Photo: John Malley
Michael Freiburger is a pillar of the Seattle metal community. He heads the growing label Satanik Royalty Records (based on the name of a Midnight album), plays bass in the doom band deathCAVE, and is the founder and promoter of the emerging Disemboweled God fest. On top of this, he recently opened a piercing parlor in the city with his wife, Anji Anujin. Freiburger is a busy man with an easy laugh, a Willy Wonka work ethic, and Charlie Bucket dreams. He happens to release and play extreme metal.
Confining Freiburger to a single locale sells him short. In addition to his work in Seattle, he might be one of the best-known social media presences in the global metal community. Freiburger and Anujin (originally from Mongolia) meticulously document their lives online, primarily on the TikTok channel bedroom heshers, which has more than a million likes and 50,000 followers.
The channel closely examines two metal lovers from indigenous backgrounds chasing their dreams and raising two kids (Freiburger is their adopted father). One day they’ll share a video from a metal festival or do arts and crafts with their kids. On another, they might share a clip of a Mongolian throat singer performing at their wedding.
Freiburger’s relentless optimism didn’t come easy. As a teenager, he struggled with morbid obesity and depression. He later had problems with drugs and alcohol. Now sober and healthy, he talked to Decibel about his story and what’s next for the family business.
You’ve become synonymous with the metal scene in Seattle but are from Alaska. How did you end up there?
Seattle is 2,600 miles away but the closest US city to Fairbanks. Many people migrate to Seattle to do things you can only experience in a big city. You can’t get many of those things in Alaska because it’s so separated.
Growing up in Alaska, there was an amazing music scene. There was a DIY element to everything we did. Country bands played with punks, doom bands, or Christian bands. We had to band together to rent out tribal halls or wherever there was space. We rented any place we could get in.
In the winter in Fairbanks, you must plug in your car because it’s so cold. But the sun doesn’t set in the summer, and every parking lot has free electricity. You can plug in and play in parking lots until the cops come. This was before the Internet, and you’d leave fliers at skate shops and recording stores. Whenever a show was shut down, you’d whisper and talk about where the next one would be.
So everything was done via word of mouth.
Exactly. In Alaska, kids are starving for shows. We just had to get the word out. Seattle was the place that had everything I wanted. Most people from Alaska still want outdoor time, so combining nature and music was a no-brainer. I moved to Seattle when I was 19, and I’m 38 now. I started organizing and playing shows and eventually started doing it all over town. I did it a lot without any name attachment to help out buddies. It all worked out, but it didn’t happen overnight and wasn’t planned. There needed to be a force or entity to make things happen.
Did what you learned early on in Alaska help you become a promoter and later a label head?
I was definitely scared of Seattle when I moved here. It took me a while to get my feet wet. I grew up very overweight and had a lot of security issues. But my roots did start in a DIY community. I thought we needed to do this ourselves if no one was doing it. It (his experience) gave me a lot of perspective.
What skills did you learn in Alaska that were directly applicable to promoting shows?
There were always people who talked about cool ideas, so I would think of practical ways to make it happen. I honed that beginning when I was 13 years old. It was just so fun, and there was an older community I looked up to that helped me.
“I Had A Dark Childhood”
Your social posts have been very open about your struggles with addiction. Did that start in Alaska?
Yes and no. My struggles with addictions started with overeating and soda pop. I got to almost 400 lbs. at my heaviest in high school. It came from extreme emotions. I had a dark childhood, and something like Doritos or soda would help me escape those realities. I was active, but I was overeating and drinking constantly. I am 6’4, so I am a big guy already and just expanded outward. I have a way of letting things consume me.
I lost a ton of weight in Seattle, working out and biking. But then I put weight back on from drinking and doing a lot of drugs. I am so emotional that any time I get sad or depressed, there would be a self-destruct mode. I got good at taking breaks from alcohol or drugs.
In the middle of all this, I got good at bartending and playing shows and tried to become more secure in my own body. Finally, a little over eight years ago, I was back in a negative spot. My life was coming apart. I had to make the decision to either unravel or take control of my life. I started to focus on doing what I love: playing music and putting on shows.
Did you see The Whale with Brendan Fraser?
No, although I’ve heard of it. I’m not the biggest movie person. I have ADHD, and watching a movie is sometimes hard. I end up missing a lot in pop culture.
The narrator’s way of coping with his emotional trauma is excessive eating.
