At the beginning of 2016, I received a PR email about a print publication called Unbuilt, a bi-annual culture and lifestyle publication that was scheduled to be released twice a year. The publication would be released free of advertising and was the brainchild of Tom Bejgrowicz, along with fellow editors D. Randall Blythe (Vocalist, Lamb of God) and Alex Skolnick (Lead Guitarist, Testament). Tom is an incredible designer, and Randy and Alex weigh heavily into my musical aesthetic. I was immediately interested in Unbuilt and the magazine’s potential for cool content.
Unbuilt attracted Alissa White-Gluz (Vocalist, Arch Enemy) as a contributor for the second and third issues. As Bejgrowicz starts laying down the seeds for what will become the fourth issue, he took a bit of time to chat with PureGrainAudio about Unbuilt. What came out of this phone call was a lengthy discussion about creativity, printing challenges, postal rates, design styles and an overall love of music in general. This conversation is here distilled into a story of Unbuilt, how the magazine came to exist and the challenges it faces moving forwards.
Issue 3 of Unbuilt saw a design change, a format change, and a focus on being something more limited in print-run. 250 physical issues were produced, all of them signed by the creators. A small allocation of these issues was guest autographed by Nikki Sixx, who guest-contributed some photography and an interview to the third issue.
These Unbuilt magazines are just lovely. They feature thought-provoking articles by thought provoking artists delivered in a highly artistic fashion. Take some time to visit the Unbuilt.com website and order yourself a copy of issue 1 and 2. They are quickly selling out and will not be reprinted in this fashion again once they are gone.
Let’s start with the inception of Unbuilt. How that idea came together and how you wound up working with Alex Skolnick and Randy Blythe and Alissa White-Gluz.
Tom Bejgrowicz: I’d had this idea for quite some time. In between my other projects, I like to build new ideas. Flesh it all out in my mind. So I’ll keep looking at again and again until I believe that it is something that can work. And you know, from logistics, I’m already thinking about paper and quantity and feasibility of doing it. All of these things before I even reached out to anybody. The original concept was actually very different that Unbuilt is now. That is typically how ideas go. That was originally a quarterly publication of Unbuilt that essentially an individual musician would curate. Anywhere from 16 to 24 pages. Uhm… I wasn’t totally insane originally thinking that it might be more than that. But they could be pieces. They could be interviews with people that they enjoy and respect in all genres. Unbuilt would give them a platform beyond their stage personas. That was the origin of it. And it would basically be a subscription. You would get all four in a year. They would each be limited. It was originally going to be on newsprint. Kind of like a tabloid size, you know? Like a newspaper sort of thing. That was all of the logistics I’d originally put together.
Ultimately I was thinking about people who have a lot more to say. And also people who I have some sort of contact or “access” to. Certainly, people will come up with projects and get excited about it. Or a documentary and get equally excited about it and think that this person or that person would be perfect for it. Well, you know, you can’t reach them, you know what I mean (laughs)? Randy and Alex came on board. I had others on board. And those others, understandably, got overwhelmed at the idea. So they kept dropping off. They were very polite. It was very cool, and also very understandable, you know? It was a bummer to have that happen. But I got it. Especially when somebody would say yes at a good time for them, and then they’d get busy. Sometimes we over-commit ourselves. So it may sound ok at a time when things are quiet but all of a sudden a few weeks later there are deadlines looming and this and that thing have demands looming and the touring gets thrown in there and all of a sudden they are out the door. I get it.
So, ultimately I was emailing Randy and Alex and going “well, they are gone, and this guy is gone, and it’s back to the drawing board.” you know> And then it was who else can we think of? Eventually, Alex wrote me back and said “Hey, Randy and I talked, and we are still just standing here. So what if the three of us just do something?” And I was like “Ok. Give me 24 hours.” And that is where I go back to my drafting of ideas and start reformulating the concept and the logistics and asking the “Could this be done and what could it actually be?” questions. And that is really where it became the bi-annual thing that that the three of would be the kind of permanent editors of it. And we may have guests come in and people come in when they can with as little pressure on them as possible. And since we are all splitting issues in this format then, even though they may do the same amount of content as our original idea, it could be spread out. That was the path Unbuilt took. And it’s still happening twice a year. It’s not really easy for any of us, yet alone those guys. Because those two, especially in the world of metal, there’s rarely any other guys that work more guest appearances and pop-ups than they do. They have different alternative side projects going on. It’s a lot of work for them and it’s a lot to balance things; content, editing and so on. It’s a lot of work.
