I thought Henry Rollins was the hardest working guy in show biz & music until I interviewed Rob “Blasko” Nicholson and it became clear that Rollins has competition for that title. Most of you should recognize Blasko’s name by now. If you don’t, you’ll need to surrender your heavy metal membership card now, please.
His first gig was slinging bass for Metal Blade artists Cryptic Slaughter (1985-1988), releasing three influential albums with them. A few years later he joined Danzig briefly before signing on with Rob Zombie, playing on four of his records. Nicholson eventually landed a spot as Ozzy’s bass player replacing Jason Newsted in 2003. Since 2007 he’s been a full-time band member. Look for his work on Ozzy albums Black Rain and Scream.
Lately, Nicholson made headlines when he joined L.A.’s grooviest record label, Ripple Music, as executive vice president of artist relations and special projects. That’s in addition to being Ozzy’s bass player, in addition to managing a roster of artists including Zakk Wylde, Black Label Society, Zakk Sabbath, Clutch, High On Fire, and Black Veil Brides, and in addition to playing bass in Zakk Sabbath. No rest for the wicked, right?
What was your first introduction to the genre of heavy music, be it stoner, doom, etc?
It all started with Kiss and Destroyer. I was born in ’69, so, that point when Kiss was max’d out everywhere, mid to late ‘70s, that was a really influential time for me. Kiss for me, was the gateway drug into everything else, like Sabbath, Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, all that shit. When you think of Kiss’ Destroyer, you think of these larger-than-life characters, the riffs, the pageantry, really all that is rock N roll, and that for me was where it started.
Has your taste in music changed much over the years?
To be honest, my tastes haven’t varied too much off the track. Like I said, Kiss was my gateway and gateways lead you to other bands to discover but inevitably, at some point, you start running out of riffs. Either the classics aren’t around anymore, or they aren’t making them like they used to and that leads you into the underground where you begin exploring for the next batch of riffs. And what do you naturally do when you find something cool? You share it with your friends, especially with people who say they can’t find anything new or exciting, and then you turn them on to what you’re into.
Let’s jump back in time to your your Cryptic Slaughter era. Were you aware of St. Vitus since we’re talking about all things heavy here?
Yes, and here’s how that happened. One of my buddies I went to school with, same age, same grade, he had an older brother, and it’s always that older brother guy that’s hip to this stuff, right? Well, their dad was a priest so they were both super fuckin’ rebellious dudes, and it was the older brother who would sneak out of the house and go to SST shows.
He turned us on to bands like fIREHOSE, Vitus, all the SST stuff, and there was a hot scene of music going on in L.A. at the time, mid to late ‘80’s. It was a thing where I’d turn my buddy onto an Exodus record and he would turn me onto The Dead Kennedys’ In God We Trust Inc. and the fallout or the mashup of listening to those records lead to St. Vitus.
Did Cryptic Slaughter do any shows with St. Vitus or other SST bands?
I don’t think so, I don’t think we did. We did a lot of shows with Metal Blade bands at the time because that’s who Cryptic was signed to, so it was D.R.I, Corrosion of Conformity, and then we also played with Dr. Know, Wehrmacht, who was signed with New Renaissance Records, The Accused. It was a different scene, like I remember our first show was opening for Discharge, and then it was Excel, who were good friends of ours, Attitude Adjustment from San Francisco, Final Conflict. It was a bit of a different scene from the SST bands.
Did you do national tours with Cryptic Slaughter?
A lot of it was up and down the West coast until 1988, that was really our first real, kind of longer tour we did with Angkor Wat, a band from Texas. That was our first and last mega tour.
Did that tour take you to Chicago, did you become aware of the band Trouble, that way?
Oh, wow. I can’t remember. If not Chicago, somewhere close by. From time to time we’d go and visit the record label and they had a room with all this vinyl, all these promo copies, and Trouble was a Metal Blade band, so we’d pull all these records and that’s really how I became aware of them, by doing that.
Let’s move into present day and talk about what you’re doing at Ripple Music.
What I’m basically doing, is, I’m coming in as the dude I am, with the wealth of experience I have, to not only sign someone but actually work with the band. I’m not like an A&R guy that signs a band, I’m actually pretty involved in the creation process of an album. For example, the bands I’m working with right now, they’ll send me demos and I’ll critique ’em. I’ll give that band some guidance and input, and work with them pretty deeply.
I kind of compare what I do to what a personal trainer does.
I’ll push a band a little bit further out of their comfort zone to get results that maybe they couldn’t do themselves. A lot of underground labels and bands don’t have someone like me in their corner pushing them and guiding them, let alone offering up suggestions from the perspective of someone who’s been in the circumference of mega platinum selling albums.
I have that musician’s sense of things because of what I’ve been around so I can offer up insight and advice which is different than what some kind of suit and tie guy at a bigger label has to offer, even if he’s been on point for a lot of bigger albums; there’s a different input coming from the musician’s side of things.
I’m trying to take these underground bands that have the riffs to the next level, basically. I look at how they’re crafting songs and maybe suggest that they need a bigger riff in a certain spot, what the better chorus might be, even suggesting what band photo to go with. I just did that the other day, as a matter of fact.
In terms of receiving demos and looking at bands that have signing potential, what gets your attention?
