July 16, 2015

Interview - "Invictus Productions'

Ireland’s Invictus Productions is a completely independent label that’s grown to become a major force in metals underground, bringing us some of the finest music the underground has to offer. I (Trevor) got the chance to catch up with the label’s founder and boss, Darragh O’Laoghaire, to delve a little bit into the workings of the label and the man behind it.

LoF - Hi Darragh, thank you very much for agreeing to an interview with The Lair of Filth, it’s greatly appreciated as I’m well aware of how busy things can be for you at times. You’ve built the label from scratch into what it is today, a very significant force in metal’s underground, did you ever dream the label could become as significant as it has and were there ever any occasions when you felt like giving up?

Darragh - To be honest, I never saw nor predicted it could get to this point and in many respects I am still playing catch up with it getting to where it is as there's a huge amount of work involved and it's still a learning process. There have been a few times where I've felt "fuck this" alright as being based in Ireland has its limitations but I'm working around them now to varying degrees and trying to expand some more as well. But the key is in the name, Invictus. Strength through strife.

LoF - Invictus Productions was first established in 1999, since its inception Ireland experienced a very harsh recession – did it affect the label in many ways and did you have to take any financial precautions in order to weather the economic storm?

Darragh - Starting it in '99 was a step into the unknown...really was. Things were vastly different then, bands sold far more physical copies and the internet was still, more or less, in its infancy. I didn't know what I was at (still fucking don't, ha!) and was finding my way. I quit my job in '06 to do the label full time but it was so difficult that I went back to working part time and then went to university and by the time I finished uni, Ireland was in the throes of a brutal recession. It was during this time I got involved in opening a record store, which we had for nearly 4 years so my time became split between that and doing the label, which was a whole extra workload that really wore me out. The shop closed in December last year and since then I have spent my time reorganising and focussing the label more. The recession certainly had an impact on the label but at the same time I've slowly managed to grow it. The stress and hassle of the shop certainly took its toll as well but thankfully, no, I didn't have to take any financial trouble.

LoF - When was that “eureka moment” when you realised the label had the potential to be such a success and did you give up employment to dedicate 100% of your time to Invictus at that time?

Darragh - I don't think there was ever a eureka moment as the label has steadily and slowly grown, which is something I am thankful for as I don't want it to become a vehicle for releasing material for the sake of it in order to make it a job. The recession and its impact basically created the gateway for me to do it fulltime, which was not something I'd predicted. There were no jobs around and I'd already been doing the label a long time so it was a natural step to begin doing it fulltime as well as running the shop. Most people reading this won't realise it but Ireland is not a natural place for this to happen like say Germany or Finland. Though there is interest in metal here, the kind of stuff I do is far, far off the radar of many. The label could not exist without the international dimension of the global metal scene and the internet. I remember even during the mid '00s doing stalls at shows and the income was paltry compared to what my continental peers were bringing in.

LoF - You’ve brought some seriously excellent bands, such as ZOM, Sheol (שְׁאוֹל) and Malthusian to the forefront of the underground and helping them bring their music to a much wider audience. Understandably this is bound to fill you with an abundance of pride – how do you keep these feelings in check and keep yourself grounded?

Darragh - Yes, I am very proud of the bands I work with and the releases I am a part of but in terms of it going to my head, no. This is something I've created and if anyone appreciates the label or my releases then that is excellent but it by no means makes me think I'm some kinda rock star label guy because that frankly is a load of fucking bollocks. I look at my releases and think "fuck, I did it...!" and sometimes I find myself grinning when packing an order for someone and looking at my releases but I don't think there's any room for arrogance or conceit. Pride, sure but being a smug prick can fuck off!

LoF - Aside from some help with packaging etc. do you look after all things Invictus or do you have some outside assistance and what’s a typical day for you over at Invictus HQ?

Darragh - These days I have a couple of friends helping me out now and then but nothing consistent or daily though I will at some point need to have someone on a full time basis as the workload for myself is massive. Typical day is usually a 9am start in the office, checking emails first then straight onto orders and then trades. Usually then in the latter part of the day I drop the mail to the post office and I might deal with varying queries on art, mastering, layout or talk bollocks on Facebook for a bit. Sometimes you get in and check email and you could be dealing with an issue for a few hours like a pressing plant delay or an artwork error that needs fixing asap as there's a deadline or mail order queries etc. Lots of small, niggly things can come up daily that need dealing with instantly and being only one person, this can of course set the course of the day and then consume a lot of time. But things are getting more organised all the time so that's a positive. One of the guys helping me out is Paul, from Solstice, and his help has been immeasurable these days in getting things more organised. He's full of ideas, support and encouragement. My other accomplices Gar and Tony have also been major help and continue to be so.

LoF - You’re bound to be subjected to a constant barrage of demos and all manner of bands looking signed – what’s your selection process & how much does personal preference play a part?

Darragh - I know what I generally like to work with but there are always exceptions, of course, and you find something in the mail that catches your interest. The other day when cleaning up I went through some promos and just opening the envelope you KNOW you're not interested. The band photo can be enough or the opening blurb in their letter is enough to just fuck it in the bin. It's all personal preference and that's why there aren't millions of releases through the label as everything I do, I like myself!

LoF - Have you ever regretted not signing a band, either based on their future success or how their studio recordings ended up sounding in comparison to the demo you received from them?