Alex Skolnick, Tom Bejgrowicz and D. Randall Blythe photographed by Kevin Wilson
Alissa, of course, is not in the first issue. However, her being a friend (of Alex in particular) and her relationship with Doyle and my work with the Misfits going back to the coffin box set back in the 1990s, I knew Doyle. And they came to my party in New York when we did a little launch of Unbuilt in Brooklyn. So having them there when we really wanted to have a non-male American voice was fortunate. Even though we think we are covering as much spectrum as we can, it’s really nice to have another viewpoint and voice. She, of course, has quite a voice and like Randy and Alex is somebody again who offstage has a lot to say. She has a lot of interests and drive. So we were very much into that. And of course we knew her and she knew what Unbuilt was. I didn’t have to write the pitch letter, right (laughs)? No introductions or anything showing the website and the samples. She knew it already and she was totally into it. She has done issues two and three.
I haven’t said anything beyond that but she will not be going forward but only because of a solo album and Arch Enemy. When you’re the singer, and you are a female singer, you do every interview in the book. The demands upon her are high. She has been fantastic to work and is a huge supporter of Unbuilt, and will continue to be an ambassador. Honestly, we hope that when things kind of calm for her, she can come back with her angle on things. We’ve got other ideas in the future if she is up for it, you know? She’s just a great friend to Unbuilt now, and has been a great co-editor for the last couple. So that’s been exciting. Really, Unbuilt is back to the three of us, Randy, Alex and I. So that is the evolution of it. Where we continue with it is to be determined. The change in business model from year one to year two. We are highly limited. We are looking at having it built out for a digital version that will only be available after the physical sells out.
I wondered about that. None of this content exists outside of the physical editions. That is something unprecedented in this day and age, right? Everything is online now.
Bejgrowicz: It is. Yes. (laughs) I think with this new model we’ll try. I can tell you straight-up, we make no money. There’s no money being made here. We literally have to sell out. My budget equals $13.98 per copy on a $13.99 list price. Unbuilt is something that we love to do. And I know that they love getting the copies from me and going over it. You know, whenever we can meet up and I get to hand it to them and they are literally like “Ahhhh. Give me this!!” and they start flipping through it. You know? It’s just fun holding it. Experiencing something that you did, it’s wholly satisfying. When we all got the first one, they were like “This is like a real magazine!” We are really trying to go for this. It’s great and all, but the one thing that kills us is the cost of shipping. Especially internationally, as you well know. It’s absurd what it costs. And I can’t source a printer in Europe who’s going to print a hundred of them and we do 150 of them here or something, you know? The cost feasibility, along with who’s going to fulfill the shipping out of Europe that I’m going to have to pay more of the costs of. There doesn’t seem to be a way to make it any simpler to ship. That has been a bummer.
My hope is that we can find out a way to make a digital version that isn’t just a PDF that people can just send to everybody that they want. We are not in a position to be like Condé Nast or the New York Times, where flipping through their digital versions is a completely high-end experience. We are just a couple of dudes who all have day jobs. We don’t have a parent company with 94 publications or anything – we can’t leverage in Unbuilt as an add-on periodical or anything like that. I do have someone right now who is working on a solution. You’d get a code that is only usable from your unique ISP. You can access it but you can’t share it. I really hope that it will be for a fraction of the price of the physical.
The physical in theory will be sold out, so there isn’t that option any longer. We still want to donate a dollar of it to charity. We want that to continue driving Unbuilt. We want to get that set up and we want that to maybe help people internationally who are faced with paying more for shipping than the actual magazine itself. That is painful because as I said, it’s just covering costs. I hate that. Because being both successful and accessible, it’s a difficult thing to do. That’s something we are working on anyway, and we hope it will evolve and become a part of Unbuilt in the near future. I’d love to make issue 3 digital, and then follow up with issue four quickly in both formats. That would be ideal. And again, this isn’t a money venture.
Unbuilt Issue 03 interior spread – Tom Bejgrowicz & D. Randall Blythe
No. I wouldn’t imagine. When you said that Alex and Randy reacted to it like it was a real magazine – it’s really not. For the single reason that there is no advertising in it. It’s better than a traditional magazine for that reason alone.
Bejgrowicz: Right. I guess that’s true.
I’m sure that is a dialog that you have all floated past each other. Do you bring in endorsement money? Solicit advertising? Labels? A company with money that understands what Unbuilt could potentially be and are willing to help bank it and soften the fiscal blow a bit.
Bejgrowicz: Yeah, it’s definitely crossed my mind. None of us are that kind of a sales person. That comes with the territory of creatives, right? I’ve rarely met a really good marketer who is also an artist, you know?
