by RS Frost

Artist, tattooist and multi-instrumentalist Joseph Deegan offers insight into the struggles of Ireland’s underground extreme metal scene, his long-time passion for visual and creative arts and ruminates on almost 15 years with black metal hellions SLIDHR.

Given Joseph’s varied contributions to the underground over the years, I thought it best to start with the musical portion of his creative output.

- I was born in Dublin, Ireland and currently still reside there. It's hard to know how it has shaped my music and outlook generally, but the lack of musicians in the underground here certainly forced me to learn how to play multiple instruments. In the ‘90s, there were hardly any drummers so I learned how to play drums myself when I was 17. Most guys in the underground were pretty lazy and more interested in drinking than making music.

Music had always caught my attention as a very young child and my uncle’s record collection fascinated me. I would stare at the cover of IRON MAIDEN's ‘Number of the Beast’ LP as a toddler, always finding something new every time I looked at it. The spoken intro to the song ‘Number of the Beast’ set the mood for me too. That was the beginning. There were AC/DC records there too which weren't as cool as Iron Maiden, but still interesting.

I started playing guitar when I was 11 or something like that. I had gotten massively into GUNS N' ROSES, and of course Slash was the coolest motherfucker, so naturally, I needed to start playing guitar. I took lessons with a blues/rock guy for a year or two which gave me a pretty good foundation, but he disappeared so I continued teaching myself from books. I had already gotten into far more extreme stuff in the meantime though.

Artwork for Ascension MMXIX by Joseph Deegan

Over time Joseph has taken this early influence and applied it to a number of extreme metal projects, the main focus now being Slidhr.

- There have been quite a few over the years. I played in a couple of shitty doom and black metal bands in the late ‘90s but didn't get properly active until my early twenties.

Slidhr has been my longest running musical endeavour so far. It started as a solo project around 2005 or something. In 2012 it expanded to include Bjarni Einarsson (SINMARA, ALMYRKVI) on drums. We didn't play our first gig until 2015. Although playing music had to take a backseat for a few years while I concentrated on my tattooing.

How did you find yourself on the administering end of the inked needle?

- Bizarrely I was always pretty obsessed with tattoos, even as a small child. I knew I wanted to do it professionally from around the age of 10 or 11, that’s when I started buying tattoo magazines. However, in Ireland at the time it was really difficult to find any information or anything. It was a totally closed shop. I eventually got my first equipment in 2002 or 2003 or something. The internet wasn’t as widespread as it is these days and I wasn’t using it often. An acquaintance gave me the contact details of these scummy Italian guys who were selling equipment, so I contacted them and went from there.

In Australia, the tattoo industry is oftentimes wrought with villainous extortion and other nefarious business models conducted by individuals who subscribe to an outlaw lifestyle. I’m curious if this is also true for Ireland?

- It’s definitely not too bad here just yet. I worked in a biker shop briefly in the early days and it was pretty hilarious and embarrassing. I have heard it’s a scourge for tattooers elsewhere though.

Artwork for Ascension MMXIX by Joseph Deegan

Are there any aspects of the music industry that provide motivation for your artistic output, be it positive or otherwise?

- That's difficult to say because I have such a love/hate relationship with the scene I've found myself in. I don't have or want many friends, but the few people I consider good friends have come from being involved in music in one way or another. I've travelled a lot over the years but when you travel for music it always seems just a little bit more interesting and memorable. There have been some very inspiring moments for sure.

Seeing IN THE WOODS and KATATONIA playing a dilapidated bar in Dublin in 1996 was a turning point. I had already been listening to black metal and underground stuff for a couple of years but that stands out as a very important marker for me.

I feel compelled to make music whether I want to or not. I don't really know why but it's in my blood. I've tried to quit a few times but it always comes back with a vengeance. Over the years I've been very much inspired by Iron Maiden, Guns N' Roses, THE CURE, Jimi Hendrix, LED ZEPPELIN, then later, of course, the whole black metal thing took over. I found the second wave stuff first and quickly worked backwards to CELTIC FROST and BATHORY

Joseph has spent a lot of time in Iceland in recent years. Having performed with Slidhr at all three editions of ORATION, Joseph has also been responsible for the artwork for the first and third edition of the festival, and will once again compose the visual counterpart to Oration’s successor; ASCENSION MMXIX, which will be held in June.

Artwork for Ascension MMXIX by Joseph Deegan

How did these Icelandic ties come about?

- A friend of mine moved over there about 10 years ago and got to know some of the guys, then I got to know them through him. Prior to that I had some casual contact with some guys, trading records and stuff but nothing too serious. Then when I expanded Slidhr, Bjarni was recommended. It went from there. It’s funny to see how much things have changed there in the last 10 years, I usually go over once or twice a year these days.

Having travelled extensively for music, I’m curious if you have noticed any major changes within the attitudes of bands and the industry in general?

- Yes, absolutely. Years ago bands would only wear hoods to hide the fact that they had short hair. Now everyone does it. Some of the trends these days are pretty embarrassing.

Whilst conducting my research for this interview, I learned that Joseph is a staunch opponent to what a lot of current black metal bands are peddling. In particular, the “rituals” they perform and the aesthetic counterparts that go along with it all.

- Most of these “cool” black metal guys these days are just losers who have been into black metal for no longer than five years. That’s fine, we all start somewhere. I’m just bemused that these same people feel like they can dictate what black metal is or should be. They are as far from “occult” or “ritual” as you can get. Truly embarrassing. Hoods, blood, dotwork; fuck off. So many cheap imitations of the bands who did this stuff the right way.

Slidhr’s most recent offering is 2018’s ‘The Futile Fires of Man’ which features Joseph on guitar and vocals, Bjarni Einarsson on drums and the new addition of Garðar S. Jónsson (Sinmara, Almyrkvi) on bass.

How did Garðar become involved in the band?

- We needed a bass player and he’s our friend and a talented musician. He started as a live bass player, then he joined for recordings later. He certainly brings some great ideas to the table that I wouldn’t otherwise think of.

This release also saw Joseph at the helm of production; recording, mixing and mastering.

- I’ve been recording my own music for a long time so it was nothing new. I actually got my audio engineering qualification in 1996 before computers took over. I have a lot of really interesting useless knowledge now because of it.

Whilst this album carries sonic traits present on previous Slidhr releases, there was something distinctly different about it - an atmospheric maturity perhaps?

- It’s funny that you find it more mature because musically it is actually far closer to our demo and that’s 14 years old. Nothing was very forced on it. Perhaps the songwriting is a little more mature, my opinion is far too subjective to really know but stylistically it sounds older to my ears. Having new members surely adds a new character to things though. I write the music but the nuances of the other members certainly shine through.

Is there anything in particular that has enabled or encouraged you to persevere with your creative activities over the years?

- I'm not sure anything has enabled or encouraged it, on the contrary - it can be a real struggle to find time to devote to making music and art. Obviously, as a tattooer I spend a lot of time on visual art but in that regard, I am a commercial artist. It's not easy to find the time for music and painting but I make it work.

What have you got in store for the foreseeable future?

- Slidhr won't play so many gigs in the foreseeable future, just some select ones here and there, but certainly more recording. I'm working on some other music that is in the early stages too. Besides that, lots more tattooing and drawing. Whenever I get time I'll paint for the sheer enjoyment of it. 

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