Tyson Cale Boyd: A lot of people in the music industry will tell you that if you’re interested, don’t get into it… because it can be hellish.
Growing up, Tyson Cale Boyd would take the six months of the year he wasn’t working in isolated oil camps to travel Europe and take-in every music festival he could. He was exposed to music that challenged what he’d grown up with and what he found on the radio, and Boyd wanted to share this music with people who’d never heard it before.
The Pawn Shop on Whyte Avenue was the perfect place for Boyd’s taste in extreme music. Working initially as security and moving his way up to bookings, Boyd watched as metal-focused venue lasted beyond the typical five-year-span of most venues. “Pawn Shop is very lucky to be about seven-years-old now,” says Boyd. “That doesn’t happen often.” Its age is primarily owed to its clientele and their penchant for drinking.
Booze has long served as life-support for music venues. While some take a cut from ticket sales, places like Wunderbar and Pawn Shop will often give the door money to the bands and rely on the bar to pay rent. However, venues rarely make as much money as clubs.
“A person who goes to a club has all his or her money to spend at the bar,” says Boyd, “buy drinks, throw money around. But people who go and take-in music, they spend money on a ticket and a t-shirt. You have half of them who might buy booze, and the other half who aren’t drinkers but want to be there [for the music].”
This leads to some venues catering exclusively to metal music, as the genre’s fans are known for drinking to excess. However, metal music can scare those who aren’t familiar with the genre, and any venue that relies on a single music scene is at risk of dying if the a scene begins to wither and fans disappear. Boyd had to start paying attention to numerous genres to keep Pawn Shop relevant, but his dream was still to bring the excitement and discovery he found in European festivals to Alberta.
Boyd took a chance by planning his own festival. Harvesting Hell was set to be an outdoor festival in Central Alberta featuring the extreme music — the music Boyd had grown up wanting to share. It would be the start of a career in booking festivals, bringing more experimental bands to our province. However, the rural population of Alberta (composed primarily of religious conservatives) would have none of it, and fought tooth and nail to keep it from happening. The outdoor festival would be pushed indoors, becoming a very expensive lesson learned.
But for Boyd there’s little bitterness. Like molding his musical tastes in Europe, it’s about exposing yourself to new experiences, good and bad, and continuing to discover and learn.
To finish his initial thought, “A lot of people who are in the music industry will tell you that if you’re interested, don’t get into it… because it can be hellish. But it’s all about the love doing it. I never understood that until I started working in the music industry. It’s a labour of love.”
James Leder: Unless you’re at capacity, there’s no money.
At its peak, James Leder’s Haven Social Club was a diamond in the rough of Stony Plain Road. It brought in local bands, touring acts and music lovers of every genre to Edmonton’s culturally decrepit west end. While the venue was thought to have closed due to flooding in its final spring, Leder had made the decision long before.
“I didn’t expect it to be as hard,” he says, “and not ‘hard’ as in running it, but getting people out to support it. Back when we opened I thought ‘There’s nothing going on’ and ‘This is a great venue’ and ‘We need this’. I thought Edmonton could have been more than where it was ready to be at the time.”
The summers left the Haven bereft of visitors. The street traffic was a mix of drug users and those who visited the pawn shops and erotic massage parlours down the street. And while MacEwan’s campus for Arts and Communications, located a block away, offered a crowd that led to some of the venue’s finest years, eventually it wasn’t enough to sustain the business. If anything, the flood was a blessing — something to come and wipe the slate clean.
But it doesn’t seem like Leder learned his lesson. He’s opening a new venue.
The Needle Vinyl Tavern is set to rock Jasper Avenue in the first quarter of 2015. Filling the 300-capacity hole left by the Edmonton Events Centre’s closure, the venue is set to spin local music throughout the week, feature touring acts over the weekend, and become downtown’s after-work hangout. Essentially, it will perfect the Haven Social Club’s previous atmosphere, but in a downtown setting, something Leder says he never heard the end of while nestled in the west end.
He describes at length all the venues he’s visited across North America — in Vancouver, Austin, Los Angeles and New York — explaining how he’s changing the business model so the venue won’t require grant funding; so it can sustain itself, generate buzz and be something new. In the midst of his excitement, he says, “There’s no reason Edmonton can’t be a renowned music scene.”
Admittedly, it’s a crazy thought. But it’s a crazy thought that’s shared by every venue owner who stays until 4 a.m. cleaning up vomit and empty beer cans. It’s the notion shared by every musician that makes less money than expected, but instead of blaming someone, plans to do better next time. It’s the feeling writers have when talking about their scenes and the magazines that publish their articles; the idea of having inspired readers to be present in the community by supporting inventive bands, and sharing those bands’ music with the world.
In the end, maybe “crazy” isn’t the right word.
Illustrations by Molly Little.
Read an extended interview with Craig Martell here.