Label Obscura

(swedish) Death polka

P572 + Label Obscura Interview !

Get To Know Your Local Label: P572 Records

January 10, 2018

For the third in our series of interviews with indie labels from across the country and beyond we spoke with Sam Murdock of Quebec City label P572. remember, support local music!


P572 is the work of two friends – Sam Murdock and Sébastien Leduc – how did you two meet and how did you come to form this label together?
We met through a mutual friend in the winter of 2003 after I came back from living in Halifax. Sébastien was managing a band called Purge from his apartment at 572 Horatio-Nelson Street. They were practicing in the basement while he lived there. There were parties all the time and I started sleeping on the couch in the winter. We instantly bonded over music, movies and strange art concepts. We started booking small shows and we would write ‘Productions 572’ at the bottom of posters for the address that was already somehow famous downtown. It got shortened as P572 pretty quick with a simple logo I made on a slow computer. As Purge broke up I recorded 30 songs about death in one month and released some under the name (swedish) Death Polka. That’s when it became a label. It was the first release in our catalogue.

When you stated this 14 years ago, did you think that you would both be at it today? There was no plan at all then, and there’s still no real plan now. Our short bio always says “P572 is two friends who have been releasing music and books since 2004” and that’s exactly what it is. I think the reason it’s still working is exactly that. We did not set business goals or have any expectations. We just improvise and try to make pretty objects.

P572 seems to be as much an ongoing art and culture project as it is a business- how do you strike a balance between these two often contradictory forces? I like songs and I like words and prints, and we put it all together. It’s only a business because we sell records. I might never really feel like a business person. I get really passionate about the aesthetic and the process of putting songs and albums together. When you persist, it’s bound to inspire some people to create something and share that back.

You’re based in Quebec City- as an Anglophone living in Toronto, we don’t hear much about what is going on the French indie scene in Quebec.  Could you enlighten us a bit about how vibrant the scene is right now, what bands and labels we should check out? So, I lived in Anglo Canada for a while. Up in northern BC, in Terrace; south of Winnipeg in Steinbach, which is a Mennonite town; and then a couple of years in Halifax when I was 18. It’s where a lot of my inspiration for independent music, DIY and basement shows came from, with bands like The Plan, The Breakup and Sharp Like Knives. So, I think about this gap between provinces all the time. Every city has its own small scene, but surely the English provinces they connect more through the same media. Even Montréal and Québec City have different movements going on. I have deep admiration for all the bands coming out of Pantoum Records, and my head spins at all the side projects of the wonderful rap band Alaclair Ensemble.

You are members of a good chunk of the bands on your label. Outside of your musical projects, how do you know if a particular artist or release would fit in well with P572?  Is it mainly stylistic or more relationship driven as friendships seem to be a big part of the P572? You start a label to release your own music because no one else will do it and because it’s fun to do so. These days I’m trying to manage four labels and play in eight bands. We’ve had three different houses for the label in the last 13 years. We always work with the bands jamming in the basement and other friends and bands that I think are fun and important. There’s never any contract between the label and the artists. It’s pure friendship and loyalty so I don’t always know how things start. It’s just sparks from a conversation in the kitchen and you end up working for two years on an album. If there’s a project coming up and both me and Seb love it, then we do everything we can to make it happen.

What is the most satisfying thing about running your own label? I get to listen to the music I want to hear and wear the t-shirts I print. I have so many friends with amazing talent and I get to play with them. It’s what I’ve been doing since I was 10 really. I had a small band then and a photocopied zine that I would sell to the neighbours back in 1993.

What’s the hardest thing about releasing your own records?  I think there’s nothing easy really about running a label. The only reason why P572 is still going and that some people care, is because it’s all I think about every day since it started. But hard work is not a bad thing. It’s a fun game.

You’ve managed to release almost 75 albums and put on over 800 shows without any outside funding- how have you guys been so successful at this, when most labels fold after a few releases? Like I said there’s no plan. It’s always functioning in a very punk and experimental way. We improvise and as long as it’s fun we keep going. It’s almost self-sufficient. It’s my life’s art project and playground. The biggest releases, they help the smaller ones exist. Music over marketing, content over profit, ethic over strategy.