I haven’t been big in a while, but I can relate to that. Unless you’ve been in that position, people can’t understand what it’s like. It’s hard to explain the feeling.
I hesitate to recommend it because I don’t want it to be badly triggering, but I have a close friend who was able to move past morbid obesity. He said much of what it depicts is accurate, even if it’s tough to watch.
I like to connect with others who’ve been there to share the struggle. Some people want results but aren’t willing to change. It’s impossible to get results if you are unwilling to change. You can’t expect anything in life to happen without putting in the work.
Tribe is a big part of your life. Some people in my life don’t even know about my love of metal. I don’t think they’d understand it, so I don’t go there. But you’ve put tribe in the center of everything you do musically.
When I was a kid and moved to Seattle, I was upfront headbanging until my neck hurt. I was so excited to see these bands. Nineteen years later, I’m still at the shows.
Community is everything. I’m a very emotional person, and when I go through the ups and downs of life or mental problems, music, friends, and community get me through. I know I’m not the only one. The music is amazing, but so are people and connections. I travel worldwide, which is insane for me as a poor kid from Alaska. I’ve made lifelong friends from festivals and other countries.
Metal lets you connect with people who understand what you’re going through. Having a community is critical. I wouldn’t be alive without it and I think including it in everything you do is important.
Despite the self-loathing and self-destructive habits, you still had things in life you truly loved, like metal music. The self-doubts never seemed to contaminate your relationship with the music.
My early loves were Sepultura and Metallica. I’d sit alone in my room and feel more alive in those moments than anywhere else. I was very sad when I was younger. The music gave me a way to express myself. I had the Chris Farley disease, where you are funny outwardly but always suffering. Deep down, I felt fat and could never admit it to myself.
I’ve watched your relationship with your wife develop and blossom over the Internet. How did you meet? Why did you decide to chronicle your relationship online?
I had just left a long-term relationship, and we were in the middle of Covid. I had just started the label and started dating a little bit, and it wasn’t working out. I got on Tinder, and on the first day, I connected with Anji. She complimented my hair and tattoos, and we started talking.
I am very particular about my music, and when she said she liked metal, I thought she’d be into like Lamb of God. That’s usually what happens. It turns out she listens to obscure underground atmospheric black metal. We had an insane connection to Dimmu Borgir’s song “Mourning Palace.” Anji grew up in Mongolia, and I grew up in Alaska. We both had little access to this music but loved it. We connected on a deep level. When we first started dating, her kids weren’t here from Mongolia yet.
“We Both Live An Open Life”
Your TikTok channel bedroom hedsher has almost 50k followers and more than a million likes.
We started a TikTok to post things about ourselves and our relationship. We get so many messages about how we’ve inspired others. Anji and I both want to keep growing and thriving. We both live an open life.
I try to encourage people to exercise self-care and work out. One of my favorite things is getting people off drinking and drugs. Humans have great potential and hold themselves back. We all have our insecurities. But we all are capable of so much. My wife is the same way. She opened the first body piercing studio in Mongolia and fought for women’s rights there. She is very unapologetic about who she is and helping women.
Your story is the perfect 21st-century metal love story. Here are two people from indigenous cultures from opposite sides of the world who meet through metal in an American city via an app and then document their relationship online.
It’s unreal to find your counterpart. It’s hard to believe we are on the same page so often. We have so many moments when we are on the same wavelength.
“Follow Your Passion”
Has Anji helped with growing the label?
She has been completely supportive. She is very much a part of the label’s success. Growing up in Mongolia, she is still amazed by certain things about music and how much underground metal is a labor of love.
Where are you planning to take the label? You’ve been releasing a lot of death metal lately.
I like to consider our genre doom, sludge death, and black metal. I also like that music played by people from a punk background (laughs). We are spread across a few genres, and it’s weird, but it makes sense to me.
You have a label, an active band, a festival, a piercing studio, and a social media following. Where do you go next? Someone in Hollywood must have seen your TikTok.
We haven’t been too vocal about it, but a TV show is on our vision board. Anji and I don’t come from much, but we have high hopes. A lot of motivational speakers inspire us. I would love to have a television show. That is in the cards.
What would you say to a teenager having the same struggles you did?
I’d say you are meant for something more. The biggest struggle most people have is that they don’t know what that is. I’d say follow your passion. When you love something, chase it and follow it. Don’t let things get in the way, even if it’s family or friends. I used to keep people around who said things in jest that held me back. Don’t do that. Surround yourself with people who motivate you.