Six Shooter Records on how to make it as an indie label
Starting with a simple motto — "Life's too short to listen to shitty music" — owner Shauna de Cartier has built Six Shooter Records into one of Toronto's most high-profile independent labels, organizing festivals, producing albums, and managing the careers of some of the most interesting artists working across Canada and abroad. They may have a name torn straight from the dialogue of a spaghetti western as well as some of the best alt-country artists in Canada, but whatever you do, don't pigeonhole them as a Toronto boutique roots label. They hate that.
Six Shooter Records began as "I think a typical indie label story," says de Cartier. When Luke Doucet — at the time, frontman of psych-rockabilly band Veal — was looking to release a solo album, "I couldn't find anyone to release the record, so I did it myself." That record,Aloha Manitoba, launched a very successful solo career for Doucet as well as a longstanding relationship with Six Shooter that continues to this day.
De Cartier, along with her business partner Helen Britton, shared a tiny office at Queen and Broadview for a number of years before moving the label downtown. Currently managing their clients with a staff of four full-time employees and a few rotating part-timers and interns, de Cartier and Britton now work out of a renovated factory near Queen and Spadina. It's a gorgeous space with old, varnished wood floors and chandeliers positively bristling with lightbulbs, exactly the sort of environment you'd expect an indie label to occupy.
Though it's easy to see how Six Shooter could be pigeonholed as a roots label, or a country label, or an alternative label, the truth is that their artists bring much more diverse and subtle blends of musical styles and expertise. Add to that the fact that their roster is in constant flux, and trying to describe the "signature" of the label becomes much more difficult. When looking for musicians, De Cartier is insistent that, besides strong songwriting and a dedication to make a real career out of their music, she has to see any prospective signing play live. As she puts it, "a lot of things can be faked on records, but you can't fake it live."
Husband-and-wife duo Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland released their second record earlier this year as Whitehorse, The Fate Of The World Depends On This Kiss. With a unique formula for performance — shows are just the two of them, looping melodies, guitars and percussion live on stage — and a captivating sound, they're definite must-sees. Whitehorse are playing Massey Hall on March 2nd, 2013.
The former Rheostatics frontman blends rock with many unexpected other genres of music to come up with his unique sound. He's released all of his solo albums with Six Shooter, including a subscription series that has been described as "tragically ambitious." The Rheostatics were actually booked to reunite for a three-night stint at the Horseshoe until very recently, when they had to cancel the shows. Those shows were definitely on our radar as one of the must-see events of the winter, and we're looking forward to hearing more from Tielli when he's fully recovered.
Her newest album, The Beautiful Wild, is a wonderfully subtle and enigmatic record. Her unmistakable, rich voice shines especially on "I've Got Your Fire" and "The Fighter," a career-making one-two punch of songs.
Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me is the 10th album by Juno nominee Michel, but just his first release with Six Shooter. It's filled with gorgeous percussion and subtle rhythmic touches, coming from the traditional music of Belize. He and his backing band, The Benque Players, come on December 8th to the Winter Garden Theatre.
Spectators, her new album, brings Curran's incredibly deft songwriting together with a fuller sound, thanks to Toronto producer John Critchley. The record features some high-profile Canadian backing musicians, like Martin Tielli, Bryden Baird and Elliott Brood's Stephen Pitkin guesting.
Six Shooter has really begun to branch out, getting into the business of festivals. When asked about these new endeavors, Cartier responds, "I take a lot of risks. "Most of them don't pay off," she deadpans, but the joke doesn't hold up in light of her recent success. Last year, Six Shooter organized a festival called The Interstellar Rodeo in Edmonton over three days at the end of July. With Whitehorse and Jenn Grant on the bill, the label was well represented alongside other musicians like Blue Rodeo, Alejandro Escovedo and Richard Buckner. It was a glowing success. The "Edmonton media really came on board to support us; it was fantastic," says de Cartier.
The Sleepwalk Guitar Festival has just wrapped up its second year at The Great Hall in Toronto. Luke Doucet is easily one of the best guitarists in Canada, so a natural curator for such a gathering. His bill of performers brought out some of the most talent guitarists around — people like legendary Elvis sideman James Burton, as well as Cindy Cashdollar, Albert Lee and Wilco's Nels Cline.
ON THE FUTURE OF THE RECORD INDUSTRY
When asked whether or not the resurgence of vinyl in is a sign of a turnaround in the sliding sales that all labels have faced in recent years, de Cartier isn't optimistic. "Vinyl is a T-shirt," she says. "Vinyl is not going to save the music industry." She speaks of how expensive it is to make, the difficulty artists have in shipping and storing it, and how despite plenty of interest — not just from record collectors and music fans; casual listeners or those who don't have record players, who buy records for the art — it just never makes up ground against the erosion of sales brought on by digital downloads and streaming.
It's plain that Six Shooter Records is here to stay, though. With a group of artists keen to experiment and push their limits, a constantly growing, dedicated fan base and an already-great history in the music business in Canada, Six Shooter is still making waves, and Shauna De Cartier seems happy and unfazed by sometime cold realities that come with working in the music business.
How is that? As a friend once told her, Shauna says with a smile, "we're not saving lives here. It's just rock and roll."
You can follow Six Shooter Records on Twitter @sixshooterr and on Instagram @ sixshooterrecords. Make sure to like them on Facebook; as well, Six Shooter's just released their first app, actually; check it out to learn What Kind Of Awesome Are You.
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