Along those line, do you have any advice for someone thinking of starting a label? I don’t know what I am doing really, so it’s hard to give real advice. It was all luck and hard work. I met someone who I still want to work with almost 15 years later. We are always passionate about the craft of it all and we never once fought. So maybe that’s the key. I feel like someone who has been playing guitar for a long time, but cannot give guitar lessons because I just learned it all by myself. But I am always available for a talk and to give advice. I do it for the right reasons and with passion.

How do you see the industry changing over the next few years? I mostly like the creative process. I will always be writing songs and putting them out and imagining images as album art. I don’t feel like I am part of the so-called industry. I do vinyl because I think they are pretty. I write songs because they slowly emerge out of me, and I like the odour of prints. What we do is all micro editions, hand-numbered and in small runs. The impact of it all is outside of a business. The only thing I know is that people will always sing and dance.

You are currently on release 75- can you pick 5 songs/releases that would help introduce readers to P572 and give them a sense of what the label is about?

(swedish) Death Polka – Beginning : https://swedishdeathpolka.bandcamp.com/track/beginning-2
This was the start of a burlesque musical I was working on. It later became Judith Judith, and it’s when (swedish) Death Polka found its sound I believe.

Lesbo Vrouven – Crossfire : https://lesbovrouven.bandcamp.com/track/crossfire-2
The only indie radio hit Lesbo Vrouven’s had was this track from the first album called Crossfire. This is the cover version by Sweat Like an Ape, our friends from Bordeaux.

Headache24 – X-girlfriend : https://headache24.bandcamp.com/track/x-girlfriend
Headache24 was the first band after (swedish) Death Polka on the label. They are like the Sonic Youth of town, a couple living and breathing art together. We put out 9 of their recordings. After one album on their own in 2011, they came back with their best to date. This track is a standout.

Les Goules – Crabe : https://lesgoules.bandcamp.com/track/crabe
One of my favourite songs ever, by any band ever. We did not release it when it came out on CD in 2002. But it’s on the 10th anniversary vinyl. The first song of their first album. As classic and cult-like as can be.

Arthur Comeau – Allergic à la Jinxx : https://arthurcomeau.bandcamp.com/album/allergic-la-jinxx
I was an early fan of Radio Radio. I saw them live countless times and I became friends with the band. When Arthur Comeau went on to pursue his solo career he asked me to get involved. We went to his house in Nova Scotia for the shooting of the video. Great summer memories.

Do you remember what the first record you bought was? The first one that really inspired you? I think the first tape that I bought in a store was Def Leppard – High and Dry. I don’t know about the first one that inspired me. But of the top of my head these gave me a lasting impression:  The Plan – Only These Movements Remain, Converge – You Fail Me, Hefner – Breaking God’s Heart, Los Prisioneros – La voz de los ’80, Drame – Drame, IAM – L’École du Micro d’Argent, Tori Amos – Boys for Pele, Pulp – This is Hardcore, Zoobombs – Let It Bomb, Alaclair Ensemble – Les Frères Cueilleurs, Thisquietarmy – Hex Mountains and Les Goules – Coma.

Is there a release/band that got away that you regret? No.

If you could put out an ultimate release of any band past and present, what would it be? I feel really lucky. There are four bands that I’ve always wanted to release on vinyl. Alaclair Ensemble, Les Goules, L’Orchestre d’hommes-orchestre and Death From Above. I’ve worked with three of these bands, so I am happy. Maybe a Canadian pressing of Los Prisioneros or a solo project by Jorge Gonzales. I also talked to the Australian band Custard at one point about putting out their comeback album. But it did not happen.

Are you an avid vinyl collector? Do you have any finds you’re especially proud of? I do love a pretty release. Most of the albums I have in my house are for sale on Discogs because I like to share music. But there are a couple of special items that I keep in my collection. Mostly local bands, friends’ bands and records with amazing artwork and packaging.

