I recently did a small feature on the 10th anniversary of Arts & Crafts Records for Rolling Stone (READ IT HERE), but since my interviews were so extensive, I thought I’d post the transcript of my chat with Kevin Drew. He talks a lot, and he talks very passionately. It’s definitely worth reading if you’re interested in the label and/or Broken Social Scene.
How did you and A&C co-founder Jeff Remedios meet?
We met at an argument, and I think that just set the precedence for the next ten years! Brendan Canning introduced us, he played a key role in getting this thing started. I think, historically, people say that we got into an argument about indies vs. majors because he worked for a major and I was very much an anti-major kid back in my early 20’s. And we just kind of got into an argument over where the music industry was at and that was basically how we met.
How did that blossom into a business then?
I could see that Jeffrey was quite brilliant at business and I think he just saw the same thing in the idea of what I was doing with Brendan and what I was trying to do with this group of people. We first went with Paper Bag Records, which was our beginning and [Paper Bag Records founder] Trevor Laroque did some key moves for our career - he sent our record to Pitchfork. I didn’t own a cell phone or anything and Trevor took it upon himself to send it off just as we were thinking that we wanted to do our own thing. Jeff was getting out of the major labels and he was very much thinking about going travelling and we brought him into David Neufeld’s studio and he was we just kind of spoke and said we should start a label because Jeff wanted to start something outside of what he knew.
On my side, I knew I just wanted to be able to control my own career. The was a goal of mine, I wanted to have my own destiny in my hands and I wanted to protect the ones who were with me. I know that Jeff really wanted to get into the elements of branding and packaging and doing something organically, but at the same time, but at the same time being quite suave with his business sense. He had a lot of belief in it and things were moving quite quickly and I knew I wanted to keep Andrew Whiteman and Jason Collett with us - they had records - so I sent it to Jeff and we sort of just kept it amongst friends. There was such a great group of people making music that we just wanted to take this group of people and go for it.
Did you encounter any problems along the way?
All the problems were good problems, especially at the beginning. The problems near the end were that the problems were all the same, which is kind of boring, but at the beginning we just constantly found ourselves with good problems. They can be as annoying as annoying can be, but more the more problems you have, the better you’re doing. There were challenges, but we rose to the task. I look back and there are lots of things, as I’m sure you can do in your own life and say, I wish we did that differently, but we didn’t make any drastically horrible decisions and I’m proud of that.
What was your role in the label?
Well, it kind of depended on Broken Social Scene because it took up so much time. There was a point there where I guess I was A&R, it was such a loose term for me because if we believed in something, which we believe in all of our releases, we would start to just get behind them. I tried to be the best I can for bands and be a liaison. Some years were better than others… I tried to keep my head up whenever I attend marketing meetings, which is few and far between. I turned to my father when he retired and said, “I have a band and I have a label, I need you to help me run this,” and he became a great in-between, he was really good at helping me separate the two. He came on board and helped Jeff and I a lot and he helped Brendan and I a lot and took away the pressure. Whenever you’re dealing with any of your passions or your personal life, the biggest worry is trust and having him be there, having a man I can give 100% trust to really settled my nerves of being a boss. There were years where I was good and bad years where I wanted to just sit in my room and play music, but here was such fiscal responsibilities and risk, and having my father there was the key ingredient to why I’m still here.
Do you feel like things you do now are still a risk?
I think if you’re not taking a risk, you’re not doing anything. My phone is here for anyone to call. It’s such an ever-changing industry and the staff comes in to do one thing and they end up with four jobs. You’ve got to make sure that people are alright and I do the best I can. What I do is I make the big decisions behind the scenes with Jeff and Kieran Roy. I stop myself a lot of times; there were times with certain acts where I wasn’t sure what to do and, of course, they went on to be quite successful. We’ve had some great people come in, some new blood in the last few years to really keep this thing going and I’m indebted to them for that.
There’s not a record on that label that we’re not proud to have put out there. There are some I’m still puzzled on why it didn’t do so well. It usually falls into the timing and the luck. I’m grateful to the bands that let us give it a shot.
What were some of the releases you were puzzled by, success-wise?
There’s a lot. We had a great year when we put out Years, Still Life Still, Bell Orchestre and New Buffalo and we had a great run with the Most Serene Republic. These records do well, but you want them to deserve the best they can get and it pisses me off when people aren’t getting behind it like you had wished. As time goes on, the expectations get bigger, but the numbers get smaller in a way that shows how music is so disposable now and it’s quite different to navigate through how the fuck you’re going to get into people’s bedrooms.
I think a lot of music is copycat music out there now. So you just need to find an emotion, get a duet going, clap your hands and that’s your moment. I’m all for it, I’m all for whatever positivity you can get out there, but sometimes you feel like you’re dominated by car commercials or insurance companies, which we dealt with recently, and it’s the options. There’s not many options and there’s not many new ideas and it’s can be like forcefields; you have to decide which side you want to sit on.
