Interview: Arts & Crafts exec Kieran Roy talks 10 more years of indie rock

Interview: Arts & Crafts exec Kieran Roy talks 10 more years of indie rock

Co-owner of Canadian label sounds off on Feist, Broken Social Scene and Spotify

Earlier this month, the Canadian indie label Arts & Crafts celebrated its 10 years of existence by combining its biggest assets -- its artists -- on stage at the Field Trip Festival in hometown Toronto and on a genre-spanning compilation "X." A reunited Broken Social Scene performing classic "You Forgot It in People" headlined the former, while BSS and its members, Feist, Ra Ra Riot, The Hidden Cameras and other A&C acts collaborated for the latter.

Arts & Crafts has survived these 10 by expanding outward from "You Forgot It in People," starting with BSS and its solo and reformed offshoots, then to new original artists, then into different mediums and revenue sources. It's not just a label, but a management firm, merchandiser, and publisher; A&C has segued through the tumult of digital retail, the resurgence of vinyl and the advent of streaming services like Spotify to find new music audiences. But it doesn't stop at audio: they've partnered with visual artists like photographer Norman Wong and fashion designer Jeremy Laing for unique presentations of their artists' unique brands of indie rock.

"These days there is a much greater acceptance to partner with non-musical media. You are no longer left waiting around to get written up in Rolling Stone or play on the radio. There’s a lot of other ways to get people hearing your art," says Kieran Roy, co-owner of A&C.
Below is an abridged interview with Roy. Listen to Arts & Crafts' compilation "X" here.
Congrats on 10 years. How are you gonna survive another decade?
If we’re going to be around in another 10 years, it’s because we’ve viewed those challenges without fear, but as opportunities. There will always be disruptive technology. Physical sales aren’t what they used to be. But now people are shifting from downloads to digital streaming. Preferences change. We’re a lot more nimble than larger labels, and because of that we’re able to change with a changing market.
There’s revenue streams and new ways to get the word out. We’re getting public performance broadcasts, streaming, concert tickets. As long as we’re fully participating in our artists’ careers in ways that make sense, we’ll be OK.
Arts & Crafts is so closely associated with Broken Social Scene. Does it worry you to have that reputation, even now since the band has split up?
There were about eight to 10 releases that were connected to Broken Social Scene. From Stars and Feist to Apostle Of Hustle to Jason Collett. That era covered the first 2-3 years. But in the last seven to eight, we’ve done a good job of diversifying ourselves. The BSS machine is a smooth machine. They continue to make interesting art projects. Now we’ve got Cold Specks to Trust to Zeus to Timber Timbre, our aesthetic and artist position of our latest release make just as much as BSS did for the first few years.
Your compilation “X” pairs one Arts & Crafts act with another, for 10 songs. Do you have a favorite?
Oh man, that’s like playing favorites with kids… the Stars and Chilly Gonzales one is a real standout. It captures a mood. If anything, we did notice there was a darker mood through-line to the songs, it was not anything we suggested.
Chilly Gonzales is on fire. He’s did that recent stuff with Daft Punk…
Seriously, look at Chilly. He’s the king of collaborations. Feist to Daft Punk to Jamie Lidell to Drake…
And look at Feist. You guys must be so happy with how “Metals” did. What’s going on with Feist right now? Is she working on a new album soon?
We were thrilled with “Metals” because after “The Reminder,” expectations were high. It’s very different for an artist to follow-up with an album that broke them out, and to be well-received by fans and critics. People are looking to hate. But Feist, to have her album recognized by the Polaris Prize, that was really indicative.
Right now she’s working on her down time. I dunno. She did work on the song “Homage” on the compilation is will soon pick up work for next record.
How about Broken Social Scene and all thoe guys. What’s the story there?
Kevin [Drew] is working on solo record and an album with Andy Kim – he’s this legendary Canadian songwriter who wrote “Sugar Sugar.” Him and Kevin became kindred spirits. Brendan [Canning] has one going. Stars and Metric released new records each last year. Everyone’s keeping busy. The reunion was just around festival, though, I don’t think Broken Social Scene has plans to do more.
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Watch: Wale previews Nicki Minaj and Jerry Seinfeld collaborations on video
Credit: Atlantic Records

Watch: Wale previews Nicki Minaj and Jerry Seinfeld collaborations on video

Check out the clip for 'LoveHate Thing' feat. Sam Drew

Wale's new album "The Gifted" -- out tomorrow -- is looking to be fairly eclectic. As evidenced by three recent videos, he's gone the ratchet route, the comedy route and the soulful route.

