Published May 22, 2015It all started in a mall. Joel Carriere was working at Sam the Record Man in St. Catharines, ON. Still in his early 20s, the local show promoter was finishing a short stint at Polygram Records and was at a crossroads. "Anyone that came in that was into music, I'd talk shop with them," he recalls, including one who turned out to be a musician. "You're going to love my band," he told Carriere. Their friendship quickly blossomed and several months later, Carriere finally saw his band, Helicon Blue, play.
That guy was Dallas Green, who would go on to form Alexisonfire and City & Colour. Carriere got involved, first helping Green with Helicon Blue, then becoming Alexisonfire's manager and finally, forming Dine Alone Records in 2005 to release Green's debut as City & Colour.
As Dine Alone celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, both Green and Carriere are firmly entrenched in the Canadian music industry, giving Carriere, now 38 and a father, a chance to reflect on the label's tremendous success. "Some other labels are really great at branding their labels and branding a lifestyle," he says. "We're more about the bands and letting that shine."
Dine Alone officially launched in 2005, but its birth was years in the making. In the mid-'90s, Carriere's friend ran St. Catharines label Stumble Records, whose flagship act, the Sick Boys, started getting attention outside the city and soon the group were playing Warped Tour. "This band, I went to high school with some of the guys, are touring and playing with the Mighty Bosstones," he says. "That inspired me to get involved."
In his late teens and early 20s, Carriere worked pretty much every job in the biz. "It helped me find my path." He also learned the aspects of the industry he hated. Working at Polygram, "I'd sit in these huge board meetings with important, powerful people and they'd never really listen to my ideas. I was very unheard and it kind of bothered me, which led into me wanting to start my own thing."
He launched the culture website Bedlam Society in the early 2000s, then after the success of Alexisonfire, Bedlam Management. "As a manager, I always wanted to control everything," he says. "But I'm not too confrontational. I prefer all the mistakes to be my own." Carriere also wanted a clean slate for Green's new acoustic side-project. "I wanted other people to find out about it that didn't like screaming music." So Dine Alone Records — named after a Quicksand song — was born.
Success came quickly. Hot on the heels of City and Colour's Sometimes came Marriage by Attack in Black and Street Gospels by Bedouin Soundclash, who were also managed through Bedlam. Many of the label's early signings were bands and musicians Carriere had met through working odd jobs in the industry. "That snowballed from just being a good dude, promoting shows. Don't rip off bands, pay them well, have a couple beers, be nice."
He moved to Toronto in 2006, bringing Dine Alone with him to an office across the street from the Horseshoe Tavern. "I'm pretty ambitious by nature and very competitive," he says. "When you turn into the guy in a small market that people want to meet, you have to leave to a bigger market to further yourself."
Today, the business is run out of a non-descript Victorian house in the city's Cabbagetown neighbourhood that belies its busy interior. Two dozen employees weave through its halls, which are decorated with some of the 14 gold and ten platinum albums the label's roster have earned. Eleven Juno Awards sit on a table outside Carriere's second floor office.
Canadian acts like the Sheepdogs and Arkells (who performed a Motown covers set at Carriere's wedding), continue to play an important role at Dine Alone. But even early on, Carriere was signing artists like the Lumineers (to date the label's biggest seller), UK metalcore crew Johnny Truant and Jim Ward's Sleepercar and licensing regional deals for bands like folk duo Shovels & Rope and shock-rock icon Marilyn Manson, giving Dine Alone an eclectic international flavour. "It was kind of strategic," says Carriere. "When we started signing international artists, the world starts looking at you."
It also opens up paths for bands to avoid becoming "Canadian big." "If you can get a career anywhere it's amazing," Carriere says. "[But] you can get caught up being big in Canada. If you're really ambitious and aren't satisfied with having that, you've got to focus on the States." Carriere was particularly inspired reading about Barenaked Ladies' relentless touring in their efforts to break the U.S. in the mid-'90s. "Whether you like their music or not, that's punk rock as shit."
With a decade in the rearview, Dine Alone is celebrating its past with a series of posters and limited vinyl represses including the first two Attack in Black EPs and, in a nod to its origins, a collection of recordings from Helicon Blue. There's also the Red Bull Tour Bus, which brings a number of Dine Alone artists back to their hometowns for a series of free cross-Canada concerts. But in keeping with his ambitious nature, Carriere also has plans for the future. He recently bought a building further east that can accommodate an event space or record store. "It's just going to be our thing and we're going to have fun. I don't know if everybody is having as much fun as we are."