A lot has happened in the ten years since Jeffrey Remedios and his friend Kevin Drew put out Broken Social Scene’s You Forget It In People on their Toronto-based Arts & Crafts label. What was once a small, DIY indie has evolved into a management, publishing and marketing company with satellite offices in Mexico City and L.A., roughly 20 employees and a roster that has included acts like Feist, Bloc Party, Stars, Phoenix, the Stills and the Hidden Cameras.
Arts & Crafts is celebrating the occasion in much the same way they have always conducted business: with a multitude of projects, collaborations and mediums.This would include, but is not limited to: a compilation box set; the Field Trip music fest; a photo exhibition; a fashion line with different visual artists; a collaboration albums entitled Arts & Crafts X (out today); a literary project and more. We caught up with Remedios who helped explain the various celebrations, the label’s history, what he learned working at a major, the label's weridest merch (Stars' pillow cases) and what it’s like inside the “nostalgia vortex.”
Billboard.biz: How does it feel to be celebrating your ten-year anniversary?
Jeffrey Remedios: It was my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary in December and my brothers and I helped them throw a big party, so I’ve been in this nostalgia vortex for the last couple of months. It’s mostly good, but also a little surreal.
What could be surreal about a nostalgia vortex?
It’s not entirely natural for me to stop and reflect so much. I don’t want to be self-aggrandizing and get giant pats on the back, but it’s been ten years of us doing this and we all grew up doing it and many other people grew up connected to the work we’ve done, so it’s nice.
What are some of the milestones along the ten-year journey?
We started out with a bang. I did a panel and someone asked, “what’s the best advice you could give someone starting a company like yours?” And I said “I recommend starting off with Broken Social Scene.” It was this amazing confluence -- the right timing, the right artist, and the right opportunity.
I come from a major label background and got to know Kevin [Drew, from Broken Social Scene] really well and the Toronto music community and he was making what was to be You Forgot It In People. He played it for me and it was a watershed moment. It was like, “let’s start a company and let’s be partners and let’s just figure it out from there.”
From the start it was a rocket ship. Broken took off and took us with them and we learned with them. The band was like our A&R source for the first three years. We put out projects by our friends related to this music community. By the time we were done, we had a roster with Feist who had sold a couple of hundred thousand records, Stars, who were doing incredibly well across North America and Jason Collett, who was also doing really well. Broken was touring the world and we hadn’t signed a band that wasn’t a friend of ours.
Was the social/communal aspect part of Arts & Craft's business plan or did it happen organically?
I wish I could say I had this Svengali approach to things, but a large part it was happenstance. Kevin has been this really inclusive guy his entire life. His approach to art is like more [people]… his construct of what’s a band member and what’s not is blurred. That’s part of the magic of the band. Collaboration is something that has permeated throughout the ten years.
How did that translate into celebrating your tenth anniversary?
When we looked at how to honor ten years, collaboration was a big key. One of the records we’re putting out is a collaborations record [cover above]. We paired our whole roster. Acts who have been with us the longest picked someone else on the roster to record with. The only rule was you had to record something new. And now we have new record coming out with ten songs from twenty artists and they’re all these fun collaborations. It’s called “Arts & Crafts X,” with “X” for collaborations.
When we started thinking about what we were going to do in 2011, everything felt self-serving -- it didn’t feel enough like us. So we landed on two key concepts: One was community, we’ve always felt like Toronto gave birth to us and has been good to us across the entire community as well as the global music community. And the other thing is collaboration. We’ve always prided ourselves on being more inclusive then exclusive.
Last September when Feist won the Polaris Prize and Cold Specks was one of the artists nominated. Leslie said something like, “you know it’s really great working with Arts & Crafts because they sign someone and I get excited to not only hear them, but to meet them and know them, it’s a community of artists.” That’s a real point of pride. Collaboration is a centerpiece for us.
How did the greatest hits album come about?
We figured we needed to do the big release that all my favorite labels in the past have done -- like [Factory Records’] “Palatine” box set. So we came up with this retrospective double CD [track below], quadruple vinyl, covering ten years with the most landmark songs and hidden gems -- some of which hadn’t been released. Stuart Berman, who wrote “The Book is Broken” about BSS did the liner notes and we pulled photographs from our archive. We also wanted to do a new recording and landed on this collaboration concept and thought “what if we have our bands cover other people or cover us?: And we landed on this collaborations concept.
What are you doing beyond music for the anniversary?
We thought about working with other disciplines we’re already close with and landed on fashion, photography and the written word and developed collaborations in each of those fields.
We approached Canadian fashion designer Jeremy Laing to make this sort of Arts & Crafts fashion line. We took artists from the Arts & Crafts roster and Jeremy coordinated giving each one a different visual artist to work with -- Derek Sullivan, Jessica Eaton, Sojourner Truth Parsons, Niall McClelland and Jason McLean -- and came up with visual illustrations inspired by Feist, Broken Social Scene, Dan Mangan and Timber Timbre. Jeremy made super high quality and very thoughtful print process t-shirts and the Hudson’s Bay Company is carrying them. We’re giving 100% of the proceeds to MusiCounts, a Canadian charity that raises money for music education. They’re our official 10th anniversary partner in all of our initiative
Arts & Crafts anniversary T-shirs which designer Jeremy Laing produced.
There’s a photographer named Norman Wong who is Toronto based and does a lot of fashion and music photography and has shot our bands for the last 10 years. At first we thought we would get a bunch of photographers and pull them together and have a show. And then Norman said, “I don’t know if you knew this, but every time I did a shoot with an Arts & Crafts band I took a shot for myself “ He had these high contrast black & white Avedon-esque shots that have never been seen. So we’re working with Norman on a full gallery show. “The Art of Arts & Crafts by Norman Wong” launched on May 22 with this month-long exhibition pop-up show in this raw space in downtown Toronto’s west end. It’s going to be coming on our Field Trip shows with us.
The House of Anansi's Broken Social Scene short story and fiction contest banner.
There’s this amazing publisher called The House of Anansi – they publish Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje -- they’re amazing. They wanted to do something in honor of our 10th anniversary and they launched a “You Forgot it In People” short story and fiction contest. They’re taking open submissions inspired by one of the songs from the album, which has all these iconic titles like “Almost Crimes,” “Cause Equals Time,” “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year Old Girl.” They’ve gotten a couple of hundred submissions. A&C artists like Leslie Feist, Brendan Canning, Amy Milan and Charles Spearin will help make the short list which they’ll publish.
What about the Field Trip festival on June 8?
We’re bringing 14 of our acts together over two stages in downtown Toronto at Fort York and Garrison Commons and we’re going to have them all play. It’s been really fun, to engage and excite the community in ways we otherwise don’t to every day.
It sounds like a lot of work and a lot of high concept.
That’s just us -- I don’t know if we take the easy road ever.