We'll start with the first, the loveable and articulately cross-bred "LoveHate Thing," featuring crooner Sam Drew. The singer is the anchor for this Wale's cool-headed sonics and personal reflections.

And check out the Bruno Marsian influence on that instrumental ensemble:

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Watch: Yeah Yeah Yeahs first band ever to shoot music video atop Empire State Building

Watch: Yeah Yeah Yeahs first band ever to shoot music video atop Empire State Building

Watch: 'Despair' gets an aerial view

Apparently, no music video has ever been shot on the top of the Empire State Building. Until now.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the New York band, took to a New York icon for their new clip for "Despair," the second single from their latest album "Mosquito."

Patrick Daughters -- who's totally our favorite -- shot the clip, which has the band meeting at the peak of the 102-story building in parts, with Karen O's vocal track starting out a capella. It crescendos to the rising of the sun at the same time as O sings (you guessed it) "my sun is your sun."

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Watch Robyn and Snoop Dogg's bizarre 'U Should Know Better' music video

Watch Robyn and Snoop Dogg's bizarre 'U Should Know Better' music video

Gender-bending air-punch

It only took three years, but Robyn's "U Should Know Better" featuring Snoop Dogg finally has a music video.

The "Body Talk Pt. 2" track sends the viewer into a bizarre weed warehouse, and the bedroom of a male child who strongly resembles Robyn herself. Meanwhile, Snoop Dogg (before he made his conversion to Snoop Lion) is cast into a child's doll. Robyn stars as the world's hippest mom, and gender-bending and air-punching abounds. Y'know, typical.

I've already addressed my full-on Lady Crush on Robyn with the recent release of Lonely Island's "The Wack Album," further solidified by "Go Kindergarten," also below. It is for this reason stacked Timbs, Docs, platform and other manner of shoe will never die, even if I refuse to wear them.

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Watch Florence Welch sing all of the fun out of Icona Pop's hit 'I Love It'

Watch Florence Welch sing all of the fun out of Icona Pop's hit 'I Love It'

Sing, as you apply hand lotion

Florence and the Machine's Florence Welch and producer/songwriter Dev Hynes combined last month in New York, to benefit the Human Rights Campaign’ Equality Rocks project at Le Poisson Rouge.

Video from that event just hit last night, of Welch singing Icona Pop's hit "I Love It" and further proof that Welch can make even a line like "I put your sh*t into a bag and pushed it down the stairs" into something very so serious.

And, thus, watch Welch suck all of the fun out of "I Don't Care." But of for a good cause!

What's with all the hand lotion movements?

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Avicii announces first album and drops single 'Wake Me Up': Listen

Avicii announces first album and drops single 'Wake Me Up': Listen

Michael Einsinger, Mac Davis and Nile Rodgers guesting

Avicii is ready to release his first full-length studio album this year and is leading off with its first single "Wake Me Up."

The track doesn't start off exactly how fans of the EDM would expect: the folk and acoustic based track ultimately makes its way to a cheesy dance floor beat, but you can tell the young star has a smile on his face as he produced this one all the while. It guests Aloe Blacc on vocals, and he is exceptional at taking on this little hybrid.

Speaking of guests, you can bet there will be plenty of them on Avicii's album Sept. 17-due "#TRUE." (Yes, that's another damn hashtag title. May they all burn.) Michael Einsinger from Incubus, country music's Mac Davis and recent Daft Punk‘s collabo Nile Rodgers are along for the ride.

