Of Vinyl And The Sun: A Conversation With Yosuke Konishi

For 24 years, Nuclear War Now! Productions have honored tradition and spearheaded innovation, shaping the underground scene as we know it. When CDs were en vogue, NWN! remained loyal to analog and produced vinyl. When most black metal fans couldn’t get enough of all things cold and Scandinavian, NWN! carefully curated all things hot and bestial, helping to mould an aesthetic that has come to define the genre’s most barbaric extremes. Behind the 700+ items released on NWN!, hosting a once-leading metal forum, organizing fests both home and abroad, and opening a full retail store, is one Yosuke Konishi.

Now, after 40 years as a record collector and a quarter of a century in the business behind him, Yosuke is taking on his biggest venture yet: Helios Press, a record-pressing plant being built in Texas, aiming to press high-quality records across all genres. If you’re a fellow consumer of vinyl, you likely don’t need to be told that the stark rise in shipping costs and manufacturing delays are two very compelling reasons for why a North American plant is sorely needed.

In an effort to spread the good news, it was my pleasure to talk shop with Yosuke to get into the finer details of Helios Press, conquering your fears to create order from chaos, and how fans can offer their support.

Yosuke, thank you for your time and the opportunity to chat; I know you’ve been on a busy press campaign among everything else you do. To set the stage for those who might not know, what are some of the challenges that the vinyl industry has faced in recent years that you’re hoping to address with Helios Press? Why should the average music fan be excited about this announcement?

Some of the issues that we’ve had at NWN! during the pandemic were things like extreme delays from the factory that weren’t necessarily their fault, however international shipping from Europe made it almost impossible to get the records over here in a timely manner. Things have gotten so much better since the pandemic, but the shipping costs from Europe have pretty much stayed the same. I don’t know if that’s just part of the business of price gouging; it might be real macroeconomics I don’t fully understand. Maybe gas prices are high because of the wars that are raging right now, and it seems like there’s another one brewing in the Middle East, so we’ll see where that takes us in terms of fuel prices. You know how it is, taxes will always go up, shipping cost will always go up, and you’ll die at some point; those are all truisms. We know shipping from Europe in particular will go up because of Environmental Protection laws that the EU is enforcing. So with that in mind, I think it’s best to press domestically in the US, either through a company like Helios, Third Man Pressing in Detroit or Chris Donaldson’s new factory that’s opening in North Carolina. These are all small, independent factories that are owned by musicians themselves, so we have a leg up.

I’m not a musician myself but I’m kind of an honorary musician, I guess, because I’ve been in the music industry for 24 years now. I feel like I understand the consumers a lot better because I’ve been on the consumer side for so long. I know where all the pain points are, and I know what frustrates me as a record label trying to press records and getting the run around, or just not getting the quality that I want for my records. 

There are many choices out there and the good thing is, in the industry of vinyl pressing, I don’t think real competition really exists. It’s more like we’re all colleagues. The presses I mentioned are factories that I personally use, and I consider all of these people just colleagues of mine, not necessarily competitors. Now, I’m sure the bigger factories will see the other bigger factories as competitors rather than colleagues. But it’s kind of like how in the underground metal scene, all the labels work with each other. Obviously, there are some egos sometimes and people don’t get along, but for the most part we do. In the US I work with Hells Headbangers, Electric Assault, Dark Descent, Final Agony, and all these other smaller labels that are out there – we all work together to make things happen. It’s a small tightknit scene and in the vinyl pressing manufacturing side of things, everyone also knows each other. Everyone likes to help each other because at the end of the day, the bigger the market grows for vinyl, the better it is for everyone. The same principle applies to the underground metal scene as well. The more fans there are, the better it is for everyone on the label side of things.

In terms of how we want to differentiate ourselves from other pressing plants, the main thing is that we want to first serve the underground and independent artists first and foremost. If we get a contract from Sony or something, so be it, but we would only accept if it doesn’t affect the production of smaller companies and bands that work with us. Everyone’s been frustrated that bigger labels are coming in now and pressing like, 50,000 copies of Taylor Swift or something that’s clogging up the pipeline for everyone else, especially leading up to the Record Store Days. They really screw things up for everyone, especially smaller labels that are just pressing 300 copies or something. They get shafted and they’re moved to the back of the line. We definitely want to be mindful of that and since I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of treatment, I don’t want to repeat that kind of behavior with my clients at Helios Press.

Why is it important that major players, especially labels, invest in themselves and dig deep to find that DIY ethic they might have lost touch with? I mean, even Metallica recently bought majority interest in a pressing plant.

