Operating out of the remote community of
Batchawana Bay, Ontario, artist, musician, and one-man label boss Al
Bjornaa has been one of the experimental scene's most industrious
members, putting out tapes, CDRs and records at a feverish pace. As
Bjornaa explains, his demanding day job as a fisherman leaves him with
his winters free, meaning the colder months give way to batches of new
releases, each one hand-made and super-limited. Even so, this past
summer saw the Scotch Tapes enterprise extend its reach to vinyl and
8-tracks, with some serious new names joining the stable - including
Karl Blau, Mike Shiflet, Onieda, and even Mike frickin' Watt.
This interview, which took place a few months ago, sees us discuss the
daily plight of the average fisherman/label head/experimental musician.
The view from Batchawana Bay
It seems as if Scotch Tapes
has really been amping things up lately, with everyone from Oneida to
Casper and the Cookies to Karl Blau to Mike Watt getting involved. What
do you think accounts for the recent upturn in success?
think it all started when Al
Qaeda (the band... not the international
terrorist organization) came to me with a really amazing project.
They were recording a 7" collaboration with
Gabe Serbian (The
and hip hop act, Occasional
Setroit. I have no idea how they swung this project but when they
asked me if I was interested in releasing it
on a 7" I basically had to say yes.
I have been a fan of Watt's
for like 20 years and to be able to release a record with him on it was
sort of surreal. After this record was
announced, it sort of gave Scotch a little
more street cred and bigger artists started to take me seriously as a
as if you've earned your stripes quite serendipitously!
So as far as the releases that followed the
Al Qaeda split 7",
did you get in contact with the others (eg. Casper
and the Cookies, Oneida,
etc...) or did they seek you out?
yeah... I mean it kind of did just fall into
my lap. But I think
my hard work might have had a little part in it as well.
I think putting out quality music that not
only sounds good but looks good helped a lot when it came to gathering
"bigger" names. The Al
Qaeda 7" basically just showed these names
that I was legit as a label.
I hope once they actually looked at my other
releases, they felt comfortable releasing music with me.
Plus having 8-tracks as an option release is
also a huge drawing point.
the Mike Watt thing,
I felt that I could
land larger acts so I just started messaging bands I love.
And no one said no. So
now I have this insane summer of amazing releases...
are your plans following this latest outburst of releases?
this little summer of insanity I plan on focusing more on my music and
maybe doing a small tour in the winter. Europe?
Anyone want to book me a gig in
How did you first become
interested in unconventional music?
i guess I started liking
weird music when I was a kid... like 7 or 8. I grew up in a really tiny
village in northern Ontario with no real
access to different music. but when I was about 7 or 8 a guy named
Richard moved here with his mom.
He was from a larger city and about 7 or 8
years older than me but seeing as there was really no one to hang out
with I sort of became like a little brother to him. He
introduced me to lots of amazing stuff from early punk to noise to new
Am I correct in assuming
Scotch Tapes was your first label? Why the interest in cassettes to
begin with? How do you perceive your tape releases in comparison to your
Scotch Tapes is my
second label. I used to run a label called Low
Brow Music but I
think it tried to do too much too soon. It
failed miserably. But I took that experience
and learned from it. I started Scotch with the
idea that I didn't want it to get too big. I
still feel the same way. I never want to start releasing 1000 copies of
anything. I see my CDR label,
Records, as a way of releasing experimental
sounds that might not transfer to tape so well. Scotch
is my main label but FSR is a pet project that is very dear to me.
do you get your blank tapes from?
I release some albums on old, recycled tapes. Every
once in awhile when my stocks get low on those I will send out some
emails and post some bulletins on Myspace...
send me 6 tapes you don't want, I will send
you a Scotch release. But
I buy all my new ones online from various sites. Boring
I know... but it's not easy to find them in
retail shops anymore.
MCPIBTYCP's Wool Sweaters CS
Recently you've been
delving into vinyl in addition to tapes and CDRs. A considerable
investment, no doubt! What has the experience been like so far? Do you
see many records in the future? Will you need to create another label to
maintain segregation between the formats?
I have only released one 7" so far. It's
a split between me (My Cell
Phone) and Sunken
are two more 7"s in the works for the summer. I mentioned the
Al Qaeda 7" and I am
also putting out a split from Tayside
Mental Health and
It is a bit of an investment but I see it as a
natural progression. I love vinyl. I used to own a record store and
vinyl has always been my favourite format. I recently bought a lathe so
I plan on releasing a lot more records in the future.
