Arts & Crafts Owner Discusses Label’s 10th Anniversary Celebration, Broken Social Scene Reunion + More
This has been a year of celebration for Arts & Crafts, the Toronto-based label that brought the world Broken Social Scene, Feist, Stars and, more recently, Trust and Dan Mangan. In honor of their 10th birthday, the label has organized the Field Trip Music and Arts Festival, a party that will feature Broken Social Scene performing for the first time in more than two years and doing their album 'You Forgot It In People' in its entirety. Others slated for the show -- which goes down this Saturday, June 8, at Toronto's Fort York and Garrison Common -- include Feist, Bloc Party, Stars and Ra Ra Riot.
Diffuser.fm caught up with Arts & Crafts co-owner Kieren Roy and talked about the label's 10-year anniversary offerings, including the just-released collaborative album 'X.' We also touched on the state of Toronto's music scene and the night Feist beat the major labels at their own game.
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of Arts & Crafts. Tell us how the label was started.
The label was founded at the end of 2002 but really had its first release at the end of 2003. It was founded by Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene and one of our colleagues, Jeffery Remedios. The two of them became friends in Toronto while Jeffery was working at a major label and Kevin was finishing off with Broken what would become 'You Forgot It In People.' At the time, Jeffery was very moved by the music and saw the scene that was developing in Toronto that was very collaborative and supportive, and decided to leave his job at Virgin/EMI and joined with Kevin to form Arts & Crafts.
So, 'You Forgot It In People' was released in 2003, and I joined the company in 2006.
There have been some notable anniversary celebrations from labels in recent years -- Merge, Matador, etc. What went into the planning of how to honor this achievement, and what specifically did you want to happen?
There's been a lot of planning on our part, from the initial idea generation to enacting them. At the core, we didn't want the anniversary initiative to be self-serving or to feel like a pat on the back. Rather, we wanted it to also be about looking forward, or celebrating the past in a way that was for the present.
At the core of that were two pillars. One was the spirit of collaboration and the other was the sense of community. We had to reflect those in every one of our initiatives, from the festival, Field Trip, to a couple of releases that we have compiled from our label's history. And also the new release that we've put together, 'X,' which is a series of recordings that we've put together by collaborations of artists on our roster.
So, we felt like creating new music with our artists and a new festival that featured our artists and that celebrated the Toronto scene at the same time felt appropriate, as opposed to just a greatest hits album or something.
One of the biggest elements of the festival is the return of Broken Social Scene after a couple years of hiatus. Was it hard to convince Kevin to do that?
No, I don't think it was hard to convince Kevin to do it. I think they understand that without Broken Social Scene, Arts & Crafts wouldn't have come into its existence and it wouldn't have grown at the same pace that it did without Broken's success or the projects that those people were involved in, whether it be or Feist or Stars or Jason Collett or Apostle of Hustle and the list goes on. So, at the core of Arts & Crafts is Broken Social Scene, and it wouldn't be a proper anniversary without them.
That said, I don't think Broken is going to start touring immediately afterwards. This is a one-time thing, and everyone is busy with other projects and maybe at some point in the future they'll reunite, but maybe not in the sort term.
Kevin Drew has a solo album he's been working on. Is that going to be with Arts & Crafts?
Yeah, it will come out on Arts & Crafts, and it is looking like it will come out the beginning of next year. He's been on the go between the 10th anniversary projects, and he's been working with a bit of a strange bedfellow, a gentlemen by the name of Andy Kim, who is a songwriter from the '70s. Over the past few years, Andy has reemerged in the music world and holds an annual charity Christmas concert that Kevin was involved in. The two became fast friends after that and sort of musical soul mates, surprisingly, as Andy is from a generation before Kevin. So Kevin has been co-writing, producing and performing on Andy's record.
Is there any achievement from the label that stands out to you, that you are most proud of?
The year  that Feist took home five Juno awards, which is the Canadian Grammys, essentially. She was riding high in terms of critical and commercial appeal going into that, and we were all expecting and hoping that maybe she would win one, but she swept her categories and won five. There was the classic photo that appears after awards shows when an artist is barely able to hold all their awards, and she had that moment. To be an independent label and competing with something mostly driven by pop stars and the majors, your usually more of an observer. But for a moment, there we were in the spotlight, and for good reason. We are very proud of her record ['The Reminder'], and it was very satisfying.
I imagine it is a little more rewarding because these artists you work with from the beginning, seeing them go from this green songwriter to someone like Feist, getting to that level. The connection is a little deeper.
Exactly. I knew Feist as a solo performing artist in Toronto that worked at a bar that I used to frequent, long before I worked at Arts & Crafts, and to see her grow from that and find success with 'Let It Die' and 'The Reminder' and beyond, you knew it wasn't some machine or a flavor of the week, you knew she worked incredibly hard. And my colleagues worked incredibly hard to try and open people's eyes and ears to the music. It wasn't the classic overnight success; it took five years.
Is there an album that comes to mind that maybe was overlooked upon initial release that you thought deserved more attention?
I'm going to cheat and pick two. We worked in Canada with Phoenix on their album before "the album," 'It's Never Been Like That.' And it was such an amazing pop-rock record, and I remember when we heard that having to convince the folks over at Virgin to let us have that one. But, in North America, it just never really quite connected with fans, though it performed better in Canada than their previous ones had. It felt like they were on the cusp of something and it's so rare that a band breaks through like that on the fourth or fifth album.
Another is a band that is dear to my heart, that I also manage, called Zeus. And they've established a loyal, niche following but haven't quite broken through in a way I think they can and will. Their last record, 'Busting Visions,' has a song on it called 'Are You Gonna Waste My Time?' and I thought it would be a summer rock anthem, but it didn't quite find the audience that I thought it deserved.
Toronto now has very visible new scene emerging of Grimes and Crystal Castles and all these acts I could name, and it seems like Arts & Crafts has moved from the center of the Toronto scene to being a piece of a bigger Toronto scene.
I think that's a positive statement, and obviously, Toronto's music has always been larger than just us. We're just proud and honored to be a part of scene. And the sounds coming out of here, whether it's electronic or hard rock, is more and more diverse. There's this band now called Metz, a sort of post-grunge band, that's getting attention, and the fact that not everything is an eight-piece, twee, glockenspiel-wielding group. I think that indie for a while here was using that as a crutch, and the fact that now different stuff, like Zeus or Trust, a group that work with that would be in that Grimes/Crystal Castles category. We also work with a gal Cold Specks that makes very haunting music that she calls "doom-soul," and Timber Timbre, which is another dark take on folk music. So yeah, I think the future of Toronto's music scene is alive and well and full of all the sounds that are out there.
Another one of these emerging artists, Diamond Rings, I remember him saying that Broken Social Scene was sort of the role model for you musicians at that time. And this generation now was probably very affected by them finding success and being from Toronto.
Yeah, that period, not just in Toronto, you had bands like The New Pornographers and Arcade Fire and k-os in the hip hop world, all finding success, and it used to be for Canadian talent to find international success, you had to emigrate and find success somewhere else. What those band showed is that you can remain a Canadian band and find international success.
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