This time out we have an in depth conversation with Wally Salem, head of Canadian independent label, The Beautiful Music. The label is perhaps best known for its series of tribute albums dedicated to British indie legends the Television Personalities, as well as a worldwide roster of artists that include Dot Dash and Yellow Melodies. Here Salem talks about the inspirations for the label’s founding, the latest release news and more.
“I’m not a musician but I am a long time music fan,” Salem esplained. “I have been since my teenage years when I started discovering music that was off the beaten track in the late 70’s through CKCU our local university radio station, and all the great Record Stores that existed in Ottawa at the time.” CKCU introduced Salem to punk with shows like No Future Now hosted by Roch Parisien (“which was a big influence at the time”) and DJ’s like Rob Stewart and Steve Kirkland helped expand his music tastes “Ska, Mod, Electronic, Reggae, Dub, new wave, and numerous other styles of music that were to follow,” he said.
While attending university in the early 80’s, in addition to listening to CKCU, Salem discovered that at the back of the tuck shop, there was a room that was converted into a small record store. “I would hang out there and got to be friends with the owner James Boyd,” he recalled. “James and his brother later had a store downtown called Record Theatre that would bring in a lot of cool imports. So I discovered a lot of music there. James still runs a record store, Compact Music and we still get together and talk music from time to time. At around the same time, I found a local used record store Second Time Around that was not far from school, that were willing to let me work at the store for records, so I started collecting stuff old and new and started on a path of discovery from old Chet Atkins and Ventures instrumental records to The Kinks and The Critters to Jonathan Richman and The Velvet Underground. There was a lot to take in.”
One particular disc purchase would go on to cast a major shadow over his future. “There is one album that I picked up at Second Time Around, which was to have a significant influence on my tastes to come and this was finding a copy of Television Personalities first album, And Don’t The Kids Just Love It? I had heard an earlier single by them with the song “Part Time Punks” which I thought was quite funny poking fun at the whole punk movement and was curious what else they had done. Having The Avengers on the cover of the album also didn’t hurt,” he joked.
“This album and discovering the TVP’s and their alternate universe of doing things independently was to have a huge influence on my record collection and eventually on the inspiration for starting the label. I was discovering so much great music that sadly very few people had heard from local bands to stuff from around the globe, that I wanted to help spread the word about.”
Salem had been compiling mix tapes for years and later mix CD’s and passing them around to friends, acquaintances and people at record stores and radio stations. “In many ways a record label was the next logical step,” he mused. “I also knew a guy from high school, Iain Walker that had started a label, Shake Records, which had released a lot of great stuff including records by Shame (which featured Norman from TV21) and The Barracudas among many others. Also seeing what Dan Treacy had done with the Whaam! and Dreamworld labels I thought it would be really cool to give it a try. I had some great friends like Jamie (aka Nicolai from the Social Icons) who along with being one the musicians, offered to help with label and all things web and artistic, and encouragement from my brothers and then things just started to come together.”
The Beautiful Music is a unique label, with a worldwide if niche driven reach, a true labor of love. “We are not operating as business but rather a hobby that is mostly financed by me and the label friends and although we do sell a few copies of each release, we tend to give away much more just to help promote the bands,” he said. “We also let all the bands arrange the digital distribution so that they can get all the money back directly to them, so you would have to ask them how they are doing with digital sales. Maybe one day we will put the rest of the releases up to download on bandcamp.” The label has a rep for great sixties inspired artwork. Salem considers packaging to be very important. “We were very much inspired by Marina Records and Factory, although we tend to release stuff more like early Creation Records and Sarah using a wrap around folded cover for most of our recent releases, just to keep postage costs down. We found that we were selling stuff so cheap it often doesn’t even cover the cost of postage, so we are doing this for purely practical reasons so we can afford to send out more stuff without charging ridiculously high prices. We also love giving extra stuff away so a customer never goes away feeling cheated. Maybe we will develop the reputation of being the world’s most generous label,” he smiled.
Salem has a tough time singling out any of his labels releases for particular praise. “We don’t release anything that we don’t absolutely love so I’m quite proud of all our releases.” He notes that the TVP tribute series has gotten particular attention. “The TVP tribute series has become an empire on its own as it grew from a single planned tribute CD to a comprehensive 10 volumes with bonus discs and detours to cover the work of Edward Ball and possibly others like Joe Foster. When we first started working on the TVP tribute, it was very strange how word got around as fan websites started mentioning it and we started getting e-mails from musicians all around the globe (Japan, Germany, Sweden, UK, USA and others) asking if they could contribute. I was in a state of complete disbelief when I got an e-mail from Nikki Sudden saying that he would like to contribute a song for the tribute, being that I was a huge Swell Maps/Jacobites/Nikki Sudden fan. It got even better when he told me that his brother Epic played drums on the track which had been recorded years earlier for the Texas sessions, before Epic passed away. I had never heard of this recording which was never finished at the time but he offered to complete the recording and let us use it for our tribute. We were so honored in a state of shock for days.” Sudden even agreed to write the liner notes for the first volume and often mentioned the label and the tribute on his daily blog.
