Interview: Invada Records
Bristol’s Invada Records is the label and recording studio founded by Geoff Barrow of Portishead. A hard-working operation concerned only with the music, Invada is at the heart of the film-score resurgence. Long Live Vinyl sits down with label manager Redg Weeks to find out the Invada story…
How did Invada Records start?
“Geoff Barrow came back from Australia after taking a small period of time out of the UK and got together with Fat Paul, who’s a local entrepreneur, venue owner, gig promoter and a guy who’d previously had a number of small, yet successful, independent Bristol record labels – and between the two of them, they founded Invada. The remit was to release pretty much anything they wanted, no matter how obscure. Essentially, ‘we put out what we want, when we want’. This was around 2002, 2003 I believe.”
From those beginnings, how did Invada become the label it is now? Would you even describe Invada as a soundtrack label?
“I would and I wouldn’t. I would say that we’ve become synonymous with soundtracks over the past five years, but we never set out to change the format of what Invada was about. It’s just happened organically, through a series of events, which includes Geoff getting into writing film scores with Ben Salisbury.”
What was the first release that really signified the label’s move into the new territory of film scores and soundtracks?
“I joined the label in 2009 but the real turning point wasn’t until 2011 to 2012, when there was talk of us bringing out Drokk, which was the project Geoff and Ben had just done with 2000 AD comics. I had also brought in the Drive film score at around the same time, so we had two relatively big records that were film scores and I think those two paved the way for the label to start to consider putting out more soundtracks and scores…”
Drive was a big one, wasn’t it?
“It was massive. I saw the film around October 2011. People were already buying the music on iTunes, and those buying it were across a broad spectrum: your average Joe, people who’d buy Aphex Twin, Orbital, Prodigy, bands like that, as well as people who were into film soundtracks, and then people like me, who were listening to a lot of different stuff. The Drive soundtrack just ticked a lot of boxes. So I reached out to the film company and we did the deal really quickly.”
At that point, it didn’t exist anywhere on vinyl?
“No – it was on CD and iTunes at the time.”
What part of your brain goes ‘I think this should be on vinyl’?
“I’d been into soundtracks and scores for a while and at the same time, I was relatively bored with contemporary bands. I was just looking for something else – something that wasn’t dance music or faceless electronic music, or the traditional band format; I was just bored of it all. I’d been listening to soundtracks, but without being an aficionado. I had my favourites and I kept dipping my toes in – I was familiar with Cliff Martinez through Solaris, and then Drive came out – it was just the combination of the film itself, which I’ve probably watched close to 30 times and still blows my mind every time I see it, Cliff’s score and obviously the licensed tracks such as College’s A Real Hero and Chromatics’ Tick Of The Clock.”
So you’re watching it, you know it’s Cliff Martinez, and you’re thinking ‘this should be available to a wider audience’?
“Correct. I knew when I saw the film and when I heard the score that this was something we should be involved with. I thought it was incredible… with the BEAK> records we’d been doing there was an element of this cool synth stuff, so I knew that BEAK> fans would love it… and of course, I loved it, too.”
So it was an old-school A&R approach then? No different from going and watching a band and thinking ‘other people are going to like this’?
“It was exactly that. And it changed everything for me, because from that moment on, every time I went to the cinema I would make notes, go back and check if the music was on iTunes, or on Spotify, see whether there had been
a vinyl release. I wasn’t looking at Drive from a long-term business point of view, more that old-school approach, going on a gut feeling and just see what happens. Luckily for the label and me, it did connect massively with people. I remember texting Geoff, who was on tour with Portishead at the time, and he’d been talking to Ade (Utley, Portishead guitarist) about it. Geoff called me from Australia, and I told him ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve signed it’. The deal was done.”
So around this time, was there anyone else doing soundtracks in a similar way?
“I’d been spending a lot of time in London and would frequent Rough Trade East, where Spencer from Death Waltz was manager. We’d chat a lot during this period about each other’s records. At this time, Death Waltz were releasing John Carpenter and Fabio Frizzi records, causing lots of interest from all quarters. This really ignited what became
a huge culture of film scores pressed as deluxe vinyl packages.”
So after Drive, what was the label’s next big release?
“After Drive, there was a lot of attention on the label. I’d spoken to Cliff Martinez a couple of times, and it became apparent that everybody believed what I already knew, that Solaris was his untapped masterpiece. So I wanted to put it out. It happened through Clint Mansell [former Pop Will Eat Itself frontman and film-score composer], we were talking at the time, and he put me in touch with a friend of his – Areli Quirarte, a music supervisor at Fox Music. After some back and forth with executives, Areli came back to us with the good news. So we released Solaris – which, to be honest with you, as much as Drive was a game changer, Solaris was the one for me. It was the one that I took more personal satisfaction from because it was, at the time, my favourite film score. Probably still is.”
Was that available on vinyl anywhere at the time?
“No, it had never been on vinyl.”
So you’ve managed to get Drive and Solaris on vinyl for the first time?
“Correct. And truthfully, when Solaris hit the record stores, people maybe looked at us a little differently. We were no longer the label that ‘got lucky with Drive’.”
Was it important to follow Drive with something of equal significance?
