Weird Saskatoon Part 2: Bart Records – Kevin Stebner

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The following is part 2 of a series on the burgeoning Weird Canada scene and Saskatoon’s place within that scene. Last month, Weird Canada had the distinction of being voted the winner of CBC Radio 3’s Searchlight 2011 competition. With more media types, musicians, labels and fans starting to take notice, Weird Canada – a loosely-defined movement – is becoming something of a new trend. Weird, especially considering that the CBC doesn’t play the majority of “Weird Canada” bands.

Bart Records – Kevin Stebner

Bart Records is another, important piece of Canada’s cassette revolution. And, having issued releases by Saskatoon’s Black Magic Pyramid as well as Auld Beak, clearly someone is taking notice of the awesome music coming out of this Calgarian’s bedroom project.

With a few new releases coming out on Revolution Winter (the vinyl side of Bart Records) including Calgary’s Stalwart Sons – one a split with Halifax’s Union of the Snake (members of North of America/VKNGS/Medium Mood) and one a split with Edmonton’s Slates, in addition to a full-length LP from Edmonton’s emo-sloggers Todos Caeran, Stebner definitely has his hands full for the rest of the summer.

As for Bart, there’s a new covers compilation coming out really soon featuring a large chunk of the Bart roster, including locals Auld Beak, all doing 70’s hard rock covers. In Stebner’s own words, this is “pretty much the greatest thing ever.”

Ominocity: As someone who is running a label – a business – why do you embrace cassettes, which to 98% of the population are essentially a dead format?

Kevin Stebner: To be clear, Bart Records is not intended as a business. Bart is more about documentation. Which is precisely why I embrace cassettes. Tapes allow me to get music out there as cheaply as possible – show me any other format that can do release for $5. Obviously, 98% of the population is clueless about compelling and innovative music – that sort of thing is self-evident with the monolithic control of commercial radio and major labels. I don’t cater to those who have no ears to hear. I know the appeal of Bart isn’t exactly large. But there are those 300 people across the world who are willing to invest their time and efforts into making musical discoveries to find something truly great and unheard. That’s exactly the sort of underground that Bart is a part of. I’m that kind of person, one who spends hours upon hours looking for new music – and I feel the music on Bart is exactly that kind of thing – music from western Canada that is essentially unheard and really exciting, and something I want to share with the world. If cassettes allow me to do that, well then how can it be dead?

OM: Why do you think there has been a huge rise in the Weird Canada scene (which is tied to the cassette movement) despite many of the bands that adhere to the loosely-defined movement being more or less anti-mainstream success?

KS: I find this a difficult question to answer. Obviously, Weird Canada is doing well because Aaron works super hard, and highlights cool things and is one of the few places that actually has the finger on the pulse of what’s going on in Canada. Major props. I come from a hardcore background, taking large cues from Dischord Records and that scene with a very strong community and DIY-centered ethos, an ethos that’s existed for over 30 years now. Whereas I don’t feel that many of those bands in the Weird Canada scene (whichever that may be) come from that world or necessarily adhere to that mode of thinking. I’m unsure as the whether there is a distancing from the mainstream in that a handful of those bands are now often heralded by mainstream press and are becoming that very thing. In a lot of ways, that seems quite morally questionable to me, but I try not fault someone’s desire for success, really. It’s just not my world. Certainly though, some of that stuff is just so awesome (re: incomprehensible to most) that the only way something like that could be released is purely out of a labour of love. Basically people are just trying to get their music out there any way they can, so I suppose in a lot of ways it still amounts to the same thing: a vibrant music community putting out insane releases of all kinds.

OM: Saskatoon has perennially been known as an underdog music centre, a scene that harbours unknown talent. How did you discover the bands from there? Or anywhere for that matter?

KS: Saskatoon is underdog. So much great music comes out of there and no one really does know about it. I really sympathize with the plight of Saskatoon – I’m from Red Deer originally, and I know how difficult it is to get anyone to consider listening to your band if you’re from some tiny city – let alone breaking out of it. I was initially turned onto the wealth of Saskatoon music from simply playing there. My old band totheteeth/tothehilt played some of our best shows in Saskatoon and got turned onto some of the rad bands at the time (most notably Nyet to the Neins). We played some great shows with American Geography – members of which formed Golden Smoke and recently The Moas. I saw Black Magic Pyramid play at last year’s Ghost Throats and was absolutely floored! I’m especially stoked on the splintering off of Black Magic Pyramid nowadays: specifically Night Danger and Auld Beak. Those bands are awesome. Basically I just go to a ton of shows (and play a ton), because I’m generally interesting in hearing and finding new bands. It all comes from just getting out there and being open to being blown away. It can happen anywhere (and likely will if you are open to it). Truly, not being from a big city is a hindrance, but that just means a band has to work that much harder.