Riding a vinyl renaissance

It’s a strange time to start a music label. With the challenges of Internet piracy, online sales on sites like iTunes, and artists offering their music for free or directly marketing their wares to the public, the business of selling physical records could seem obsolete.

However, two Yukon entrepreneurs are riding a vinyl renaissance and have launched a new record label called Headless Owl Records.

Kyle Cashen and Andrew Stratis joined forces with Newfoundland musician Mathias Kom to create the label and their first release is an album by Kom’s band, The Burning Hell.

On Feb. 20 the Headless Owl Records guys are hosting a party at the Old Fire Hall to celebrate bringing 250 copies of the 10″ blue marble record called Old, New, Borrowed, Blue into the hands of vinyl lovers. The party will feature a stack of records for sale for $15 each and performances by The Burning Hell, Dolly Varden and the Daredevils, and a solo performance by Kyle Cashen (who is in the band Old Time Machine).

“Now is a really great time to get into the record business,” laughs Andrew Stratis. “When the rats are leaving the ship, that’s generally not the time you should get on.”

“That’s exactly when we get on,” agrees Kyle Cashen.

When the inspiration to start the label came to them, Cashen and Stratis both jumped on without a second thought.

“We were having coffee and we were talking about music and I was saying how I always wanted to be something in the music industry, but I’m not a musician and I’m never going to be a musician because I would be terrible at it,” says Stratis. “So we started floating around the idea, ‘What if I started a record label?'”

Cashen was immediately on board.

“That was it. As soon as we said ‘What if we started a label,’ we immediately started spitballing ideas,” he says.

That enthusiasm carried all the way across the country to St. John’s, Newfoundland where Mathias Kom, vocalist/ukulelist with the band The Burning Hell soon joined, making Headless Owl Records a truly pan-Canadian label.

“The new age that we live in, I can get hold of Mathias whenever I want,” says Stratis. “I thought it would be a bit of a challenge, but it couldn’t have been simpler. The hardest part is we have to ship things from Toronto to Whitehorse but that’s it.”

Headless Owl Records, named after an unfortunate encounter Stratis had with a real owl on a snowy highway, will be concentrating on providing high-quality vinyl records, a specialty product.

“We’re going to focus on the physical commodity,” Cashen explains. “Obviously, we’re going to have to participate in digital culture and offer a digital counterpart. But the idea is large format artwork, high quality vinyl records that are not straight black.”

While they admire small Canadian labels such as Paperbag Records and Saved by Vinyl, Cashen, Stratis and Kom are looking for ways to make Headless Owl stand out.

“One of the things that we really want to do,” Cashen says, “is focus on experimentation and artist development and growth and offer a platform for people to take a chance that they’ve always wanted to take or to do the things that they’ve always wanted to do but have felt like their typical means of production or their label wouldn’t support that.”

For customers, the label will be about the experience of listening to music on records. “When they get home they can say, ‘I’m going to throw on this record, I’m really going to listen to this and read the liner notes and look at whatever bonus stuff is included with it,'” says Cashen.

The album Old, New, Borrowed, Blue was recorded in Berlin last summer and features two new songs; new recordings of the songs Dance Dance Dance and I Love The Things That People Make; and a “very special” cover song.

To check out the band’s sound, click on the sample song “Schoolyard Scrappers” on the Headless Owl Records’ website, headlessowl.com

In addition to records, the label will also present digital content, such as live performance videos. The first such offering, Cashen’s “Think it Over,” is streaming on their website.

Tickets for the release party on Feb. 20 will be available at the door.

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