Interview: Kevin Kirk of The Heavy Metal Shop
Weathering the shaky test of time that the music industry has seen over the past two decades, The Heavy Metal Shop (63 Exchange Place, Salt Lake City) has stood strong—one might say with one big “maloik” (also called “sign of the horns”) held high. Owner Kevin Kirk has spent the past 27 years in Rock & Retail and has seen it all—from fanatical anti-metal people coming into his shop to legends like Alice Cooper sporting the iconic shop logo. Kirk talks with KUER Music's Austen Diamond about life in metal and retail in Salt Lake City:
KUER Music: Before you opened The Heavy Metal Shop, you opened The CD Shop. I don't think many people know this. Can you talk about that store and how/why it transitioned the way it did?
Kevin Kirk: CDs were fairly new when I opened The CD Shop, so pretty much anything that I could bring in on CD sold. I didn't like selling music that I knew nothing about, such as jazz, New Age or classical. I was into the heavier stuff, so it made sense to specialize.
KUER Music: You've said before that The Heavy Metal Shop looked a lot like your bedroom when you first opened. Does your bedroom still look like that?
KK: Not just my bedroom anymore—our house is pretty much full of rock & roll memorabilia.
KUER Music: Talk about how iconic the shop logo has become. Who wears it and what kinds of stories have you heard about people wearing the signature hoodie?
KK: I think just from being around so long and staying true to what we have always done. Having some of the most iconic metal and hard rock dudes like Alice Cooper and Slayer sport the shop clothing certainly has helped.
KUER Music: How has the logo developed over the years and how did it come to be?
KK: I had a customer from The CD Shop days that was a graphic designer who told me if I ever needed a logo for my business to give him a call. The first design he came up with was a half LP record with the same lettering. I told him that was cool for a regular record store, but we need blood or skulls. He wasn't really a metal dude, in fact I paid him with some of the jazz CDs that I needed to get rid of. Anyway when he came back with the half skull, I loved it right away. Haven't changed it all of these years. The Drive-By Truckers album artist Wes Freed did some art for us about eight years ago—his stuff is great, too. He did an Alice Cooper painting for me a few years ago—he’s so good!
KUER Music: Is your business model still based off of selling music or is it your clothing? Thoughts on either?
KK: I still love selling music, but that end of the business has changed a lot. Vinyl coming back has helped, but there is no way I could survive just on music sales alone. I didn't plan it, but the shop merchandise has definitely kept us in business.
KUER Music: Is heavy metal still relevant today?
KK: Always relevant. The 18,000 fans at the Iron Maiden show a couple of years ago at USANA testify to that. The classics will always be relevant. I'm old, so I was around before it was even called heavy metal. Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, UFO, Thin Lizzy and Black Sabbath are still influencing young metal heads as we speak.
KUER Music: What does K-Bone [Kevin’s nickname, mainly used in social media these days] mean and how did you get the nickname?
KK: K-Bone is a metal head through and through. He goes to all the shows and gets all the girls. He parties harder than anybody I have ever known. He never ages. He is just a badass.
KUER Music: Tell us a crazy story of someone coming into the shop over the years.
KK: I had a nice old lady bring me some cookies, and on her way out the door, she told me that "Jesus loved me.” I so much wanted to eat those delicious, poisoned chocolate chip cookies. Had another guy threaten to burn the store down when he spotted a Bad Religion sticker in our counter.
KUER Music: When people say, "I can't believe there's a heavy metal shop in SLC!" how do you reply?
KK: I always tell them that we needed it more here than anywhere.
KUER Music: Anything else you'd like to add or pose a question to yourself that I've completely missed?
KK: I just want to say that I have had a great life running The Heavy Metal Shop and have met so many cool people that share my passion for the music. Rock on, dudes and dude-ettes!
Austen Diamond is the former music editor of the City Weekly and a freelance writer for national and regional magazines covering arts, entertainment, food, and news. He has interviewed everyone from music's luminaries like Ani DiFranco and Les Claypool to today's biggest acts like Fun and Beach House. He has won numerous awards for his reporting skills from such organizations as the Society of Professional Journalists. Also an acclaimed photographer and photojournalist, he shoots creative portraiture and documentary-style work and produces 13% SALT, an online photo journal highlighting Utah's modern pioneers, subcultures and communities.