What about a band today catches your eye?
It’s not my eye, it’s my ear! That’s just it. If we love the music, if someone finds a true, honest belief in it, even if it’s not clearly up the alley of everyone, then we’ll support it.
How do you feel about the number ten, in terms of years?
Ten is a strong number. It’s a powerful number and it’s a number that I think kind of represents a time for change. I know that ten years with Broken Social Scene, there was an aspect to it where I thought the only real, innovative thing to do was to stop. I feel that a lot of these bands just continue to move for the sake of going and some of these bands are just taking up airtime because the bills need to be paid. But then I find my scepticism gets trumped when I listen to one of those bands’ records and I’m like, “Oh, I’m just actually a dick, this album is really good!”
I feel like it’s been a big chunk of my life, only in the idea that I’m at the other side of it now. I’ve spent a lot of time looking back and it’s something that I don’t particularly enjoy because I’ve always had a sense of Catholic guilt when I have to look back. I’m into celebrations. Birthdays are not a huge deal to me, but I understand the process of celebration. I’m into the forward and it was difficult trying to convince some of the guys to come back and play the show when we were so fresh off our hiatus.
How much did you know about this anniversary show in advance?
I had no idea there was going to be a show, that sort of came from Jeff. We sat at a meeting one time and he was like, “We’re going to do a concert for the anniversary,” and I said that’s great. He said, “You know we’re going to ask Feist,” and I said that’s great. “We’re going to try and get Bloc Party and a lot of the bands…” Great! I’m so into this! “I’d really like it if you were to…” Please don’t finish your sentence right now! It hadn’t even been a year, but the great thing is that I think, with BSS, we’ll always be around because we like the music more than we like the break. But the break is knowing that we’re not going to make a new record, knowing that we’re just going to get up on stage and enjoy it immensely. Though our values have changed as individuals, our behaviours have changed as individuals, and our goals have changed, we accomplished that one thing together so it’s always nice to go back and remember how and why and what the purpose was. It’s been nice to go back and look at all these albums that we did. It’s been hard at times, but it just exposes you to a lot of the efforts that a lot of these people made. A lot of people came into that office and they tried really hard to make people’s dreams come true and manage these people’s dreams and deal with these people’s dreams. Kudos to those guys that we’re doing this whole thing, not just the bands, we’ve had people come and go and I just think it’s honouring that. It’s sort of honouring the city of Toronto, too. We have a lot of people that don’t get credit to how this thing got started, but we had a lot of help when we started.
Something needed to change (in Toronto). I don’t think that necessarily exists now, and I don’t know if I’m being a sceptical person, but I’m kind of wondering what’s going to happen next. Who’s going to come in and shake it up. But when we came in, I think there were a lot of people who were pushing for us to get out of the country and this city, but this city really helped us and it’s a time I won’t forget. I won’t forget 2003-2005, those were some really excitingly crazy times. I’m not sure if I’m just older now, I’m pushing 40, but I feel as if it’s a different time for the ones coming up. I just don’t know if they completely understand what it was like back then and even right now, going from no goverment funding to getting funding, there were all kinds of support systems that became available and it changed the game for us. It was a big part in presenting us with new opportunities and I think we did our best to do what we could with those options. We had failures because failure just comes with winning, but as I said, moving forward is the only way to really keep going and I’ve been challenged by the best of them and I’m still taken aback right now, as we speak.
Will BSS rehearse before the big show?
We’re going to do a couple of rehearsals. We will probably be the least-rehearsed band, but I’m hoping that the music we wrote will just come barrelling out of us again. This is more like a celebration.
It’s fine, it’s one show. We’re not going on a big tour. You didn’t see us at Coachella hanging out with the rich kids. We’re just doing our thing in Toronto. We’re not even doing a warm-up gig in Waterloo. We’re getting up on stage, we’re playing one show.
If this goes well, I’d love to keep going with these every year. I have no desire to go in the studio, I think we should just honour the legacy that we built amongst the people who know us.
This is a belated post, but I had the wonderful pleasure of recently contributing to the first issue of UNCOOL, an online music publication put together by David Greenwald.
The theme of the issue was “Guiltless Pleasures” so, of course, I wrote about ’90s boy bands in Canada. Remember The Moffatts, B4-4 and soulDecision? Because I think about them all the time. Even if you don’t know them, you should give it a read and check out all the other talented writers in this issue while you’re at it.
UNCOOL will cost you $3.99, but come on, how many articles have I given you to read for free? Just skip that one Starbucks order and get a collection of writing that will be a million times better for you.
#throwbackthursday - Death Cab For Cutie
Transatlanticism is going to celebrate its 10th anniversary this year, so let’s look back on this fine jam. I spent many a nights crying in my bedroom to this album so thank you, Ben Gibbard.
