This is an extended interview from Crazy Passion: What it’s Like to Own a Music Venue from issue 6.
When you thought about what Wunderbar could be, what did it look like?
Back then, I think that I knew pretty early on what it could become, and it became that. I wanted it to be a place that’s known nation-wide as a place to play. I wanted it to be a place that’s well curated, so that people know that there’s some quality control — where if you walk in, it might not be to your taste, but it’s going to be objectively good — which was the exact opposite of what we said when we opened, because when we opened we had this foolishly utopic idea that everyone gets to play. Like, “A group of 18-year-old kids who are terrible want a show? Give them a friday night!” But that doesn’t work. The trick then is you want to exclude some things.
There are other reasons to be exclusive. We don’t do metal shows all that often, simply because DV8 does metal shows, Pawn Shop does metal shows, and Studio Music Foundation does metal shows. All these people do metal shows, and I don’t know anything about metal. I don’t do rap shows for the same reason.
It’s trying to walk this line between curating and some sense of exclusivity, while not pigeonholing yourself too much so your scene dies and your fucked. And I still in hindsight don’t know if I did that right. And I say this only because I’ve seen so many band scenes that used to be Wunderbar scenes that aren’t anymore — that either don’t exist or the bands have broken up and a couple have gotten big so they only play Pawn Shop shows, which is cool. I love Pawn Shop, but can I replace those people and those scenes fast enough? I’m not sure if I’m able.
How much did your taste affect who played Wunderbar?
I’ve always tried to be very clear what is my taste versus Wunderbar’s taste, because they’re vastly different. I make fun of pop-punk shows a lot, and some of our best shows are pop-punk shows.
And I know my taste is something altogether different and everyone who works at Wunderbar has different tastes. Also, I’m 34 years old, there’s some music I don’t get. I don’t get electronic music, at all. And electro-pop, like someone crooning over it, I don’t fucking get it, but that’s cool. I like 90s guitar rock, and I like bands that sound like 90s guitar rock, for the most part.
Was there one specific moment when you felt you were recognized on a national scale?
I think the first time it really sunk in was when a guy from a local band moved to Montreal. He flew back in later that summer, and he said he’d toured down there and he said that almost every city he stopped in, someone — whether it’s a venue employee or a band or somebody — was like “Oh you’re from Edmonton, do you get to play the Wunderbar?” I’m like, that’s messed up, that he hears that all across Canada. I don’t now how much of that translates to dollars and cents, but it translated for sure to getting a lot of cool shows that I probably shouldn’t have gotten otherwise.