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Listen: Janelle Monae guests on Cee Lo and Goodie Mob's 'Special Education'

Listen: Janelle Monae guests on Cee Lo and Goodie Mob's 'Special Education'

Comparing 'different' to 'special'

Last year, Cee Lo Green reunited with his original music project, Atlanta hip-hop crew Goodie Mob, and now it looks like there's more action afoot. Janelle Monae jumped in on the new single "Special Education," a song that -- despite its title and the ominous, mysterious sound -- is quite serious.

The quartet take turns versing about sameness and peer pressure, plus their self-discoveries of growing up or thinking "different" and turning out to be quite "special." Hence the name.

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Credit: AP Photo

Fun Fun Fun Festival: Ice-T, The Walkmen, The Julie Ruin among first lineup adds

Kathleen Hanna will be amplifying her stage comeback alongside Bonobo, Judge

Last year was my first Fun Fun Fun Festival and it was, indeed, FunX3. It's an Austin-based variety festival for bands who are slightly left of center for most garden variety mainstream (despite the fact that Icona Pop blew up). There's the metal/hard rock/post-punk/hardcore stage, one for dance and hip-hop hybrids and one for That Time You Finally Saw Bob Mould.

This year, the fest is already looking eclectic, with organizers announcing the first round of lineup additions. Ice-T is taking a break from "SVU" and reality TV to return to rapping on stage. Ice-T's been threatening to release an album of new studio tracks for the first time since 2006, so maybe his show will be promoting that. Who do you think he'll bring as special guests?

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<p>Miley Cyrus in &quot;We Can't Stop&quot;</p>

Miley Cyrus in "We Can't Stop"


Watch: Miley Cyrus dons a grill and twerks in 'We Can't Stop'

What else should you put in a piñata?

There's a lot riding on Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop" because it's Brand Building Season for the artist formerly known as Hannah Montana. As the first single from her next album, "We Can't Stop" arrived around the same time she was voted Sexiest Woman an Maxim, months after she led the hook on a new Snoop Dogg song, and is brandished as front-page tabloid fodder. Her success as a post-teen pop artist hinges on this, her first teen-ish single of this new Miley era.

"We Can't Stop" sets the table on that brand. I can't swallow everything that's served.

In the first frames, we see the singer putting a grill on her teeth and having sex with the air in skin-tight clothes. She's partying with friends in the pool, in the Hollywood hills, dorking around with lavishly silly party favors and then of course there's twerking. For 20 different shots of Miley Cyrus sticking her tongue out, go no further than this video and if you're trying to create a meme from thin air, take some tips from the piñata, the grown man sucking his thumb, crotch smoke and the knit cap with the death veil on it.

Cyrus looks very beautiful. She isn't above trying on seriously daring (and somestupid) fashion, but I like the freedom she has with her body and dressing it up in some fun ways. The colors are ON and the extras are hot.

Then taking from the page that all young female singers apparently must: writhe needlessly, touch yourself, strip-tease and, hell, why not just make-out with a miniature mannequin version of yourself. For a song so carefree as "We Can't Stop," she and her directors seem to be trying too hard on the gif-ready male gaze front. This brand opportunity reveals little on who Miley Cyrus actually is. Not that the song does us any favors there, either.

Start "We Can't Stop" below.

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<p>Kanye West: Belle of the Met Ball</p>

Kanye West: Belle of the Met Ball

Credit: AP Photo

Album Review: Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ impresses and offends

Race-conscious, sexist, wild and urgent: rapper is a deity, not a hero

He’s not trying to be a hero or anti-hero. He’s not even a villain. On “Yeezus,” as much as before, Kanye West has declared himself God, a rapper and artist of his own dominion without the same rules of conduct or moral compass as mortals. West, too, is a petulant child, an aspect of his deific persona that stomps to make itself heard throughout this 10-song album, the shortest of his career. 

