Throwaway Style is a monthly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, the first Thursday of every new month on KEXP.org.
When it comes to answering the question of Canada’s most important independent record label, Mint Records would be my pick without a second of thought. Although they’re not the only name in the conversation -- Flemish Eye, run by the near-legendary Chad VanGaalen, is most certainly a contender -- the Vancouver-based label has been an influential touchstone in the country’s indie-rock scene more or less since its inception in 1991.
It’s the label home of Neko Case’s first solo record (as well as the full-length debut of the New Pornographers), the incubator of the indie subgenre known as cuddlecore, and facilitator of multiple Juno Award nominees. Allie Hanlon of beloved garage-rockers Peach Kelli Pop returned to the Ottawa bedroom where she learned to play guitar to record an EP for Mint, having been a fan of the label since she began attending punk shows. Another notable member of Mint’s roster is Nardwuar, known around these parts as the last real music journalist.
These days, the release schedule on Mint equates to appointment listening. Concept-heavy Vancouver quartet Dumb are instantly reminiscent of indie-rock when it was actually a definable term; crooked guitar lines, shambolic song structures, often irreverent but always smart lyrics. Self-described “cold-punk” trio lié released their excellent fourth album You Want It Real earlier this year on the label, more propulsive and more melodic than anything the band has done previously. Edmonton group Wares released their epic Survival a couple months ago; a few people whose music taste I implicitly trust have called it their favorite rock album of the year. Toronto jangle-rockers Tough Age just last week announced their forthcoming album on Mint, coming out next month.
Over the past handful of months, I’ve been engaged in a very casual email interview with label manager Ryan Dyck, where we discussed his personal history with the label, his favorite Mint releases, and the bounty of weird rock music coming from Western Canada.
Tell me about how Mint Records came to be and the start of your involvement with the label.
Mint's founders, Bill Baker and Randy Iwata met while working at UBC's campus station CiTR in the late 80's. When they graduated, they started Mint as a vehicle to showcase Vancouver's rich underground music community. Over the past 30 years, the label has put out over 150 releases from the likes of cub, the New Pornographers, Neko Case, the Pack a.d., the Organ and has helped document the world of Western Canadian indie rock.
I started at Mint in 2016 after running my own label, Hockey Dad Records, for 10 years. I had a similar MO at Hockey Dad, to put out cool records by new local bands. Hockey Dad put out early material for the Courtneys, White Lung and Woolworm, among others. I grew up with Mint releases and going to see their bands and Mint's devotion to championing new music had always been inspiring. I was excited to join the team at Mint and have access to more resources to continue to support the growth of exciting emerging artists. Since coming on I've worked on over 20 releases!
Tell me a little about the ups and downs of running Hockey Dad. Was the label already done when you joined the Mint team? How long had you known Bill and Randy when you were asked to work for Mint?
I started Hockey Dad records to release my own band that nobody would sign (probably for good reason). Once I had figured out how to make, distro and kind of promote that release, I realized I could do it for other bands that people actually liked ... and some that people really didn't like. While working days at record stores and as a mental health support worker, I managed to release some great records from bands like White Lung, The Courtneys and Freak Heat Waves. I didn't really know what I was doing but it was fun to work with a bunch of new and exciting bands. In 2016 my friend Robert, who I had worked with on Music Waste Festival, told me he was leaving his position as label manager at Mint Records. I told him I wanted to apply! I didn't know Randy and Bill that well but had been following the label since I was a teen making fanzines in the suburbs!
Could you walk me through an average, run-in-the-mill week running the label? Do you have average, run-in-the-mill weeks or are they all kind of different?
Before everything was shut down, we didn't necessarily have average weeks but I guess they're always pretty busy. I feel like my days often have a similar structure though. I usually start the day going through emails, sorting out the weird demos from important stuff and then spend some time sharing stuff from our socials. I'll usually dive into certain projects around noon, either setting up release plans for upcoming albums or following up on to-do lists for albums currently in promo cycles. There is a lot of back and forth with our artists about upcoming tours, singles and other events. Later in the day I'll often focus on grant writing as that is an important part of our business. This includes creating budgets for new projects or sorting out expenses for recently completed releases.
Let's talk more about grant writing and that process since, as you already know, the United States Government doesn't have any sort of funding programs for working artists. We talked about this a little for KEXP’s climate change feature, but I'd be interested in knowing more about it. You mentioned some of these federal grants go toward marketing costs and such, correct?
