Ron Nieto: „We didn’t know what we were really doing, but had drive and motivation”

This time I don’t need to write any introduction. Former editor of Brain Damage fanzine Ron Nieto told us about the glorious times of metal! – Part I

So Ron, how did you discover music and hard rock/heavy metal particular? What did you find so exciting in this genre?

I grew up in Long Beach and was introduced to Kiss at age 5 by my older brother’s Kiss Alive! album. He is 6 years older and I loved all of his records. He had Black Sabbath, Styx, Boston, Aerosmith & Rush lps. Around 1978, he got me into Southern California Punk Rock. T.S.O.L., Black Flag, Circle Jerks & Adolescents to name a few.

What were the first records/tapes that you bought or got from your parents, friends etc.? What kind of influence did it have on you?

In the 70’s I was into Kiss and Rush the most. I started drumming at age 6 so Neil Peart and Peter Criss were influences. My older brother had all of the records so I didn’t really need to buy anything then.

Were there any record stores in your area where you could get or buy magazines, vinyls, tapes etc.?

When I was 12 (1982) I met Vadim in junior high school. He was the only other kid wearing a denim vest with Judas Priest and Iron Maiden buttons. We would save up our money, take a bus to Cerritos, Ca. to a record store called BEST Records. We would go every weekend. The NWOBHM started and they were one of the only stores to get those records in. There was Middle Earth Records in Downey, Ca. as well as Zed Records in Long Beach, Ca.

At which point and how did you turn into the underground world? How did you discover fast, brutal music?

The fastest music to me in ’82 was Motörhead, Tank, Saxon and Iron Maiden. I wanted more and more. Best records would have Anvil, Loudness, Raven & Accept records. I remember hearing Fast as a Shark for the first time in their store. I was blown away. „Speed” from the Loudness LP Live Loud Alive was fast for its time as well. Circle Jerk’ Group Sex was some of the fastest drumming I’d heard up to that point. 1983 was a turning year for the birth of thrash, three bands releasing the fastest & heaviest albums so far. Anthrax – Fistful of Metal, Metallica – Kill ’Em All and Slayer – Show no Mercy. This was some fresh music for me.

What does underground mean to you respectively to be underground?

Underground was anything that wasn’t commercial. Unsigned bands that were never on the radio. Growing up in So. Cal was great to see bands in various clubs locally. There were always shows going on somewhere in the area.

Did you also get involved in the tapetrading scene very soon? How did it happen?

Tape trading, – that’s where Gene Hoglan came in. He lived a couple houses away from Vadim. We became friends with him and his sister Lisa. Gene was three years older and drove a truck! That’s how we got to various gigs. Someone would tape live shows with a boom box and trade with east coast people living in New York or Florida recording live shows from that area. That’s how I first heard the Mantas (Death) demo and various live shows of theirs. Trading demos was more of my favorite thing to get my hands on. We were fortunate to get demos of classic albums months or years before their release: Bonded By Blood, Seven Churches, Hell Awaits, Haunting the Chapel, Raging Violence (Hirax), Killing Is My Business & We Have Arrived (Dark Angel). Thanks, Gene! Lol

At which point did the fanzines enter in your life? Do you still remember which fanzines did you get in your hands for the first time?

I really wasn’t into fanzines in ’83. There were the Hit Parader & Circus magazines. They just covered the same popular bands of the time. They were boring to me.

How did you like them? Was this a brand new world for you?

The bands that we were into weren’t getting enough coverage so we started thinking about starting our own fanzine…

How and when did you end up starting Brain Damage fanzine? Did you come up the name of the fanzine with?

I think Vadim came up with the name. Lisa Hoglan drew the chain link Brain Damage logo. It came out great! We started up the fanzine in the summer of 1984.

What were the examples for you in terms of doing/writing a fanzine? Were you familiar with the very first US fanzines, such as The New Heavy Metal Revue by Brian Slagel, Headbanger by Bob Nalbandian, Metal Mania by Ron Quintana or Kick Ass Monthly by Bob Muldowney (R.I.P.)?

I had read many of the magazines that you listed. We wanted to interview bands that weren’t getting much coverage: Hirax, Sodom, Hellhammer, Bathory, Destruction, Omen, Possessed, Dark Angel etc. That was our motive for starting BD.

Did the staff consist of you, Vadim Rubin and Gene Hoglan right from the start? How did you get to know each other at all?

Yes, Vadim, Gene & me to begin with.

Did you have contributors/helping hands as well?

Not on the first issue. It was just us writing reviews and interviewing bands.

Being based in Long Beach, California, how about the scene of those times? What kind of memories do you have from that period? Could you tell us detailed about it?

I love Long Beach. Still visit often. It was close to all cities that would have great bands play, Costa Mesa, Anaheim, Hollywood, Buena Park & Orange County. I am very fortunate to have been born there.

Did you often attend at gigs recognizing new bands, gathering informations about what’s going on in the underground scene?

Yes. When I saw an opening band that was good, I would try to talk to them after their show. That’s how I met Betsy Bitch, Omen, Vermin, W.A.S.P. etc. Before they were all known, of course.

Was it a kind of metal family? Did you, I mean the fanzines/fanzine editors, help and support each other or was it rather a competition among you? Did you also trade with each other?