I like a band that’s either willing to put in the work or already has put in the work. It starts there. I’m a little bit of a traditionalist in the way that I’m looking at this as an opportunity. A band getting signed is done out of passion for the music, not how many Facebook likes or number of Spotify streams they have. Not to sound like an old guy, but back in my day those things didn’t exist.
When Brian Slagel signed Cryptic Slaughter back in 1985, he did it because he liked the band name and thought we had a unique sound because we played so fast. He didn’t know that what he was doing at the time would become this huge thing, 30 fucking plus years later. He didn’t go into it with that intention, he did it because that’s what he loved. Back then, whether you were in a band or doing a label or a fanzine, that wasn’t a career choice. No one ever said, “I’m going to start a heavy metal band because that’s my career,” no one thought that, no one said it. It was pure passion for the music and doing what you loved.
The fact that it did become a career path for some of us, we’re fuckin’ lucky as anything. But yeah, I’m a traditionalist in that I’m going to sign a band because I love their music; I resonate with them because they have a cool name, have a cool logo, write cool songs. I look at it, as, I’m gonna work with these guys and we’re gonna make a kick ass record, and that gets me excited. I remember what it was like in Cryptic Slaughter when we physically held our records, had that vinyl in our hands, that’s the feeling I want.
What about the “special projects” role you’re doing?
In some respects, the “special projects” title covers the albums I’m making with these bands, that’s inherently a special project within itself. On a bigger level, it’s working with other people on, for example, an award show for this genre of music I have in mind. I’m also putting together enough data to lobby Sirius XM so we can get a show on it, it’s things of this nature that fall under the heading of “special projects.”
For me, this is more than signing a badass band. It’s me, Ozzy Osbourne guy, coming into this scene and being able to shine a bigger spotlight on it in general. You have to figure, there’s upwards of say, 500 bands in the stoner / doom genre alone putting out albums every year, and that can’t go unnoticed. If there is a way I can insert myself into this conversation as somebody who’s a more visible guy, the question becomes, how do I utilize that to an advantage, to put more emphasis on this scene in general and drive more attention to it, and get these bands heard, and elevate them above the underground? That’s part of this role I have.
The scene seems so healthy right now with a lot of internal support coming from blogs and podcasts, the doom charts, everything. I think if I put the burden on my shoulders of trying to rally all these elements together and get us all to work together, communicate and lift each other up with a united voice, that’s what I’m going to do because the end goal is still the same: get these bands heard, get these record labels noticed, keep the scene moving forward.
Regarding technology, yeah, it’s a must because it’s inherent in the world we live in right now. Even though this type of music might be analog in some respects, the goal is to infiltrate the digital space and utilize every aspect of it to its full potential to bring attention to these bands and this scene. I’ll be using not only Ripples social media but my own as well. Look for an announcement on Tuesday, February 2, we’ll be announcing our first signing then. I think at this point we’ve got about 7 or 8 that are on deck and signed or in the process of being signed.
The challenge for me, as I see it, is how do I bring my credibility and experience into a situation that’s 10 years old, has distribution, has infrastructure but doesn’t have someone like me that can bring a whole new dimension to these bands that they haven’t experienced before and don’t know. I think the goal is offering something up that no other label is able to do with the intent of really giving these bands something special and a real cool opportunity that could equate to some of these bands taking the ride up to the next level.
In a lot of cases though, it’s really up to the band to embrace and take the opportunity and that often requires sacrificing some creature comforts by getting in a van and going on the road and grinding it out. A lot of times, some great bands go unheard because the human being in them is unwilling to make those sacrifices. The goal here is to hopefully shine a light on some of these underground bands and work with them, get them to that next level where they can become the next Greta Van Fleet, or whatever.
Has the pandemic been a factor in terms of what you’re doing?
It’s two-fold. I think more people are around, so more people are listening to music and more bands have a little bit more time to spend on their records, so that is a fortunate situation for this particular relationship.
The downside is that we really can’t put out any records until bands can tour behind them.
That’s a bit of a wall we need to get over at some point, but it feels like maybe by the end of the year we can get back to touring. This pandemic is a fuckin’ drag but I’m trying to see the light in it which is taking the time to do everything we’ve talked about and getting it right and getting these bands elevated.
You mentioned touring which means Ozzy will be hitting the road at some point. How will that impact your role at Ripple Music?
The fortunate situation of being in Ozzy’s band and as an entrepreneur as well, is, I can take my job with me anywhere. My commitment with Ozzy is the number of shows we do each week, which is usually 3 or 4, and then it’s my time on stage. When I’m not doing that I’m working.
One of my biggest clients in my management company is Zaak Wylde, and he’s on the road with me, so that’s a big plus. I also get a lot of work done, so there’s no distractions, no cat box to clean, no mail to take out, no trash to empty, all the super un-sexy, behind the scenes, rock star stuff that goes on. I’m locked up in a hotel room and able to just grind away.
So, the whole sex, drugs and rock N roll thing isn’t happening, except for the rock part.
Dude, there’s a hilarious meme that you’ve probably seen from time to time. It’s the one with the band where it says, “What people think happens” and “What really happens,” and it has the shot of the band backstage and they’re all on their laptops, individually. That’s real life!
Check out Ripple Music here
Check out Blasko’s stoner / doom podcast “Volume Forever” here
Blasko made the announcement on 2/2 that Austin TX’s Holy Death Trio is the first band signed. Check out their bandcamp page here