, and they pretty much suggested all the cool people,” recalls Robert Flynn. “My drummer, Dave McClain, suggested getting Andres Herrick, who used to be in Chimaira, while Adam (Duce, bassist) suggested having Tim Williams, formerly of V.O.D., sing. And I was like, ‘That'd be killer.' I had other people in mind, but the guys in Machine Head came up with guys who were just off my radar for whatever reason.”
In the end, an astounding total of 56 musicians from 44 different bands were utilized on the album, an amazing organizational feat and a sign of the respect and that each player had for each other and the label itself. “I've heard some of the tracks from the other ‘teams,' and they're fuckin' unreal,” says Jordison. “This thing has come out better than anyone expected. When the captains wrote the material, they wanted to make it the best possible, and when you brought all these guys in to play, they wanted to do the best possible. Everybody stepped up.”
Even as it has diversified and grown, Roadrunner has stayed true to its identity as the premier metal and heavy rock imprint in the world. “The fact that they've been able to last 25 years, putting out music as extreme as the music they put out, is pretty incredible,” muses Robert Flynn. “The few labels that I can remember when I was first getting into this music, none of those labels are around anymore.” “I grew up listening to all the bands on the label,” says Matthew Heafy. “I spent all my money on bands like Slipknot and Fear Factory and Machine Head, and now I'm on a CD with the songwriters from those bands, and it was really cool being able to watch musicians that I really look up to play in the studio.”
Dino Cazares, the team captain who has the longest history with the label, sums up what has kept the label going for all those years, and why both metal fans and artists hold the company in high esteem: “Back in the day when Roadrunner first came out, you knew what you were getting if a record had the Roadrunner logo on it. If you saw that, you were buying it, because you knew it would be good quality shit. So when I signed to Roadrunner, I was like, ‘Wow, I'm on Roadrunner.' It was the best label for underground metal and pushing the envelope and finding new bands. It was a real honor to be on the label, and it's still an honor to be part of Roadrunner.”