GREAT WHITE NORTH RECORDS
TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE
This interview with Rémi Côté from the Canadian extreme metal label Great White North Records was done through e-mail in June 2002 by Josh Ngolls.
Based out of the metal bastion of Quebec, Great White North Records started out and was built as a 2-man operation by Rémi and Stephane. They've since released great CD's by bands such as Asgard, Merlin and Diachronia, and have opened offices in the old world to continue their growth, all the while helping spread metal based out of several countries. I decided to stay away from the historical aspect as much as possible when I sent these questions to Remi, the head man of GWN, instead trying to delve a little deeper into the realms of underground metal labels and their creators.
Did you model GWN after another label or did you start from scratch?
Good question! My favorite label (and this has been for a while now(, is definitely RELAPSE. They are, in my opinion, the only big label putting out different stuff, the only label not following any trends. They are definitely a big influence as far as "taking your own road" is concerned... know what I mean? They are taking chances with styles that aren't extremely popular, like noize or Grindcore or doom etc.They have bigger releases from NILE and DYING FETUS or SKINLESS to back 'em up but still, when you release a CD from AGORAPHOBIC NOSEBLEED you really cannot expect huge sales ya know? I don't say that in a negative way; not at all. Relapse releases what they like and that is how I want to run GREAT WHITE NORTH and GRIND IT! Records. RELAPSE fuckin' rule man! Plus, I do have some experience with past projects as NEW WORLD SYMPHONY Records ('92-94) and SOUNDSCAPE Music (98-99), and to some extent, that helped me out shaping GWN in what it is today. Expect bigger things from us: we are slowly going where we want. Things are gonna get, huh... Extreme!
Would you be doing as well if you were in another part of Canada besides Quebec?
Why not? We are a Canadian label; hence our name. So I guess we would do as well if we were from Ontario or BC or whatever! I know for a fact that Quebec is probably the hot bed for Metal in Canada right now, but you know, the scene is so trendy here that it's hard to make decent sales here... face it, 90% of the metal fans buy what they have available in bigger stores like HMV, for example. Bands on Nuclear Blast or Century Media must be doing very well in Canada since they have a huge promotion going on and the releases end up everywhere because of the label's names, too. That is big competition for us, even if we are from Quebec, that is why we are doing so much promotion in Quebec and more and more in the rest of Canada. Although GWN is self sufficient now, its still always a struggle 'cos even if we're playing the same game as the aforementioned labels, we are not in the same league and its more difficult. Hopefully hard work will eventually pay off. We are slowly getting some recognition thanks to people like you. But we've just released the OBLIVEON "Greatest Pits" CD in June and we've heard from our distributor that we are number 2 in sales for June with that release. So I keep my fingers crossed and yeah, I keep my day job as well!!!!
Do you see other labels as competition? If so, who are your biggest competitors in Quebec and elsewhere in the world?
Locally, everybody's a competitor. There is so much material available in stores around here, you have to put out some very special stuff to make an impact sales-wise. Even if we are doing everything we can promotion-wise, we are no competition for big, major indie labels. As far as Canadian underground labels go, no, we don't believe we have much competition, as we are not doing the same stuff if we compare ourselves to CDN or SKYSCRAPER, for example. Anyway, both labels are run by friends so I just hope the best for them. In Quebec we have GALY Records which is now a division of GWN and SKYSCRAPER... That one is run by Stef whose also the guy behind BCI International (a booker here).Plus to be honest, I don't really care if we have competitors or not; we do our own thing and that is all. It's not a popularity contest, anyway: i'm doing this for my love for extreme music. I'm almost 33 now and i've been involved in the scene in one way or another since the age of 13-14, so I just stick to it for pure love of the music.
You have alot of information about yourselves on the site, which isn't something you see alot of from labels. Do you think that this will turn bands on or off of GWN?