And I think there will be more vinyl in the future as well. I
don't see another label coming from this because well... I really don't
have the time. Vinyl and
lathes will never be my main format.
Tapes will always rule at Scotch
and lathes will just be little bonuses littering the catalogue.
you'll become the Peter King
of the northern hemisphere! Doesn't making
lathe records entail quite a bit of construction and preparation?
Do you have it all set up?
Is it not difficult to put the whole apparatus together?
I seriously doubt that. This is for personal
use only. I JUST bought it. It just got here a
few days ago and I haven't even tried to set it up yet. I really want to
wait until I have some time to commit to it. I think once my work is
done for the season I will really focus on that part of the label.
So hopefully this winter I will be able to
release some cool records. The machine I have
isn't nearly as complex as Mr.
King's. He is the
master of lathe cuts and I don't think I will ever come close to his
mentioned earlier, you also record under "My Cell Phone is Better
Than Your Cell Phone." I've wondered this quietly for awhile now... how
and why did you choose that name?
chose the name to sort of poke fun at people who see cell phones as
their new religion. People nowadays worship
these contraptions. It's
hard not to laugh when you see people sleeping outside the
Apple Store for 3
days to buy the new iphone. I mean they are sleeping outdoors just to
have the opportunity to get a $150 monthly bill for a three year term. I
never thought I would ever see a day where phones became a must-have
How did you become
involved in making music yourself? What do you see as the future for MCPIBTYCP?
have been playing music forever. I got my first drum kit when I was 4.
But I started MCPIBTYCP
about a year ago. I was incredibly ill and was confined to my bed
for a couple months. I needed some sort of outlet. So
I started dabbling in electronic music with my laptop.
And I was hooked. I started making some 8-bit
stuff and then it just progressed. Once I got
back on my feet I tried incorporating electronics with my guitar, drums,
keys, whatever was laying around. and now I just use the
MCPIBTYCP moniker for all my music whether it
be electronic, ambient, folk, indie...
has the response been to your MCPIBTYCP stuff
been far better than I ever imagined. I mean I keep the
fairly limited... sometimes only to one copy! but I usually sell out
fairly quickly of all my releases. I don't know if its people who are
fans of my music or fans of my label. I guess I have both. its hard to
tell why people buy my music. I mean I have some customers who basically
buy everything scotch puts out. I hope they are doing it because they
like the music.
you see yourself putting out your music on other labels in the future?
have a release coming out sometime soon on Nihil
Underground. I like the thought of releasing
stuff on other labels but I am kind of choosy. I don't think my stuff is
so great I can dictate where it gets released or anything. I just like
making my own packaging and stuff. But there
are a lot of great labels out there that do amazing work... so ummm...
if anyone at Ecstatic
Peace is reading this... CALL ME!
Plastic Crimewave Sound
Extended Haze 8-track
Underground is a solid
label. It seems like they overlap a fair amount with
Scotch actually. Anyhow, on the flipside, what do you suggest to the aspiring soundsmith
looking to get a release out on Scotch
Don't become a
cover band... I really have no criteria.
If I like your music, I will
release it. I don't really care if you have 30,000 Myspace friends or
13. I don't look at Scotch as a popularity contest. I like releasing
bands that have similar views about the music industry, bands that work
hard and bands that are good people. If a band
or artist sends me a demo,
I will definitely listen to it and I always respond to them.
are usually my "listen to the weekly demos while working on packaging"
days. But please... if you are interested in releasing with
don't send me a link. That's lazy and I won't listen to it.
What would be your dream
release to put out?
If time/reality doesn't
exist, a collaboration 12" (180 gram vinyl, of course) between
Sonic Youth and
But if I need to choose someone living, a
Sonic Youth/Sebadoh split would be pretty effin' rad.
Sebadoh's one of my
favorite bands of all time. What are your thoughts on
I am really down with the new Dinosaur Jr. stuff since the reunion.
Most of those bands
that get back together after long layoffs never seem to get it right
(Pixies, anyone?). But I think they have. I feel
Barlow and Mascis are
like the Lennon and McCartney of lo-fi fuzz college indie whatever rock.
They work so well together.
But basically anything Barlow touches is
gold. He is still really approachable after all these years and I think
that adds to why I love him as an artist.
