Warlock Guitar Cabinets’ Aaron Sjostedt on Hardcore, Skinhead Culture & Starting a Business

Photo courtesy of Aaron Sjostedt

I’ve done a lot of band profiles and premieres on this site and meeting people within the hardcore scene who make things happen is something that brings me a lot of joy, being able to share them with this site is my way of paying it forward to the scene. I realize that bands aren’t the only people making things happen within this great scene of ours on the East Coast and that we’re all players in this game. From the moshers to the sound guys to the roadies, photographers and artists out there we should always celebrate those who make the scene what it is.

This brings me to Aaron Sjostedt, CEO and founder of Warlock Guitar Cabinets.

Aaron started his business during the pandemic in a creative compulsion that was spurred by the boredom of being locked inside for a seemingly endless amount of time. By November 2020, a creative rush emerged as many people, myself included, took it upon themselves to try and realize their own passions and pursue their dreams.

For Aaron he found building guitar cabinets was something that brought him great joy and he was good at it. Since its founding, Warlock Guitar Cabinets have been used by members of Slapshot, Hard Target, Cinderblock, The World, Risk, and Boundaries.

I became familiar with Aaron’s work back in April when he put together a free show in Worcester. It finished off three days of stacked shows that featured bands such as Buried Dreams, Risk, The World, Law of Power, On Broken Wings, COA, and Pain of Truth. Aaron’s show was the only one I could make but it was the most crucial to me, I hadn’t seen COA since before the pandemic and the band Law of Power was on the bill and I’d been itching to interview them. It still is one of the best shows I’ve been to this year.

Pretty soon after that show I became more familiar with Aaron’s work through his Instagram, which he himself has described as his main marketing page. His regular updates piqued my interest in a field I have never been too familiar with. Since then I’ve seen Warlock Guitar Cabinets being used by a lot of my friends in the scene and backing many other heavy hitters around Boston and Central Mass.
I got the chance to chat with Aaron recently and talk to him about his musical journey and what led him to pursue his undertaking in building guitar cabinets. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a one on one discussion with people in the scene and these tend to be some of my best interviews. We talked about his discovery of hardcore punk at a young age, his own involvement in the skinhead scene and, of course, building cabinets. Enjoy!

What kind of music did you grow up with and how did you find your way into hardcore?

So, I was raised by a single mother, my father passed away when I was very young and my mom was pretty old when she had me, like late 30s. She turned me on to everything from Kool and the Gang, '70s music to '90s R&B. My gravitation towards punk and hardcore, however, happened because I really looked up to the kids that skated in my neighborhood and I begged my mom for a skateboard. One day she surprised me with one and I became real close with those kids. 

They were listening to anything from punk, metal, all the heavy stuff. If they listened to Iron Maiden I had to get a Maiden CD. I first heard hardcore when I was seven and Livin’ In Exile came out, that title track was th efirst time I heard hardcore music and I’d never heard anything like it. That’s still my favorite record ever but back then I didn’t know about the whole community aspect of it. In my teen years I got into hip-hop a lot and that was my main focus until I revisited punk and hardcore in my late teens.

What introduced you to the skinhead scene?

I had a friend named Christian growing up, he lives in Hawaii now, we skated and hung out all the time and his mom's boyfriend at the time was like an OG New York skinhead and he introduced us both to everything related to punk, Oi! and the actual skinhead movement. We both looked up to this guy so much and it just had a big effect on us both with the shaved heads, Doc Martens. It was a big awakening for me.

Have you ever played in any bands?

Believe it or not, I haven’t. I do play guitar but I didn’t really get into it until about five years ago. It’s funny because there’s a lot of musicians on my father’s side of the family but I was the one who started playing much much later.

One of my cousins goes to Berkley and he is one of the most talented musicians I have ever met. He's a multi-instrumentalist so he’s like a prodigy. His old man was in a punk band back in the '90s so when I look at them and then myself I’m like, “Wow, I suck” but music should never be one of those things where you’re worrying about other people and what they do or how they perceive what you do. You do something because you just want to do it.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Sjostedt

What was your first hardcore show?

So, my little cousin I mentioned before, he was playing a show in some girls' basement one time when I was like 17 and he asked me if I wanted to come out to it, so I did. They were playing in a metalcore band, it was certainly the time for it, and we were standing outside the place by the van and he came up to me and he was like, “Hey, this band No Value is playing next and it’s gonna be kinda bad.”

He kept telling me that over and over and I kinda believed it. About 20-25 minutes later we’re downstairs and… this was during the black North Face windbreaker era of hardcore, so all these kids in black North Faces come down the stairs and I was thinking, “This is strange.” 