I don’t know about Metallica; I wouldn’t consider them any sort of underground obviously. They’re a bunch of millionaires sitting around who maybe got bored or something. Whatever the case, good for them. I think the more musicians are involved, the better. As far as your question about DIY mentality, I think that sort of thing was created more on the punk side of the scene, but it has permeated into all the underground scenes out there, from metal to noise to indie rock. And the reason why it works is because you have to be self-reliant. You can’t really rely on other people to do everything for you. When it comes down to it, every record label owner probably packs most of their orders themselves. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t have to do it as much, but I still perfected the way of record packing over the years, and I would still do it if I had enough time because I like doing it. Same goes for the packaging of the records – I really like to be involved in the graphic design for all my records; I definitely insert myself into the process. It’s not like one of these labels where the band just comes up with an artist or something or they just generated something from AI and then they slap it on the cover. I take pride in my work, and I think that’s part of the DIY ethos.

To that point, something you mentioned in the announcement is that you plan on working with other genres, not just metal. Fans who are even remotely familiar with NWN! know that you can distinguish your label from your peers by having releases that you curate and you want to present to metal fans within the context and the vision that you feel is most representative from the time of that release. Do you feel like that’s an ethic that you’ll keep with Helios, or is it going to be entirely separate, considering you’ll be working with all genres?

Helios is not going to have my fingerprint like I have with NWN! and Helios is going to be genre-agnostic for the most part. Obviously, my audience is metal and punk and noise, so I’ll probably get most of those clients coming to me at the beginning, but the goal is to serve the entire span of musical genres out there. I’m in Austin, Texas and the live comedy scene is very big here and I love watching comedians. We’ll probably reach out to Joe Rogan’s comedy club and try to see if we can press some of those records for them, as well. In the ‘70s and ‘80s that’s something that they used to do all the time.

Can you share some of the lessons that you’ve learned as far as sharpening and honing your business sense that you’ll be able to take with you into this new venture?

That’s a very interesting question because coming from a punk background in my very early teenage years, I just kind of carried the punk attitude of “fuck society” and you know, being outside of the norm. Even during college, I was pretty much against business, and we used to make fun of business majors. That’s something that I discussed in my last podcast with my friend Jason that I went to college with. I think that was to my detriment at the beginning of NWN! because if I was a smarter business person I would have done things slightly differently, like maybe simple contracts or maybe I would have tried to retain some copyright because some of the bands that I was working with back then are now huge, like Midnight and Toxic Holocaust. I think it was a good thing some of those bands got to keep their copyright because they’re big and they can benefit from them; musicians should definitely benefit from their music. But if I wanted to think about the interest of NWN! I could have asked for maybe half of the album or something. So that’s something that I’m now fully aware of and it’s not a mistake I’ll make again. 

At the end of the day, the lesson that I learned is that business is very important because you have to pay the bills. Everyone has to pay the bills and you can pretend all you want that business sucks and everyone should get their fair share or whatever, but the world is not fair. Nothing is really equal, and you work for what you get. Those are my mantras: “self-reliance” and “work hard” is basically what I’m trying to do with everything. That’s what I’m trying to instill in my kids, as well.

Getting into some of the specifics about the Press itself: the state-of-the-art duplex presses (Newbilt machines from Germany) are manual presses. What was the reason that you decided to go with that as opposed to automatics?

There are major players in the vinyl pressing world that make automatic machines and manual machines, so we had many choices. There were also some on the secondary market that we could have gotten a little bit cheaper, but we opted for brand new machines and manual ones specifically because, as we understood from talking to friends in the industry, automatic machines are much harder to actually learn. It might sound counter-intuitive, but manual machines have less moving parts, so if something goes wrong it’s much easier to fix. So, we chose the manual machines for those reasons; easier to deal with, less moving parts, less to learn and less of a learning curve.

Let’s get into the Kickstarter campaign! Can you tell us about what you’re hoping to achieve with it? Where can we find more information about it when it launches?

We’re trying to launch the Kickstarter on March 1st with different tiers of pre-orders. Kickstarter is not like a donation site, it’s a pre-order site with rewards. You create a product at the end and people order that product way in advance – a long-term pre-order website. With that in mind it becomes very simple, because as a record label, we do a lot of pre-orders. It’s just an extended pre-order, but in this case, we have to raise a pretty good sum of money. The boiler and chiller system are what we’re trying to get the money for and then there are other expenses associated with that, and other components of the factory that we still have to raise money for. But the Kickstarter specifically is going to target the purchase of a boiler and a chiller, both are about $50,000. So, we have a goal to raise roughly $100,000 from this campaign.

