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HPX2010 HYPE: Talkin’ to Scotch Tapes

October 18, 2010

I don’t know where a little cassette label from Batchawana Bay, Ontario, seldom sporting runs of more than 100 copies, fits in among High on Fire, GWAR, the New Pornographers, the Hold Steady, Sloan, or any of the other big(ger) boppers rolling into Halifax for this week’s Pop Explosion.  But Al Bjornaa will be taking a short break (not really) from his tape duplicator to celebrate his Scotch Tapes‘ second birthday at HPX (precisely: Oct. 23 at Gus’s Pub), with help from Mess Folk, Meat Curtains, Fuck Montreal, and the Famines.  There will be cake and new releases from the Curtains and Fuck Montreal, as well as Myelin Sheaths, Chief Thundercloud, and James Leroy.  Sounds like it’s going to be a fun night.

But despite the fact that Scotch’s already-massive, eclectic discography includes the likes of Mike Watt, Gabe Serbian, Young Governor, Nobunny, Oneida, Coconut Coolouts, Shearing Pinx, AIDS Wolf, and literally hundreds more, not everybody’s on board with the cassette comeback yet (though The Guardian is, and they even quoted the subject of this post) and not everybody’s hip to Scotch Tapes.

So just days before Al cuts cake and embarks on Year 3 of his odyssey through the Canadian underground, here’s a quick Q&A with the man, conducted via email:

So how’d the label get started?  And with that, I s’pose I’ll ask the obligatory “why tapes?” question (get that one often?)…

Well, I started the label because I had a lengthy illness and needed a new hobby.  I started with CD-Rs and hated it.  They didn’t sell.  I didn’t like the results.  It was a total failure.  I had this big box of blank tapes and decided to scrap the CD-R label and try tapes.  I started with 100 cassettes and $100.  I decided that if it failed, it failed… but luckily it worked.  I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I was happy with the finished product and enjoyed the medium.  And yes… I get this question alllll the time.

You must be well over 100 releases in just two years.  Was that kind of output something you’d planned from the outset?  Or did it just happen that way?

Yeah… I am actually probably closer to 200.  I gave up on the discography.  I can’t keep track.  I never really intended to put out so many releases, but it’s tough to turn down really great bands.  I think 2011 will slow down a bit, but that is not a promise.  I might end up releasing 150 next year.

You work as a fisherman, which means you’re often on the high seas for days at a time.  With the time constraints of running a label that’s as busy as Scotch, how do you juggle the two?

It’s easy if you have absolutely no social life/girlfriend.  There are days when I am not at work where I really don’t want to do Scotch-related crap, but I decided early on in this process that if I was going to run a label, I was going to give it everything I could.  Hungover?  Make tapes.  Flu?  Make tapes.  I think it’s finally starting to pay off.

How does a Scotch release typically come about?  Would most come from you contacting bands?  Or now that the label’s getting a little bit of attention, are you being swamped with bands wanting to work with you?

It used to be that I would contact bands I liked and see if they were down with a release (most were) and now it’s still sorta like that, but I do listen to demos.  If something grabs my attention, I will find a home for it.  And yeah… I am getting about 15-30 demos a week now and it’s getting hard to listen to everything.  I dunno… I guess I just try to keep my ear to the ground to see what all the kids are talking about.

Do you have any favourites that you’ve released?  Like a top-five, maybe?

Eeeep… top 5… I am going to piss off some people.  Here it goes…

Fine European Food and Wine by Oneida (one of my fave bands on the planet)

Lemonland by The Humms (flat-out great album)

Wi by Roommates (catchier than the clap)

Raw Flower by Ryan Garbes (I still listen to this at least once a week)

Collaborative Works by Al Qaeda (working with Mike Watt and Gabe Serbian of the Locust was a HUGE thrill)

…but there are tons of other great tapes on Scotch that could totally make this list on any given day depending on my mood.

Any regrets?

There are a couple bands that I will never work with again, but no real regrets.  You live, you release stuff, you learn.

You’ve done some work with Ben Cook, both with the Roommates tapes and the series of lathe-cut records starring bands he’s recorded.  How did that come about and what future plans do you and Ben have?

