Pyre Press is a small screen printing shop from Pittsburgh with advanced automated equipment, making tons of merch for the death metal scene.

Long time ago its founder Phil Trona worked a hated job and lived paycheck to paycheck, so opening PYRE PRESS was the hardest decision of his life. Now all the bands and labels know that he is «the guy from whom you can order and print tees».

How a love of underground music and high quality of printing can help earn a powerful reputation among the death metal scene — read in this interview.
It seems that all your work is really full of metal and punk. How did you discover this music? How was it?
Pretty much everything that we do is metal and punk adjacent in some way. This comes from being involved in the scene for a long time by playing in bands, going to shows, etc. I got into punk at a pretty young age (around 12-13 years old). I discovered bands like the Misfits and AFI and I was instantly hooked. This was at a time when services like LimeWire (and of course music blogs) were really taking off so the music was extremely accessible to me and I was able to find bands that were similar to the ones I already knew. But the thing that kinda sucked about those services was that it wasn't necessarily conducive to getting full albums and the art that comes along with them and I was personally really intrigued by the art and aesthetic of punk. So, like many kids in the early 2000's I started buying a bunch of CD's. The first punk CD's I bought with my own money were Discharge «Decontrol: The Singles», Punk and Disorderly Comp, Black Flag «Everything Went Black», Misfits «Walk Among Us» and Cock Sparrer «Shock Troops», all of which I still have today! I actually didn't really like metal when I was first getting into underground music. All I wanted to hear was punk for the longest time. But as I got into my later teens, I started to get into bands that bridged the gap between punk and metal such as Motörhead, GISM, Slayer and Neurosis (all in different ways of course) and it occurred to me that most metal bands worth listening to are largely influenced by punk. In my opinion, the best metal that exists is/was played by punks.
Tell us about your immersion in the scene. Why are you so addicted to this music? And what did it give you?
Well, when I was getting into punk I realized that I don't need to be a particularly talented musician to be able to play it. So I started fucking around with guitar and drums. I learned a lot of Ramones and Misfits songs early on because those were the easiest. There weren't a lot of people in the town that I grew up in that were into underground punk but I did manage to find some people to play with eventually and we would play shows and go to shows in Pittsburgh which was only about a half hour or so drive from us. From there I just met a bunch of other like-minded people, made friends, started more bands and when I graduated high school I moved out to the city and went to every show that I could afford to go to and played every show that I could play.