Have you discovered any hidden treasure troves to buy vinyl that you’ve come across on your travels around the country and globe? There are so many amazing stores. Le Knock Out in Québec City, it’s rather new and it’s already very important in town. The other one I love dearly is Total Heaven in Bordeaux, France. The shop is small and fun and the two owners are lovely and not sarcastic or bitter about anything. With Oromocto Diamond I hold the record for the most instore plays in there ever. I feel grateful.

To wrap up, what’s in store for P572 in 2018? Anything else you’d like to add? I have never worked so hard in my life as I have for the releases this fall. There are 4 intense vinyl projects that I have been working on for years now. Amongst them is the co-release with Label Obscura of Judith Judith by (swedish) Death Polka that I am very excited about. I concentrate on those and then there’s always a dozen releases behind on Punkest Tardo, the P572 sub-label. New albums by Lesbo Vrouven, Oromocto Diamond, (swedish) Death Polka, Arthur Comeau, Fourche and Recyclage.

Copies of our Judith Judith by (swedish) Death Polka are still available over here:  http://www.labelobscura.com/swedish-death-polka-judith-judith/

Tim Lidster started Label Obscura to help rationalize and justify his ever growing collection of records. When he’s not listening, thinking, or writing about music, he enjoys getting out and exploring the city with his family.

(swedish) Death polka

(swedish) Death Polka talk Judith Judith and the disaster that inspired it.

November 4, 2017

Sadly, preliminary calculations for its riveted steel beams were never properly checked, and after four years of work, the weight of the bridge became far too heavy for its capacity.

Despite the fact that these structural issues were noted, construction continued. On August 29th of that year, the bridge’s south cantilever and anchor arms collapsed, killing 75 steelworkers. Thirty-three of these men were Mohawk workers from the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal. Then, tragedy struck again on September 11th, 1916 when the bridge’s central section fell into the river, killing another 13 men.

One hundred years later, at a cost of $25 million dollars and 88 lives, the Quebec Bridge now includes three highway lanes, one rail line, and a pedestrian walkway. It was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1995, but Quebec City’s (swedish) Death Polka have never forgotten its tragic origins. In 2006, the duo of Sam Murdock and Guillaume Lizotte were inspired to tell the imaginary tale of Judith, an orphan killed by its 100-meter fall into the river. Blending history with fiction, (swedish) Death Polka’s concept album Judith Judith sets her story to a haunting backdrop of neo-classical music, spoken word vocals, and electronic pop.

Label Obscura and Quebec City’s P572 have now joined forces for a deluxe reissue. Originally released on CD by P572 in 2006, this edition of Judith Judith finds the album reissued on vinyl for the first time. The 12” clear LP, limited to 275 hand-numbered copies, includes a poster, postcards, CD, download, and church pamphlet inspired fanzine featuring the piano score. Three alternate versions of the album are included with different track listings on the remastered CD, LP, and download.

To celebrate this reissue of Judith Judith, (swedish) Death Polka will present a gallery show spotlighting the surrealist collage works of Paris-based cover artist Julien Pacaud on November 9th at Quebec City’s Les Trafiquants d’Art. Pacaud will be in attendance along with the band for a celebratory listening party. Read on for Jesse Locke’s interview with (swedish) Death Polka member and P572 label head Sam Murdock.

Can you start off by telling me a bit about (swedish) Death Polka? How did you and Guillaume come together to start the project?

 I’ve lived all across Canada – south of Winnipeg, up north in B.C. and then in Halifax for two years. At that point I was sort of aimless with no musical projects and no job, just bumming around and busking. I came back to Quebec City, and through a mutual friend I met Sébastien Leduc, who co-runs my label P572.

My friend’s dad was working for a hotline you can call if you have suicidal thoughts, and they were collecting money at shopping malls. I took a job doing that at the door of a Zeller’s for a weekend, and a woman had a heart attack in front of me. I called 911, and that experience really moved me. I always had the name (swedish) Death Polka in my head, and then I wrote 30 songs about death in a month.

I wanted to add cello to those songs, and the only person I knew who played cello was Guillaume. He’s the most talented musician I know. Guillaume taught himself how to play piano, cello, violin, guitar, and bass. At 16, instead of getting a car like most people do, he bought himself a grand piano. His parents destroyed a wall to get it inside the house. He later went to music school, and after one semester, the teacher offered him a job.

