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  1. #1
    Musicaholic Forums Moderator ForeverAutumn's Avatar
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    Jan 2003

    For Broken Social Scene (and indie label) fans

    There was a nice article about BSS and Arts & Crafts records in yesterday's Toronto Star. Since you have to register on the site to access the article, I'll save you the trouble and post the whole thing here.

    All in the family
    Broken Social Scene is the hub of a booming local empire, artfully crafted by indie label Arts & Crafts


    Trying to describe Broken Social Scene to the uninitiated can be like introducing your extended, blended family:

    There's this band, see? They're from around here, you know?

    Sometimes it seems like most musicians in Toronto are part of this multi-headed beast — chanteuse du jour Leslie Feist sometimes sings with them. Practically all of the members of Montreal/Toronto Stars like to get up on stage with the group. Then there's Broken Social Scene guitarist Andrew Whiteman, who's got his own Latin-tinged Apostle of Hustle side project.

    These are big names on the global cultural scene, where Canadian indie rock clearly rules. Yet with the release this past week of the long-awaited eponymous follow-up to their 2002 breakthrough album, You Forgot It In People, Broken Social Scene sits at an interesting crossroads: the house they built for their extended local indie-rock family is bursting at the seams.

    Arts & Crafts, the independent record company founded by BSS's Kevin Drew and former major-label staffers Jeffrey Remedios and Daniel Cutler, has gone from being a leap of faith between pals to the indie-label-that-could in three short years, thanks to some creative thinking, savvy promotions and one simple concept: keep it (mostly) all in the family.

    "All of our acts pretty much have come from attrition — if you're going to start a label, I highly recommend you start it with Broken Social Scene as your first band," Remedios says, laughing. "We put out 10 records without ever leaving the family."

    Forget all the hype about the Montreal scene — the genesis of the current indie explosion can be found right here in Toronto circa the late '90s, when many of the players who would go on to be part of the Broken nexus were honing their chops in various other bands.

    BSS co-founder Brendan Canning and Feist perfected their rock moves in By Divine Right, Andrew Whiteman learned a thing or two about working with a large collective in the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir and BSS guitarist Jason Collett quietly played his bruised ballads in teacup-sized rooms to whomever would listen. That they would all come together under the Arts & Crafts umbrella a few years later wasn't due to coincidence, but to community — which, as it happens, was the founding premise of the label.

    Remedios was introduced to Drew by Canning when the duo started BSS as a lo-fi basement recording project in 2000. During their first encounter, he and Drew argued about indie versus major labels, Remedios recalls — he and Cutler were still working for Virgin Music at the time. The two struck up a friendship and became roommates just as BSS morphed into a full-band entity and started recording You Forgot It In People (YFIIP) in 2002.

    "As I got to know Kevin and Brendan and all these people around them, I was like, `My God, you guys are at the centre of this artistic community of all these people. If you guys came together in name, wouldn't that be a wonderful thing? It would be like a little miniature Group of Seven, or something like that.'"

    But instead of going it on their own, BSS turned to their friends at start-up indie label Paper Bag Records. Paper Bag put out YFIIP to much acclaim, and followed it up a few months later with Heart, Star's breakthrough release. But Remedios was ready to take things to the next level, and decided to quit his job at Virgin to start up Arts & Crafts with Cutler and Drew.

    Remedios, 30, and Cutler, 31, currently oversee the day-to-day operations of the label — Remedios juggles management, promotion, accounting and web development duties, while Cutler handles sales, marketing, publishing and licensing.

    Seated side by side at a College St. café where every second person seems to recognize them, they are an interesting study in contrasts.

    Sporting a tweed jacket, the curly-haired, composed Cutler sits back and lets the gregarious Remedios — looking every inch the indie-rocker himself in a graphic print T-shirt with a jaunty scarf tied around his neck just so — do most of the talking.

    And it's just as well. From the time he sits down to when we leave 90 minutes later, Remedios can't stop talking — about the label, their bands, their plans, hopes, fears and dreams.

    One begins to understand how he started at Virgin at 19 and made his way through practically every department in the company before he left while in his 20s.

    The two have used their experience at the majors to their advantage — A&C was one of the first indies in Canada to sign a distribution deal with a major label (EMI, Virgin's parent company) to get their records into as many stores as possible, a move that has since become an industry no-brainer.

    "We were going to keep things independently minded and indie-focused, but we were going to `cheat' — we were going to use certain major-label ideas," Remedios explains.

    And they thought big. Despite looking inwards for acts to sign — releasing solo records by BSS members Collett, Feist and Whiteman and picking up Stars from Paper Bag — A&C set its sights on international markets, particularly the U.S.

    "What sets it apart from most Canadian indie labels is that it focuses much of its activities outside Canada — more so than any label I've seen in several decades," says Larry Leblanc, Canadian bureau chief of Billboard magazine. He notes that A&C is the first Canadian indie label to make an international impact since Vancouver-based Nettwerk Productions (home to Sarah McLachlan) in 1984.

    "When we started the company, Daniel and I sat down and said, `What's the best thing we can do to be a great Canadian label?' and it was like, `Well, don't just be a Canadian label.'

    "We can pick up the phone and call Rolling Stone as easily as we can call Exclaim ... So let's call both. So right away, we went for U.S. distribution, and set up as a U.S. company, and said, `We can do this,' " Remedios says.

    "When it's a positive reaction, and it happens in Canada, it's a ripple. When it happens in the U.S., it's a wave. It's the same approach, but the reward is larger in terms of recognition and sales," Cutler adds.

    Critics and music fans all over the world have taken to A&C's grassroots approach — from their signature CD artwork, to giving fans access to artists via their online forum.