Addicted to the music is an interesting but pretty accurate way of putting it. I hardly think about how much of my life that underground music really occupies. Not being able to have shows for nearly a year because of the pandemic really made me appreciate underground music and the culture it creates. Of course I love the music, art, aesthetic and so forth but the thing that has always been particularly appealing to me in regards to punk and metal is that it gave me a place to fit in. When I was growing up, I didn't give a fuck about sports or anything like that — I just wanted to play in bands and listen to music.
From SHIRT SHOW podcast with you, we learned that you have been into screen printing since your school years. Can you tell us more about that? How it was? What were something special and memorable for you in that time?
Being into punk at a relatively young age, I obviously embraced the DIY mentality that came along with it. I was all-in with that from the very beginning. I was finding ways to make my own shirts of whatever punk band I was super into at the time. I would make stencils from cardboard, spray paint them or sharpie them on to white tees and/or buy those cheap iron-on transfers from the craft store and waste all of the printer toner on making transfers to make my own shirts. When I got to high school, I was in a graphics class that gave me a proper intro to Photoshop/Illustrator and we had a short segment on screen printing. The set-up was extremely primitive, it was basically like a screen door with vinyl as the stencil. Any way, I think I made a Samhain shirt or something. It was super shitty but I thought it was cool as fuck. I later enrolled in a Screen Printing 101 class when I was in college. They had a more proper set-up with a floor model press (6-Color, 6-Station I believe), conveyor dryer, dark room, etc. The full deal. I loved it. I was in there after hours printing shirts for my bands at the time, which was probably the most memorable moment about getting into screen printing. It felt like I was merging my two main interests and creating a physical format that someone else might be able to appreciate in the same way that I did when I was a kid.
Why did you create your own printing studio? And how did your development go? Who were your first customers?
I created my own shop for several reasons. The first of which being that I love screen printing and underground music more than anything and I wanted to be able to work with those two things on a daily basis. The second of which being, I had worked at a shop previously for about 4 or 5 years and then later a supply house for around 2 and a half years and I just felt like I kept hitting ceilings in those places. I never really felt fulfilled from working there and I wasn't making nearly enough money. I wanted to be able to carve my own path rather than relying on someone else (a boss) for income. I am also not very responsive to authority so having a boss to answer to all of the time was pretty problematic for me in a lot of ways. When I was working at the screen printing supply house and living paycheck-to-paycheck, a lot of my friends that play in punk bands and/or own businesses whom I had previously printed for were asking me to print stuff for them again. So, I got a small table-top press, a compact dryer and I set it up in my 1 bedroom apartment and printed in the evenings after work and on the weekends. It took me several months to save up to buy that equipment. I scraped together what little extra money I had from paychecks, sold a guitar, records, etc.. But it was worth it in the long run. Eventually I got set up in a 2 car garage so I could have more space, and upgraded to some better equipment. I was in the garage almost every night from about 6:30pm after I got off work until 2am or later some nights. I was late to my day job (the supply house) every day. Working on separations, proofs and e-mails when no one was looking (sorry to my old boss if he sees this — he won't). And then I eventually quit my job and moved into a proper small warehouse space. I was making more money by printing in the evenings and on weekends than I was making in 1 paycheck at my day job. That said, one of those things was always suffering because of how thin I was spreading myself (my day job is usually what I put on the back burner). The first day that I moved into my current shop, I unloaded the moving truck with all my equipment, set it up and immediately printed a rush order for Mammoth Grinder until about 6am. Went to work at 8:30am, got off at 5:30pm, delivered the shirts… and played the show. I did shit like that ALL of the time. So, I made a choice and quit my job and dove in to making the business a full-time gig. It was horrifying, exciting and the most difficult thing I have ever done all at the same time; however, it was extremely rewarding.
You mentioned that a few years ago you stopped working with plastisol and completely switched to discharge and water-based inks. What were the reasons for this? And what are the advantages of discharge and water-based inks over plastisol?
Well, there are a couple of reasons for making a conscious choice to go with water base / discharge inks over plastisol. When I was working at the supply house, my co-workers and boss were (and still are) huge advocates for water base inks, so naturally I had a lot of exposure to the technical side and learned a lot about the benefits and nuances. Prior to that, I had been interested in learning more about water base / discharge and tried it here-and-there beforehand in my own time but the shop I worked at previously was all plastisol so there wasn't a ton of room for experimentation, or at least not enough to get really confident with the inks. The other side of this is that I developed arthritis in both of my hands in my mid-20's so plastisol was really tough for me to print manually. Water base and discharge inks are much less viscous which makes them a lot easier to print with, clear through a screen, stir and mix. Ultimately, once I started to gain more experience and confidence with these inks, I became a much better printer. There is far less room for error with water base and discharge printing, which makes it much more challenging. In my opinion, plastisol can be forgiving and can enable bad habits in a shop environment (you don't have to clean plastisol up right away — it doesn't necessarily 'dry out'). When it really comes down to it, in my experience, water base and discharge inks look and feel better and the pros outweigh the cons in every way but it's not for everyone. It's just what works well for our clients and our shop. Every shop is different. There are a ton of amazing shops out there that put out great work with plastisol. Printing is hard and I respect anyone that can do it (well) and become successful.
