Sappy Records, home to semi-obscure 7” records and the occasional full length by moonsocket, Snailhouse, and Julie Doiron’s Broken Girl project (among many others) is going through a(nother) rebirth.
“I hate to use the word ‘organic’ but I started doing Sappy Records in the early ‘90s, then I stopped, and I started doing it again in the early 2000s, then I stopped again, then Jon Claytor who I used to own it with decided to give it to Paul Henderson because he was wanting to start a label,” JUNO-winning singer/songwriter Julie Doiron tells me over the phone from her home in Sackville, New Brunswick. “As a result, (annual Sackville music festival) SappyFest started because we wanted to raise awareness of the label again.”
Now in its 11th year, SappyFest is bigger than ever, hosting such diverse acts as Ought, Tuns, Sorrey, and the Wooden Stars.
Sappy Records, however, is now becoming Sappy Futures Ltd. with Doiron’s partner, C.L McLaughlin, at the helm (with Henderson and Claytor’s blessing, of course).
“I guess C.L. and I are taking on a record label again, but it’s totally C.L.,” Doiron deadpans.
“Well, it’s our money,” McLaughlin, also on the line, adds with a laugh.
“That’s true,” Doiron says. “I do know it’s on his credit card, but every so often I help to pay that off. Sappy is one of those labels that is going to keep reinventing itself.” She also notes that with McLaughlin at the helm there is a much better chance of the regular day-to-day tasks, like answering emails, being completed. “Comparing it to the early ‘90s where everything was done through ads in magazines, hopefully people will still order stuff through the mail, because that was always really fun to send stuff out in packages. We would dedicate one day a week to answering all the mail, so that’s not an impossible idea.”
The two note that the idea for the Sappy re-boot was sparked by coming into possession of the original plates used to make the long out of print 7” vinyl Sappy Records releases. Re-pressing them is on their agenda.
“I was hoping to get some of the old Sappy stuff released for SappyFest this year but it’s been a pretty chaotic couple of months,” McLaughlin notes. “I broke my collar bone at the end of April, so I couldn’t really sit at the computer and I was painkillers for a while. It took a month and a bit out of any sort of real planning. But here we are now!”
Doiron adds that having a few kids (the youngest being her child with McLaughlin, three-year-old Elsie) made it hard to develop a strong work ethic. “(Having kids) was the only thing I wanted to do,” she says. “That never was an issue. I’ve had children all throughout my adult life so I’ve never really had the opportunity to be able to devote myself in a full-time way to anything in particular. Now two of my kids are adults, so I can only blame the youngest.”
In addition to re-pressings, the idea for Sappy Futures is to provide a home for smaller releases, in addition to the odd full length.
“The way Sappy used to be was that we’d focus on seven inches,” Doiron says. “I was in Eric’s Trip at the time, and my goal with Sappy the original time was just to expose people who were coming to Eric’s Trip shows to things that I thought should be heard. It’s fun to do special releases. If people still wanna do releases with whatever label they want to do stuff with, it’s fun to do one-off cassettes or whatever we want. We can do real releases too, but I find there’s a lot of pressure with that. You gotta up your game a little bit.”
“We’ve got a lot of friends and there are a lot of people making music who have a hard time getting it out,” McLaughlin notes. “If this all goes horribly wrong, and I lose a ton of money, I might revisit that, but at least we would have gotten one record out.”
That “one record” is the debut from Weird Lines. The eight song disc, filled with gorgeous noise and poppy persuasion, features McLaughlin and Doiron, as well as singer/multi-instrumentalist Jon McKiel, saxophonist Chris Meaney, and drummer James Anderson. As I already said in my A+ review of the self-titled LP, it’s “a gloriously layered and hooky offering in the vein of Sebadoh, Stereolab, Yuck, and, to be honest, everyone involved in the group.”
The project got going a little over two years ago as a casual songwriting outlet for McLaughlin and his friend Jon McKiel.
“When I first met C.L. I started playing bass in his other band, the National Shield, which was super fun to do,” Doiron says. “He was writing all these songs but the guy he had National Shield with lived in Vancouver so that wasn’t really happening like that anymore. So Weird Lines started with a conversation with McKiel, and when they started practicing I’d be here, but it was kind of me taking care of Elsie all the time. It felt pretty natural to have me in the band. I don’t know if it was ever even a conversation or it was just expected that I would be in the band.”
“We agreed to play a show and we didn’t really have a band,” McLaughlin adds. “Jon wanted to play bass, and we thought we’d get Julie to play guitar and sing ‘Be My Baby.’”
Sometimes, it’s just that simple. What isn’t simple is that everyone in the band already has multiple bands and solo projects on the go (and eight or nine kids between them all).
“Initially when the band got formed the idea was that we’d all be songwriting,” Doiron says. “To be honest, it’s not that I had writer’s block, I’m just not necessarily in writing mode. Then McKiel was making his own records, so it kind of all wound up being C.L.’s songs, but McKiel did bring one to the band. It was meant to be kind of a co-writing thing.”
One thing that each member of the band has in common is a firm understanding of the lo-fi aesthetic – be it McKiel’s Shotgun Jimmie meets Chad VanGaalen pop masterworks, McLaughlin’s beautifully broad and baroque pop National Shield or Doiron’s early work with Eric’s Trip, Weird Lines embraces the chance chaos, making for a sound that is both serene and cacophonous.
“It’s a super fun band,” she exclaims. “What I like about it is that we’re never gonna sound super rehearsed, which is my style, maybe not your style.”
“I don’t like practicing,” he says with a laugh.
“I like practicing but I don’t like it to sound like a really, really rehearsed band, that’s just my approach to music in general,” Doiron says. “I don’t want to be in a band that sounds super, super tight. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy seeing those bands live, but I like the element of surprise for us. I like knowing or not knowing what the chorus is.
“It ebbs and flows in terms of dynamics. It’s nice to not just do one thing.”
“It’s almost about to fall apart the entire time,” McLaughlin adds. “It’s not super polished, but that’s the endearing quality to this band’s live show.”