No. We were only 14 years old. We didn’t know anyone and would just do everything ourselves. We didn’t know what we were really doing, but had drive and motivation. We asked our parents for money and rides to the printing store, so they helped & supported us the most.

How did you get in touch with bands, that were interviewing/featuring in each issues? How did you choose the bands that you wanted to interview/to feature at all? Did it depend on your personal musical taste or…?

We only wanted to interview bands that we liked. We would get the band or a member of that bands contact info and mail a list of questions to them. It was pre internet so it was letters, stamps, envelopes and return self addressed envelopes for their convenience. Lol. We would ask for copies of their demos for reviews. Quothon (Bathory) & Tom Warrior (Celtic Frost) were some interviews that come to mind. They were excited to be covered by a U.S. fanzine for the first time. We were excited to get their advanced demos!

Was it easy to get in touch with the outfits?

Pretty easy. I can’t remember a band that didn’t reply to us. Destruction & Sodom all responded as well.

Did you always use own material or did you perhaps borrow articles from other fanzines? Did you often get materials from other fanzines, too?

No. We only used our own interviews and album reviews.

I would ask you to give us every details about the issues of Brain Damage! I mean, how were they done, what about the content of each issues, how in depth were the interviews, how were the reviews, how many issues were released, how much time did pass between each issues etc. I’m interested in everything what come to your mind!

We only did 2 issues. They were released about 10 months apart. It was very time consuming, but fun. We typed all of the text and cut out all of the pictures that were used. We had the pics and texts screen printed before we made the completed issue. By doing this, the pictures would print clearer. We glued all of the articles and pictures on a template that was 4 sided, meaning 4 pages per sheet. There were 7 (4 sided) sheets totaling 28 pages for each issue. Maybe more for issue #2. We printed 1000 copies of all 7 sheets (7 piles of 1000).

Like I said before, we „borrowed” the money from our parents for the printing bill. To save our parents money, we said that we would put together each issue from the 7 piles of 1000 copies and staple/fold each issue ourselves. This saved our parents about $200. We had a sleep over and stapled/folded each issue by hand. We were happy with the content of both issues. We interviewed every band that we wanted to for both issues.

Did the fanzine satisfy the demands of the underground fans? Were you satisfied with both issues?

We were satisfied with both issues. Every band got back to us that I remember. It sold well and the only feedback I remember getting was from our distributor saying they sold all copies locally.

How were they sold and distributed/promoted? Were all of the issues sold out?

We had a distribution company buy them from us at $.25 an issue, they would sell them to record stores for $.50 an issue, then the stores would sell for the cover price. All were sold, less the 15 or so copies we each kept for promos or our own copies.

Did you receive letters from other continents, too? Did you have a strong fanbase?

Yes. We were blown away when people from other countries and locally wanted a yearly subscription. They would ask how much for a year and so on. We were saying to ourselves: „Man, if they only knew how long each issue took to complete!”. We couldn’t commit to printing issues that quickly. We were now in 9th grade. Lol

Were you also in touch with record labels? Did you get respectively how often did you get promo packages?

No, not really. Gene knew Brian Slagel from Metal Blade but they didn’t really sign any bands that we were interested in covering. We were looking for the most darkest, fastest, heaviest bands in the world. We could do that on our own. Vadim was friends with Dave Richards who would help start Metal Storm records. Dave produced the Jag Panzer album Ample Destruction. We got the advance demo for that album about a year prior to its release. I loved that album. Still do.

On which format did you get the releases?

Mostly on tape/cassette. Very rarely did we receive a test pressing on vinyl. Sometimes though.

After the first issue joined Mike Rubinstein your ranks. How did he get in the picture? Did his musical taste fit to your one?

Mike became friends with Vadim at local shows. He liked the same music as all of us.

Did he have any experience regarding metal and/or fanzines?

I don’t think so. He was just a fan as well. He was asked to join the ranks for issue #2.

Gene was the drummer of Wargod, then he joined Dark Angel. Did he leave the staff to can fully concentrate on his music/bands?

I don’t think that is the reason he left. He could have done both. Dark Angel kind of took off so quickly locally. That was his main focus. They already had many songs written for the Darkness Descends album that they would play live. Gene was a senior in ’85 so he had to still graduate!

Was Lisa Hoglan only your photographer or did she also write reviews/articles, do interviews? Was she the sister of Gene by the way?

Lisa is Gene’s sister. She didn’t write any articles, but was helpful in getting us photos. We did use other people photos as well. We strived to give credit by each photo in our issues.

Did it happen, that the materials, that you’ve got from bands or labels, weren’t featured in the issues because of lack of space or did you always have enough material for every issue?

Well, to help with the costs of each issue, we had to sell advertisement space in each issue. We would either trade magazines ad space for each other, or sell for $$ to help pay our parents back! This would take page space away so we couldn’t always include everything. We may have had to shorten our reviews a bit, too.

What about the production cost of both issues? Were your costs cleared that you were investing in them?

No, Ha. We weren’t in it for the money. We were kids, having a blast! Our parents knew that they were basically giving us the money to support us. They were all awesome. Isn’t that what parents do anyway? We didn’t make any money from what I could tell. Just bragging rights. Ha

(to be continued)

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