Guillaume and I have a mutual love of Megadeth, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Tori Amos. We’ve always been good at making music together without talking. I’ll record some demos, send them to him, and he’ll just play along. We started the band in 2003, around the same time I started my label, so the first release was our demo.

I understand you’ve been accompanied by a string quartet, a choir, or in your words a “mysterious diva.” What can you tell me about those collaborations?

 All of those were for our live shows. On the albums, Guillaume plays all of the piano and cello parts and I sing everything. But for every one of our shows, we make a small zine that includes the scores so people can play or sing along. My other projects have just been guitar, bass, and drums so we wanted something bigger.

We’ve played shows in all of the churches in Quebec City, so we’ve had choirs of teenagers and people from music schools that usually perform the works of famous composers. Since all of our scores are written down, people can learn them and play them. We also had a woman named Jennifer Banks from Halifax singing with us. She was the “mysterious diva.”

 For anyone who might not be familiar with its history, can you tell me a bit about the Quebec bridge tragedy that inspired this album?

 It’s the longest bridge of its kind in the world, but when it was built 100 years ago it collapsed twice. The first time the south side of the bridge fell, and then the center of the bridge collapsed right as they were putting it up. These are forgotten tragedies in a way, because people travel across the bridge every day. Now it’s the 100th anniversary of the bridge’s completion. There was supposed to be a big celebration with money put into the bridge being painted again, but that’s not happening and the bridge is rotting.

When the bridge collapsed, there were thousands of people on the shore watching it go up. Almost 100 workers were trapped inside. It was low tide, so there was no way to get them out, but they sent a priest on a boat to give them absolution. That part of the bridge is still in the Saint Lawrence River. At low tide you can see it. There’s even an urban myth that the iron ring worn by many Canadian engineers is made from steel salvaged from the collapse of 1907.

Wow, it’s almost like a shipwreck.

 Years and years ago, there was no way to take that part of the bridge out of the water. Now they probably could, but it’s still too expensive, so it is like a shipwreck. The water is brown though, so you can’t usually see it.

 What inspired you to write this story about Judith, an imaginary orphan girl who was killed by the collapse? Were there any children that actually died?

 A lot of the workers who died on the bridge were Indigenous people. Some of them were young, but I don’t think were any children. At first we wanted the album to be a musical, but it was too much. Everything felt like a puzzle. The words, images, and music all came at the same time. We were inspired by Philip Glass’s use of repetition in his

You’ve described the album as “listening to Yanqui U.X.O. and Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret at the same time,” which is actually pretty accurate!

 I love Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret as an album title, but I wouldn’t say Soft Cell is a huge inspiration for me. Some people say our electronic music parts remind them of Depeche Mode, but I’m not really sure where it comes from. I don’t like short bios that say things like “for fans of Radiohead, Stone Temple Pilots, Green Day.” That’s why I just use the album titles.

Because of our neo-classical elements and the fact that we’ve played in churches, some people have compared us to a smaller Godspeed duo from Quebec City. I would call our music something like “neo-classical pop ambient” because we don’t use any drums outside of the electronic beats. I always thought it was weird to describe us as post-rock because that makes me think of something like Mogwai where you have a full band.

What’s sort of striking and weird about our live shows is that we always like to dance. When I see Godspeed, I get very mesmerized by their music and visuals, but at a certain point I start to feel that it’s all very serious. Post-rock usually goes from music that’s really epic to music that’s really droney, but I’ve always thought it should also be fun. In the middle of a set, we’ll start dancing to our songs, and people in the audience will stand up and join us. It doesn’t make sense, but it works!

You’re releasing the album on vinyl for the first time with Label Obscura, along with a church pamphlet inspired fanzine with the piano score, plus a digital download with a different track listing. What do you hope these alternate versions will offer to people’s listening experience?

 Good question! The original album was too long to be on a single LP, so that’s the practical answer. We’re essentially doing three different mixes for the digital, CD, and LP versions. I’ve always loved the idea of putting a different song on the vinyl release. That way there’s a reason to get the object instead of just buying it and downloading or streaming the music. I always include something that doesn’t exist anywhere else. The CD is even longer because of a hidden track.