I might sound harsh but I really don't give a damn about that. See, we are proud, very proud, to say out loud that we don't owe anything to nobody. We are honest people, we pay our bills and we do our best to make our bands happy within our capabilities as far as the label bizz goes. Right now we are dealing with around 150 labels, mailorder and distributors worldwide and things run smooth as we respect our associates and our clients as much as our bands... again, we are honest and we'll keep on running our label that way, with honesty and respect. This said, we don't take any crap from nobody! We've been busting out balls for far too long. So if someone is turned off from what he read on our website, I have no problems with that, that is who we are. We are simple people and we hate the "rock star" attitude and the big headed idiots who think they are the A&Rs of the year because they put out 2-3 CDs a year. Everybody can do it. It's easier then ever. Anyway, the site will soon include a full blown section on the GWN staff, including our European divisions, street teamers etc... It's a fun thing to add. We do it to give more information to bands or potential customers; just our way to say "hey, we are metal fans just like you are! Have a blast with us banging your head!!!" We don't consider ourselves the Canadian CENTURY MEDIA or METAL BLADE or other big shots of the scene, simply because we are not. I still have to work to pay for my house and car and so forth. I've invested alot from my pocket and now that GWN is a legitimate business and self sufficient, my job is to make it work and grow. Not to run around playing big shot... I hate that attitude! We have a few people here acting like that because they have released 2 albums in 3 years... wow, big deal! We try to be different and say the things like they really are.
Do you have to be a musician to decide if a band is good or bad? What makes a band good to you and what makes one bad? What is one band that you think is underrated and one that you think is overrated?
Definitely not. What makes a good band for me? Easy, the band has to make it work on stage. The live situation is a big factor for me. Everybody can, pending budget of course, take 6 months to record a flawless record, ya know? See, METALLICA- ever had the chance to see them live? Lars Ulrich is probably the worst fuckin' drummer live... he's not tight! The guy's selling zillions of records but just can't play his stuff live.. How embarrassing! And man, they are the biggest selling "Metal" band (they used to be Metal at some point right?!) ever. They are probably not the most overrated band out there though; the RIDE THE LIGHTNING album is still amazing to my ears, ya know. It got bad from the Black album but... still, MEGADETH must be the most overrated band ever: They are bad... really bad... The most underrated band for me has to be either OBLIVEON or GORGUTS because of the musicians involved in those bands and for the originality of their music. Good question Josh! Hahahaha! I haven't had the chance to bitch about MEGADETH for a while. I always take the opportunity. I mean shit, can anyone be any worst then Dave Mustaine signing?!?!?!??! I really don't think so. And that guy was trained by a reputed teacher to sing! Unbelievable!
[I actually think that Megadeth's "Rust In Peace" is musically superior to anything that Metallica could ever do, but concur that both bands lick donkey balls now.]
Has there ever been a band that you tried to sign but couldn't get? What happened?
I'm happy to say no, not yet! See, we know that bigger bands will knock on somebody else's door and its OK. Bands that we are targeting are usually smaller. For now, we hope we can help in developing a band. If after a while one of our bands get picked up by a bigger label, I'd be the happiest guy on earth. That is why we always sign up a band for one record at a time, in case they get a bigger offers you know? Might sound weird to you or your readers, but that is how we work!
Have you ever tried to convince a band that was already signed to come over to GWN?
No, never. We are dealing with alot of people and we don't want to have anyone pissed off at us for such reasons. If the band come to us, free of any deal and we think we could market it, we'll take a look at the opportunity of course.
Why do you have GWN and Grind it! ? What separates grind and death to you?
Ho, both are different in nature, but not musically. I mean, so far, we have 2 Black Metal releases on GRIND IT! so it really has nothing to do with the musical style. No, GRIND IT! actually works with bands that we are not marketing for GWN. GWN releases are being manufactured in Europe by our office in the Netherlands for the European market. Since our our Euro office signs bands too, they just cannot put out everything we do and have the same promotion for all of our releases as it would be excruciating money-wise and time consuming, ya know? It costs alot more money over there to put out an album.And also, since we are running a mailorder service, we are heavily into trades to make sure we are getting all the new releases out there at a reasonable price. So if GWN Europe market a said release from us, we just cannot offer it to our label friends in Europe and trade it as it would be cutting down GWN Europe's sales etc.. So we created our sublabel GRIND IT! for that particular reason: exporting to Europe via our trading partners' local bands and releases, and to give those bands a bit of exposure via most of Europe's mailorders etc. It is good for our bands like APHASIA and TRAILS OF ANGUISH since they don't have much exposure over there, but locally they have distribution, promotion and so forth. We still have certain distro deals for Grind it! releases in certain countries, though; it's not like we are trading 100% of our pressings. Some promotion is done as well. Our bands are happy so far,as they get some exposure and we pay them for every CD traded. It's good for everybody. As you can imagine, most of the Quebec bands now want us to press their CD's for the Euro, US and Japanese markets.I think it's a good idea to help out local bands.Yet again, we are open to work with bands from everywhere, as well!!!
If there was one person, alive or dead, that you could meet, who would it be and why?
