When the Mormons settled in Utah in 1847 their goal was to create a Zion far away from the evils of the outside world. Little did they know that evil was on its way 140 years later in the form of “The Heavy Metal Shop,” a store created in 1987 for all things metal. The Heavy Metal Shop was the spawn of Kevin Kirk. In 2017 The Heavy Metal Shop will celebrate 30 years of “Peddling Evil” as the logo says. I recently spent some time with Kevin at his shop to talk all things metal.
Shockwave Magazine: Kevin, first I want to congratulate you on 30 years of peddling evil in the holiest of the fifty states.
Kevin: Thanks Eric, I really appreciate it.
Second, tell me a little bit about yourself. Are you from Utah? What was one of your first moments that you knew metal was the way?
I was born in Salt Lake and moved to Twin Falls, Idaho, when I was in fourth grade. I was up there in 1971 when Evil Knievel did the jump. I moved back to Salt Lake City in 1976. I was 14, and that’s when I started going to big arena shows. I miss the 70’s. I went to Aerosmith, Cheap Trick and Rainbow in 1977. Another influence of mine was Alice Cooper but I didn’t get to see him until 1986 on the Constrictor Tour.
What was your goal in opening up the Heavy Metal Shop? Did you ever think that we would be celebrating your 30th year way back then?
No, I didn’t think that way. I was so young. That was all before we had kids. I was the meat department manager at Smith’s Grocery Store and I’d been doing that for a few years, but I didn’t really want to do that the rest of my life. I just kind of wanted to be part of the music business. I played a little bit in bands and it was never really that good. So I opened a CD store. CDs were just coming out. I was called The CD Shop for the first six months when I opened in 1986. I was selling a lot stuff I didn’t know about, like a lot of the New Age and jazz. There were a lot of yuppie people and they loved that stuff but I loved the hard stuff. I liked selling stuff that I knew about so I changed the name to the Heavy Metal Shop. Then the right people with the same interest in music started coming in. So it really worked. I moved the store to the Sugar House area in 1989 and things started getting bigger. We had release parties for albums back in those days and we had in-store appearances with bands when they would come through town. I got a lot of radio support back then too. We did a lot of remotes from the store.
What are some of your favorite memories over the years?
Having Rob Halford in the store. You know that’s a big one. All of the Slayer in-stores were great. They did one where they came the night before they were doing a show here in Salt Lake. Tom told me that he did it because it was me. That was really cool to have him say the reason he did it is because he loved the shop. Alice in Chains did an in-store when they first came out. That was pretty awesome. We’ve had some pretty cool live in-stores too. We had Chainsaw Kittens play live in here when they were on tour with Iggy Pop. There’s been a lot recently, like Ryan Adams coming in the shop. He’s a metalhead. Most people don’t know that. He wore my shirt on stage here and he put a picture of himself up on Twitter with the shirt on.
How about the music industry in general? Have all the changes to digital music and downloads had a huge effect on your shop? How have you adjusted the way you do business to be successful?
Things change. You don’t see any blacksmiths around anymore. Back then you didn’t have the Internet to check stuff. You had to go to shows. You had to go to the record store to hear new stuff because the radio wasn’t going to play it. You might hear something on Z Rock radio if you were lucky. We used to do these big parties where the label would give us money to have these parties for bands like Pantera or Slayer, so we’d do these midnight sales when the album would come out.
Now a lot of what I sell is my merchandise. The store has a following and people want a shirt so things have changed for sure. I don’t sell much music anymore. I still have some of the old timers that want the album experience. They’ll say, “Slayer comes out [but] like I haven’t listened to it. I’m going to get it from you.” They still want that experience. So there’s still a few of us but we’re getting old and dying off.
After spending some time with Kevin it is very apparent that he loves what he does and would not trade it for the world. In a state where Mormon temples are an iconic piece of the landscape, to metal heads the Heavy Metal Shop is our church. I have a lot of good memories associated with the Heavy Metal Shop. One of them is back in 1993 when I had the opportunity to meet the “Metal God” himself, Rob Halford, when he toured with his band Fight. It was an amazing time in my life. Other times it has been waiting for a new Alice Cooper album to come out and listening to it with Kevin when it arrived at the shop. In a time where digital downloading music has become the norm, the days of actually having a physical copy of music has been lost. The idea of going to a store like the Heavy Metal Shop, buying an album, holding it in your hands, and studying the cover like it was the Mona Lisa seems so foreign to most, likewise with the feeling of getting home and listening to the album while you read the liner notes on the jacket, thinking this is the best day of your life. If one thing can come out of this interview, it would be to support your local record shop. Remember at one time they were the iTunes of the world.