The little label that could
INTERVIEW:Fires, controversial musicians, tours falling through and trying – and failing – to keep up with bands on tour. As they mark 10 years in business, the men behind Rubyworks tell PATRICK FREYNEabout keeping an Irish music label afloat
LAST YEAR, DURING the London riots, the managers of a small Dublin record label turned on Sky News and saw a Sony warehouse that held 10,000 of their records burning to the ground.
“I realised ‘that’s Enfield . . . and that’s our stock going up in smoke’,” says senior label manager Roger Quail. “There was a real sense of disbelief.” The label’s founder, Niall Muckian, a man with an almost preternaturally calm demeanour, says that he actually panicked.
“I generally don’t panic, but that day I did,” he says. “It turns out we were really lucky. The warehouse had just shipped most of a new Rodrigo y Gabriela record, but I’d no clue at the time what we had and hadn’t lost. In that few hours of not knowing, I freaked out. I went for a long walk.”
“If there had been stock there that needed to go for the release, we would have been crippled,” says junior label manager – and relative “new boy” – Eoin Aherne.
The conclusion, however, is that everything worked out. “It put pressure on us financially but we were fortunate that we came out relatively unscathed,” says Muckian.
Muckian, Quail and Aherne run the now 10-year-old Rubyworks label, home to acts such as Rodrigo y Gabriela, Wallis Bird, Ryan Sheridan, the Minutes and Fight Like Apes as well as, on occasion, stalwarts such as Sinéad O’Connor, Mary Coughlan, Hot House Flowers and Gavin Friday. In a worrisome era for the music business Rubyworks is a quiet, unassuming success story.
There was no great master plan. Muckian was, at the time of establishing the label, running Dublin’s long-running charity gig, the Ruby Sessions, in Doyle’s pub, and he was doing management odd-jobs for Damien Rice.
“Damien Rice was putting out [his record] O and I was working with him, getting gigs and CDs manufactured,” he says. “And he introduced me to Rod and Gab [Rodrigo y Gabriela]. He was doing his album launch at Vicar Street and they were supporting him and I got involved with them from that stage. I shopped them to all the labels and no one was interested, so we said we’d put a record out ourselves and see what happened.”
The then Irish-resident Mexican guitarists are still at the heart of the label and are now international bestsellers. Muckian says that, once he’d released records for them, it seemed natural to start doing so for other acts, partially facilitated by an investment from MCD’s Denis Desmond. When Muckian started to cast his mind on other markets, however, he knew he needed to get more experienced hands involved. He first met Quail when Rubyworks was seeking a UK distribution deal and he was working for distributor 3MV.