“Sorry, We’re Open”
Club Roll Mashes Major Label Connections with Indie Cred
One day last year, former president of Montreal’s Last Gang Records Lenny Levine met with Pop Montreal founder Dan Seligman at a café to ask him to start a record label.
He didn’t have to ask twice.
“He didn’t hesitate,” Levine said. “He was just like, ‘yeah, I’m in.’”
Not even a year old and Club Roll, the label founded by Levine and Seligman, already has a distribution deal with Universal Music Canada and a publishing deal with Nettwerk One.
The two had worked together before, Levine having collaborated with the independent music and arts festival Pop Montreal on behalf of Last Gang Records. Seligman is already infused in the Montreal music scene, but had never ventured into the label side.
“I’ve been around record labels but I’ve never been directly involved, so I thought this would be an interesting opportunity to pursue and potentially diversify,” Seligman said.
Montreal’s pool of talent is no secret to the rest of the world—the last decade seeing the ensemble-rock of Arcade Fire, electro-funk of Chromeo, alt-pop melodrama of Stars and otherworldly electronica of Grimes earning international success—to name a few.
Levine hopes to tap the mainline of Montreal’s musical prowess with an indie label armed with major-label-sized connections.
So far the label has signed the “David Byrne meets Zappa” mad scientist Karneef, “dark-folk with a melotron vibe” AroarA, flamboyant and captivating Jef Barbara, and newcomers Filthy Haanz.
AroarA’s In The Pines EP was released last month; the full-length is expected in June. More releases are slated for the end of the summer.
“The next few months are going to be telling,” he said. “We’re going to be carpet-bombing people with music.”
Buzz surrounding the newly born label is building. The Globe and Mail ran a few articles about AroarA early this year after Feist joined them onstage in Toronto for a surprise performance.
“The inside joke between Dan and I is that Feist is our publicist,” said Levine.
After recently ending their worldwide tour supporting Martha Wainwright, AroarA finally “inked” their contract with Club Roll. The duo, made up of former Broken Social Scene member Andrew Whiteman and Montreal-based orchestra Land of Kush singer Ariel Engle, has worked with Seligman and Pop Montreal for many years before forming the AroarA project.
“We’ve all been involved in music for quite a long time,” said Whiteman. “It’s kind of fun in that way because you get to start again, but you get to start again after already having made a shit-load of mistakes.”
According to Seligman, Levine has expertise in the industry and is known for getting things done. On the other hand, the Pop Montreal director is comfortable doing A&R, the task of finding new artists, because he spends so much time working with bands on the ground.
“He’s got his finger on the pulse of what’s going on artistically and culturally,” said Levine.
Seligman runs the management company Danagement. The company manages Montreal-based Besnard Lakes, Suuns, Socalled and Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, and provides other services for artists, like grant writing and tour production.
Levine owns 50 per cent of Club Roll and Seligman owns the other half with fellow Pop Montreal administrators Hilary Leftick and Shaun Bronstein, each contributing to the label with their respective financing and grant-writing expertise.
Levine worked at former record store Phantasmagoria on Parc Avenue when he was a 19-year-old student at Vanier College, before going on to work as the manager of a Phantasmagoria franchise at the corner of Sherbrooke and Claremont.
“That’s where I got my education in music,” he said
After graduating from Concordia with a BA Philosophy, he started working at EMI in the ‘90s in the sales and customer service division. He later moved to Aquarius Records, which was part of the Donald K. Donald empire, before working at Last Gang Records for eight years.
Levine was president of Last Gang’s Montreal branch before it closed and all operations were moved to Toronto two years ago.
After being unceremoniously let go, Levine considered other opportunities. He was offered a position at Universal Music Canada and weighed his options before deciding to start his own record label.
“A lot of times it’s very hard in any facet of the entertainment business to come back,” he said.
One of Club Roll’s slogans, ‘Sorry, We’re Open’ speaks to Levine’s resilience to stay in the business.