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Murder article from !*\!/#

Here's the article about murder that I snagged from !*\!/#'s web site. I think
I managed to get all the html tags cut out, but no promises.


by Christopher Waters
   While no one is saying it in so many words, Sloan is going on hiatus -
just how long a hiatus - i.e., a month, a year, forever - is as cryptic as
the band's actual status after their February mini-tour. Decidedly unhappy
in their present situation signed to American mega-corporation Geffen, the
label that released Sloan's first two LPs, Smeared and Twice Removed
worldwide, but failed to find a suitable single to release in the States
from Twice Removed, an album chock-a-block full of radio-friendly pop songs,
the Halifax quartet has been the subject of rumours sizing them up as marked
men. Sitting around a swank Toronto hotel room, where they were staying as
guests of Rita MacNeil's CBC variety program, Sloan's Jay Ferguson, Chris
Murphy and Patrick Pentland discussed the one aspect of Sloan that will
continue to be active for the ongoing future, their record label, murderecords.
   "It's going to be our priority over the next  year, like it or not,"
explains Murphy. "Being a control freak, I want to know how to do
everything. So I kind of have to start over again. I want to learn how to do
all the artwork, so all the artwork over the next year is going to be really
bush league."
   "Watch out for Murder's photocopy artwork," jokes Ferguson. "It'll be
cool though - Chris just got a new computer."^p
Having operated for the past three years without the assistance of a
computer, is just one of the charming quirks of this Halifax label, which
despite a small body of work, has made itself a major player in Canada's
independent music trade. The seat of the pants aspect of operation is
consistent with a label that really came into being almost accidentally, by
virtue of a no-money-down manufacturing arrangement.
   "Originally," recalls Ferguson, "the first thing that came out was
[Sloan's debut EP] Peppermint  and we bankrolled it by having it
manufactured, and not having to pay for it for 30 or 60 days, and Cargo
immediately paying for the whole run of it right off the bat. After that,
Sloan had money, and Cargo started paying for the manufacturing after
Peppermint. They did Hack by Hardship Post and Peter> by Eric's Trip. At
that point, we weren't even doing advertising. [Eric's Trip and Hardship
Post] were beginning to tour, were starting to get a name for themselves,
and they wanted to put something out. We were their friends linked by
similar management, Peter Rowan, so it just seemed natural to put out those
   From those humble beginnings in the summer of 1992, murder have
prospered, learning the ropes as they go along. With the work of the label
now eclipsing the work of Sloan's songwriting and recording, at least for
the time being, there's even more to learn.
   "We have to, as a label, get our act together," says Murphy. "Get videos
made by these people. Because it's videos that really seem to sell and break
bands in Canada. Even bands that don't have the biggest touring draw, sell a
lot just off a video that [MuchMusic] plays every second day."
   Pentland agrees. "Videos get your point across to more people, so you
don't have to travel and play everywhere. For a band like [Truro's hip-hop
outfit and murder recording artists] Hip Club Groove, it's the only way
they're going to gain exposure outside of their region."
   "But it's hard getting an independent video in regular rotation on
MuchMusic," adds Ferguson. And when it does air, it helps if the station
gets murder's name right. "They showed [Thrush Hermit's] "French Inhale" on
MuchMusic, and it said Murmur Records, or something like that. They hate
us," he laughs.
   The label's first fledgling steps toward legitimacy came when they hired
former CKDU Music Director and jale's manager, Colin MacKenzie, on as a
full-time label facilitator and, then, in an unrelated move, dissolved their
relationship with Montreal's Cargo Records.
   "Cargo are good," Ferguson says. "We just had a few financial differences
with them, that's all."
   Picking up from Ferguson, Pentland adds, "MCA was dealing with Cargo
anyway, but we kind of left the loop a little bit."
   "Whereas Cargo would be able to sell records to all of the Rotate This,
Dr. Discs and all the other smaller stores in between, we have to take that
on ourselves because MCA doesn't deal with those stores," comments Ferguson.
"That's been a task that's been really hard to keep up with. Because, if you
only have, say, 12 records that you're selling, most stores would only want
half of them, and then, at that, just a specific number of each. So the
store has to do a separate order for, like, 18 records. If they're dealing
with Cargo, you know, they're ordering 100 records and ours were in there.
It's easier than going through the hassle of just ordering a few records
direct from the record company. That's what's kind of hard to keep up with,
but it's been going all right so far."