Now, there are several other levers that we’re going to pull. We’ll probably do a big sale at some point with NWN! and the other is we’re talking to banks about getting a loan. In total, we need to raise roughly $400,000 or something to complete this process. So far, we’ve already purchased the building (in Brady, Texas) and the machinery. We pretty much emptied out our savings and retirement funds, so that was a huge chunk of money. We already have a lot invested and the reason why we’re delaying the loan is because it’s just a liability right now. If we get it now, then we’d have to start paying for it next month. We’re going to try to delay the loans as much as we can and then when we have to get the loan then we’ll pull the trigger. But until then, we’ll try to fund raise as much as possible and just bootstrap the entire operation. It’s a lot of money, but the good thing is the worst-case scenario is that the opening is slightly delayed. We’re not going to go bankrupt because we’ve been using our own cash and there’s no loan to pay back yet.

I just saw something about a fundraiser show in Austin (on May 4th) with Morbosidad, Ares Kingdom, Imprecation…Anymore details to share about that?

Yeah, that’s just a fun little thing that we’re doing because all these bands are very supportive and they’re willing to basically play for free in support of the project, and I’m very thankful for that. All the bands are Texans except for Ares Kingdom – they’re making a 13-hour journey down for us. They’re great guys and I’m looking forward to that gig. It’ll be a great show.

Yeah, you mentioned that you don’t go to a lot of shows these days.

You know what’s funny is I mostly go to my own shows. The last one I went to was Never Surrender Fest in Germany, so that was a three-day festival, and it was a lot of fun.

So back to the press, why now? Was it just a matter of the stars aligning?

It’s partially stars aligning and stars not aligning, with some other things just not working out so I had to pivot. In 2019 and 2020 I bought a bunch of printing equipment from 1984 Printing when they were going out of business. They used to print a lot of my zines and inserts, so I was very familiar with the equipment they had. When they went out of business, I bought a bunch of their machinery, and I was going to go into the printing business. The pandemic kind of slowed things down because people just couldn’t come over and teach me to use the machinery, so it just sat there collecting dust. Then, towards the end of 2020, I decided to move to Texas because frankly, the Bay Area was just kind of falling apart at the seams. The education system wasn’t very good, cost of living was too high, and all of these bad things were lining up. So that’s the “stars not aligning for me” moment that forced my hand to sell or just get rid of the printing equipment. They’re so enormous and it’s hard to move them once they’re in place. I had to rent the warehouse in Oakland to somebody else, so I had to clear the space for them. The move to Texas like was like five or six box trucks and fifty-something pallets full of stuff, so that alone was a massive operation and a costly one. I couldn’t really deal with also moving the printing machines and there was no space in the new building.

Then, after moving to Texas, things got so much better for my family and myself. I got to the point where I was working remotely for a biotech company and that was working out pretty well, but NWN! was doing good, as well. I was in a meeting or something at my previous job and somebody said something really annoying – you know, corporate jargon BS – and something snapped in my brain and the next day I just quit. It turns out that was done in haste and I kind of regret it because a month after that they had a big layoff where everyone got crazy severance. I missed out on that because I quit, but that was then the next trigger that got me thinking. I always had a job outside of NWN! and I was able to juggle both for 20 something years so I was thinking maybe I can pivot to something else that was still related to music. I’d always wanted to go into manufacturing, and I couldn’t make the printing business work, so I looked towards vinyl manufacturing. I visited a factory owned by a friend of mine, checked it out everything seemed really interesting. It was a very daunting project. Some of these factories will spend like million dollars or million and a half to build it out. We’re trying to do it for less, but at the end of the day we’ll probably end up spending close to $800,000 or $900,000 including the loans that we’ll get. It’s not a small task to pull something like that off while running a full-time record label.

That leads into where I was wanting to go, which is to wax poetic about wax. Can you share the personal value of the physical format for you and what drew you to wanting to be a part of creating them for so long?

I bought my first record when I was eight years old – it was Shout by Devo, and I remember it was in the clearance bin with the corner clipped in Falls Church, Virginia at some record store that was next to the Safeway grocery store. I have a very vivid memory of buying my first record, and ever since then I’ve been hooked. So, you can see that I’ve been collecting records for probably 40 years. When I was a teenager, I didn’t really have money to buy much but whatever I could buy, I was buying. It went from Devo to punk rock and then eventually to every type of metal. I just kept them collecting them.