    It's not fame and fortune just yet — the label's biggest seller to date remains YFIIP, with 150,000 copies sold worldwide, mostly in the U.S. Modest numbers but they're getting there.

    Paris-based It Girl Feist's two Juno wins and across-the-board appeal have made her a bonafide breakout star. Stars are the current ace in A&C's pocket — their Set Yourself on Fire album, released last year, shows no signs of slowing down, with radio and TV embracing the band: their Reunion video sits atop the MuchMoreMusic chart this week, and they've been played three times on popular U.S. drama The O.C.)

    A tour with indie-rock deities Death Cab for Cutie is on tap this fall.

    This past year has seen numerous new branches sprout on the family tree — young Milton sextet The Most Serene Republic, the label's first non-BSS signing, are injecting a spunky energy into the fold. The label signed its first international artists this summer with Australian songstress Sally Seltmann, stage named New Buffalo, and U.S. indie veterans American Analog Set (another family tie, with AAS frontman Andrew Kenney engaged to A&C's U.S. publicist).

    "By (initially) keeping it close to the family, fans of BSS were drawn to the other releases, thus creating an immediate fanbase," says Evan Newman, head of new indie label Baudelaire and a long-time observer of the local scene.

    "Without A&C backing a band like MSR, it's doubtful the band would have risen so quickly to the top of the indie ranks. Their affiliation with A&C has allowed them instant credibility," Newman adds. "It's not as if MSR don't deserve it — it's just that their label has allowed them to achieve it quicker."

    Australian singer Seltmannconcurs that A&C's reputation is their calling card. "I kept hearing good things about them and their acts, so when they approached me about putting out my record, I felt like it would be a good fit," she says.

    With all their acts shining bright, you'd think the A&C crew would be basking in the glow. But the same earnest, almost anxious vibe that marks BSS's difficult, epic music is echoed in Remedios and Cutler's uneasy reaction to the label's burgeoning success.

    "The biggest thing we've had to deal with is not becoming a cliché — in many ways the good times are killing us," Remedios frets. "The temptation to rest on laurels is there and I think that's where all these companies fail. "We're not in a rush. We're trying to build careers, we're not trying to climb the ladder and break the rungs as we go.

    "It's about finding a little corner where interesting, creative artists can have room to create and subsist while they do so. And the fruits of that kind of stuff you only see when you get to this point where we've put out 14 records," adds Remedios. "Here we have the new Broken album — we're about to ship 10 times more albums than we have for any other release," Cutler chimes in. "We're going to have to spend a little more money, and it's taking more of our time, more of our energy, but it's important to step back and remember to take the same approach we did when we shipped 3,000 albums for the first record."

    With a skeleton staff of six stretched to the max at its Toronto office, contract staffers holding down the fort in the U.S., and a joint A&C Europe venture with like-minded label City-Slang in Berlin, A&C is set to stay in the indie spotlight well into the future.

    BSS will embark on a world tour this month (look for an all-star extended-family extravaganza in January) with new member, Calgary's Lisa Lobsinger, along for the ride. The band will also release another CD next year, while Stars singer Amy Millan's long-delayed solo record and a new collection of b-sides and live songs from Feist (who's sold-out Monday and Tuesday, with New Buffalo and Collett, at the Danforth Music Hall) will hit stores this spring.

    "There's all this talent coming out of Toronto, out of this community. It was a bit of luck — a lot of luck — that it all came about at this time, and we got in on the ground floor of what became this incredible groundswell," Remedios points out.

    "It's a great time to be a Canadian band, it's a great time to be a Canadian label — it's just really exciting.

    "It was this community that we found ourselves standing in, and thinking, `My God, if we could shop this to the world, I think the world would listen.' And it has."

  2. #2
    Forum Regular opt80's Avatar
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    Oct 2005
    Stratford,Prince Edward Island
    At the local Indie store,Back Alley Discs, the BSS cd was the top seller last week.

    I lot of bands here in Canada get there jump from local Indie shops.There are so many great Canadian bands and artists now,we have journeyed far


  3. #3
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    Feb 2005
    Hey ForeverAutumn. You must be from Toronto, right? If so New Buffalo will be in Toronto on november 6th at the Elmo with my friend Ben Lee.
    Thanks for the article.

  4. #4
    Musicaholic Forums Moderator ForeverAutumn's Avatar
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    Jan 2003
    Quote Originally Posted by ToddL
    Hey ForeverAutumn. You must be from Toronto, right? If so New Buffalo will be in Toronto on november 6th at the Elmo with my friend Ben Lee.
    Thanks for the article.
    You are correct ToddL (hey, are you related to BarryL? You have the same last name! hehehe. just kidding). I am from Toronto.

    So, tell me more about New Buffalo and Ben Lee. It's been about as many years as I can count on my fingers and toes since I've been to the El Mo. It used to be one of Toronto's premier clubs. Not so much anymore.

  5. #5
    Forum Regular
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    Feb 2005
    Quote Originally Posted by ForeverAutumn
    You are correct ToddL (hey, are you related to BarryL? You have the same last name! hehehe. just kidding). I am from Toronto.

    So, tell me more about New Buffalo and Ben Lee. It's been about as many years as I can count on my fingers and toes since I've been to the El Mo. It used to be one of Toronto's premier clubs. Not so much anymore.
    Well New Buffalo is an Arts and Crafts band, I think it is almost a solo female thing based on reading, but I have never heard it. Ben Lee has been around the Indie rock/pop thing for nearin 10 years(He was on Beastie Boys' old label Grand Royal).
    The show is November 6th at the El mo and it is $15. The last time Ben was here my band opened and I can say that his show is totally worth going to.

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