   Murphy continues the thought: "As opposed to a label like Sonic Unyon -
part of their advantage, and charm, is that they're able to hand distribute
things to stores. Just get a car for the weekend and drive around to all the
stores. As for us, being where we are geographically, it's a pain in the ass
getting any of the bands out here in the first place..."
   "It's also a matter of reputation," interrupts Pentland. "People might
know the name, murder, a little bit, but if we put out someone like Al Tuck,
someone that no one has ever heard of, if we had a really good reputation,
years of quality, they'd be more apt to take a chance."
   "I love labels like that," exclaims Ferguson, "like Sub Pop when they
first started out. It was almost like a name brand. Almost like a director
in movie terms, in the case of people going to see a movie because of the
director as opposed to the actors involved. Even Drag City is a label that I
like a lot of the stuff that they put out, so I would check out something
new that they put out. It would be nice, if murder gets to be like that."
   "It was like that when we put out a record every two years," says Murphy.
   "Now it's a free-for-all," quips Ferguson, citing recent releases by The
Super Friendz, Al Tuck and No Action, Stinkin' Rich, Hardship Post and, the
first band from outside Atlantic Canada, Montreal's Local Rabbits.
   "What we have to realize, too, is how to be patient, because everyone
else is so impatient," Murphy comments. "The band wants to put  out their
stuff, and we want it to get out. But we have to have things - promotion
plans, videos - ready in time for the release."
   "Before it was, 'The recording's done. Let's put it out,'" explains
Ferguson. "We were very quantity last year. The first two years the label
was around, we put out three records. Last year, we put out nine from August
to October. We front-loaded a lot of things, because MCA Canada let us put a
murderecords catalogue in with Twice Removed, and we've had a really good
response from that."
   But the arrangement with MCA has also led to its share ofproblems. For a
new generation of DIY offspring, the logo of a major label taints the street
credibility of murder's products. It has been suggested that murder is
merely a clever ruse conceived by MCA to look like a cottage industry record
label, when really it is a boutique label funded by a major. It's a
misconception that Sloan is eager to dispel.
   "Our contract [with MCA] is a three-year agreement," explains Ferguson.
"We're not bankrolled by MCA, we pay for the records ourselves, and they
manufacture them and distribute them to the chain stores. That's all. They
really don't promote it; they might include a murder record in an MCA ad.
I'm just saying that because it might look like, to anyone who cared about
that sort of thing, we're being funded by the man. We got letters from these
kids saying how come there's MCA all over your records? What's going on? You
guys sold out."
   It becomes clear in this matter, as in every matter regarding the label,
that ethics are a major concern for murder. Built on a model of independent
labels like Dischord, murder is an artist's label run by artists, not
aspiring record moguls.
   "It would have been cool, although we didn't have the resources at the
time, if our roster still had Eric's Trip, and jale and Hardship Post," says
Murphy wistfully. "It would be incredibly strong, not that it isn't now, but
all those groups had to move on. Hopefully, from now on, we'll have our act
together so murder won't just be a stepping stone. We won't have to hold
people contractually, they'll just want to stay with us because we are the
fairest and pay the best percentages. Within the label, we talk about that
all the time: What's fair to the artists. One good faith thing is, although
we didn't have any kind of rights for Thrush Hermit's second record, they're
going to do another record with us, anyway."
   "Eric's Trip did Peter on their own on a four-track, and Hardship Post
paid for their own recording as well, so they both got to own their
recordings," remarks Ferguson. "The first recording we owned was Thrush
Hermit's Smart Bomb, so we can put out that record forever. Whereas with
Eric's and Hardship Post, we have an agreement with them that after a few
years they could take it and put it out themselves. Hopefully, they'll let
us keep it for our catalogue." 
Besides plans for releasing a new Thrush Hermit record, murder is preparing
to release its first full-length CD, an album by Halifax's Super Friendz, as
well as an EP by jale, a cassette by rap artist Stinkin' Rich and seven-inch
singles by Sloan, among others.
   As Sloan's sideline moves up to the forefront, murderecords, as a label,
should become an even brighter fixture in Canada's independent music scene.
While there's talk about the waning appeal of the Halifax music scene,
murder is one of the reminders of the major lessons learned by shifting the
rubble of that particular Pop Explosion: great new music isn't the exclusive
domain of Canada's big three - Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver. It is happening
everywhere, and what's going on down at your local club is just as valid as
what goes on at legendary big city clubs like the El Mocambo or The Town
Pump, maybe even more so.