I recently did an interview with AntiHero Magazine about Heavy Leather, it’s beginnings and where I plan to go with it in the future. They have incredible rock ‘n’ roll content, check out their site HERE.
You can listen to the full interview HERE.
AH: Let’s talk a little bit about your business and how you got started making leather straps for guitars and basses
R: Cool, well, I started in 2008. I’ve been doing leather work for a long time and that, I guess is the official start date of my business. And I was just hangin’ around a bunch of heavy metal folks, and I listen to metal and my friends asked me to make them straps. And, you know, I made one custom strap and then I made a few more and ended up selling the whole lot of them on eBay in one sale, so, I figured I’d go forward from there. And, um, I was unemployed at the time. So, it seemed like a good idea.
AH: So there was a little bit of necessity behind the passion?
R: Oh, ya, ya- I actually I don’t play guitar. At the time I was playing drums but you know, I love guitar and I’ve made stick bags and accessories for drums as well.
AH: So you come from a musical background into an industry that’s strong with you know, good quality products. What kind of separates your product from everybody else on the market right now?
R: Well, you know, there’s a lot of… there’s a huge market filled with cheap straps and my business started off with just custom leather work and so each piece that I made, I went into detail with the artist about what their needs were, and styling and all of that so I have a lot of direct customer experience with knowing what people like. And so I believe that my straps, I use really high quality leathers and I pay attention to every detail. I also make everything in the U.S.A., which is really important to me.
AH: And you guys have teamed up and your straps have been worn by tons of legendary musicians. Give me a little insight about some of the musicians you’ve worked with and how that actually happened with those connections.
R: Ya, well, you know I’ve never paid a company to reach out to musicians for me- this is all just foot work basically. Ya I’ve made straps for Prince, and most recently Justin Timberlake- he plays acoustic guitar. And then a ton of metal guys including Black Sabbath and Lemmy from Motorhead wore all of the straps. And basically, you know its through friends, and friends in the industry and just making my way to the artist. Like, for example the first day, or night that I met Lemmy it was back around 2009 or so and it was the Heaven & Hell tour. Uh, what was it, I think it was Motorhead, Testament, Judas Priest and Heaven & Hell and um, not it was the Metal Masters tour. And I was making straps for Testament and I knew that Motorhead would be playing and there was no way I was going to show up without a strap for Lem. ‘Cause, I love him. And I had backstage passes through Testament and I was back there holding the strap. And I left half way through their [Motorhead’s] show and I just stood in front of his dressing room and I met his tour manager. And we shot the shit and, you know, I told him I had this item for Lem and he said ‘well you know, I’ll walk you back there and you can give it to him’. And I walked in afterwards and, ha, I walk up to him and I’m completely speechless and you know, studdering my words. And I’m just like, here I have this thing for you, I made this thing. And Lem just looks at me and he’s like: ‘Sit down love, let me make you a Jack n’ Coke!’
AH: Ha Ha
R: Ha! So, you know, you do what Lem says. I sat down and we ended up talking through many, many Jack ‘n Cokes and just kept in touch for the last 10 years or so.
AH: And I’m sure the passing of Lemmy had a really big impact on your life as well.
R: [Sigh] Ya, I mean, you know, it’s…, he ended up being my mentor. He really was the first huge star that wore my stuff and we worked really closely together. On his straps and he also gave me business advice. And, um, ya, so to loose someone like that… hes just such a powerful force in music and just, his energy was just really intense and awesome. And so, you know I’m just so grateful that I knew him, you know?
R: But it’s all good, business goes on, life goes on, ya know?
AH: And I mean as a small business owner that is a massive step in the right direction. Like, how did you even work up the courage to be like, ‘Hey, I got this for you?’ and approach these bigger acts in the business when you were kind of just still, kind of starting off?
R: Ah, well, I guess I’ve had a lifetime of experience just sneaking backstage. Ha ha ha.
R: That was a thing I just used to do- I would get dressed up and try to meet the bands. And not in like, a serious groupie way but more like, I just wanted to party. Ha ha ha. I really don’t get star struck too often. I was pretty star struck with Lem when I first met him. Really the only other time I’ve ever been real nervous was to meet Prince- my palms got sweaty. Ha ha. But ya, I have a ton of stories like that. Where you know, I’ve… I have a longer story where I went to Sweden Rocks festival and I barely even had tickets to that. And I went by myself and I dug a hole through the fence backstage and I like, crawled under it. Ha. Just to get back there and meet everyone and I ended up getting backstage passes for that.
AH: That’s awesome. It goes to show the tenacity that you have as not just a person, but as a small business owner. Your kind of willing to do whatever you have to do to get the job done.
R: Oh, ya, absolutely. It’s business but it’s also pleasure because I, um, you know I love the bands I make straps for. So, it’s a lifestyle also. You know, I’m fully integrated into it. And I love all types of music too. You know, I have a lot of my stuff on heavy metal guys and rock ‘n’ roll guys and gals but it goes a lot deeper than that.
AH: I mean, but that’s probably what makes the job a little bit better because it’s not just a job- it’s combining two of your passions with you know, creating something that people can get great usage out of. But it’s also combining your love of music as well.
R: Ya, ya, for sure. I mean there’s nothing more satisfying than making a product that people want and buy, but also that you get to see have a life of it’s own. After it’s sold you see it on stage and you see people feeling good with it and making music with it. And that adds so much more satisfaction.
AH: Do you ever see any pictures of the artists wearing your straps and your like ‘hey! I did that’?
