Arbutus Records

Sebastian Cowan

Arbutus Records started about four years ago. After graduating university in London it seemed I was going to enter the music industry there – working for another studio/label. But I was 21 and wanted to try something on my own. So I moved back to Canada and started a DIY loft venue in Montreal called Lab Synthèse with some friends. I had a mandate with that space: during any show one of my friends had to play. Naturally, my peer group expanded quickly to some amazing musicians and a scene was born. Simultaneously, as a make-work project to get over the recent suicide of my closest friend, I decided to record the music that these friends were making. I effectively stopped making my own music (laptop dance stuff), to focus on helping my friend's with theirs. It allowed me to, in a way, make and be a part of so much different music.

It was at this point that everything really felt like it came together. It seemed like a larger-than-normal influx of kids our age and background flooded our neighborhood. Now we all live a block or two from one-another. Back then, you were always meeting someone new, and a lot of bands were forming. We'd all hang out together at Lab.

Many municipal fines, police raids, and internal struggles later, in November 2009, I shut Lab Synthèse down and focused full time on the label. With rent the way it is in Montreal, I could make all my expense$ and still have a little left over to press records – just by doing live sound at a local venue one day a week. Marilis Cardinal had begun to work with me – primarily on press, but with many other tasks as well. Shortly after, my flatmate Jasper Baydala had to take over the shipping as our orders were picking up. Once I found out he was good with Photoshop, he became our graphic designer. Now, the three of us handle all the day-to-day stuff for the label and management of our artists, but continue to rely heavily on the help and contribution of everyone in the scene. We try to keep it pretty real, and include personal notes and weird shit in all our postal orders. I figure as we go out into the world, so long as I'm in my wife-beater every weekend setting up a PA system for a illegal loft party – then we've got our heads in the right place.

I try to keep everything structured as a feedback loop, where the success of one artist is able to raise the visibility of the others – as well as inspire everyone to make continually cooler music. Or perhaps it's more aptly described as a family, Blue Hawaii helps out at the shows, Grimes cuts my hair, TOPS cooks me dinner when I forget to eat, Tonstartssbandht always has a spare beer, Cadence Weapon writes the press releases, and Sean Nicholas Savage keeps it cool – so it never feels like work, although we do have an office now. 🙂

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