How did you start working with Label Obscura for this reissue?

 Years ago, when I was 18, I went hitchhiking to get to Rhode Island but they wouldn’t let me cross the border because they thought I was an illegal immigrant. I ended up in Halifax and stayed there for two years. That’s when I started putting on basement shows for bands like The Plan and North of America. Those bands were breaking up around the time, but I learned that they were legendary. I never lived in Quebec City as a kid because I grew up in the countryside, but I also learned that a label from Quebec called Matlock Records released The Plan’s albums.

I fell in love with another Halifax band called The Burdocks. I was sleeping on a bench with some punks at the time until the people from The Burdocks let me stay on their couch. I met Tim through the albums he released for them on his old label Black Mountain Music, and would order tons of records. I always though the Sharp Like Knives 7” was a steal because the silkscreen alone is worth $5. I probably ordered 25 copies.

When I saw Tim was getting back into gear with Label Obscura, I got in touch about doing this release. I knew he was really into zines, history, and records. I’ve always loved the way punk bands have four labels from four different countries putting out their releases because I’m super into that kind of collaboration. I sent Tim the music and the artwork for our album and he was really into it too. He’s working like a madman right now on these reissues of classic Canadian albums.

 Can you tell me a bit about Julien Pacaud creating the album’s artwork?

 He’s sort of a genius surrealist collage artist for Paris. He works for Fuji, The New York Times, and bigger companies like that, but there’s no difference between his commissioned work and his personal work. It all blends into this big world he’s created, and he makes music and videos too. He’s been making one collage per day for years and years, and his work has been copied so many times. Every piece has a weird title, so he’s almost like the David Lynch of collages. If you read the biography on his website, he’s working on time travel too.

I discovered him around 2003. We exchanged maybe five emails, then I sent him a CD, and he sent me back a CD of his music. He offered to do a poster for some shows we did. At one point I sent him some high-res scanned photos of the Quebec Bridge, and wrote him maybe five lines about the project for this album. The whole thing was burlesque and weird, and he really understood it. He sent me back an email with the artwork, and that was it. We’ve never met or even talked [over the phone], so we will finally will at the album release event.

How will you present this music and the reissue of the album?

 We’re not doing a live performance. It will be an art show with Julien’s framed collages and a listening party at my friend’s gallery here in town, and Julien will be there. The project is a celebration of the 100th year of the bridge as much as the music and his art. I always have the cover art ready before I start recording.

This album was originally supposed to be released on vinyl from a different label in 2006, and Julien had prepared everything. That label backed down at the time, so now we finally get to celebrate those pieces of his art as well. I don’t know how it worked, but he liked the project enough to work on all of these things for free. Now this year he’s created three new prints of the Quebec Bridge as well. There will be postcards included with every record.

What are (swedish) Death Polka and P572 doing next?

 I have two new albums that I want to release. One will be solo piano, and the other will include brand new songs from (swedish) Death Polka.

I’m also starting a sub-label for digital releases and postcards. That’s taking the fun back from working on vinyl releases that take forever. No one else is doing what me and my friend Seb do with P572. There are no grants and no money. I don’t sleep or eat much, but I’ve been at it 24/7 for the last 13 years.

This album is a reissue, but it’s sort of like a new album as well because it’s a new mix and master, and a lot of people have never heard it. Everything Label Obscura is releasing comes from a nostalgic place, but I think there will be a lot of things people discover for the first time, like The Nils. I’m really happy and proud that we’re the first band Label Obscura has released from Quebec City. There’s French Canada and Anglo Canada but I find it weird that even with the Internet people don’t know what’s happening in the music scenes of different provinces.

(swedish) Death Polka’s Judith Judith will be released on November 3rd. The album is now available for preorder from Label Obscura and P572.

By Jesse Locke
Jesse Locke is a writer, editor, and musician based in Toronto. He is the author of Heavy Metalloid Music: The Story of Simply Saucer, published in 2016 by Eternal Cavalier Press. Jesse currently plays drums for Century Palm, Tough Age, Chandra, and Simply Saucer.