Interview by Louis Rastelli
From Vol. 3 No. 1, 2004
We interviewed Alex Megelas of Grenadine Records from Montreal by email.
FP: How/why did you decide to start a label?
Grenadine: We started Grenadine in 1999 with the CD compilation Syrup & Gasoline vol 1. However, before that, we had been running a label called Bittersweet Records for two years through which we put out two 7-inches (Tricky Woo’s Ten Tons 7-inch and another by a band from Quebec’s Eastern Townships called LowBrow) but had to switch names when we found out there was already a Bittersweet Records out of NYC.
Bittersweet started with my label partner Eric and I doing in-store consignment throughout Sherbrooke for other labels (Stomp, Teenage USA, Rightwide, Poster Girl) and Exclaim magazine. Both of us were students at Bishop’s University, which is right outside Sherbrooke, and we were very involved at the campus radio station CJMQ and in organising shows with touring bands. That’s where we started to want to do a label.
Grenadine started with the S&G vol 1 release for which we got a grant from a Quebec funding body called Projet Jeunes Volontaires. Then, in 2000, we got capital investment from two provincial entrepreneurial funding bodies (SAJE/CDEC and La Fondation du Maire de Montreal). We also won an entrepreneurial competition for our business plan. We used all of that $$$ along with personal savings to put more energy into the label.
FP: How many people work for your label ? Have you managed to quit your day job?
Grenadine: Eric and I still run the label although we both have day jobs. Eric works in marketing and I work at Head & Hands, a Montreal-based youth rights organisation as fundraising and public relations coordinator. We also hire a graphic artist to help with ads and stuff like that when necessary.
FP: Have you given yourself a mandate?
Grenadine: Not especially… At first we went with the tag line Timeless Pop Attitude, which for us loosely meant music that was somewhat influenced by 60s/ 70s European pop, but that’s since fallen apart and we now just focus on “stuff we like.”
FP: Do you get flooded with demos in the form of cassettes, CD-Rs and links to MP3s?
Grenadine: When we get packages in the mail, we try and save them up and answer them in bunches– but it never ends up being more frequently than every six months or so… We don’t answer bands who mass-email with links to MP3s but when people write in before sending in a demo, we always email back to give them an idea of where we’re at, so that they don’t waste the postage. I’d say that the single, best way to get noticed is to tour like mad since it allows you to rehearse your songs, get better live and develop a fan base. Plus, it shows that you’re active and willing to work hard.
FP: Have you ever signed an amazing band just based on a demo playing in the office that everyone got excited about?
Grenadine: Yes– once, for Melon Galia’s Les embarras du quotidien album. It’s a beautifully crafted pop gem and we loved it right away. Similarly, we released Shy Child’s Please Consider Our Time after Eric picked up their limited release CDR version in NYC.
FP: Have you ever been stuck with tons of CDs by a band who broke up and/or never managed to tour?
Grenadine: Oh yeah… It hasn’t happened too often but we have two records in particular that currently make up more than half of our total stock. One band broke up and the other one is going through a slow period. In both cases, there was a lot of interest when we first put out the records and initial orders were large enough that we had to repress to meet the demand. However, when both bands stopped being active, we got hit by a lot of returns.
FP: Is it important for you to sign bands that are able and willing to tour and/or promote themselves?
Grenadine: For us yes. especially since the label is small. But it’s also really hard to gauge someone’s motivation when you first talk to them about this, since they’re usually excited and motivated. It’s just hard to judge whether or not they’ll be in it for the long haul– especially when they haven’t built up a record of solid touring.
FP: Does it help the label and the bands on it when one band becomes a big seller (i.e., opening more distribution possibilities, raise label profile, etc.)?
Grenadine: Totally– it can be a huge help.
FP: Have you ever benefited from an artist jumping to a major label and/or otherwise having a hit album elsewhere, raising the profile of your label’s back catalogue?
Grenadine: Yes. Some of our best-selling records are by bands who’ve moved on to other labels. It hurt at first and we felt a bit betrayed, but then we realized that we were still benefiting from the band’s success through back catalogue sales so now we’re ok with it.
FP: Have any of your bands tried to bring their back catalogue to another label?
Grenadine: We’ve had to go into contractual re-negotiations before regarding back catalogue and license terms and it’s not a pleasant experience by any means. It can be worth it to hold onto your rights, but it can also be an absolutely draining and costly experience. So you should think hard when that happens.
FP: How would you describe the importance of distribution to the success of a label?
Grenadine: Very important– especially when you’re starting out. A lot of independent stores will deal with specific distributors and not others, so it’s very important when trying to get as wide a distribution coverage as possible for when your bands first go on tour.
FP: Have you ever gotten screwed for a lot of money by a distributor?
Grenadine: Fortunately, no.
FP: Have any of your distributors tried to make you stop dealing with other distributors?
Grenadine: Fortunately, no.
FP: Are most distributors good at letting you know where they sell your releases in?
Grenadine: It depends on the kind of relationship we have with them. The distributors we sell the most through are usually the ones who are the most likely to give us info, pay promptly, help with retail promotions, etc.
FP: How important is college radio in playing/ promoting your artists?
Grenadine: Very important since they’re the ones who are usually a lot more likely to give attention to new, relatively unknown artists and help build them up. Campus/ Community DJs deserve all the props.
FP: Do you put out any vinyl (45 or LP)?
Grenadine: Not any more. We’ve done 45s and LPs and they don’t sell as much as CDs, mainly because for the music we put out, retailers won’t stock it as much. Also, people aren’t buying it as much on the road.
FP: Do you have any intent of selling songs on a “legitimate” file sharing network?
Grenadine: Uh.. No. I’m a Luddite.
FP: Has file-sharing hurt sales of your bands?
Grenadine: It’s hard to say, although I’d make the argument that at the level we’re at, it helps more than it hurts in terms of promotions.
FP: Do you have any issues with your bands posting free music on the internet?
Grenadine: Not really, as long as it’s reasonable. We’ve had issues with a whole album being available for download, but a few songs is OK.
FP: Do you think that putting out DVDs, video extras on CDs or other bonus things can help keep people buying music instead of downloading it?
Grenadine: In the long run, I have a feeling that stuff like this is what’s going to get buyers going to stores again since it’ll create packages that are more than just a compilation of songs. No plans on this end for it though.
FP: Is there anything new coming out on your label that you are excited about?
Grenadine: We’re working on Starvin Hungry’s debut record. They’re a rock’n’roll band whose only objective is to move their audience inside and out by singing and playing intense music. Their debut album Damnesty (GREN014) (produced by Jonathan Cummins of Bionic-fame) is a record of ferocious rock’n’ roll energy (Stooges, The Gun Club, Motorhead, Velvet Underground and John Lee Hooker) and tight-nailed-to-the-floor burning fire. You can find out more at www.grenadinerecords.com. God bless.