Published Mar 01, 2006Kelp has been flying under the radar for 12 years, but there have been odd moments where it's made a strong blip. The brainchild of Jon Bartlett (of Rhume, Greenfield Main and other incarnations), Kelp has steadily put out releases that reflect not only Bartlett and his friends' personal taste, but represent the music scene of Ottawa, which is healthily vital.
Kelp is Bartlett's baby, but band members and friends help out. "I run' the label with Rolf Klausener, who's in the Acorn, and Joni Sadler joined us this year to help with marketing and promotion," he says. "It's a pretty loose affair, and it's not our day job, but we do what we can, when we can." Befitting a smaller city like Ottawa, Kelp is a barebones operation that thrives on dedication to putting out music that gets them excited. As Bartlett noted in an earlier interview, "I'm always gonna do it, whether I have no money or a lot of money. It would be great to get paid, but the reality is it's great to break even make the money back and put something else out."
Hottawa or Nottawa?
While Ottawa bands make up a vast part of Kelp's current roster, there's also a dedication to bands that, regardless of geography, pique their interest. The name harks back to Bartlett's roots in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where the label got its start. "I thought it was a good geographical marker; the name was meant to represent the East coast," he says. Expanding on the scope of Kelp, Bartlett notes, "The label started in New Brunswick and still has some loose connections to Proffessor Undressor out there. We also boast Toronto's finest band, Detective Kalita. But most of the bands are from Ottawa, because that's where we're based, and I think it's important to get Ottawa music out there because most of the bands are pretty insular and don't play out of town that often."
The inherent downsides of being based in Ottawa are never far from people's lips, but Bartlett doesn't see it as that big a deal. "Ottawa's a smaller town, for sure, and thus we have a smaller arts scene. I am happy to live here and very happy to have Kelp here. I don't really think it matters where you're from now in the internet/MP3 blog/MySpace era, with the exception of maybe Montreal, where you just need to have Wolf in your name and a beard. The decent bands that are out touring non-stop and that know how to promote themselves online seem to be doing exceptionally well, and though being from a major centre helps, even bands from smallish Canadian cities and towns have made a good go at it."
Making it Personal
Since Kelp is the blood, sweat and tears of two to three people, deciding to sign bands can be a muted affair. The influence of friends is actually the main selling point, as Bartlett explains: "John Higney of the Flaps plays in Greenfield Main with me, and I was blown away by their incredible live shows. Rolf Klausener is also in Greenfield Main, and his other band Recoilers were one of the first Ottawa bands I ever saw, and are still one of the best live acts in town."
When it comes to brass tacks, Kelp, like any great label, is all about the music. "Certainly our roster of artists aren't big sellers' but people always tell me how surprised they are when they leaf through the MP3s on the web site. They can't believe they haven't heard of these bands." Bartlett admits that marketing may not be Kelp's strongest point. "I have never made a huge effort on that front but I'm trying to be better this year. We have always just focused on making great music with friends, and playing live."
Looking forward, Bartlett enthuses: "Detective Kalita has an amazing new album called The Michael Parks due out in early April, and there will be other new releases from Camp Radio, the Acorn, Rhume and Andrew Vincent, at a minimum. Should be a busy one!" Really, would Kelp have it any other way?