#throwbackthursday - The Moffatts
Currently writing an essay on my favourite Canadian boy bands. REMEMBER THESE GUYS?
My favourite show at CMW. Lowell was the only artist I hadn’t seen before who I was most excited to see and she didn’t disappoint. “Shake Him Off” has been my jam every since I randomly stumbled upon it on a blog somewhere and it’s easy to understand why she draws so many comparisons to Lykke Li. The song’s pots-and-pans percussion is crazy addictive, like a marching anthem for female empowerment (this song was partially inspired by an incident the singer had at the Dance Cave where she was roofied). I haven’t listened to the rest of the album yet, but a number of her songs can be found on YouTube right now. I cannot wait to see this girl take over the world.
Bonus: Watch a stripped-down version of “Shake Him Off” HERE.
Last week marked my fifth year covering Toronto’s Canadian Music Week and I can safely say that it will be my last. I can go on and rant for hours about my problems with the festival (not getting into shows, having to pay to get into certain things, wrong set times), but I’ll just let this Torontoist post do the work. Surely some people had fun and, as much as I’d like to avoid it, I’ll probably go and check out a few shows next year. But, I’d rather just pretend to have a SXSW hangover like most people and call in sick. Not that CMW will be calling me up, looking for me or anything. Actually, they might…
Anyway, here’s a quick recap of all the bands I saw for Spinner (I was sick and actually missed the Indies, but wrote a news piece regardless):
I also interviewed Chvrches while they were in town for the festival. You can read the full interview HERE.
Now bring on NXNE.
I reviewed Kate Nash’s show in Toronto this past weekend, which you can read HERE. I also had quite the chat with her prior to her show so watch out for that interview on Spinner in the near future. It will probably reference Buffy the Vampire Slayer a bunch.
While everyone was down at SXSW, I took a week off to recuperate from my Chicago zine adventure and to prepare myself for Canadian Music Week. I’ll be doing daily round-ups for Spinner so check in every day for my reviews!
I moved back home in 2010 after a failed attempt at moving out with two of my friends at the time. I often skirt around the question of what happened because I don’t know how to really explain the mess that unraveled, much of which was my fault.
I had never lived with other people before so it had hit me very early on that I wasn’t able to read my roommates like I did with my siblings. Thinking that one of my roomies was mad about something, I became concerned and paranoid, but instead of speaking up and simply asking if she was, I internalized a lot of anxiety. In return, the roomie grew frustrated with my behaviour (among other bad roommate things I’ll own up to) and also avoided confrontation for a couple of months, until she finally brought it up in a heated conversation that ended with me in tears and her saying, “We can never be friends.”
The days and nights that followed were a blur as I drank increasingly more to numb my emotions - which I later identified as a slippery slope to alcoholism and abruptly quit drinking for a year - but that triggered a significant change in my life. (And for those who know me IRL, yes, this is a little slice of the story behind of one my tattoos)
Anxiety has always consumed my social life and the way I interact with people. I never raised my hand at school, I could barely hold a conversation with someone new and I was unfortunately the asshole who would take hours to explain why I was upset with my boyfriend. Poor guy would just sit on the phone forever saying, “Are you going to say something?”
When I unloaded my boxes of belongings in my old bedroom, I vowed to speak up about things. I had regretted not saying something so many times that I could literally hear that something had snapped inside me. No more regrets, no shame.
It took some time, but looking back now, I slowly but surely learned to voice my opinions, confront my problems and say something about everything. It felt liberating and relieving to not bottle up so many things. I went from building up all my thoughts in my head to laying all my feelings out for everyone to see and hear.
Drunk with relief, it has hit me that I might have veered too far into the other extreme, though. I think I’ve become TOO vocal. Now that I’ve taken the filter out of my mind, I’ve lost my shit a little and word vomit is a common side affect I’ve experienced.
More often than not, I’ve noticed myself becoming too outspoken, too forward and a bit too emotional. I’m not saying I regret this, I still feel relief whenever I speak up about something, but it’s definitely gotten me into a little trouble and, romantically, I think I’ve scared off a guy or two. Evidently, being forward can be a turn on, but being too upfront about my feelings makes me sound a bit insane.
I was talking to my friend about this recently - quite loudly and passionately, I may add - and she got up, grabbed a book and returned. “Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & Life, One Conversation at a Time” was the title of the book. “You’re just a fierce person,” she told me, pointing to the little box at the top of the book that defined the word fierce as “robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled”. Sounds about right.
Okay, so I can be a bit too intense at times, but this new-found voice of mine does make me feel strong, powerful and passionate. I’m sorry if that’s too much sometimes…but I’m not sorry!
I’ve come to embrace this fierceness and, just as my shyness was (and still is sometimes, I guess) a problem, people will just have to accept this as part of who I am. And those who can’t will just have to steer clear of my word vomit, because it’s going to get messy.