There are many reasons why 12” records in particular are really cool and why the trend has never really gone away. Especially for metal and punk right, it’s never gone away. In fact, in the ’90s I think we were the only ones pressing records, so we kept the factories and businesses running essentially. The underground music scene was the only scene that was actually pressing because mainstream bands stopped pressing records right around ‘93 or something. So, you can see a huge drop off all of a sudden in the early ‘90s when they stopped pressing records and that’s when a lot of the factories also started to close down. They just had too much overhead – too many machineries they had to maintain and back then they were not building new machines, they were just refurbishing old ass machines from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s so it wasn’t like they could just call the record pressing machine company to get it fixed. They had to actually have the know-how to fix it as well, so it was a much harder industry back then in the mid-90s.

Going back to your original question about why vinyl – I think it’s a multifactorial thing; the size definitely plays a big role in it because you get the big art. I see records as art pieces because it is. Music is an art form and it’s on the grooves, and then there’s the visual aspect of it. I can’t say that every record is good looking – a lot of it just looks like shit, but a lot of records do look good. If the band or the label has a very specific vision in mind it really could turn into a visual art piece. So that there’s that component, and then you get the lyrical aspect of it so there’s another dimension to it inside the jacket. Obviously not every metal record or metal lyric is good, but something like Order From Chaos or Ares Kingdom – Chuck Keller is basically a poet. He’s a scholar. When he writes lyrics you can really dig deep into them. I actually took the name “Helios” from Order From Chaos. The last three songs on An Ending In Fire, their third album, refers to Helios and Helios’ dream of the end of the world, which was also a metaphor for Order From Chaos and the designed ending for Order From Chaos – they were predestined from the beginning to end with the third album. I don’t want to go on too much of a tangent about Order From Chaos, but I think this is important. They have this “Conqueror Of Fear” concept that permeates all of Order From Chaos material that I see as the elimination of fear to proceed forward with being against the grain and against the norms of society. So that that’s where we took the name from. I thought it was also fitting because of the sun element – my name has the Japanese kanji that relates to the sun, the Japanese flag has a sun on it, Texas is known for the sun… all these things kind of aligned and Helios made sense as a name.

Now, going back to the importance of vinyl format, the other big thing that I think is important is that in this digital age where you can stream anything, and you can just click on the song and just have this schizophrenic kind of passive way of listening to music from one song to the next. You just put it on in the background and it just perpetually plays whatever – it even picks the songs for you. I see that as a lazy, passive sort of musical experience. I do it myself when I’m working; I don’t want to bother stopping to turn the record over. You can passively listen to vinyl as well but only for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, then you have to go over there and flip it again. It’s immersive and kind of forces you to sit down and really listen to the record, maybe look at the jacket and look at the insert. It’s more of an interactive experience. The other aspect that I really like – and it’s very anti-digital – is you have to listen to it in a linear fashion. You can’t skip around as easily, and you have to listen to it as it was intended. When somebody writes a novel, they have an entire map written out and the same thing is applicable to music. Usually, bands will have a very strong opening song and then it’ll kind of mellow out towards the end of Side A, and then it’ll pick up with a very strong on Side B. So, I see it as kind of like a movie or a novel – there are things happening throughout the course of the story, so if you don’t respect the artist’s vision and listen to it as a whole, then you kind of miss the point. Obviously, this is not applicable to every type of music because there’s throwaway music out there, mostly pop music or something that’s just based on single songs and one hit wonders, but it is applicable to metal and punk.

Rapid fire round with my final two questions! Firstly, I know you’re a man of classic taste. What have you been playing a lot of lately?

Caixão from Portugal! It’s a band that I just released on NWN! with their brand-new album called Knaga and it’s probably some of the best black metal that I’ve heard in a long time. It’s hard to categorize – It’s kind of Greek sounding, kind of Black Crucifixion sounding…it’s the other type of black metal besides Norway if you know what I mean. It’s the other European black metal that’s not Norway or Sweden. I recommend everyone listen to the album; it’s streaming for free on the NWN! Bandcamp so listen to it before spending your money but, I always appreciate if people could actually buy the record, too.

Lastly, because I know the people will want to know: will Helios Press have cat representatives?

The feline spirit will live at Helios but sadly we can’t have cats there because of their fur; vinyl pressing is very allergic to cats and dust. The cats will be there in spirit! We have lots of cats at NWN! so maybe I’ll designate some of them as Helios cats.

The final words are yours!

If everyone who’s interested could follow Helios’ progress on Instagram that would be awesome. It’s @heliospress and NWN! is @nwnproductions on Instagram!

Posted by Hope Gould

  1. What a fucking cool surprise this AM. Wonderful interview, Hope. Yosuke is pure class.


  2. Great interview.


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