Darragh - Yeah I missed a few things but that's how it rolls sometimes and for better or worse, it is what it is. I'd never labour the point or get hung up on it. Can't have it all and it also keeps the hunger there for finding new artists.

LoF - What was the first ever Invictus release and does it still remain relevant to you?

Darragh - The first Invictus release was Slaughter Lord 'Thrash til Death' and that is still a pivotal, defining moment for me.

LoF - It must be extremely difficult for independent labels to hold onto bands they have developed and / or discovered – is it difficult to see bands like Tribulation being signed to labels as big as Century Media?

Darragh - No, it's not difficult in the sense that you're aware of a band's need for growth and objectively there's only so much I can offer a band and I need to be realistic about that as well. Invictus is an underground label and even within the structures of the underground there are labels that are pretty big with huge market access but being based here, it's not the same even though I'm constantly pushing the label's mail order and expanding it as best I can.

LoF - Malthusian is easily one of the year’s hottest releases; recently released to mass critical acclaim from fans and the media alike, what other releases can we look forward to from Invictus this year?

Darragh - Up next is Reverie from Denmark. A very young band that, for the sake of explanation, is taking their music in a somewhat aligned direction to that of Reveal, Morbus Chron and Tribulation. They sent me the album to check out and I was impressed as hell with it. Not to everyone's taste but then again nothing I do is! Following that is Throaat from NYC, which is black/speed/thrash! I absolutely worship that style and will always keep working with bands of that nature, like Slutvomit, Gospel of the Horns and now Throaat. At the same time (early August) as Throaat will be the Bölzer 'Roman Acupuncture' CD and then the Lunar Mantra, Abominor releases and the Gospel of the Horns box set, Solstice CD reissue and the Qrixkuor EP. There are vinyl editions of Serpent's Athirst, Oraculum and Malthusian also planned so a lot coming up and more to be announced as well.

LoF - Aside from running Invictus Productions you’re also a member of Death Metal band Vircolac – web-store/ record label/band - how the hell do you manage to balance your time and also squeeze in time for a personal life?

Darragh - By consistently refusing to grow up, ha! I don't have kids, I don't have a mortgage or any of the things that most people my age do so I have a lot of flexibility in that regard. I'm my own master, so to speak. I like to keep busy anyway so even if I'm relaxing, I'm generally doing something.

I treat the label like a regular job working at it daily as I would any other job. Of course that means working overtime and what not but it's not the same as working overtime for some company you're employed by!  Some weeks I'll do a full Saturday as well but I generally give myself some head space on weekends to get out of the city and clear the mind somewhat. The label, band and metal are effectively my personal life, which is fine for me but I do have external interests as well.

LoF - Invictus Productions is bringing some of the best bands the underground has to offer to Ireland during the rest of 2015 – could you tell us a bit about these gigs and what bands can we expect to see?

Darragh - Having seen the scene grow here in the last few years and now we have some bands here that not only am I interested in but they are hitting hard across the globe as well, it felt like it's time to make some presentation shows with these bands and project outwards what's going on here. The next show is Negative Plane next week then after that I'm not doing any shows until October but I am on tour with Negative Plane and Malthusian for 10 days at the end of July as well. I'm working on something for a new year's bash as well, which should hopefully be confirmed soon along with some new Irish blood that are coming up and will hopefully be making an impact soon.

LoF - I assume with line ups like that you’re bound to attract quite an international crowd, have you found this to be the case?

Darragh - Yes. Definitely. I've noticed Ireland becoming more of a destination for travelling metal heads and I'd hope to maintain this as well. There's a lot to see and do in Dublin so as a tourist destination there's plenty to do outside of visiting a show.

LoF - You’ve had a shit and very busy day at Invictus HQ – what do you do to unwind?

Darragh - Usually head to the park with the dog and unwind there. It's a great spot situated in the city but hidden so it's not noisy. Always helps!   

LoF - Which bands would you say have influenced your tastes the most over the years?
Darragh - I think the bands that would have influenced my tastes were generally the ones in my formative years in the late 80s/early 90s. Guns N Roses, Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, Bathory, Venom, Celtic Frost, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Death, Obituary, Entombed, Carnage, Incubus (Mike Browning version), Massacre, Order From Chaos, Tiamat, Mayhem, Emperor, Darkthrone, Paradise Lost, Anathema, My Dying Bride, Sarcofago and so forth. There are many more obviously and then in the late 90s bands like Destroyer 666, Vomitor, Desaster, Gospel of the Horns, Pentacle etc had a big impact on me as well.

LoF - You’re bound to have some guilty pleasures tucked away in your vinyl collection, would you care to share a few of them with us?

Darragh - I don't believe in guilty pleasures and whilst not being the most open minded of people musically, I do like a lot of stuff that might not be expected of me like 80s pop and new wave, for example. Trying to think here and I reckon maybe the first couple of glam Poison records are ones I have that might be 'guilty pleasures' or something. I'm a sucker for 80s glam/hair metal!

LoF - Darragh; thank you very, very much for the time taken to answer these questions, it’s very much appreciated by myself and Jude over at The Lair of Filth and I wish you every success with the coming year’s plethora of quality underground releases from Invictus Productions – may the label continue to go from strength to strength.

Interview conducted by Trevor Proctor.

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