Union Records Interview by Louis Rastelli

Union Records
Interview with label head and Planet Smasher Matt Collyer
by Louis Rastelli
From Vol. 3 No. 1

One summer evening in 2004, I met up with Matt Collyer at Miami Bar in Montreal, founder of Stomp Records (now Union Records Group) and founding member of The Planet Smashers. He was between stops on the band’s big 10th anniversary tour, and we spoke about how his label got started, how it’s managed to make it through some rough spots, and how it’s trying to meet the recent challenges to the industry.

FP: When did you start the label?
Matt Collyer: It was in the summer of ‘95, when the first compilation came out, the All Skanadian Club Vol. 1. The label started mostly out of the Smashers not having enough money to do our own record, and doing the comp instead. Dom Castelli named the label Stomp Records, mainly because of the song, Skinhead Moonstomp.
FP: How long did it take to get that comp together?
MC: It took quite awhile. The original idea Jordan Swift from the Kingpins and I had was to do a 7-inch split single, featuring bands from here and Toronto. Email was just starting back then, and I emailed old high-school buddies from Winnipeg, Vancouver and elsewhere, saying “Hey, is there a ska band in your town? If there is, go to their show and get them to email me!”
So we ended up finding 16 Canadian ska bands, just through friends of friends and stuff. And each band paid $200 to pre-buy records. We had told them all, “This is what it’s going to cost, we need this much, you get this many records from the first thousand,” and we went from there.
Later, the Planet Smashers and the Kingpins were getting ready to release records, and we both decided to put it on Stomp as well, just to make it look like there was a record label. There wasn’t.
FP: It’s probably not much different today, looking up manufacturers in the yellow pages and stuff…
MC: Exactly, that’s how you do it. There was a guy advertising tapes in the Mirror, and that’s who we used for our first demo cassette. We kind of got overcharged on that first CD, but we didn’t really know what we were doing. For the album, we didn’t really know how to do proper colour separations. We just did two colours, red and black for that first cover, but it still took forever. The graphic artist, the computer just chugging, it was brutal.
FP: How long did it take from when you started contacting bands and stuff?
MC: It was about a year.
FP: I guess the bands didn’t send you burned CDs back then, since there were no CD burners or anything.
MC: No, it was mainly DATs. Some stuff on the comp was taken off of vinyl. We went to this guy who had a really good record player, he ended up doing all the Gruesomes reissues too, and that Time Machine comp [compilation of Canadian retro-60s punk from the 80s, also on Union.]
FP: So once you had the stock, the first CD, going from there to becoming a label, I assume you had some instant distribution just from all the different bands on the comp.
MC: We did, and that also set up an instant touring family of friends, because it was a national comp, and all of a sudden you had all these people that you could just phone up and say “hey, could we open for you guys?” The Planet Smashers used that compilation to the fullest, from distribution to meeting new people and getting out there. You see that happening today too, but at the time, it wasn’t planned, I just kind of fell into it, it was like “Hey, the comp’s doing well, we know some people out there now, we can do a tour!” Cargo was distributing it back then. I mean, they ordered a bunch, never paid us. I think they paid us once, but they screwed us for, I think it was $2000.00, which for us was like, “Oh man, that’s the world man!” You know? And one of the last people working there, Mike Magee, he saw that this was going to like wipe us out [when Cargo was about to go under] so he hooked us up with a bunch of old Trojan and King Apparatus CDs and other ska records, out the back door type of thing. He was like, “Come by, we can’t return this stuff anyway, because it’s imported” or whatever. So we were able to sell those at shows and recoup the two thousand bucks. Then when he lost his job he came and worked for Stomp!
FP: It’s too bad there isn’t really anything like Cargo in town anymore.
MC: Well there’s FAB, there’s LOCAL distribution. But it’s hard, these days anyone can download a record and people don’t care about sound quality. I almost wish vinyl would get one more resurgence in popularity.
FP: It kind of has, in the sense of all these reissue labels out there now, like Soul Jazz with all those Studio One comps.
MC: Well, those old records sound better especially since that music was supposed to be played on vinyl. And there’s still enough kids who realize that buying a record has an effect. It’s not so much the case with major labels. People who buy stuff on majors aren’t thinking of supporting artists, they just want the CD. But the kids that actually buy a record at the show, they might even be like, “Well, I downloaded it months ago, but I’m buying it now, it helps the band and it’s fun to have.”
We put the new Planet Smashers record out on vinyl, and people like it. It’s funny, we played a show in Japan and somebody came up and asked, “Is this a picture book?”
We originally thought of doing the All-Skanadian Club on vinyl, but then we thought, “Well no, this is the new medium”–although I didn’t even have a CD player at the time. I remember thinking we might get lambasted, because the ska scene in town was very English back then, it took a few years before it reached the francophone scene. It spilt over around late 96, mainly when this one DJ at CISM just started playing and playing ska and the first comp. By the time the second volume came out, the shows were packed. That’s why I support CISM any chance I get, I think it’s an awesome radio station, more in touch with what’s going on in the music community than anyone else.
FP: It’s a real traditional kind of college station, they really push local music. About distribution, though, was it a headache early on?
MC: It actually wasn’t very difficult with Cargo: we gave them records, and everyone told us we wouldn’t get paid, which proved to be true. Also, the first guy I ever played with in a band went on to start Sonic Unyon [distribution and record label], and through sheer coincidence, right around when Cargo was going under, I heard about his company and I went straight to him. They did really well for us. By then we’d had the Planet Smashers full-length out, the All-Skanadian comps, the Kingpins full-length was just coming out in 96– that record did really well.
The Smashers record came out in September 95, it took us awhile though to go through those first 1000 records, even after giving them all to bands for free. Or trading them– that was another thing that was big at the time, trading records with bands [meaning bands trading CDs with other bands and sell them all at their respective shows.]

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