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

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.