How A Death Metal Tour Manager Launched Rock’s Coolest New Merch Site

In The Black Dahlia Murder‘s Majesty DVD, fans were treated to a mini-documentary that transformed the Michigan melodeath crew from onstage ear-skewerers to hilarious pot-smoking everydudes. The documentary also introduced fans to the members of Black Dahlia’s extended family, including drunken sound guy Woody, weed-smoking roadie Larry, and perhaps most notably, hilarious tour manager Karim Peter. Whether he was texting drunken musicians about where to find their wallet in the morning or dressing up as a cat in the van, Karim’s level of professionalism and dysfunction matched that of the musicians he wrangled, to the point where he genuinely felt like the sixth member of the band.

Karim’s work in the metal sphere didn’t stop with the Black Dahlia Murder. For ten years, he helped run Indie Merch, the company that produces and distributes merchandise for pretty much every metal band on the planet. Then, in 2019, Peter announced the launch of his own company Night Shift Merch. One year later, Night Shift produces and sells shirts from bands including Cradle of Filth, Napalm Death, Pig Destroyer, Darkest Hour, and of course The Black Dahlia Murder (and that doesn’t take into account their distro side, where fans can buy anything from Slayer action figures to Metallica fanny packs), all of which pass through Karim’s hands to ensure quality and comfort before being sent to eager fans around the world.

In honor of Night Shift’s one-year anniversary, we reached out to Karim to find out how he built metal’s coolest new merch hub from the ground up…

First off, how did you end up working with the Black Dahlia Murder?

I’d been touring for a few years before I met the Black Dahlia Murder. I was on Ozzfest with The Haunted in 2005. Black Dahlia played the set right after The Haunted every day, and the way Ozzfest works is, you need to be onstage and ready to go for the entire set before yours, in case anything happens, so your band can go right away. So I watched Black Dahlia every day. And we were on tour for two months straight, and I was the only American dude on a bus with a bunch of Swedish guys, so I just hung out with the Black Dahlia Murder nonstop. 

At what point did the idea of starting your own merch company come about?

I started touring with Black Dahlia in 2006, and within a year of that I was handling all the merch for them, as far as getting designs and ordering on tour. This was before they had a real merch company, we’d just go on tour and order this shirt from a guy in New Jersey, or this one from a guy in Michigan. And then bands started getting solid merch companies in the US, so I helped get them set up with something.

When I was done touring, I got a job working at Indie Merch, which is where the Black Dahlia Murder has been doing merch, and I worked there for 10 years. And then last June, I was driving, and I thought, ‘You know, I’m just going to go do this for myself.’ There were just things that I wanted to do differently — I was trying to do something that was a bit more hands-on. Because at Indie, you deal with bands and there’s a warehouse where you tell people what needs to be done, and you have a solid day-to-day relationship with these people, but I didn’t have the shirts pass through my hands every day, and I had to request shirts to see the printing at different sizes. I wanted to be able to check the quality myself, and make sure it was being done the way I wanted. I don’t like trusting other people! I had to do it all myself!

Was there a guiding principle behind Night Shift when it started? Was there something you felt the company had to be?

Everyone had to be friends. You work with so much stuff where, at a certain point, you just don’t have a relationship with people. I always thought it was really strange that there’d be these bands I’d worked with for years — before, I worked with just shy 300 different bands — and even in 10 years, you couldn’t have a relationship with them. So here, we wanted to do something smaller scale. If we don’t know a band we were bringing on, 1) it’s gotta be a band that we’re into, and 2) are these guys cool? Do they get it? Can we work with these guys? Most of our agreements are, like, a handshake, but the paper agreement is just one page — ‘We’re going to do this, you’re going to get this, everyone who’s working here is cooperative and friends.’ And I know that that’s not going to hold up in any court for me if that happens, but I want everyone to know that that’s the intention, doing good stuff for your friends.

What is it about band merch that you love the most?

When you were flipping through records as a kid, or looking at CD books, the thing that you always noticed was every T-shirt [the band] had on. Every shirt was like a whole new world. Especially now with the Internet — I was going to say that pre-Internet you had to find all those bands out, but now you can probably watch a band on YouTube and think, ‘This is so sick, what’s this band’s shirt?’ There’s something about that. You can be at a show, and a see a band in a super-sick shirt, and think, ‘I don’t know about that, I want to go home and look this up.’ I still love it. I mean, even just band logos — you can be scrolling through online, and see a band logo, and think, ‘Oh man, I need to see what this is all about.’

Is there a band logo or a piece of merch that, for you, is just perfection?

Two things, and they’re kind of simple. When we were doing a logo for Night Shift, my buddy Clark was making the logo for us, and I sent him an overload of stuff. He got me on the phone and was like, ‘Narrow it down to what you really like.’ And I said, ‘Well, the text on Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate — it’s just plain block text, but it’s curved perfectly, it’s laid out perfect, it’s just not crisp enough — and the logo this band from New Jersey, Tear It Up, which is just block text with a rip down the middle. I look at this and I think, Oh, I get it.’ And I still look at those logos, and I don’t know what it is about them, because both of them are just block logos, but there’s just something about them…I just want to know what this is about.

Let’s say I’m an average metalhead trying to launch a merch company. What’s something you think I should know about from the get-go, that you wish you’d known?

It’s the dumb thing that I’ve been having to deal with lately — figure out what is the best packaging. I know it sounds stupid, but this has been my nightmare — to find out packaging to meet the dimensional weight. Because if your packaging is too big, they add extra money to the cost when you ship, so we’ve been trying to figure out how to get the shipping cost lower for our customers. I’m on week five of trying different things, and I’m trying to find the sweet spot of, What is the perfect box that you can ship records in, that you can ship T-shirts in, basically anything we get, and keep it at a low cost? 

It’s funny, because I was expecting dealing with bands, negotiating designs — anything but boxes.

Dude, it’s crazy! It’s literally a difference of thousands of dollars! We have our mailer bag which T-shirts go out in, but then when we started carrying candles, and we’re shipping way more records, we need a box, and we never put any thought into a box! 

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Words by Chris Krovatin