A local label's founders talk about their love of cassette tapes and Roy Orbison.
Telephone Explosion founders Jon Schouten and Steve Sidoli admit that it was a bit of an odd move to start a record label in 2007, in the middle of the traditional music industry’s internet-induced free fall. That was part of the reason they decided to use only one physical format—the weird and outmoded cassette tape—for the label’s early releases.
“We did [tapes] for two reasons,” says Sidoli. “One was financial necessity: we couldn’t afford any other mediums. And also because they’re really cool.”
The label eventually switched to vinyl for their 10th release.
“Our sixth tape was a Demons Claws rarities compilation,” says Sidoli. “That sold so fast that we figured if we curated it better, with fewer songs, but better songs, we could make an LP and not lose any money. We could even make a little bit, and that’s what happened and we just decided to roll with that.”
The pair say that originally, Telephone Explosion was conceived as a way to release music by their band, garage-punkers Teenanger, but that changed fairly quickly after they started putting out releases.
“We had the idea to do our first recording on a cassette, and then we were playing a show with The Holy Cobras, and we were into their stuff,” says Sidoli. “They told us they had just recorded, so we were like ‘Oh, we’ll put your stuff out as well.’”
The label’s fifth anniversary party takes place on December 7, and features not only Teenanger and The Holy Cobras, but also several other Telephone Explosion bands, including local acts Soupcan and Young Mother, as well as Hamilton-based Crosss, who will release their first record with the label in 2013.
“[For previous anniversaries] we’ve put on friends’ bands that we hadn’t necessarily worked with as a label,” says Schouten. “This year, especially because we’d put out three LP’s by Toronto bands, it was pretty easy to put together a lineup of bands we’d worked with in a recording capacity.”
According to Sidoli, the highlight of the last five years—other than just witnessing the growth of the label—was receiving a message of support from Roy Orbison’s estate after releasing a totally unauthorized garage-punk tribute to the singing legend.
“It did reasonably well, because a number of the bands were quite high profile,” says Sidoli. “But we kept promotion to a minimum because we didn’t want to get nicked on some sort of copyright thing. We hadn’t gotten the rights to any of these songs.”
It turned out that the release had coincided with the 20th anniversary of Orbison’s death, causing the record to receive an unexpected rush of publicity.
“Not even two days later, we got an email from his estate, from the person who represents his widow, Barbara,” says Sidoli. “We saw that and gulped a little bit, but it wound up being a really cool, supportive email, basically just giving it their blessing. I think they knew it was a small run and we weren’t going to be making a ton of money from it.”
In addition to throwing a party, Schouten and Sidoli are celebrating Telephone Explosion’s fifth birthday by taking the label back to its roots: they’re planning on releasing tapes again. The cassettes, called the Ataraxia series, will feature what Schouten calls “soundscapes and experimental things.”
“We love punk rock and garage rock, but our musical tastes are really vast, so I think our label is going to start reflecting that more,” he says.
Sidoli says cassette releases allow the label to experiment because they’re so cheap to put together.
“There’s not a huge financial risk you’re taking, so we’re running with that and making soundscape-based ambient music,” Sidoli says.
The pair add that they’re also planning a number of other releases for the next year. They say they have every intention of making the label better and weirder.
“The thing about being in a band, or having a label, or doing anything creative, is that you get yourself into so many situations that don’t feel quite right, but you just go with it to keep moving forward,” says Sidoli. “When you get yourself locked in with a good group of people, you tend not to let that go very quickly.”