Thom Hazaert is used to getting fired by his friends. One of the most successful talent scouts working the Northeast Ohio region over the past few years, Hazaert was responsible for landing major-label deals for Chimaira, Switched, and Erase the Grey. But once those bands began to develop national followings, they sought to move up to the next rung of music-business handlers, bidding adieu to the guy who helped them get noticed in the first place.
"All these bands -- Switched, Chimaira -- when they got their deals and things started happening, they all fired me," the 29-year-old Green Bay, Wisconsin native says with a chuckle from his home in L.A. "It was hard. It really took some time and a mature understanding of the business and myself to just go, 'You know what, it's business.' At the time, yeah, I was hurt about it, I'm sure. But there was never really much animosity. We didn't talk for six months. Then we saw each other again, and it was like it never happened. We kind of worked through it and became friends again. It all kind of comes back around full circle."
For Hazaert, this means recruiting some of the very musicians who once cut ties with him for his rising new L.A.-based label, Corporate Punishment Records. A fast-growing indie with a handful of major-label distribution offers on the table, Corporate Punishment has gotten behind some of Cleveland's most promising hard-edged rock and metal troupes, including Shenoah, Rikets, and Switched, each of which features members of bands that Hazaert helped in the past.
A manager-producer, Hazaert launched Corporate Punishment last year as a means of getting new music out from former God Lives Underwater frontman Dave Reilly, whose career he oversees.
"It was one of those things that I've just been toying with for years, waiting for the right time," Hazaert says in a voice filled with enthusiasm, sounding like a kid recalling his first lay. "The state of the music business is such that indie labels are thriving; major labels aren't signing anything. It allowed me to go and pick up all these bands that I love and believe in 100 percent. All the bands on my label are bands that I brought to major labels, and they fucked up."
Now Hazaert is looking to right the careers of some of this town's more noted musicians, all of whom have gone through the major-label meatgrinder with less-than-stellar results.
"They put a lot of time into us ,as far as promotion and making sure that the record is going to be put in certain spots," says Scott Rose, singer for Rikets, formerly of Erase the Grey, on why he decided to bring his band to Corporate Punishment. "If we think of something, they make it happen."
Hazaert has the Rolodex to make a lot happen. He broke into the music business at age 15 as a journalist, writing a column for his hometown Green Bay Press Gazette and later mags like Circus and Metal Hammer. Then he launched the influential nü-metal-centered website-street team Loudside/Total Assault Street Team, where he would work breakout records by such big names as Limp Bizkit, Staind, and Cold. He met Chimaira sampler Chris Spicuzza in an online Korn chat room in the late '90s, became friends with the budding musician, and then landed the band a deal with Roadrunner Records a few years later. From there, he hooked up with Chimaira associates Switched and Erase the Grey, and now he's boosting the careers of the bands that followed in their wake.
Corporate Punishment already has a tour booked for Rikets early next year and a pair of videos planned for the group. Thanks to Hazaert's extensive contacts in the industry, he's hooked up both Rikets and Shenoah with former Machinehead/Soulfly guitarist Logan Madder, who produced the debut EPs from both bands. He also arranged guest appearances on their albums by the likes of former Snot/Soulfly guitarist Mikey Doling and former Spineshank frontman Johnny Santos. Though he's not from here, Hazaert is doing as much as anyone these days to help this city's bands get heard.
"Cleveland's a great town," Hazaert says. "I've come a couple of years and spoken at the Cleveland Music Fest, the Cleveland Metal Fest -- I've gotten a chance to get to know a lot of the bands, and everyone is so supportive of local music. There's actually a scene there. There was kind of a little lapse for a couple of years after a bunch of bands got signed, but now it seems to be having a little resurgence. There's great bands coming out again. It's definitely a good place to be."