“Also what has been very exciting for me was trying to track down bands and musicians who I was very fond of, and the joy it brought us when they agreed to be involved, some of them even coming out of musical retirement to record for us.” He cites the examples of Colin Swan from The Direct Hits, having him join up with his son for a great cover of “Silly Girl” as well as Ulric Kennedy from The Mixers, The Void and The Catalysts. “This was very special as I had been fans of these bands and to have them help us out meant a lot. A lot of the bands had known Dan Treacy for years and to hear their stories and some like Olaf from The Groovy Cellar even sent me all these rare photos of the band. There have been so many special connections and involvements that I could easily write a book about how we tracked them down and why they were so special to have involved. From Lenny Helsing of The Thanes, who had played drums with the TVP’s to the Silly Pillows TVP spoof and having Alan McGee agree to let us use his TVP cover, remembering that Alan’s first band The Laughing Apple were once on Dan’s record label. Getting Jo Bartlett from Go! Service and Bluetrain to record a cover and write the liner notes for the third volume was also something very special as Jo and Danny had known Dan for years and toured with the TVP’s more interesting stories. Phil Wilson (The June Brides), Jim Shepherd (The Jasmine Minks), Vince Keenan (One Thousand Violins), Todd Shuster (The Impossible Years), Alistair from A Riot of Colour, The BMX Bandits, The Bartlebees, The NoMen, The Yellow Melodies, The Legend!, Jeremy Gluck (Barracudas), The Paisley Shirts (who helped get it all started) and so many more all with stories and I can go on for hours.”
Coordinating a multi band project can be tough going, but the end result is worth it. “Well, I wouldn’t say they are hard, as I have thoroughly enjoyed doing them, and it brings with it many rich rewards, but I will admit they take a significant amount of time to put together, especially when you only have a limited amount of time to start with. I have stayed up many late nights trying to complete them. Also I tend to try and jam as many songs as possible as I want to include all the submissions we receive, so the last TVP tribute featured no less than 46 bands.” You can imagine how many e-mails went back and forth to get it completed. “It always takes longer than I expected so my sincere apologies to all the bands who had to wait to finally see the release. We do really love doing the compilations and also it’s a great way for lesser known bands to get their music out there, especially as we usually send out hundreds of copies to the bands, radio stations, magazines, blogs etc. We hope in the future to get more of these songs onto Youtube also so more people can hear them so if you know anyone who likes making amazing videos and likes doing it for free, please get in touch with us,” he said.
On the non compilation album front, the label has released plenty of great discs. “We have been privileged to work with some amazing musicians from local bands Skytone and The Social Icons along with several bands from further away like Armstrong and Spain’s pop legends The Yellow Melodies as well as Dot Dash, who are currently getting rave reviews and are on a roll releasing a new album every year for the past three years.” Other artists on the label include Roy Moller, who BBC6 Music’s Marc Riley dubbed Scotland’s best-kept secret. “We are also currently working on a tribute to The Sound and Adrian Borland which we are very excited about and it coincides with European documentary that is being produced on the band. We have a Times / Edward Ball tribute also in the works (with tracks from San Diego bands, True Stories and The Answers) and several other things keeping us pretty busy,” Salem said.
According to him finding artists has been a natural thing.”I think they have chosen us as much as we have chosen them,” he remarked. “Even when we try to get bands to go on to a real label that could help out their career, they seem to want to stay with us, so maybe we are doing something right.” He points out that the local bands have been friends of his for years even before the label started. “We just started the label as a bit of a cooperative effort with everyone helping out and we just wanted to get their music heard by like-minded people around the globe. Sometimes you discover something and you just have to be involved in helping spread the word. That’s what happened with Armstrong as they reminded me of Aztec Camera who I really loved. Their music was truly beautiful so it fit the label perfectly. Also with Dot Dash, they were the perfect blend of all the great music styles I loved, with a healthy mod and post punk influence and songs and melodies to die for. If they had money behind them, they would be on the cover of every reputable music magazine and website.”
With the tributes, Salem wanted to bring more attention to bands that are/were strangely overlooked but were extremely talented or influential “and hope to get them a few new fans.” Upcoming projects for the label include the 4th volume of the TVP tribute series. “It’s turning out to be quite the collection of artists from around the globe,” Salem enthused. “It includes several Flying Nun alumni, like Robert Scott from The Bats, who also contributed to The Sound tribute – he has great taste that man – and The Puddle. They also recorded for Flying Nun and now run the fabulous Fishrider Records. It also will include Paul Bonin, who once played in another of my favourite Mod Pop outfits from the 80Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s The Jetset. A seven year world-wide search for Dreamworld recording artists, The Impossible Years, has located Todd Shuster and a TVP cover was completed. Schuman The Human will serve up a hauntingly classic version of “Look Back In Anger” and even includes the fine talents of one of my favorite drummers and Creation Records staple, Dave Morgan (The Loft, The Weather Prophets, The Rockingbirds, etc. ). Bright Lights Big Zombie’s beautiful take on “She’s My Yoko”and a submission by Japan’s The Penelope’s will guarantee your satisfaction” he said.
Other forthcoming releases include a new EP by The Yellow Melodies. “They’ll be doing a whole slew of covers, this time of songs by another one of our favourite bands, The BMX Bandits.” Add in another album by Roy Moller as well as possibly two more albums by Armstrong, one of new music and another of outtakes and rare tracks, plus a new album by Skytone, and it’s going to be a good year for music fans.