Yeah. I know. It’s a different side of the brain, doing the sales.
Bejgrowicz: Totally. Yeah. I think the main situation is finding somebody. It’s not a lot of money to run this. it is for me personally, but when you are talking about a company, it’s really nothing.
It’s your sweat equity. You’re all passionate about it. You do all the work. It’s all happening because you all want to do it. You absorb the time allotments. You absorb the design. The stuff that would cost other people money to pay out for, you guys are just doing it all.
Bejgrowicz: Yeah. And Randy obviously shoots a bunch of the photos. I try and do at least a shoot or two. We keep the costs down doing things like that. It’s really lean. I think the best scenario… (sighs) I don’t know. I really hate the idea of ads.
I know. I get it.
Bejgrowicz: Hideously designed ads (laughs). People/products that we don’t necessarily enjoy or aren’t very thrilled about. And since it’s a lifestyle and culture situation, we are wide open. I remember Randy coming to me and asking what Lifestyle and Culture really means and I told him it was that we can write anything that we want. (laughs) Ultimately that genre allows us to do just that. So if somebody from a lifestyle company wanted to come on board and be a sponsor of it, but who would look at it as an extra thing for them as kind of an ‘addition to their repertoire,’ ok. But if it becomes a relationship of us embedding unsuitable ads, and us having to cover content related to their products? Nope. No way. So it would have to be some kind of a crazy perfect situation. And even more, can you FIND that crazy perfect situation when you aren’t even really looking for it? (laughs)
Hey. You might. Something may just wind up presenting itself. The three issues of Unbuilt that exist currently free of advertising I might add, they are great.
Bejgrowicz: Right. That may be so, Ok. You’re right. We’re not making calls. There are no pitch emails to corporations. But maybe if it ends up in the right hands, and then somebody gets intrigued and approaches us. But it would literally have to be that. We’ve all been around the block. “Oh please, draft us the worst contract… an entry level contract and we’ll just take it. Because we’re just excited 18-year-olds”. We’re not that. We don’t need or want that. It would have to be somebody cool, right? Your Shepard Fairey’s or a Converse. Something cool, who realistically, none of us have issues with. I can see something like that maybe – a good fit.
Somebody who can say “I get it.” and then float a little bit our way to help out on a project that we all love doing. But besides that happening, it is difficult. Because I would love to distribute this for free. That would be so cool to get in more hands of more people and just have fun with it. Add more content. Pay photographers and artists better. All those good things, you know? To really create a neat creative environment for people to contribute to. As it stands, it’s us. And we love that it’s us. We think we’re doing a pretty good job on it. And there is always room to improve.
Unbuilt Issue 03 interior spread – Tom Bejgrowicz, Nikki Sixx & D. Randall Blythe
How old are you Tom? Are you in your forties?
Bejgrowicz: I just turned forty-eight.
So if I said Beach Culture to you, and Dave Carson? You’d know who that is, right?
Bejgrowicz: Dave Carson? Oh yeah. And Raygun and everything?
When I look at what you are doing here, It makes me think of Raygun and Beach Culture. With a little less crazy distressing and broken typefaces. But the gist of Unbuilt has always felt kind of like Raygun to me. Cool articles that are all over the map with an element of musicianship involved. I used to buy those magazines because they were beautiful to look at. I didn’t really care about much else about them.
Bejgrowicz: Well, that’s cool. Wow. I taught at the college level for design. I taught a lot about typography 1 and 2, type as art and advanced typography. That you are even mentioning David Carson is a compliment. Thank you. I appreciate that. I taught him a lot. I think that a lot of students were very challenged by his existence. Beach Culture and Raygun, some of those issues we couldn’t read. But we were buying them.
Yeah. Unbuilt is typographically easy to read. It’s very easy on the eyes. And the same contributing spirit of Lifestyle and Culture is there. I don’t think you are going anywhere near the level of distressing that Carson did on those publications. Raygun had Dave Navarro contributing. There were people putting content into that magazine simply because they were into it.
Bejgrowicz: Yeah. It was like a great art-ad. Even though the interviews in it were barely readable, it somehow managed to exude being cool. So did that work more than a witty interview? Was it even equally so? Carson has been kind of critical of course as the gap between contemporary and avant-garde design. We are still waiting for somebody to be like that all over again in a way. And I get that. There’s a point where this third issue and of course the upcoming fourth issue where I plan on redesigning the magazine. Not logo-wise, but everything else will change every year. Just because I’m not making any money off of it. But I’m having fun doing it. And it’s fun to just come up with designs that have no clients who are telling me their feedback, and asking for changes.