Your old Scotch Tapes
releases were often limited to under 20 copies. Realist necessity or
A little of both. I mean
with my first label I tried going to big too soon. I would do a run of
200 for a band who, although talented, never toured or even played many
gigs. With scotch, I wanted to stay small.
And, I mean, releasing a dead
format sort of limits your client base. I started releasing unknown
artists and I didn't want to make a bunch of tapes that were going to sit
on the shelves. It's not that these bands weren't talented.
They just weren't known.
But as the label grew, so did these artists.
release has always appealed to me as well. It's always been cool to get a
tape/7" that was really limited. I never really cared much about the eBay culture that surrounds these types of releases. I just love knowing
that I have a Wolf Eyes album that only 50 people in the world get to
listen to. I feel Scotch releases special music and I want my customers
to feel like they are getting a special copy.
Do you ever see yourself
putting out larger scale releases? As in, 100s of copies or more?
I really don't see me ever
releasing more than 100 copies of anything... well... apart from vinyl.
I don't want to move into that "real" label category. I like being this
little underdog label from the middle of nowhere in Canada.
If the right artist comes along, I would
likely go up to 100 but nothing larger than that. I released a
Shearing Pinx CDR on my other label and it was a run
of 99 copies. That's my largest so far.
With digital music
proliferation, has the personal charm of owning a limited-edition
release diminished? More broadly, do mp3s devalue music as a whole?
think digital music has increased the personal charm of cassette/ vinyl
releases. A CD is
basically an mp3 in plastic form. But an analog format can't easily be
transferred and sent to a million people.
It takes time and commitment. I
think mp3s are a great way to share music and to collaborate online with
other musicians but I feel that it takes on a whole new "soul" once it's
put on a physical release. The music is only part of it.
liner notes. The whole package is what makes physical releases still
It's true, although the
appeal of the handmade package still only seems to apply to a select
niche. The average U2
fan is probably just as content with a 128kbps rip
of the latest album as with a beautifully hand-designed release. I guess
the greatest danger to the DIY scene is that the technology will
disappear at some point (e.g. cassettes players/dubbers).
you've managed to track down an functioning 8-track recorder, for that
matter... I've heard those things break down after every tenth tape or
Yeah... that is always a
problem with "dead" formats. I get a lot of people asking me for
"bootleg" cd-r copies of releases because they don't have a tape player
or an 8-track player. I am sure Scotch won't last forever because this
format won't last forever. You will eventually have to break into the
Smithsonian to crank out Tayside
Mental Health tapes. But maybe
electronics manufacturers will notice the little tape renaissance and
start making cassette players again. I agree about the average U2 fan
though... but U2 isn't on my label so I have no problem with that.
Clayton... if you're reading this... grab the
Edge and Mullen
(leave Bono) and release something on
Scotch! All proceeds will go
towards buying me new socks.
Al Qaeda Jesus Died For Your Rims CS
ha, I think I see a C-30 in the future.
maybe have them do a split with MCIBTYCP...
Going back to the 8-tracks - where did you get
the 8-track recorder, and where do you get
your tapes from?
I got the recorder from a
family friend. My folks were talking to him and mentioned I had started
a tape label. He asked them if I would be interested in an 8-track
recorder and they just brought it to my place one day... I never even
considered releasing 8-tracks but I said what the hell... it would be
something different. I searched around online and although I saw a few
recent 8-track releases from bands, I couldn't find a label that was
still releasing them consistently.
It's been a huge selling point for the
label when approaching bands I want to release. They love the idea of
throwing out a few copies of an 8-track on their merch table.
As for the
tapes themselves, up until about 2 months ago, I had to use blank tapes
(which are pretty rare and expensive) but after talking to a few 8-track
gurus on different forums and such, they taught me how to modify my
recorder so it would record over old tapes. So now I can erase the music
(and hopefully the memory) of Air
Supply. I can grab my tapes from
thrift stores and garage sales now instead of on eBay for a ridiculous
I've always felt that
Ontario is something of a black hole in terms of experimental and
unconventional music, although I suppose things are gradually improving.
Do you have any local comrades who are into unusual music? What are your
thoughts on the Ontarian scene?
Not really. I mean it sort
of is a black hole. But I feel that has a lot to do with geography.
Ontario is a HUGE province. I mean unless you live in the greater
Toronto area, you have to drive 6 hours to get to a decent gig. I mean
every small city has some sort of scene, but experimental music has never
really taken off in most areas. If I played a gig in the little village
where I live, they would have a priest there in an hour performing an
exorcism on me.
