Label owners – along with the music industry in general – tend to get the bad rap: Musicians detest them, rock journos take shots at them, listeners give them little credit. It’s true there are multitude of valid gripes with the music industry, but there are also those examples of music types that have the same passion, talent and dedication as the artists they work with. Permafrost Records’ Steven Himmelfarb is one of these good people who bring us the music. His label has equal growth in quality and content, with an excellent compilation last year and hot new talent this year. Mr. Himmelfarb explains:
How did Permafrost Records come about?
A friend and I basically wanted to copy Drag City Records for fun. My friend, bless her heart, got a little too busy and had other side projects, so I decided to be a hack all by my lonesome.
How does one differentiate a genuine music fan like yourself from some fly-by-night jerk with a record label?
Last week I would have said ‘some fancy pocket computer lamo-tron phone’ – but I just got one. So probably money. The Fly-by-night jerk has more money. He’d better.
What is the biggest thrill in owning a record label?
Getting sincere e-mails from people outside of Canada saying that they randomly picked up one of our records and love them. Also, getting free blow and unlimited amounts of pussy in VIP rooms.
Conversely, the biggest headache?
The blow and the pussy dude – there’s always baggage. Always. Seriously though, probably worrying that nobody will attend the shows. The usual CD release party freak-out.
You’ve signed Jon-Rae and the River, and just recently, the Barmitzvah Brothers (or so we’ve heard). How do you scout out these bands?
How’d you hear that about the B-Bro’s? You’re good Torontoist – really good. But seriously, how’d you find out? Is that final yet? We don’t really scout. I just have friends with good taste who I trust and I go to lots of shows. For Jon-Rae and The River, I happened to walk into his second Toronto show, and I was just floored. It was and still is the best show I’ve ever seen. Bands have to be different. Like the Barmitzvah Brothers – well that’s an extreme case. Why sign something that sounds like everything else? It’s like trying to win the lottery with a copycat band – there are so many labels/managers that do that. Why aim for landing the next Coldplay? You may as well have fun because nobody buys records anymore anyways. But there are millions of bands playing the same ol’ shit – you have to stick out. What’s the question again?
What do you feel most when you hear one of your acts perform live?
d) Nothing much.
e) Everything much.
f) The same thing everyone else feels.
C – Enjoyment.
But I’d like to add: H – Nervousness. It’s a bit of a roller coaster ride. Financially and Emotionally.
What do you do other than work with music?
I’m actually writing my second novel and will be going out on a book tour next year, between releases. I’ll be doing readings through the U.K. and the USA. I’m also doing a short 2 week stint for a one-man play I wrote years ago that finally got picked up. It’ll run one week in New York, one week in Boston. I’m full of shit. All I do is music right now. Isn’t that sad? I run my label, promote shows, book tours, freelance write, organize my collection and shop for music. The truth is, when I’m free, I sit in my room and watch Mr. Show (and other quality HBO shows), occasionally turning the channel to watch the Maple Leafs lose. And I drink tea with my girlfriend.
Other than at Permafrostrecords.com, where do you buy music in the city?
Soundscapes, Rotate This, Flash n’ Crash – the usual. And that Soul/Blues Specialty store that use to be called Kopps – you know, next to the Condom Shack on Queen Street, upstairs. The Whitest, Honkiest people work/own that place but sweet fancy Moses do those guys know their soul.
What’s a Toronto show that you can’t wait to see?
The Silver Jews opening up for Leonard Cohen in my closet. If my closet is filled with clothes, then maybe at the Music Gallery.
Jon-Rae and the River have a new album, old songs for the new town, out now. Jon-Rae plays a huge CD release show at the Horseshoe on August 26, with Akron/Family, Great Lakes Swimmers and Lullaby Arkestra (a newish Do Say Make Think spin-off). Only $8.