The band kicked off with this song called “Positive Outlook” and when I heard that riff and I saw all these kids in windbreakers going side to side and slamming into each other that was the turning point where I really revisited hardcore. But really my first official hardcore show had to be Trapped Under Ice in 2011 I think? Don’t remember the full lineup but I know they headlined.

What were some of the most memorable shows you’ve been to?

I forget what year it was but Blood For Blood played New England Metal and Hardcore Fest one year and this was the first time I ever saw them. I’ve mentioned them a million times but that is my favorite hardcore band right there. I just love the old school Boston hardcore sound, not that there’s anything wrong with the new style, that’s just what I like. Anyway, it was all of them including Buddha and not many people past that year can say they saw Blood For Blood live so that was really special because after that time there was no more Blood For Blood.

I think the most memorable shows are always the ones that are in smaller venues. Those are the ones I remember the most at least, like I went to New England Metal and Hardcore Fest at the Palladium all the time back in the day and those were great but some of the best moments were upstairs.

You’ve used the word skinhead to describe yourself a lot, what does being a skinhead mean to you in the modern age?

To me, it’s all about being involved in the working class. You don’t have to be pro-union, I am but you don’t have to be necessarily. It’s all about how you carry yourself really, for me at least it’s about being a humble individual, somebody who doesn’t get involved in politics but is very pro-people, pro-choice and anti-racist.

Growing up in the projects and seeing such diversity, racism never really made sense to me and plenty of it was out there and I saw it but in my heart I can’t have hate for people like that. Being a skinhead really is about standing up against that and maybe even standing for those who feel they can’t stand up for themselves in the face of great adversity such as racism. It’s about having a voice, not just wearing the clothes.

There’s a song by the band Skinhead on their first EP called “Old English” and one of the lyrics is: “One of my friends is wearing crocs the other has overalls” and it truly captures how much the clothes don’t matter to being a skinhead. It’s not about the clothes or even the boots, it's about where you come from and who you are. It’s about smashing the system and being against racism and that’s what I stand for.

What influenced you to get into building guitar cabinets?
My friend Marco owns a company called Nomad Cabinets in Salem, he also plays in a doom metal band called Mother Iron Horse, which is a great band. He’s a cabinet builder by trade and he started building his own and one of the first boutique cabs I bought was a 4x12 that I went to him for and it was beautiful! He built it perfectly, it sounded so fucking good and afterwards I was like, “You know what? I wanna try to do something like this.”

Now, I’m not a woodworker by trade, I’m an electrical lineman so I’ve been okay with woodworking but I’m not as good as him and I’ll admit that. So, I built the first cabinet for myself and it came out fairly well to be honest, it sounded pretty good and everything and ever soon after I had some friends hit me up and ask “Dude would you like to build one for me?” Sure as shit after that it just took off from there.

Not to ramble on too much about Marco but he’s the main reason I know half the shit that I now do when it comes to building cabs. I’ve never worked for another company and never had anyone else teach me all this stuff. Warlock just went from me learning from Marco about building cabs to doing it myself and people asking me for their own and now, through word of mouth and Instagram it’s turned into what it is today. It’s been a ton of work between doing this and working as a lineman but now after only a couple years I have at least 150 builds under my belt and I really enjoy doing this.

Doing it now I do things different to what Marco taught me because he’s strictly stained cabinets, he doesn’t do tolex. I now do tolex but before I didn’t do them because in all honesty I wasn’t good at them. Doing tolex is difficult because not only do you have to be good at building a cabinet but you also have to be good at upholstery. So now I know I can do both stained and tolex cabs because I knew it could help expand me.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Sjostedt

What year was this all started?

November 2020 during COVID. It’s kind of insane looking back how short a time that is and yet how much this has grown since then. I started this because I was really tired of being cooped up with nothing to do in the house which a lot of people during that time did the same. As terrible as COVID is, especially back then, it really brought out a lot of creativity in people and ushered their visions forward. I think a lot of great shit came out of COVID, a lot of bands and a lot of artists came out of it.

When you started Warlock, was there an oath you made to the effect of “I’ll never let my business turn into this?”

Absolutely. I told myself number one: this will never become an obligation. Yes, I have to get up and do this stuff but it’s never a negative feeling when I go in the shop to do it. This is something that I love doing and I don’t ever want it to not be something I enjoy. I started it as a hobby and I have no idea where I’m gonna take this but I can’t let it become an obligation. Number two: I always will be the one speaking to the customer.

I never want this to become a corporate company. The reason people come to me and support something like this and why I support people like me is because I’m a small business. That’s why I’m always going to have a small mindset but big dreams for Warlock Cabs.

I look at it this way: there’s Guitar Center and then there’s places like Union Music near me. I wanna be like Union Music because it’s a small business and the owner works with all his customers to figure out what they want. They’ve been in business since the '70s, I think and it’s still the same people. That’s the kind of business I’d want to run. Guitar Center changes employees every weekend.