Mint is lucky enough to qualify for funding under the FACTOR program which is funded by the Canadian government and Canadian radio broadcasters. They cover various aspects of music expenses which for most of our projects include marketing expenses, tour expenses, video expenses and recording expenses. The program was started in the 70's to make sure that Canadian radio stations had enough high quality Canadian content to fill their quotas. In recent years, they have focused more on supporting emerging artists in their touring outside of Canada. A lot fo American's probably don't know this, but it costs a couple thousand dollars to obtain tour visas for our bands to play legally in the USA, which is a huge obstacle for a relatively new band.
What sets Western Canada's indie and punk scenes apart from other regions in North America? I was talking to my friend this morning about how so many bands from your neck of the woods are weird and wonderful.
I think the relative absence of a music industry in Western Canada gives bands and artists a chance to develop in ways that they don't in larger centers like Toronto or LA where bands seem to come out of the gate with a manager and brand. People start bands because they want to make music with their friends and not to make a career out of it; they’re forced to be creative with their opportunities and who they work with. Also have you tried touring across Western Canada? Every city is 12 hours away from the next one; you have to really be dedicated to decide you're going to drive for 13 hours from Vancouver to Calgary to play a show! Every city across Western Canada has a very dedicated DIY music scene that is supportive and full of talent and often operating in relative obscurity.
I'm sure working with bands is a process individual to whomever you're working with at any particular moment, but do you find the general feeling to be easy or does the chaos of working in the music industry also extend itself to Mint Records as well?
I feel like you have to be incredibly passionate about music to work in the music industry, it's not a normal job. Working with emerging artists often requires taking meetings in the evenings around band members day job schedules and showing up early to shows for opening spots and working merch while the band is performing, as well as generally being ready to take on new challenges and opportunities at all times. The chaos does seep in, so it's important to set boundaries to get your head out of it for a while. I like to read at the end of the day to be able to travel to a different world and try to put aside weekends to spend time with friends and family to be able to talk about something other than the projects I'm working on at the moment.
Okay, one more question! What are your five favorite albums released on Mint and why?
Not the first thing I heard on Mint but definitely a game changer for the label and myself. I was a teen and pretty much only a fan of skate punk and then I heard this album and it opened a whole world of indie rock and power pop and also introduced me to Neko Case and Dan Bejar of Destroyer who are both all time favourites!
I loved this album as a teen, a beautiful twee indie pop record about living in Vancouver and how depressing it can be. A wide range of influences makes it an adventurous listen from start to finish.
The first record I worked when I got the job at Mint. The band pretty much broke up immediately after the release show (where they got kicked off stage for sassing the sound guy). We still got a lot of these in the storage room, but I think it's under-appreciated, it's a great Big Star influenced power-pop record and it's totally stacked with hooks. I highly recommend giving it a spin!
Jessica and Rene from Faith Healer are incredible songwriters and it was amazing to be able to watch this album come together. Every time they sent a new song I was blown away by the quality and it was really fun to be able to work the release and share this record with the world. Also the first time a record I helped release was nominated for a Polaris Prize!
I've been watching Woolworm play around Vancouver for a long time and released a 7 inch EP for them with my old label, Hockey Dad Records. Their most recent release, Awe, is the band really kicking it into the next gear and creating an LP around sounds from hardcore to shoegaze and mixing in some synths for good measure. Bassist Heather Black also has some verses on it that I love so much I hope she'll be singing on every song on the next record. It was recorded by Mint label-mate Jay Arner who really made the whole thing shine.
If you've spent your fair share of nights watching live music in Seattle, chances are you're familiar with High Pulp, instrumental band par excellence. Drummer Rob Granfelt has started and handpicked a brand new label called Inside Voices, sweeping across a host of genres, much in the spirit of his primary project. The label's roster is made up of artists from a variety of locales, including Santa Fe, New Mexico group Teleporter and Boston artist Rachel Lime.
Granfelt said to me via email, "So this label is featuring a hand-picked artist lineup that I chose. I know everyone personally, which is really important to me. There are a lot of High Pulp-adjacent side projects, as well as some smaller artists that no one has (yet) heard of. We really don't do genres. We've got ambient film-score type stuff, we've got hard hitting trap, we've got modern beat music, alternative/newwave RnB, w'eve got ethereal whimsical dance music, we've got a trio that only does live improvisationals ... and a lot more."
Just gonna leave this here.
On the Vancouver punk trio's third full-length, Lié embody an array of narrative perspectives in order to capture the fear and trauma abusers leave in their wake.
The Vancouver band's fourth release in a little over two years is a high-concept ball of threadbare post-punk. In a special Friday edition of Throwaway Style, Martin Douglas explores the shades of green displayed on the album.