Interview: Redefining Darkness Owner Thomas Haywood Hosts Inaugural Into the Darkness Fest

Redefining Darkness have established themselves as a go-to label for up-and-coming extreme metal bands, particularly of the death variety, working with scene veterans like Temple of Void alongside younger bands like Oxygen Destroyer and Maul. They’ll take a step further into that world when label boss Thomas Haywood and his team host the inaugural Into the Darkness Fest in Youngstown, Ohio.

Featuring a slew of Haywood’s bands alongside the likes of Scattered Remnants, Deceased, Horrendous and Imperial Triumphant, Into the Darkness looks to support Redefining Darkness’ artists while also providing the type of show that has long been missing from that region of Ohio. Decibel jumped on the phone with Haywood to get the lowdown before Into the Darkness goes down on July 29 and 30. Grab tickets and find all the other info—hotel deals, venue info, set times—on the festival’s official site.

Are you going insane with planning a festival, have you hit that point yet?
It’s all the little details. I’m trying to make this as easy for the bands and venue as possible and I’m sure we’ll mess something up the first time around but I’ve toured enough that I kind of get a sense of what you want to expect as a band. I also worked at a club in Cleveland when I stopped touring. I have that experience too.

This is my first show I’ve ever even really booked. I just booked Bewitcher like two weeks ago but that came up last minute.

You’re an insane person.
I’ll admit to that. I figured go big, go home. Putting my money where my mouth is. I’m doing everything right, I’m not cutting corners. It’s not about the bottom line, it’s about creating a spectacle and something that people will remember and want to come back to.

I’m working with a venue that’s 100% in it and trying to build their name because they’re in an offbeat city. The venue’s amazing—kind of reminds me of the old Milwaukee Metalfest. This is kind of set up in that way—there’s two stages within, 30,000 square foot venue, arcade games, in-house food, an area with a bar and you can sit down to eat, they have a giant patio. There’s places to go within for people. I think it’s all immersive and hopefully something we continue to do.

I imagine something like this is cool for the metal community in the area because I’m assuming there aren’t a lot of festivals and major bands coming through [Youngstown].
Youngstown’s an hour away [from Cleveland], Pittsburgh’s about two hours away, Detroit is two-and-a-half, three hours so Ohio’s ripe with acts—Sanguisugabogg, Two Hundred Stab Wounds, Mutilatred and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s actually a little bit of history. It was actually Murdersville, USA from sometime in the ’50s to sometime in the ’70s. It was like a mob gateway city because it’s pretty much right in the middle between New York and Chicago. It was a hub for a lot of mob activity. There was over 80 unsolved bombings in Youngstown in a certain time period there. Al Bundy, Ed O’Neil, Ed DeBartolo.

There’s some claims to fame there and it’s kind of fitting that Murdersville, USA would be the place for a death fest.

What made you want to book a fest? 

I think it’s a couple reasons. One of the biggest struggles as a band and as a label is getting agents to represent your band, especially up and coming. It’s the toughest cookie to crack on the label side, I’ve found. Part of it was just to showcase all the great bands we work with and kind of make it a showcase to the label, Redefining.

I also wanted to draw and make this a spectacle, give people a reason to come to Youngstown. I was trying to find the balance of “Who are some great bands that would not only attract the younger metal fans but also the old heads?” I know so many old heads who are elitist types, so getting bands like Deceased and Macabre and even Scattered Remnants. It’s finding the balance of how do I get the old and the young out?

And how do we bring them to a cool destination? Maybe they bitch until they get there but when they get there, they really enjoy themselves, they really enjoy the venue and they want to come back. It was just that balance of budget and finding what bands fit that budget. I reached out to many, many bands and was fortunate enough to secure the ones I did.

That was kind of the impetus, giving my bands a platform to play in front of a lot more people than they’re typically used to but also creating something different. Ohio used to have Deathfest late ’90s, early 2000s and those have been gone. To bring that back, especially if I could make that a yearly thing, it’s a new challenge and something I’ve never done before. It’s kind of all those things at once.

The festival is really cheap. Did you do that to bring people out?
I wanted to be aggressive, being a new fest. I wanted the balance of having talent on the roster attractive enough for people to do a double take and then sweeten the pot by making it an aggressive ticket price. It’s also the understanding that this is a destination, so they’re going to have to get hotels.

I’m doing everything I can possibly think of to make it advantageous for someone to go and enjoy their time but it is a bit of an investment.

It seems like you’re laying the foundation for something long term. If you’re going to do this year after year, that will support the fest going forward.
That’s the hope. With MDF kind of going away, if we can help fill that void a little bit—I’m not going to compare myself to that, by any means. If it grows, why not keep doing it? I don’t know what’s going to happen but as long as I don’t completely lose my ass, I’ll be cool. If I break even, obviously that’s a big win. I’m not shortchanging anything, we’re doing it the right way so I have to make the risk worth it.