How do you balance your time between being a lineman and doing cabinets?

Every customer of mine gets a 4-6 month turn around table. I close my books at a maximum of 10 builds in front of my face, I don’t care if it’s a slab of wood standing in front of me or if it’s about to be finished. So how I manage it on the weekdays, and I’ve taken off quite a few vacation days to play catch up, is I go to work 7am-3pm and when I come home that’s my family time.

My kid goes to sleep around 8pm and that’s when I’ll do what I have to do for a cabinet before I go to bed, wash, rinse and repeat. On the weekends Saturday is my family day and then Sunday’s will be strictly cabinet day. Part of the reason I moved it from my house was to get it so that it’s not always in my face and I have family time and Warlock time.

Walk me through the process of an average build for you from start to finish.

Customer reaches out to me and I ask them some questions, there’s two kinds of customers I’ve found: the one that doesn’t have any idea of what they want and they’ll look for your help building it with them, so with them I’ll start suggesting colors, speakers and sizes. Then you have the customers who will send you a list and know exactly what they want which is great but I love it both ways because the interaction is always fun. I write all that stuff down, put it into quickbooks, invoice them and then I have two tracking records of it.

I order all the materials once I have everything invoiced and listed out and they pay me for whatever I quote them at, I order whatever tolex they want and whatever speaker they want and then I’ll have the plywood already set up and then I’ll start by building the chassis. Once I get the frame done I bring it into my shop and then I wrap it with tolex and I do everything from start to finish.

Now, if I have five builds in front of me, then I’m gonna build five frames immediately and then I’ll take them in one at a time, finish the process from there and hand it over. That’s why I have that 4-6 month time period because that holds their slot. It’s not uncommon for me to start that build 3 months into the turnaround time. I don’t mind being honest about that either, the biggest thing for me is transparency with my customers. I regularly send updates to them on how the process is going.

What are some of the questions you ask your customers the first time you speak with them?

First question I always ask them is, “What style of music do you wanna play?” I build for everyone, I don’t care if you’re playing blues in your basement by yourself or on the biggest stage in the world. I build for every audience not just the people I’m involved with which tend to be hardcore and punk rock, I wanna build for everyone not just one type of music. Another question I ask is, “What are you trying to achieve?” Basically what kind of sound and tone are they going for? Different speakers can sound different when you get down to playing them. 

Say someone comes to me and says, “I play in a doom metal band and I wanna light up the venue with this cabinet.” I’ll make suggestions like, “Okay, I’ll recommend Ted Weber Gray Wolf speakers and anything from a 4x12 to a 6x12 cabinet. So the main ones: what are you playing? What are you trying to sound like? And what do you want it to look like?"

Is there any way you like to challenge yourself with building cabinets?

Of course! I like to see how many I can build in a certain time period, I like to try different styles and ways of building them from what I’m used to. I’m working on one right now, a girl reached out to me and was like, “I’d like you to build this cabinet similar to an Orange spec” and we all know Orange Cabinets. That wasn’t too challenging but it was something I wasn’t used to. So, I did my research and I figured it out. The main thing with this is if you’re a custom business you need to adapt, just because you built something one way doesn’t mean everyone will want it that way.

One of my newest things I do is coffin cabinet designs, that was a big challenge in and of itself. There’s a lot of math and science involved and for a dumbass I’m actually pretty good at math. Once I figured out all of those steps in the process I was like “It’s fucking game over, I’m building coffin cabs now!” That was a hurdle I was very happy to have overcome. The only other person who does them was my homie in the U.K. at Noisy Hammer who helped me do the Slapshot grills for me.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Sjostedt

Any advice for someone trying to chase their dreams?

As cliché as it sounds: do what your heart desires and do not listen to anybody else. You’re gonna have those who support you and what you do and then you’re gonna have those who tell you you can’t do it and you’re a shithead for trying.

I can’t even count how many times I’ve had people tell me, “Warlock is cool and all but you gotta focus on other things. Nothing might come of it.” If you really wanna do something you can do it by any means necessary. Stay focused and as long as you put the time and effort into something you’ll make it happen.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Sjostedt

Anybody you would like to shout out at the end?

I gotta start with my mom because not only did she raise me right but she’s been my biggest supporter since I was a knucklehead kid, she listens and she’s real with me if I’m making a stupid move. I idolize her and look up to her every day of my life.

Other than that, shout out to every band under my endorsement roster and who really push Warlock Cabinets. Justin from Hard Target, Jake Kaufman from Cinderblock, Ryan Packer from Slapshot, Colin Campbell from C.O.A. and every single person who follows my page, Warlock would not be what it is without every single one of you.


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