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L.A. Beat

Record labels all over Lethbridge

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You don’t have to leave town to find a record label. There are at least four of them, right here, all catering to different styles of music. Jesse Northey  on bass with the New Weather Machine. Photo by Richard AmeryWhile some of them are based around studios others are  groups of friends who hang around and play together sometimes even sharing band members.

The latest one, Esper Records, is not so much a record company as a musician’s collective. Jon Martin of the New Weather Machine and Jesse Northey from Jesse Northey and the Dandelions formed the label to share their knowledge and trade tips about all aspects of the music business  from gigs to recording to promotions. They met through the University of Lethbridge’s music program.

Jon Martin  playing a guitar solo. Photo by Richard Amery“We realized we were doing a lot of the same things,” said Martin of the label adding Leigh Doerksen and his duo Church are  the only other band on the label other than their own bands.

“We thought it would be more effective and efficient if we had a brand of our own,” he continued adding, for example,  they can cut costs by mailing out CDs to radio stations and media together rather than on their own and by booking shows together, which helps as Martin and Northey play in each other’s bands.

“We’re all benefitting from sharing our knowledge,” Northey said adding that can stop the other members of this ‘artistic collective’ from making similar the same mistakes.
“It’s so they don’t have to start from scratch,” Northey continued.
“We’ve all had our pitfalls recording our first albums and they’ve been a learning experience for our next albums,” said Martin.

“It is artists helping artists,” he added, noting while he and Northey have their own home studios, the studios aren’t part of the day-to-day workings of the label.

Both bands are working on new CDs which should be completed and released by the end of the year, so they thought it would be an ideal time to start Esper Records and release them both under the same umbrella.
“We’re both audio engineers, so we want the same quality, so all of our releases get our stamp of approval,” Martin said.
 Esper Records had their official launch, March 26 at the Slice, a successful event  featuring an enthusiastic crowd and the music of Church, Jesse and the Dandelions and The New Weather Machine performing.

Another local label which members consider to be part of a collective is Ghostwood Records, which is based out of a recording studio on the north side.

“There’s four independent record companies here working with everything from rock to hip hop,” observed Dave Bullied, guitarist/ vocalist of local blues rock act Smokestack Jacks, who are proud to be part of the Ghostwood Records ‘family.’
“We‘re part of a collective. There’s a broad range of music, we hang out together. We’re very supportive,” added Smokestack Jacks drummer Geoff McDonald.

“ We  go to each others shows, do benefit performances together and share gear. We’re a family. There’s a great collection of bands Smokestack Jacks. Photo by Richard Amery{Clapping Monkeys (Alt Folk Rock); Shred Kelly (Indie bluegrass punk-folk); Stellar Radio Choir (Indie Rock); SleepingWithTuesday. (Rock); SmokeStack Jacks. (Biker Blues); Broken Down Suitcase. (indie Folk); The JPS Trio (Jam Band); The Necessities ( indie folk); The Living Luca (Rock)}” McDonald said. While most of Ghostwood Records bands are from Lethbridge, they also have a few out of town bands on board like Fernie’s Shred Kelly and Golden B.C indie rock/ garage rock trio  Stellar Radio Choir.

 On the west side, LA Records is interested in developing the complete artist from the songs themselves to the image they present on stage.

“The complete package has come together,” said Mark Nivet, one of the many local as well as out of town artists working with Brad Lang and LA Studios, adding he is “very, very pleased with Brad Lang’s work.”
“Brad did an amazing job. He has an amazing feel for music and his team of people really loved what we were doing and built around it,” he continued.

“ I wrote six of the songs because of his motivation. He was very, very encouraging,” he said adding he would definitely like to hear his music on the radio.
“That’s definitely my goal, to get my music out there. Maybe do some touring to support them,” Nivet continued adding he looks forward to getting connected with a booking agent to help with the touring aspect. He is currently rehearsing with a band in Toronto.

Garage rock and punk bands tend to have the average lifespan of a fruit-fly, and are always breaking up and reforming, so Paul Lawton decided to preserve them by starting his own record label  back in 2005. At least that was the original intention  of forming Mammoth Cave Records as a cassette only  label —  about six years ago.
Mammoth Cave Records, which now releases vinyl records with a digital download has  since moved far beyond Lethbridge. In fact bands are contacting them now about being on the label.

“We probably have more Edmonton bands on the label than we do Lethbridge bands,” said Lawton, just stepping out the door to begin a quick tour with one of his bands, The Moby Dicks, who  are touring from Prince George to Saskatoon with BA Johnston, ending in Lethbridge, March 31.

In addition to being the home  tPaul Lawton laying in one of his many bands. Photo by Richard Ameryo numerous garage rock and punk bands, their latest  project is Bloodstains—  a compilation of bands paying one minute songs about their provinces. There will be one for each province when they are finished. Alberta was first, followed by B.C, now they are working on Ontario.

“We didn’t know what we were doing when we started. We lost a lot of money especially in the beginning,” he continued adding  while audiences for garage rock are comparatively limited, there are still quite a few fans of  the genre.

“  There was a gap we thought we could fill,” Lawton said noting they focussed on the thriving local garage rock scene in the beginning. While they started slow  in the beginning, the company has taken off in the past two years.

“Garage rock bands don’t have a long lifespan. So I wanted to preserve some of it,” Lawton said.

“I love Lethbridge and I love the people but where you are located doesn’t matter anymore. We don’t consider ourselves to be a Lethbridge label, we’re just from here,” he said  adding most of Mammoth Cave’s networking and business takes place online.
 Many of the bands they sign contact them online to begin with.

“We get e-mails from bands every day. Basically the stuff we were hearing, we just wanted to get it heard,” he said adding they distribute limited run LPs all over the U.S. and in Europe.

Some of their bigger projects coming up are releasing Calgary girl garage rock band the Shrapnelles’ new full length album. They will also be re-releasing Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet’s debut album, which includes the theme from the Kids in The Hall, “Having an Average Weekend.”

“Evan Van Reekum, my partner made friends with their drummer, we made them an offer and they accepted it,” he said.

“I lot of people don't like what we do (and the music they like), but a lot of people really love it,” Lawton continued adding he is pleased to see so many record companies calling Lethbridge home.

“I think it’s great. The more the merrier. I think everybody should start a record label,” he said.

 And that’s only a handful of Lethbridge record labels several other local musicians including Leeroy Stagger also have their own imprints for mostly their own music.

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
A version of this story appears in the March 30,2011 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times
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