La­bel Royal Moun­tain

The artist-run la­bel has qui­etly put to­gether a dream roster


It’s Tues­day night (Au­gust 22), and the heav­ily an­tic­i­pated new Alv­vays al­bum An­ti­so­cialites plays over the makeshift speaker set-up of a TTC street­car. Mem­bers of the lo­cal fuzz-pop band hop on and off the ve­hi­cle to dis­trib­ute free pizza, pop and T-shirts to fans, who are all hav­ing a blast.

Menno Ver­steeg, lead singer of Holler­ado and co-head of Royal Moun­tain Records, is there too, hap­pily greet­ing peo­ple on the street­car he’s spe­cially com­man­deered for this lis­ten­ing party for Alv­vays’s sopho­more al­bum (which the la­bel will re­lease on Septem­ber 8). As the lone­some elec­tro bal­lad For­get About Life rings out, Ver­steeg holds his arm out to show me that the song gives him goose­bumps.

It’s a mem­o­rable way to tease Alv­vays’ new al­bum, but the unique event also high­lights Ver­steeg and Royal Moun­tain’s ul­ti­mate mis­sion: to build a community of like-minded friends while shin­ing a light on great in­de­pen­dent bands.

“That was the ethos that it started on and luck­ily we’ve been able to main­tain that,” Ver­steeg says.

In ad­di­tion to Alv­vays, the la­bel’s roster in­cludes perma-chill song­writer Mac DeMarco, punk pow­er­house PUP and sludgy trio METZ (whose new al­bum, Strange Peace, is out on Septem­ber 22), all of whom have helped to make Royal Moun­tain one of the fastest grow­ing in­sti­tu­tions in Toronto’s mu­sic scene.

That’s es­pe­cially im­pres­sive given the la­bel’s hum­ble ori­gin. Ver­steeg and band man­ager Adam “Bix” Berger co­founded it back in 2009, ini­tially as an im­print for Holler­ado’s mu­sic and then as a way to help friends re­lease their own al­bums. From the be­gin­ning, they’ve es­chewed in­dus­try con­ven­tions and taken an artist-first ap­proach to do­ing busi­ness. Their DIY style was made pos­si­ble when Holler­ado won a whop­ping $250,000 in a bat­tle of the bands con­test shortly be­fore form­ing the com­pany, which seeded their sel­f­re­liance.

“We didn’t owe any­one money and we could be su­per fair to the artists,” Ver­steeg tells me a few days prior to the street­car lis­ten­ing party. “The deal that I would want is the deal that we would of­fer peo­ple.”

So, does Royal Moun­tain turn a profit?

“Yeah, it does ac­tu­ally,” Ver­steeg says brightly be­fore adding, “not a lot.”

“Our staff is awe­some and they all re­ally be­lieve in what they do,” he says. “We have full-timers work­ing for part-time money, and that’s my­self in­cluded. I’m not mak­ing any il­lu­sions that we’re get­ting rich.”

What be­gan as a two-per­son op­er­a­tion has now turned into a full­blown record com­pany. To­day, they’ve got five full-time staff mem­bers plus a col­lec­tion of reg­u­lar con­trac­tors who they hire for ac­count­ing, ra­dio pro­mo­tion and more.

Dur­ing our in­ter­view, Ver­steeg takes me on a tour of Royal Moun­tain’s im­pres­sive three-level head­quar­ters in Run­nymede, which in­cludes a jam space on the main floor and an up­stairs loft with desks and a kitch­enette. Every­where you look there are posters from la­bel acts and boxes packed with vinyl records.

What’s more im­pres­sive than the build­ing is the fact that Ver­steeg has man­aged to turn his pas­sion project into a thriv­ing busi­ness with­out los­ing any of his child­like en­thu­si­asm for mu­sic. His en­ergy is in­fec­tious: when the sub­ject of the new Alv­vays LP comes up, he calls it “one of the best records I’ve ever heard.” From his awed ex­pres­sion, it’s clear that he’s speak­ing as a fan rather than as a la­bel exec.

As ex­cit­ingly unique as Royal Moun­tain’s busi­ness model is, it’s the con­sis­tency and qual­ity of the roster that sets the la­bel apart.

“It re­ally should be about the bands,” Ver­steeg says. “The mu­sic in­dus­try peo­ple who think it’s about them are the ab­so­lute fuck­ing worst.” mu­sic@now­ | @chipped­hip

Menno Ver­steeg (white hat) and (at the back, left to right) Alv­vays’s Kerri MacLel­lan (glasses), Molly Rankin (with pizza) and Alec O’Han­ley

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