In recent years you mostly work only with death metal bands / labels. Why exactly is the Death Metal scene?
I love death metal (of course) and I wish I could say that this was a super deliberate niche that I tactfully planned out but that wouldn't be entirely true. It was mostly a «right place at the right time» type of scenario. As I mentioned, I had already been printing for a bunch of punk bands so my foot was already in door in the sense that people in bands (at least locally) knew that I was a person that they could hit up for shirts. Word of mouth travels fast. When I met Vicky (my-now-business/life-partner) , she was working for 20 Buck Spin and the building that they are in had an open space for rent. So, she put me in touch with the landlord and Dave [20BS] vouched for me, having not known me (at the time). It also happened to work out that as I was moving in, he was looking for a new printer to work with on his releases. I did a couple hundred Mournful Congregation longsleeves for him and he was psyched on the quality so he started placing regular orders with me and we have been working together (and have become good friends) ever since! The real breaking point in terms of getting into doing a ton of death metal stuff was when we printed the Tomb Mold 'Manor of Infinite Forms' album artwork on tees and longsleeves for 20 Buck Spin. It was just the right combination of the perfect album artwork, label and music wrapped into one package. People just loved it. It was pretty wild. That shirt was in the centerfold of Thrasher. Things just really took off for us from there. Dave [20BS] was recommending us to bands and labels constantly and again — word of mouth travels fast.
You often focus on how detailed and thoroughly you can print some artworks. Can you remember a couple of the most challenging prints? And why was it difficult to print?
We've done a lot of really tough ones but I like the challenge. One that comes to mind is the L.O.T.I.O.N. 'Alphabrain' design. The thing that was most challenging about this one is that our press only has 8 print heads. So, with a flash in there, the most amount of colors we can print is 7. This design just had SO much going on from a color-count standpoint that it was incredibly hard to get it to print correctly without sacrificing a major element of the design. Hopefully in the future we will be able to add a larger machine that will allow us to achieve these designs a little easier. Another one that comes to mind is Necrot's 'Blood Offerings' album artwork. The color palette in this artwork is really tricky and it took us a while to really nail the ink colors. We probably mixed over a dozen inks and did a ton of pre-production sample runs before going into a full production run. It was tough but at the end of the day, with any tough design, I am glad that we put the time and effort into it to make it the best that it could be.
You make merch for Mark Riddick. How did you meet him and start working with him?
I met Mark through 20 Buck Spin. He ordered some shirts from them and liked the quality a lot so he asked for my contact. We have been working together quite a bit ever since then. I am extremely honored and grateful to be working with someone that has had such a long-running impact on underground metal artwork. Mark is also genuinely one of the nicest people that I have ever met and is very easy to work with and get along with. He's provided some really sick artwork for us for fliers and various other projects as well, which I really appreciate. I also think that his style is very distinct. When I see an illustration that he did, I can tell that he made it without actually knowing that he did it. I think that level of consistency and precision is something that most artists have a hard time really nailing. I think it's also really interesting and inspiring to see the progression of his art over the years. He just sent us a scan of an Internal Bleeding illustration that he did in 1993 when he was still a pretty new artist and it is super sick; seeing that illustration next one that was done in the last year is really inspiring and you can see his dedication to his craft in the artwork itself.
Another well-known artist you cooperate with is Alexander Heir. How did you meet him? And what do you like most about working with him?
I met Alex through working with the band Warthog. I worked with them on quite a few projects and their drummer Ryan reached out and introduced Alex and I so that we could work together on a project for L.O.T.I.O.N. We started working together pretty regularly from there on a lot of his Death/Traitors apparel. Working with Alex is great because I am a fan of his art and have been for a while. Every time he sends us artwork to print, I am excited to print it. That's what I love about printing in general. Printing things that I like keeps it exciting. The thing I like about working with Alex beyond being a fan of his art is that he is a screen printer, so he understands the process and limitations that can occur and I think that is one of the many reasons we work really well together.
Which artists you also worked with? Which artists of the modern metal scene do you advise to pay attention to?
Truthfully we haven't worked with a ton of artists directly; however, we have had the opportunity to print a few modern Dan Seagrave designs, who is best known for his work with Suffocation, Morbid Angel, etc. Some artists that I really like that bands we work with have used for artwork that we have subsequently printed are: Marald Van Haasteren (Necrot, Mortuous), Abomination Hammer (Triumvir Foul) and Lucas Korte (Tomb Mold, Malignant Altar).
Who will you never work with? And why?
To be honest, there are a lot of people that we will never work with. Something that we take a hard stance against is any band/artist/business that is racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic and/or abusive in any way. Any one like that gets an automatic hard 'no.' Other than that, we won't work with anyone that is demanding, rude, pushy or a cop. All of our current clients are amazing and I love all of them.
Can you share some plans for this year?
We just launched a new web store for Internal Bleeding, which for us has been super exciting. Vicky (my partner) is from Long Island and she grew up seeing them live and I fucking love slam. We also just got some new equipment delivered and installed at the shop. It's super exhausting but well worth it in the end. Other than that, we're looking to buy (or build) a warehouse this year.

Instagram: @pyrepress

Grade Moscow
9 Mar, 2021