Hummm, that is the type of question I like... As far as music goes, i'd say FRANK ZAPPA; just to ask him what the hell he was smoking during his career! Seriously, you probably saw the SHINDLER'S LIST movie. I'd say Oscar Shindler.The guy's saved 1100 men, women and children from Hitler's gas chambers. After seeing what was done to those people, he slowly changed his mind (he was a Nazi to start with) and bought the lives of 1100 prisoners to free them. I hate everything that has to do with that dark era. I have a hard time seeing right wing parties getting bigger in Europe right now, like in France with Le Pen etc. I despise racism and that sort of crap, so yeah, that man, Shindler: I have alot of admiration for him.
Do you ever run into language problems with your bands, as they might not speak English or French? Has that ever caused confusion?
Not really. We are dealing with people from POLAND, RUSSIA, HOLLAND etc... We never had any problems so far. I'm not 100% bilingual but I can keep a conversation anytime and it's basically the same with our bands. When I met Eric and Edwin (GWN Europe managers) in Amsterdam, I had a blast. It was funny: we were all speaking English even though it's our second language, and it was real cool.They were losing me big time when both brothers were speaking Dutch, though... ahhahah! So to make it shorter, we never really had any problems like that so far.
Do some of your bands that aren't from Quebec think that because you are there near the bands that are Quebecois, that the bands who live in your province get more attention/opportunities? Would you sign a band from another Canadian province?
First, yeah, we would definitely sign a band from another Canadian province. We are a Canadian label right?! We know from facts that sometimes it is much easier to work with foreign bands, trust me! Of course, it's also easier for local bands to work with us since they are close to us and since we are here and we know everybody here. We have excellent coverage from radio and magazines around here, so our local bands gets more exposure on the rebound etc. But it never really was a problem with our bands from abroad. Not yet anyway.
If there was one person, alive or dead, that you could beat to death, who would it be and why?
Sorry, but I have to make it a multiple answer... Hitler & Bin Laden for obvious reasons... that dick from CRYPTIC SOUL Prods in Italy who still owe me $3200 Canadian for the GORELUST album I released in the early '90's... my boss for being the biggest idiot on earth... Some magazine editors putting us on the side because we're French speaking Canadians (That is not a joke!!!!!!!!!) etc...
Have you ever decided not to sign a band based only on their lyrics or image?
Not yet. But we are adding a few clauses to our contract that might make things more difficult between us and some bands in the future. See, we don't want to be involved with anything that deals with racism, homophobia and so on... See, i'm white and I respect other cultures and races,and I love to travel the world to discover new ways of life, so racism is something we won't tolerate. I'm married, i'm heterosexual and love women and really, I couldn't care less about what other people are doing in their bedrooms.We don't want to have any problems with censorship locally, so we are not going to tolerate homophobic statements and again, I have nothing to say about people's sexuality and really, really don't give a damn about it! We will also never support anything concerning the holocaust, Nazis etc. We won't tolerate stupidities like that. Serious bands don't fuckin' lose their time with this stuff anyway. Beside that, I have no problems with whatever the band's wants to spread as far as messages or images goes. I'm an atheist type-guy. I got married for the legal aspect of things, at the court, not in a church because I really don't have any religious beliefs; neither does my wife. I really like reading about religious customs and rituals, though.I respect people's opinion about it, but i'm not buying any of it. So it's no big deal if a band sings about the devil or Jesus or Yahweh or whatever. But we are here to spread good music, not to offend people from other cultures or sexual preferences.
[Well, there go my hopes of GWN carrying the ZANU-PF or Israeli Army choir CD's!]
What would you do if it turned out that one of your bands had recorded something that was ripped off from another band?
Simple: they would be dropped immediately. We don't want to cause any problems with anybody and we don't want to get into troubles because of stupid people, ya know...? We've been busting our butts to make GREAT WHITE NORTH what it is today, so no, we don't take that type of crap. In 3 years, we've released 12 records, opened up 3 offices in Europe (Holland (GWN Europe Head office), Poland(promotion) and France(Promotion)), formed a second label (Grind it!), put together a decent mailorder (online soon, our virtual store at www.profusiondirect.com) formed good alliances worldwide with various labels etc... I work about 18 hours a day with my job and the label combined, so you know what? I'm not interested in destroying our good reputation (hard working individuals and honest people!) for some stupidity like copyright infringements etc.We are proud of what we've accomplished thus far and we worked for everything we've earned, so no, once again, we are not taking any bullshit like that. If you can't create your own thing, start a cover band!
Look for GWN's great CD's in your local store or visit them online for a wide selection of extreme metal.
Links of interest:
Great White North Records