“It was, but I mean the Drokk record came out at about the same time as Drive, and that was a massive indie success. People love that record; it sold out really quickly, we pressed a thousand and that sold out, then we did another thousand and that sold out. It’s one of those records to this day that really resonates. I knew that we were doing well with that record when we saw Clint Mansell wearing a Drokk T-shirt in his press shots!”
How did the Stranger Things release come about?
“I stumbled across the series through my nine-year-old son, who was trying to watch it. He’s always trying to sneak-watch horror films – he loves Jaws – so I came across it through him and then binge watched the series, did the whole series in a night. Like everyone, I was blown away by the music, and I called up Brian from Lakeshore (an independent music division of film-production company Lakeshore Entertainment), who I’d got to know through the Drive project. So Stranger Things was a collaboration with them…”
And did you sense that it was going to be a success?
“It was like Drive was happening all over again. Stranger Things was a box-ticker and another example of when the stars align. The San Junipero [Black Mirror] score was the same. I watched the episode on the night Netflix screened the show. The second the credits came up at the end, I texted Clint to tell him I thought it was an incredible piece of music. Within hours, there were literally hundreds of tweets from people praising the score.”
And how about Ex Machina, another example of lnvada’s seminal releases?
“With Ex Machina, I just knew we had something. I’d heard the recordings, I’d seen the early incarnations of the film with Geoff, but when I saw the full screening at the BFI, I knew it was going to do really well. I just know through experience when a score’s going to do really well and when it’s not… it’s an intuition, I think.”
So with that in mind, what makes a classic Invada film score release – what do
you look for?
“In an ideal world, you’d have 10 Drive records each year – great film, great score, great artwork, great director and a huge fanbase, which is also a very cool fanbase. The reality is that those releases are few and far between. Today, when we hear something we like, both Geoff and I, we’ll look at the film, the way its been received. But we have worked on records where the film didn’t do that well at the box office, but the film score took on a life of its own… BEAK>’s soundtrack for Couple In A Hole, for example, just took on a life of its own – with FACT magazine suggesting that the score should have been nominated for an Oscar…”
So how can a soundtrack help a film?
“I think that most of the standout film scores and soundtracks people reference all have the same characteristics – they give the movie a whole new level of personality and make the experience of watching the film a lot more memorable. Invada has just released the Lynne Ramsay-directed You Were Never Really Here score by Jonny Greenwood. I heard the score before I saw the film and couldn’t believe how good it was as a standalone piece of music. A few months later, after a screening, I came out of the cinema and all you could hear was people praising the music and saying how well it worked.”
While we’re on the subject of new projects, what else has Invada got planned for the coming year? Will there be more scores? Any non-film-related stuff?
“Yes, both. And it’s important for us to continue to do both. We’re known for soundtracks, but also for Geoff’s work outside of Portishead. BEAK> are a massive part of the label; The KVB are, too. So we’ve got the third BEAK> record coming out and the new KVB record. Invada has to remain open-minded, and non-conformist, and I think that while we always want to release film scores, if nothing comes along – but at the same time there are 10 bands we like and who we feel we can do something with – then that’s what we’ll do.”
And it’s the open-mindedness that led you to the soundtracks in the first place?
“Exactly. And I think film soundtracks are just getting more interesting, with more interesting people getting hired. Look at Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein from Stranger Things; two guys from an electronic band in Austin, and they’ve turned in one of the best scores of all time. It’s encouraging, to say the least.”
What part do you think the vinyl format has had in helping to drive the interest in soundtracks and scores?
“It’s interesting, because probably of the last 12 or so Invada film-score releases, we’ve done a black vinyl version not to be cheap, but to actually just say ‘this is about the music, the score, the soundtrack’ and not about any gimmicks, the ‘deluxe’ this, the ‘deluxe’ that. People certainly want that collectability. People expect that with film scores, but the longer I’ve been doing this and the more experience I’ve gotten, I’m just as happy releasing something simple.”
Can you give us an example of that?
“The Nick Cave & Warren Ellis Wind River record. I thought that record looked beautiful. It was a great sleeve, heavyweight black vinyl, with beautiful artwork and nothing more. It didn’t need to be tricked up. I didn’t want to spruce it up. Some records do warrant that, but we’ve always tried to make it about the music. That’s very important to us. We’ll continue to do the coloured vinyl, the splatter vinyl, because certain releases warrant it. But sometimes, a release just requires a more fundamental approach.”
And it’s important to ensure your records are accessible…
“Yes, which is why we’re not just about soundtracks on vinyl; we want to keep it on all formats. We don’t want to do the uber-limited things, not because we want the sales, but because we want to keep the records in print, just like we would a band. I don’t believe in having a small run and the record never to be re-released.”
So you don’t make the music a collector’s piece, rather just the format?
“Exactly that. If it’s luminous green, with zebra stripes embossed on the vinyl and it plays inside to out on 78rpm, then make that limited, but keep another version available. We’ve copped a lot of flak for keeping records in print, but why should people be deprived of the Drive soundtrack? It’s an important record, just as important to me as Nevermind by Nirvana or Pink Floyd’s The Wall; it’s a game-changer and should be available. There’s no way you wouldn’t be able to buy Nirvana or Pink Floyd again. So there’s a market for the collectible stuff, and there’s room for it, but it’s not what we’re about.”
So ultimately the music’s more important than the format?
“Yes, I do believe that. In the end, it’s the music that really matters.”