Actually I emailed Ben about releasing some Young Governor stuff and he was totally down.  And then he dropped the Roommates stuff on me and we decided to make it a four-tape series.  The lathe series came about sort of by accident.  He wanted me to release some Huckleberry Friends stuff and I was really interested.  And then he said he had been recording a bunch of Toronto bands and we should make it a series as well.  The next two releases in the lathe series are Bruised Knee and Lonely Wholesome (which is Fucked Up drummer Jonah Falco’s side project).  We have big plans for 2011.  Lots of releases.  Lathes, tapes, vinyl.  I think we will eventually finish up that Roommates series and get it out on a 12″ too.

You’re also about to launch a zine/poster/postcard publishing branch called ECHT Publishing.  Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Not too much to tell.  There are a ton of great artists that I have been able to work with through Scotch.  Now I just want to give them a little more of the spotlight.  It will have its kickoff at the Halifax Pop Explosion Zine Fair but it really won’t get rolling until 2011.  I hope to have the website up by December.  I want to put out some cool posters and zines.  Maybe even some t-shirts.  Who knows.  I am open to all suggestions.

At one point that you were attempting to master a lathe so you could cut your own records.  Is that still in the plans?

Yup.  Once the fishing season is over i want to really get going on this.  2011 will be the year of the weird lathe.

Upcoming releases?  Things to look for from Scotch (and ECHT)?

Geez… ummm lots.  Look for records/tapes from Shearing Pinx/Talk Normal, Pompoir, Young Governor, Red Mass, Myelin Sheaths, the Paperboxes, Play Guitar, Roommates, the Bitters, Actual Water.  As for ECHT, I will be putting stuff out for Peter Thompson, James Kirkpatrick, Marcus Hastings… LOTS OF STUFF.

* * * * *

Further to Al’s top five up there, a couple more recommendations (from me), a.k.a. Scotchy things I’ve been jammin’ today:

Fuck Winter: A Scotch Summer Mixtape. Unlike the vast majority of label samplers, this one’s loaded with great material from artists all over the Scotch spectrum, including Young Governor, AIDS Wolf, Fuck Montreal, Kid Romance, Wet Hair, Talk Normal, the charmingly named Endometrium Cuntplow, and 16 more.  Scotch is all over the map musically, and so is this comp.

Abusive Stepdads – I Lived a Tiny Life. A pre-Mess Folk effort Philip Tarr and his brother James, it got a limited (to 50 copies) reissue treatment.  It’s a murky, scummy, dopey affair, a purported concept album about… well… an abusive stepdad, and it makes Mess Folk sound like Sufjan Stevens by comparison.  It’s perfect.

Huckleberry Friends – Testing & TROPICS – Wild Life. The first two installments of the series of one-sided/one-song lathe-cut records (cut onto the bottom of plastic picnic plates, btw) by bands recorded by Ben “Young Governor” Cook (of Fucked Up and Road to Avonlea fame).  If you can get beyond the crud sound of lathes – and you should, because it actually complements both songs – you get stellar jams by two bands with loads of potential.  (Stream the TROPICS song, courtesy of Exclaim.  And looky here: Weird Canada has “Testing”)

Roommates – Wi. Hate to steal one of Al’s picks, but this (the first in a four-part series of cassingles by this Marvelous Darlings spin-off) really is irresistible.  Proof:

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2010 12:56 pm

    I was really hoping this article would make me sound more like a self-absorbed prick. That is the persona I am shooting for in Year Three of Scotch Tapes. So if you are reading this, please don’t email me. I have no time for the little people…

    Kidding… email me all you want. Its the only semi-human contact I have living in Batchawana Bay…

    Thanks Jamie! Much appreciated.

    HPX!!!

  2. October 19, 2010 9:43 pm

    THE BITTERS!

  3. December 1, 2010 10:22 pm

    I can’t believe there is mention of me and my brother’s band The Abusive Stepdad’s on the internet…. in a positive light. Awesome! I thought our genius was too garbled in sexism and distortion for most mindless PC morons to understand. HAR HAR HAR

  4. j.w.m. permalink
    December 1, 2010 10:30 pm

    Phil:

    Speaking of you and your brother’s bands, I listened to the Canker tape you sent me tonight and I like it a whole bunch. I’ll probably post a review on my own blog (new address: http://awfulideas.blogspot.com) in the next couple days… once I listen to the others. Thanks for sending ’em!

    Take care,
    Jamie

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  1. Show Hype: The Famines + Sheer Heart Attack // 11/11/10 « Gunshy

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