With that said,
does anyone in Batchawana
Bay share your
musical tastes? Or at least seem to understand the music you put out?
What's the Sault
Marie scene like?
Sault scene is OK. I
used to run a small record store there and we would get as many touring
bands in as possible. Because the
Sault is 8 hours from Toronto and 8
hours from Thunder Bay, it's an obvious stop for bands.
So I was able to
pull in acts that normally played for hundreds of people... and my
crowds were like 10. So that was cool.
There are still a couple of cool
venues there that get great bands. As for
Batchwana Bay, I have always
been viewed as the smart, weird, "don't look into his eyes" guy that had
a huge vinyl collection... but I can live with that. I could have been
the stupid, drunk, "did he ever hit on your sister?" guy who listened to
My parents/family never
really understood what I was doing at first with the label but when they
started visiting my place a little more often and noticed that I was
totally committed to the labels, they were on board and now my mom helps
out a ton. She goes to the post office almost daily for me.
Post must make a
killing off you!
They have raised rates
TWICE since I started Scotch.
What do you do when
you're not making or releasing music?
Sadly, work. I am a
fisherman on Lake Superior and that takes up a huge amount of my time.
Luckily, it allows me a lot of time to work on the label/music. I don't
work winters and since it's a family business I can take whatever time
off I need. But I guess if you are asking if I have any hobbies outside
of music. Ummmm... I watch a lot of hockey, I paint (time permitting) and
I am planning on releasing two books of postcards featuring some of my
collage work later this year.
Don't tell me you're a
fan... Will the postcard books be releases through
sort of material is in the collages?
noooooo... I am a
hockey fan. That's all. I like watching fast, hard hitting hockey.
Leafs are on, I will cheer for the other
team... even if its Hamilt... I mean
Phoenix. The books WILL be released through
They should be out this
summer. You can see a bunch of my really old ones at
That site hasn't been updated in years but I recently got back into
making them so I wanted to get some of them out there.
So they will be
available in postcard books. Each book will have a dozen cards.
Does your job as a fisherman intersect in any way with
Scotch Tapes or MCIBTYCP? any plans for a
As for being a fisherman, I
am releasing a tape from The
Big Drum in the
Sky Religion and the
packaging is made from an old pair of the PVC bib pants I wear on the
boat... I get a lot of my ideas while I am out there.
It's a great place
to just think. Nothing around for miles and miles.
As for a nautical
themed release, I think the
Rogue's Gallery release a few years back did
it better than I ever could... amazing sea shanties!
How long are you on the
water each day? And where do the fish end up?
I am usually on the water
for about 12-16 hours a day. It's not the easiest of jobs and is quite
physically demanding but its been the family business for generations. I
don't think I really had a choice. We sell most of our catch to a local
wholesaler who then ships the fish worldwide... so I couldn't really
tell you where the fish goes other than in someone's belly.
What's your favorite type of
I love all fish.
Every one I
catch puts me one step closer to releasing another tape/record (and one
day... retirement). But if you mean what type do I like to eat, it doesn't
really matter. I like them all. Fish tastes like fish.
Which label do you model
Scotch Tapes after?
American Tapes comes to
mind. And Goaty
Tapes is a label that I admire a lot.
beautiful stuff. Oh... and
David Geffen rules (that's sarcasm...)
Tapes is pure art. Goaty's
Zully Adler is a great guy, he runs the label out of his dorm
room! which is amazing considering how terrific everything looks.
also seems to pay a lot of attention to the printing process.
Do you see
yourself getting your inserts professionally printed in the future?
Yeah... I plan on getting
some stuff screen printed and I also plan on using nicer paper.
seeing Goaty Tapes and what they have been doing, I decided I had to up
my game. I think my release of We
All Inherit the
Moon was the prettiest
release I've done so far. But
that's only the beginning.
for the upcoming Our Love
Will Destroy the
World tape is going to be
pretty sweet and I imagine I will come up with something fancy schmancy
for Oneida as well...
What's your favourite on the
I don't know why but I have
been eating a ton of toast with peanut butter lately.
But I dig Asian fare quite a bit... whether it's
like it all.
Even more importantly,
what's your favorite colour? How come?
Is clear a colour?
conducted by Michael Tau
published October 2009
photo credit Al Bjornaa
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