Living in the suburbs of Toronto has always created an air of enchantment around the city I grew up in. North York, the area I’m technically from, counts itself as part of the Greater Toronto Area, but the distinct disconnect I felt growing up transformed downtown Toronto into a fantasized world within my reach a.k.a. a subway ride away.
When I finally got around to figuring out what to do with my life, I became fixated on the Toronto music scene and was overwhelmed with a desire to promote it in any way I can. I guess I could’ve easily become a publicist or a show promoter (two things I have indeed tried), but my main medium of fangirling and supporting local acts was through writing and blogging.
It is without a doubt that my love of discovering Toronto bands was the passion that fueled the beginning of my music writing career. Obsessively following blogs like Chromewaves and For the Records, buying every issue of Chart Magazine and picking up free copies of Exclaim! Magazine fed me all the information I needed to know about up-and-coming artists like Woodhands, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Forest City Lovers and The Bicycles.
Blogging on my own, for myself, allowed me the freedom to shine the spotlight on any band I was interested in at the time and my end goal was easy: to let everyone know just how great Toronto and its bands were. I had just caught the tail end of Arts & Crafts, Paper Bag Records and Last Gang’s inceptions, all labels that got off the ground in the early 2000’s and seeing that rising buzz is not unlike the roaring pride Canadians feel watching the Olympics right now.
Admittedly, as I began writing for other publications and working under real editors, I saw the limitations. I would pitch bands like the Wilderness of Manitoba to a big American website and get responses telling me that they’re simply not a “big enough act.” Fair. Totally fair. But how do I get these bands out there, beyond my blog’s audience? More and more, I found myself compromising my actual interests for paid work, offering up interviews with Carly Rae Jepsen instead and aiming bigger in order to get the jobs. Note: I actually love Carly Rae Jepsen, but that’s just an example of the calibre of artist I have to pitch to get people’s attention sometimes. This also isn’t to say that I haven’t gotten a few acts through in my pitches. Nothing made me prouder than profiling DIANA in Nylon Magazine last year or squeezing in a track review of Alvvays on Pitchfork. It is possible, but the fight is far uphill and sometimes discourages me and my belief in my city’s scene compared to more notable ones like New York or London.
Not to just blame the new places I wrote for, I also became less enchanted with the Toronto music scene in recent years. I went to less shows, I felt less interested in going to the Horseshoe on Tuesday nights, checking out Dan Burke’s carefully curated lineups at the Silver Dollar and Wavelength’s experimental new bets every week/month. There were less bands I felt personally obliged to champion (champion in the supportive sense, not the “I KNEW THEM BEFORE THEY WERE P4K COOL” champion). I found my musical interests straying away from the T-Dot. With the exception of Drake, of course. DUH.
But something’s been happening in the past year in Toronto that’s got me buzzing with excitement again: The Beverleys, Weaves, Alvvays, Lowell, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, Ark Analog, Most People, Timber Timbre — I LOVE ALL OF THESE BANDS SO MUCH AND CAPS MIGHT BE THE ONLY WAY I CAN DESCRIBE THEM NOW WITHOUT MY HEART BURSTING OUT OF MY CHEST.
Or, in other words, I’m feeling a reignited love for the city and its exports. I made it a point to get out of bed, put on pants and actually pay money to see Alvvays, Weaves and Most People recently and it was totally worth it.
The fact that I ever felt any doubt towards my city and its music scene was utterly silly and I know now more than ever that Toronto possesses one of the world’s best music scenes. And if you feel that way about your local music scene, you have all the right in the world to believe that yours should be fairly represented as well. Just because something doesn’t make it onto a worldwide publication shouldn’t downgrade the greatness of the music you truly love. It’s music, shit’s always subjective.
Of course I will pitch every one of these artists to the sites and magazines I write for, but if they don’t accept them, that won’t stop me from spreading the love. That’s why we all have Twitter. So let’s all share our faves and bask in the glory of each other’s music scenes!
EXCUSE ME, I’M GONNA RUN UP AND DOWN QUEEN STREET WITH A BOOMBOX BLASTING THE NEW WEAVES EP NOW.
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.
Static Zine, the zine I help run, was featured on The Grid today. We talked about zine culture, our latest issue entitled “The Story of Our Lives” and something we like to call Static School. Thanks to The Grid for featuring us!
My friend Aviva and I started a new blog called Treat Boards. Late last year, we became obsessed with Joanne Kates’ Top 100 Restaurants in Toronto list and decided to tackle everything on the list. This is where we will track our progress.
Ohbijou have looked to their hometown of Toronto for inspiration since their 2006 debut, but it was time to become a little more worldly for ‘Metal Meets.’
"It’s something we’ve never explored before, that desire to expedite my cultural background," singer Casey Mecija, a first-generation Canadian of Filipino decent, tells Spinner.
This new outlook was inspired both by Mecija’s work as a coordinator at a Filipino arts center and with her recent sociology and equity studies at the University of Toronto — and, of course, the band’s recent globetrotting.
"I’m glad that it impacted our writing," she says. "It added more depth to our record."