“Yeezus” isn’t dotted with singles in the same way that “My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy” was. It finds a foothold with its usual audience through “Black Skinhead,” a critical observance on race and hypocrisy, all set to a Gary Glitter beat. He lords over a blustery hook about Romans (the Rome kind) and Trojans (the rubber kind) but then warns against “Stop all that coon sh*t / early morning cartoon shit.” Like the term “Black Skinhead,” West treads his own oxymoronic line, comparing himself both to the Antichrist and Jesus Christ, screaming in one breath and chanting “God” in the next.
Speaking of caricatures, he puts Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and rapper Chief Keef together on the same track, the attention-grabber “Hold My Liquor,” as Kanye recalls the woman he craves using aching guitars from a Ratatat album and bleary EDM from 1985. It's production sounds as poured-over as its lyrics, and to a blistering, satisfying effect.
Fresh from that hungover head-holder, he goes straight into poon, literally, for “I’m In It,” which is meant more as a provocation than a bedroom banger. “Eatin' Asian pussy, all I need was sweet and sour sauce,” he lazes. “Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign,” he shocks. “Neck, ears, hands, legs, eatin' ass… your titties, let 'em out, free at last,” he’s just banging on pans. It’s at this point and several others that you realize West, intrigueingly, keeps inviting you into the room, only to try to force you out, as his pathos crests and topples over detailed and radical production, burring synths, hulking beats, trap artifice with mock-pop melodies.
West samples Nina Simone’s hallowed “Strange Fruit” for his own ends for “Blood on the Leaves,” a lyric he alludes to earlier in “New Slaves” and, like many Kanye West grudges, he can’t let go. The gall it takes to borrow that song – which is about a black man lynched from a tree in the South – to humiliate and shame his subject with a “$2,000 bag with no cash in your purse.” And yet its story and his very stature challenges the notion that some musical works are untouchable, especially since it seems that all art, to some degree, can be bought, even for petty purposes for a gorgeous track.
He balances his revile for the “fairer” sex with condemnation for the fairer skinned on “New Slaves” “You see it's broke nigga racism / that's that ‘Don't touch anything in the store’ / And this rich nigga racism / that's that ‘Come in, please buy more / What you want, a Bentley? Fur coat? A diamond chain? / All you blacks want all the same things.’” It’s commentary on the “buying” of his race with a set of Maybach keys, a response to a post-racial hypothetical where even the richest of rappers can’t overlook how poor blacks are still targeted by “white” corporations or – worse still –a “white” justice system. There’s where the lyric “blood on the leaves” comes in most handy, wedged between the immature declaration “I’d rather be a d*ck than a swallower” and the modest threat that this black man with mouth-f*ck “your” white wives. Comparing himself to King Kong, riffing on the “black men coming for your white women” trope, and mixing it all in with class warfare and self-entitlement… West doesn’t need Nicki, Jay-Z, Rozay or a gun to be a “Monster” here, or to play with what a "monster" really is.
Songs like it are a complex, vengeful, misogynistic affront that’d have no place on “Watch the Throne” nor “My Beautiful Dark, Twisted Fantasy” (even with condescending “Blame Game” skit). With a rebel yell, he rejects the rap-game rejectors on “I Am a God,” where he crowns himself a deity and ironically demands the most petty, un-Godly effects. “I am a God / so hurry up with my damn massage / in a French-ass restaurant / hurry up with my damn croissants,” he rhymes, and he knows that it’s funny (particularly when he notes that God Himself guests on the track).
From the chest-thumping bombast of opener “On Sight” to the good girls and bad bitches on honeyed finale “Bound 2,” West creates and thrives in this dark punk fantasy, without flinching. He’s dressing for the job he wants – using muffled acid house, Michael Bay-sized clanks, brooding piano, bleating horns, an eclectic stable of contributors and his tattered bark, he aspires to be a God among men, not just rappers. It’s not chance that “Yeezus” also happens to be his most sexist and/but race-conscious effort yet.  Aspirant and harsh, musically flighty and aggressive, West flourishes in these harsh environs risk-taking and culture-war drama-making, especially as his skills as a rapper improve. “Yeezus” isn’t pleasant, but that doesn’t bar it from being thought-provoking, substantial and very, very good.


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