Published Feb 01, 2005Headquarters: Montreal, QC
Date of Birth: Summer, 1996
Best Seller: Unicorns Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?
Upcoming Releases: Et Sans (rock, psychedelic, prog with a krautrock twang), Michel F. Cote (ambient improv), Francisco Lopez (environmental sound artist)
With artists ranging in style from noise art to post-punk to improv, Montreal's Alien8 Recordings has no other mandate than to put out albums by artists that the label's co-founders, Sean O'Hara and Gary Worsley, like. O'Hara helps unravel the mysteries of managing such a diverse label.
A Fax to Merzbow
It was during the summer of 1996 that O'Hara and Worsley, both fans of the Japanese experimental noise scene, decided to become more involved in music they were into. With a notion to "put out a few records and see how it goes," according to O'Hara, and a fax request to Merzbow, an already established Japanese noise artist, the label tadpoled into the world with modest intentions. In 1999, the pair helped the now-inactive Fancy label find its feet by undertaking distribution and some marketing, and in 2001 Alien8 spawned a sub-label for electronic releases, Sustractif. Although they receive a lot of demos, most partnerships are initiated by them. They've received two grants for specific projects, and the rest is motorised by their pockets and brow sweat. Worsley and O'Hara now have eight years and 60 releases under their belts and are distributed in about a dozen countries.
Pragmatism Wins the Day
When asked in an email which dream artists they'd like to work with, O'Hara replied: "There are plenty of artists that we love that we'd be into working with, but specifics? Maybe Jay-Z." They're pragmatic about their limits without sacrificing the quest for intriguing music, regardless of genre. "I think [our identity] is just the sum total of what we've done, who we've worked with and what we continue to do," he says. "If people are interested in Alien8, it's because they feel that there's been some interesting quality or that we've taken some interesting steps with what we've done." For example, they've eschewed the standard jewel cases in favour of gatefolds; they also hand-package many releases. "We've never explicitly gone out of our way to get people interested in the label as such, we're just trying to get people interested in a particular release or a group of releases." Although the Alien8 website lists many distributors, they now use only Southern in the United States (their biggest market), and Scratch, Sonic Unyon and FAB in Canada to cover all their bases.
If It Sounds Right Do It
The pair had been friends for about three years before starting the label, and O'Hara says honesty is the best policy to keep the friendship and the business functioning. "My approach is to try to not make it about personality and make it very clear about what the issue is," says O'Hara. "Each of us has veto power on decision making. So if it's about working with a different artist, or having a certain approach to marketing, we don't really do anything that we don't both agree with. It prevents us from getting into really heated debates."
Modest and forthright about his label, O'Hara says having their ears to the ground remains the engine of their business. Although the business supports both partners, financial incentives are not a primary concern. "Ultimately I think your greatest tool would be your ear. I know that sounds cliché, but listening to music and being aware of what's going on, that's what differentiates labels that do well and labels that don't. That, and friends that help with stuffing CDs. Although you shouldn't really think of your friends as tools."