Stomp Records

Exclaim! - - CONTENTS - BY IAN GORMELY

STOMP RECORDS STARTED WITH A BANG. In 1979, Matt Col­lyer’s older brother had just re­turned af­ter a se­mes­ter abroad in Eng­land. “He came back a punk and a rude boy,” re­calls Col­lyer. Adopt­ing punk’s “year zero” ap­proach to mu­sic, he quickly sniffed out Col­lyer’s Elec­tric Light Or­ches­tra record. “He put a fire­cracker in the mid­dle of the vinyl and threw it in the air,” he says. “It blew up. I was forced to lis­ten to ska and punk.”

Fast for­ward 36 years and it’s a good bet that as co-founder of Stomp Records, 46-year-old Col­lyer has inspired at least a cou­ple of older broth­ers to trash their sib­lings’ record col­lec­tions. This year marks the Mon­treal punk and ska la­bel’s 20th an­niver­sary and bands new (the Beat­down, Los Kung-Fu Mon­keys) and old (Planet Smash­ers, Subb) from the la­bel’s ros­ter are play­ing a se­ries of gigs across the coun­try, cel­e­brat­ing its con­tin­ued suc­cess in an era where record la­bels are an anachro­nism.

Yet back in 1995, “Stomp was a ne­ces­sity,” says Col­lyer. “There was no one else in Canada re­leas­ing ska.” Bay Area le­gends Op­er­a­tion Ivy were help­ing to pop­u­lar­ize a punk-ska hy­brid, an up­beat an­ti­dote to dour grunge and gangsta rap. “You played ska back then, peo­ple would dance. You played garage, peo­ple wouldn’t.”

By the time the Planet Smash­ers formed in 1994, with Col­lyer on guitar and lead vo­cals, a scene had al­ready co­a­lesced around King Ap­pa­ra­tus in Toronto and Me Mom and Mor­gen­taler in Mon­treal, where Col­lyer had moved to study.

The Planet Smash­ers hooked up with Mon­treal’s other ska crew, the King­pins, to re­lease a split seven-inch. That even­tu­ally snow­balled into the 16-track All Skana­dian Club. “It pretty much laid the en­tire foun­da­tion for ev­ery­thing that fol­lowed.”

With Col­lyer and the King­pins’ Jor­dan Swift han­dling the back­end, the Smash­ers’ self-ti­tled de­but be­came Stomp’s sec­ond re­lease. By 1998, buoyed by ska’s grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity, the la­bel was a self-sus­tain­ing en­ter­prise. They opened a store­front on Mon­treal’s Mount Royal Plateau that sold records along with im­ported Fred Perry and Ben Sher­man shirts. “We were the hip­sters of the day!”

The good times wouldn’t last. Like other late ’90s fads — swing, elec­tron­ica, nü-me­tal — the ska bub­ble burst. “The back­lash was well de­served,” says Col­lyer. “There were four or five bands play­ing ska in the city. Four years later there were prob­a­bly 20 and they were ter­ri­ble. That hap­pened ev­ery­where.”

The big warn­ing sign for Col­lyer — who took over from Swift af­ter the lat­ter bowed out in 2001 — was the shut­ter­ing of ven­er­a­ble New York la­bel Moon Ska. “The dis­tri­bu­tion man­ager said the big­gest mis­take was they were push­ing the genre, not push­ing the bands,” he says. “We changed ev­ery­thing af­ter that and started go­ing af­ter ev­ery­thing — punk rock, mall-punk, street punk, folk kids…”

Belvedere and Flash­light Brown were Stomp’s first for­ays out­side of ska. Shortly af­ter, they merged with lo­cal punk la­bel 2112 Records (whose big act Re­set mor­phed into Sim­ple Plan), to form the Union La­bel Group.

Still, the la­bel was in debt and in dan­ger of clos­ing when a writer from the Mon­treal Gazette dropped off a copy of Be­douin Sound­clash’s Root Fire. Blown away by what he heard, Col­lyer brought the group to Mon­treal, where they recorded Sound­ing a Mo­saic “for noth­ing.” It took eight months to crack com­mer­cial ra­dio, but “When the Night Feels My Song” fi­nally took off. “It went nuts. We felt like a real la­bel.”

Plenty of suc­cess­ful artists have passed through Stomp’s doors; Col­lyer re­leased the first Flat­lin­ers record, man­aged Walk Off the Earth and, in another life­time, fu­ture mem­bers of the Stills (as the Undercovers) and Pa­trick Wat­son (Gang­ster Pol­i­tics) were part of the ros­ter.

To­day, Stomp is based out of a third floor of­fice above lo­cal venue Club Soda. With a five-per­son staff, Col­lyer ad­mits that much of his job these days con­sists of push­ing pa­per. Look­ing back over the last two decades, he claims the la­bel hasn’t been that im­pact­ful on the Cana­dian mu­sic in­dus­try. He mea­sures Stomp’s suc­cess by the lives that both he and the bands whose records he’s re­leased, have touched.

And the la­bel con­tin­ues to re­lease new mu­sic. Though still heav­ily as­so­ci­ated with ska, they’ve added a di­verse ar­ray of new artists to the lineup, in­clud­ing rock­a­billy crew Ray­gun Cow­boy and “hipster beard punks” Fire Next Time. “We’ve al­ready got most of next year planned out,” says Col­lyer. “But we’re still sign­ing! We’re al­ways look­ing.”

MATT COL­LYER AND LA­BEL CO-OWNER MIKE MAGEE

“YOU PLAYED SKA BACK THEN, PEO­PLE WOULD DANCE. You played garage, peo­ple

wouldn’t.”

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