Applaud! June 2005
Arts & Crafts is home base for Broken Social Scene, Feist and Stars
In the vast forested expanse of contemporary music, one family tree in particular is positively glowing with leafy green health. The main trunk of what is still effectively a sapling is Toronto’s constantly evolving Broken Social Scene, the indie rock phenom whose relatively minimal career sales belie a soaring credibility that’s the equal of fellow cult heroes Bright Eyes, The Shins and Death Cab for Cutie – acts who generate nothing but critical raves, sold-out concert dates and big love in Internet chat groups.
Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, who co-founded BSS in 1999, are at its core. Yet their experimental drive to collaborate with ever-changing line-ups of friends and acquaintances has produced a thicket of sister bands and close relatives. Three of the off-shoots stem from the collective’s rotating cast of vocalists.
Leslie Feist, raised in Calgary and based in Paris, has been tipped as the hipster answer to Norah Jones since she signed with Polydor France in 2003. She is currently subject to an all-systems-go launch in the U.S. as the flagship act on the new Interscope/Universal label Cherry Hill Records.
Emily Haines, who sang the BSS signature song Anthems For a Seventeen Year-Old Girl, is the frontperson in Metric, a Toronto band now relocated to Los Angeles. Old World Underground, its much-touted second album, has just been released in Europe on the Naïve imprint and is sparking a full round of overseas touring this spring and summer.
And Amy Millan, like fellow Broken Social Scene alumni Torquil Campbell and Evan Cranley, is part of the Montreal ensemble Stars. New York’s Village Voice predicted big things a few years back, but Stars arrived in earnest at this year’s South By Southwest, where it was repeatedly cited as one of the Austin festival’s top acts.
The mothership band’s lineage also includes three side projects: Toronto singer-songwriter Jason Collett’s solo work; guitarist Andrew Whiteman’s alterego Apostle of Hustle; and Canning’s Valley of the Giants (which in turn links up to Montreal’s Godspeed You Black Emperor!).
To complete any definitive genealogical research, it’s also necessary to dig in the dirt for trace evidence of a half-dozen notable Canadian bands of the last decade, among them By Divine Right, hHead, Treble Charger and Len. Like we say, it’s one mother of an alt.rock family tree.
THE ARTS & CRAFTS CONNECTION
Jeffrey Remedios has all the permutations straight in his head, but then he’s an integral part of the clan himself as co-partner in the Toronto-based Arts & Crafts Productions.
Formerly with Virgin Music Canada, he founded the all-in-one label/management/design/production house with Kevin Drew in 2002 to release the celebrated BSS album You Forgot It in People. Since then, Daniel Cutler, another ex-Virgin staffer, has joined as a third partner and the label’s catalogue has grown to nine albums – all released by A&C in North America and most licensed to third-party labels overseas.
“We’ve made it work because we’re a small, artist-oriented company that pays attention to the details,” says Remedios, 29, while strolling the halls of CBC Vancouver following a TV appearance by Feist (whom A&C represents strictly as a label in Canada). “And we’ve always believed that you don’t need to break any rungs when you’re climbing the ladder. That philosophy lends itself to stable, successful, hopefully long-term careers.”
Remedios divides his time these days between Toronto, where the label’s five-person staff operates from a wing of their Canadian distributor EMI Music Canada, and an apartment in Montreal. There he studies French in the mornings before putting in long hours in his office at Le Groupe DKD, the Donald Tarleton-helmed axis of companies that is a 50 percent partner in A&C International – launched specifically in 2004 for the Canadian release of the latest Stars album, Set Yourself On Fire. “Basically, DKD is providing us with a second system to get the music out there,” explains Remedios. “It gives us the opportunity to do a few more things without stretching ourselves too thin.”
Stars is an international priority for Arts & Crafts, which issued the U.S. edition of Set Yourself On Fire in March though its own Caroline-distributed imprint in America. The album is also being released via the Shock-distributed Shiny Records in Australia and the Berlin-based City Slang in Europe.
Witnessing the buzz at South By Southwest this year was pure pleasure. “Stars, Apostle of Hustle and Feist were all forces to be reckoned with,” reports Remedios. “There were line-ups, some people couldn’t get in and others were thrilled to be there.” Like all A&C acts, Stars is building fans one-by-one through a wave of overwhelmingly positive press. “This is not a radio band, though I have to credit (National Public Radio’s Santa Monica station) KCRW as being a huge part of their success to date.”
Touring is also critical, and the A&C community can usually be found on the road together, playing their own sets but also jumping in and out of each other’s line-ups. Japanese concert-goers can expect that freeform interplay when BSS, Stars, Metric and Montreal’s The Dears play a Tokyo festival date in mid-May. “It can feel like a game of chess getting the various band schedules lined up,” says Remedios, “but everyone’s into it and they do what’s needed to make it possible.”
Until recently, A&C has been strictly a family affair. In March, however, the label signed its first unrelated act – the Most Serene Republic from Milton, Ont. “Everyone here – the artists, the staff, all of us – is mad about them. They’re all 19, and they wrote, recorded and mixed everything themselves. I think they aptly sum up everything that’s great about new rock over the last five years.”
As does Broken Social Scene, which is on course to finish a new studio album for release this fall. The entire extended community has been dropping in to add songs, parts and creative frisson. And there’ll be a few new limbs to pencil into the family tree given that an array of additional TBA artists are also involved.
Whether sales live up to Broken Social Scene’s almost mythic status – the same question that hovered over Seattle’s Modest Mouse before its commercial break-out last year – doesn’t worry the A&C braintrust. “Things happen naturally and effortlessly with this band,” Remedios says before heading off to Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom for a thrilling mix-and match triple bill of Stars, Feist and Apostle of Hustle. “Broken Social Scene will make the record they’re going to make, and I have every confidence it will be something special.”