That’s true. If you are looking at Unbuilt as four issue stints, as a form of completeness, then you can perhaps take the content from those four issues and have it repurposed as something that might make it into an Indigo because you’ve got a higher page count. Comic book companies have done well collecting their 4-8 issue stories into trade paperbacks over the past 20 years. That medium is now driven by those collections of complete stories.
Bejgrowicz: Right. That’s true.
Maybe that is something Da Capo Press might be interested in? They do a lot of the rock biographies I tend to pick up.
Bejgrowicz: Yeah. Totally. I love that. I know Bazillion Points and the TOUCH AND GO complete collection of zines. It is cool to see those kinds of come together. The quantity of Unbuilt pages will become something of a different value over time. Which is exciting as well. I think we really got to a point with issue three where we sold out in a week where we can say “Ok. Boom. We got this. We can cover our costs. With digital, maybe we can find an outlet for a little bit extra where we can sort of put more into the physical. (laughs) Add some more things to it. But this kind of business model, moving it towards being able to cultivate something for years to come, as long as we can make it sustainable.
Unbuilt Issue 03 interior spread – Tom Bejgrowicz & Alex Skolnick
You could bait the digital Unbuilt too. A portion of the article is available for free, but the full read is something you have to pay for.
Bejgrowicz: Right. Like I say, I have this kid (and I am saying kid because of our age, which we have already discussed) already working on it. It’s really not our territory. Randy and Alex have dealt with watching their intellectual property dwindled down. MP3 sharing and now you have Spotify and digital streaming services yielding little returns. There’s that variance of ‘how things used to be’ present due to their age bracket and when they started their careers. It’s different for us. That’s why we also love the physical component of Unbuilt. It’s a return to where we started. But we also enjoy the fact of why we really are doing this.
Are we now screaming because we only want it to be art, or do we want people to experience it? We actually want people to be involved. We want Unbuilt to be experienced. The digital option should be able to make that possible. Hopefully less costly. And it will also help drive for the non-profits we support while making it more accessible. That’s an easy decision for us. It’s just finding the right outlet for it. And hopefully, that will help us expand our coverage, help people understand better what it is we are doing here, and give exposure to what we are doing. So, especially in the genre of head banging, how long does anybody want to go?
That’s right. One of the things I had written down in my notes for today was “rotating doors”. You just said that Alissa won’t be in issue four. But maybe someone else will come in with a fresh perspective. You now have these three great issues – and it’s easier to promote what is happening with Unbuilt and the potential for it’s future. It’s an open door, and contributors can pursue whatever story they want to pursue.
Bejgrowicz: Yes. Carte blanche. It’s whatever you want to write about. I’m waiting until Randy has a break. He’s got 8 to 10 days between South America and the Summer tour with Slayer and Behemoth. I’m going to send out a note next week to the guys and kind of present some initial things to chew on for issue four. That will involve discussing certain people that we’d like to contact with ideas and so forth and give them an opportunity to contribute. And of course, it gives us an opportunity to continue with our outreach of the magazine’s contacts and content.
I’d also like to think there are some interesting people buying Unbuilt right now. Because of who is contributing, and the spirit behind the periodical that they are buying. I’m in Canada. It’s not about the shipping for me. I’m used to paying as much as or more for shipping on products that I want to check out. It’s not like I’m going to encounter an issue of Unbuilt sitting on the rack at my local music store. I either buy it as it’s offered and enjoy it, or I miss out. It’s as simple as that.
Bejgrowicz: There you go. Right, sure. It’s a bummer. The shipping thing just bums me out. It’s dreadful.
Tom and I went on to chat for another 40 minutes or so. We talked a bit about bands touring, the interviewing process and teaching design at the college level. Much of what we discussed steered back to the potential for Unbuilt. Tom talked about the mistakes made and learned from on the early issues, and the desire to continue to push the medium into something self-sustaining and nurture Unbuilt’s steady growth. With issue three sold out, that content of that issue is now essentially out of print as well. Unbuilt operates under a kind of ‘limited edition’ template of delivery, at least until the digital delivery component is fleshed out.
Tom, Alex and Randy all subscribe to the notion of disconnecting at the end of the day from emails and social networking and settling into a comfortable chair and reading a magazine for the sheer relaxing experience that it is. Unbuilt challenges its audience to slow down and read something that isn’t 200 words or less on a social feed. Unbuilt will continue onwards as a highly limited monument of printed words and pictures for as long as it can be sustained.
Tom Bejgrowicz photographed by Jennifer Martin