After touring Asia for the first time last year with Ohbijou in support of 2009’s ‘Beacons,’ Mecija and sister/bandmate Jenny have an even stronger desire to visit their parent’s homeland. “Jenny hasn’t been and I haven’t been since I was a baby,” says Mecija, who laments the fact they never actually it made it to the country on that jaunt.
There are plans to hit the Philippines this time around, though, as Mecija is proud to showcase the band’s most adventurous release yet.
'Metal Meets' has a “bolder and more ethereal” quality, a shift which comes from enlisting the production wizardry of Besnard Lakes frontman Jace Lasek. “We were coming up with a lot of atmospheric sounds and just thought of Jace because, obviously, the Besnard Lakes is this tripped-out, amazing, electronically-resonant band,” Mecija says. “We had never met him but as soon as we did there was instant chemistry.”
The end result was just what the band needed — a grander sound, fuelled by Lasek’s production cues. “He knows how to get really good sounds out of his studio. He was so easy to work with, he just took what we had and added more. If we could hang out with him every day, we would.”
Though working with Lasek meant heading to Montreal to bunker down in his Breakglass Studios, Mecija and her Ohbijou bandmates are still tapped into Toronto’s tight-knit music scene, a community which has fostered the careers of Austra, Timber Timbre and Diamond Rings.
"It’s really exciting to see what our friends are accomplishing," Mecija says.
- Published October 14, on Spinner
Static Zine decided to do profiles on each other their contributors, in preparation for its second issue (out October 22). Since the theme for the issue is ‘firsts’, we all filled out questionaires of our first times! Here’s mine - read, laugh, sympathize.
Static’s second issue, First Times in Toronto, is out October 22nd. So to celebrate, over the month, you’ll get to know the contributors of the issue through some of their first times in Toronto.
Melody Lamb is one of the managing editors of Static. She wrote two articles for the…
Since releasing a free mixtape, House of Balloons, in March, 21-year-old R&B singer Abel Tesfaye – otherwise known as the Weeknd – has been tantalizing fans and critics alike with his mysterious persona. Refusing interviews and often posting cryptic, short messages on Twitter, Tesfaye has cultivated a strong following based on internet buzz but until last night, when he played to a sold-out crowd at Toronto’s Mod Club, he had yet to make a proper live debut.
Tesfaye owes much of his current fame to his mentor, fellow Toronto native Drake, who met him in 2009 when a songwriting/production team Tesfaye was part of called the Noise wrote a song for the rapper, who was then putting together his debut full-length Thank Me Later. The track, “Birthday Suit,” never made it on the album, but Drake kept an eye on Tesfaye nonetheless – and when the latter release House of Balloons, Drake was so impressed that he tweeted the lyrics to the song “Wicked Games” and linked to it on his blog. Now, each is working on the other’s upcoming records – and Drake has remained Tesfaye’s biggest booster.
And for good reason. His songs sounded spot-on, if not better, live, proving the wait for Tesfaye has been completely worth it. Though apparent on recordings, Tesfaye’s voice is even more astounding in person; it soared over the screaming crowd, which sang along to every song.
Since Tesfaye’s music heavily weighs on samples, ranging from Beach House to Aaliyah, it seemed logical that the performance would be barebones, perhaps vocals plus backing tracks, like the clip that surfaced on YouTube last year of the singer performing at a talent show at the University of Toronto, where he is a student. Instead, the Weeknd is a complete band live. With the help of a drummer, guitarist and bassist/keyboardist, a majority of the samples were recreated onstage, with the laptop merely tucked away side-stage, used sparingly in between everything. Opener “High for This” and “Glass Table Girls” benefitted from the transformation, becoming anthemic crowd pleasers whereas “Coming Down” was stripped down to keyboard ballad and “Rolling Stone” still upheld its acoustic charm.
As expected, Tesfaye’s hype man was present. Watching from a VIP balcony that overlooked the audience, Drake was probably the biggest fan of the show. Singing out loud to every track, the rapper – currently wrapping up his new record, Take Care – even donned a lighter in the air for his friend. After the show, he tweeted: “I am so fuckin proud. You performed magic tonight.”
- Published July 25, on Rollingstone.com
I wrote a little goodbye letter to my friends at Criminal Records. Read!
Toronto’s Criminal Records closes its doors on Sunday. In honour of them, Melody has written an open letter about the independent record store. (Don’t forget to check out her zine article, People Watching: Record Store Edition, which took place there.)
The first time I walked into Criminal…
During NXNE, Static Zine and Via Sky Blue Sky - two projects I’m part of - teamed up to put together a day show to celebrate the first issue of Static. Fun was had, bands played and cupcakes were decorated and eaten. Via Sky Blue Sky camera guy Brian captured it all for Via Sky Blue Sky’s second episode. Watch now!
My lovely friend Jessica Lewis decided to start a zine a few months back and as a devoted lover of zines (but not ziner myself - is that what you call them? Ziners?) I just had to join!
Technically, I’m the ‘Managing Editor’ of Static but really, all I did was help plan a few things and wrote a couple of articles. The first issue is out now at your local record shops and other locations. Click on the link for a list of places you can find it!
We’re also throwing a launch party on June 19, 2011 at Sky Blue Sky/Christie Pits - click here for more info!