R: Ha, ha, ya, ya! Absolutely. Ya, there’s been a few… let me think… sometimes I see artists and I don’t know that they purchased it from me. I’ve actually gotten a couple people through eBay where I’ve noticed their email on the back end and I actively look for those photos… so ya, um, that’s always a pleasant surprise. I like it when my artists reach out to me and I always encourage those customers that buy the straps to send photos because I love to promote them.
AH: Oh, ya, totally. It’s a nice cross-promotion type thing; your promoting their band at the same time promoting your brand.
R: Ya and they don’t have to be huge artists; I just love promoting everyone. I’m so grateful that I have them as customers, you know and they like what I’m doing and support it.
AH: Oh, ya, absolutely. And you just recently introduced to the vegan-friendly collection straps for Geezer Butler and Doyle from the Misfits. Tell me a little bit about what vegan-friendly leather is because I am completely clueless on that aspect and I’m sure that there are others that are as well.
R: So, I just came out with the second versions of both of their straps. We started a couple years ago, I started with both of those artists… well both Geezer and Doyle I’ve been making their custom tour straps so they were one-off straps. And then I approached them to do a signature line, and so now I’m coming out with a second version of that, that is a little more price affordable to a broader range of people. Basically what it is, it’s just non-leather. It’s made of vinyl and padding. Vinyl is a lower price point and there are people who do not want to wear leather and I respect that. Doyle is a hardcore advocate of the vegan lifestyle and Geezer is a bit more muted on it, but, you know, it’s still rock ‘n’ roll. Ha. And it’s still super, super high quality. It’s the same quality that you’d get from any of the other straps that I sell. There are a is a lot of really shitty non-leather straps out there and I’d like to separate myself from that.
AH: Yea, totally. I mean that’s what makes people coming to you a lot more is if you kind of put yourself away from all those shitty type cheap straps that people overpay for.
R: Ya, ya, and this line, I call it the vegan but it’s really just vinyl, it’s really affordable. You know, I think a lot of people come to the website and they see some of the higher priced straps and they might get scared away so I wanted to be more inclusive. Especially for those new players, I want to get the younger crowd. Ha. I do, I want to support young guitar players.
AH: Yea, totally. That’s how you keep your business going into the next level, you gotta attract some of the younger people that are rising musicians and the future of the music industry themselves.
R: Ya. There’s a chick that I recently got strapped. She has a leather strap. Her name is Melanie Faye and she’s just a mean guitar player and she’s young. I think she’s somewhere between 15 to 17 and she just kiiiillls it. It makes me so happy to be able to support people like that.
AH: Oh yea, absolutely. So as of right now are you doing all the work yourself?
R: Um, no. I do all of the custom work and I make a lot of the guitar straps. A lot of the other products, camera straps and a couple straps from the line I work with leather artisans in Los Angeles but they are in a separate studio. Back in New York I had a team of people working with me and we did all the production in-house, but the move to L.A. changed it up a little bit.
AH: Do you still have a lot of the creative control that goes into the product as a whole?
R: Ya, you know some straps I completely design from… you know if a customer want’s a strap, they just bought a new guitar, they don’t know what they want- I will design something from scratch and sometimes the customers come to me and they have ideas, and they’ll send me inspiration and I’ll work with them according to what they want.
AH: Now, the biggest and most important question I have for you, throughout this whole interview- if you could pull the same thing on another big musician like you did with Lemmy, who would it be?
R: Oh, that’s a tough one, um, I’m trying to think because some of my bigger artists… I’d have to say Black Sabbath but I have them strapped already. You know, I could go with like, Zep or some other, bigger bands from back in the day but I would like to… I’m gonna have to think about that question because I’d like to get some newer artists. I don’t just want my artists to be old guys, ha. I would say a new female artist. Someone who’s, someone rising and I’ll have to find her. I have so many men strapped.
AH: Hey, you never know, she may find you after this interview.
R: Yes, I hope so! I gotta get the ladies!
AH: Hey, you never know. Maybe you reach out to Lzzy Hale and maybe see if that might happen.
R: Ha, I have Lzzy strapped.
AH: Oh, really! Whaaat?
AH: And that leads me to my next question: When you first started this whole thing, did you ever think that it would get to the point where it’s at right now?
R: Um, I… ya! I still aspire for the business to be a lot bigger. When I first started it was just one plus one equals two and I was not looking to do mass production or anything like that… I didn’t really have a plan. But now I’m trying to put a plan in place because I would love to grow this business… there’s just so many musicians out there that I’d love to get my gear on.
AH: You brought up mass production. If business continues to pick up and people are starting to demand it more are you gonna kind of follow the lines of working your way into mass production or do you want to still keep it as hands on as possible?
R: Oh, it will definitely be hands-on. I mean, that is the core of my business and I have worked for larger companies. I at one point was the head of leather accessory design for Harley-Davidson and let me just tell you I never want my product to be like that. I have really strong feelings about the fact that I am killing animals and I have a sense of responsibility towards not only animals and the environment and to the people who make the products but also just to keep the product top quality. I don’t ever want there to be a day where a strap does not go through my hands before it goes out to the customer. So that is extremely important to me. I would like to have greater reach but the product will always remain top quality.
AH: That’s a fantastic way to look at it. It gives you overall control of your business but also keeps that personal touch that made you who you are at this point.
R: Ya, absolutely. The people who I’m working with now who are helping me out with my production, they are right down the street and keeping it made in the U.S.A., you know, this is where I’m from so it’s very important to me.