It’s been awhile between label interviews, so hot off of reviewing his latest releases “Asymmetry” (Whitelabrec) and “Weightless” (Home Normal), I though it was time to find out a bit about Brad Deschamps aka anthéne and his Polar Seas Recordings label who have released works by Celer, David Newlyn, Andrew Tasselmyer and others. Brad was kind enough to answer my questions.
*Can you paint us a picture of pre-Polar Seas / North Atlantic Drift/ anthéne day and what you were listening to? Did you play in any bands or do anything music oriented? What was the album (or piece of music) that turned you towards this style of music?
I’ve played in bands going back to when I was in high school, for the most part playing guitar in indie rock leaning bands. The band I was in prior to North Atlantic Drift was an instrumental post-rock type band, which released 2 albums and played several shows before breaking up in 2010. While a part of this project I was listening to a lot of Max Richter, Benoit Pioulard, Grouper, a lot of stuff on Type, Kranky, etc. These artists and labels really influenced me to pursue the kind of music I’m making now. When I met Mike Abercrombie we really shared a lot of similar tastes and recorded a lot of material really quickly which resulted in the first 3 North Atlantic Drift albums. It took me a little while to feel like the music I was recording on my own was something I should be sharing
*You have released under variations of your own name as Bradley Sean Alexander and Sean Alexander as part of Mother Clouds. What is the difference in sound between the releases under these name vs anthéne?
Mother Clouds was really just an outlet for some recordings that didn’t really fit with our North Atlantic Drift material, a lot of it was pretty dark and run through a reel to reel to create some really murky textures. We liked it and just decided to release it as a one off under a different name. My releases as Bradley Sean Alexander I felt had a slightly different feel to them so I decided to release them under my own name. It’s not that far from my anthéne material but for some reason those recordings seemed like they should be released separately.
*With the earliest releases they were largely “in house” with collaborations between yourself, Mike and others. Did you envisage the label as an imprint for your works or opening it up to other artists?
At first Mike and I envisioned the label as a means to release our own works, but I gradually invited a few artists I knew that were also based in or around Toronto to work with the label (Orbit Over Luna, Northumbria, M. Mucci, Clara Engel). Once I started releasing anthéne and North Atlantic Drift material on other labels (like Cathedral Transmissions and Sound in Silence) I started expanding Polar Seas to include other artists I really liked and struck up friendships with. Doing so has been a great experience. All the artists I’ve worked with have been really lovely people, and I’ve been so excited to be able to help in some small way to get their music out into the world.
*What qualities do you look for in releases on the label? Is it a particular sound, ethos or is it more about a relationship forming between label and artist?
It’s hard to really put my finger on what exactly I look for in releases for the label. I guess in some way the material has to resonate with me, and generally the stuff I release is on the lighter side of ambient music, I don’t usually pick things that are too abrasive or rooted more in the noisier side. There are a few releases on the label that are pretty dark (April Larson’s “Up Below” comes to mind) but I still find them to be really beautiful and a release like that connected with me as soon as she sent it my way. A lot of the releases come from relationships I’ve already had with artists, but there are a few that have been sent to me as demos and I’ve taken them on when the work has really connected with me. When Brian Barth (who records as andarctica) sent me his album, I felt like it fit the aesthetic of the label so perfectly, I think it took me one listen through to know it was the right fit.
*You have released either digitally, on cassette or CD_R. Do you have a particular favourite format? Do you have plans for vinyl in the future?
The label started with CD-R releases that all followed the same format – booklets in a stamped envelope. After a number of releases I decided to start incorporating cassettes as the format suited some releases more. Personally I buy vinyl, cassettes and CD’s, though I definitely buy way more records than I do tapes and CD’s. I’ve actually been planning to do the next releases on limited runs of vinyl. I’ve been scaling back the number of albums I take on in order to accommodate this change and I’m hoping to have the next Polar Seas release (and first release on vinyl) out this fall!
*From an outsider looking in the Canadian Ambient/Modern Classical scene feels as vibrant as any other with the likes of yourself (as artist and label), Alaskan Tapes, Moderna and Kyle Bobby Dunn coming to mind. What do you attribute this to and cam you shed a light on any artist or label that you recommend to be checked out?
There is a lot of great ambient/experimental/modern classical music coming out of Canada. Though the country is so large it’s all very disconnected. There are definitely some like-minded people nearby that I’ve gotten to know, but then the other Canadian artists I really like such as Secret Pyramid, Alexandra Streliski, Loscil, etc. are all based in Vancouver or Montreal, in different provinces. It’s hard to say why there is such a vibrant music scene in Canada because it’s all so spread out. My friend Paul Duchnay runs the label Pyramid Blood, he’s based just outside Toronto, and he’s released some of my work as well as stuff by Endurance and April Larson. His label has a great aesthetic, beautiful CD and cassette packaging and patches made for every release. I would recommend everyone check out his label, he’s putting out great stuff!
*You as anthéne had a very productive 2018. With three releases under your belt this year already, what does the future bring for your own musical ventures?
I spent A LOT of time recording and mixing music last year which led to quite a few releases in 2018 (and in 2019). I’ve been really fortunate to work with some really great labels over the last couple years. I have a couple of other things planned for this year with Archives (who have released some beautiful albums lately by Mikael Lind and Hotel Neon), as well as Shimmering Moods. Both are labels I admire greatly, Shimmering Moods are so prolific and everything they release is always worth a listen. I’m also working on a couple of collaborations, but these are coming together slowly, partly because I have a 7 month old daughter and it’s much harder to make the time to work on music lately. Ian Hawgood from Home Normal has been a really great supporter, and I feel like that support really motivated me to get a lot of recording done last year and spend less time second guessing myself.
*It used to be people uploading music for free that was affecting labels. Now depending where you live it’s the cost of postage. Do you find this to be true or have people become used to the cost?
Yea, the cost of postage can be pretty brutal. I’ve done my best to make all of our physical releases pretty affordable so that even if the cost of postage is high it isn’t too costly for people to order. The majority of sales for me are to the U.S. and Europe, with only the occasional domestic Canadian order. Oddly enough I’ve actually spent more on shipping a tape to a town 2 hours from Toronto than sending one to Germany or the UK! It seems like the postal rates arbitrarily go up a couple times a year as well, which is really frustrating. I still order a lot of LP’s and tapes from overseas, and there are definitely times when the shipping cost is so high it becomes really absurd and you have to be picky about which releases you spend the money on for physical editions. I guess to some extent I’ve become used to the cost, so I’m sure others have as well. But it definitely doesn’t make buying and selling physical music easy…
*What plans do you have for anthéne, North Atlantic Drift and the label?
For my own music, I’ve been less active recording this year than in the past couple years. I do have the releases coming out in 2019 that I mentioned and I have one lined up for 2020 as well on one of my favourite labels. North Atlantic Drift has been pretty quiet, Mike and I no longer live in the same city so it’s been more difficult to work on music, but I think we’ll get around to trading some files at some point!
You can check out their releases here.