“The challenge is making money in an era where people assume that music is free.”
Joel Carriere’s words echo the sentiments of many a music executive, but the founder and president of Toronto’s Dine Alone Records seems more capable than most when it comes to meeting those aforementioned demands.
Inside his office at Queen and River, surrounded by well over a thousand CDs, countless posters and plaques that document many of his imprint’s early successes, he starts to explain why.
“About three years ago I decided I wanted to start a record label,” says Carriere, 32.
“I was with Dallas (Green of Alexisonfire) and he had his solo stuff, we kind of just wanted to put it out for fun and see what would happen.”
What happened was that Green morphed from the sweet singing front man of a melodic hardcore outfit into a one-man acoustic sensation beneath the moniker City And Colour.
“We started branding Dine Alone,” Carriere says with a smile.
Carriere inside his Dine Alone/Bedlam office.
In the time that followed, the label – which is tied to Carriere’s previous vehicle, Bedlam Music Management – has become a brand a lot of music fans know pretty well.
With his reputation anchored by the management side and flush with connections to names like Moneen and Attack In Black, Carriere’s carved out a sizeable chunk of the scene in southwestern Ontario and these days, far beyond the backyard from which he’s done much of his recruiting.
“It was all to start putting out bands that I was passionate about and bands that I managed, that way I wouldn’t have to deal with other labels,” says Carriere, an affable and lighthearted type who comes off as highly capable without pretension.
“It was all about having creative control over a piece of art that we’re putting out and signing good deals for our artists.”
“A lot of it just comes down to money and time, I feel like anyone can really put out something, we have the Internet, we have iTunes, but then you want to take it to the masses, you want to grow and when you want to do that it takes a talented team and money,” Carriere continues.
“The first City And Colour ( Sometimes) album put us into a position where we could afford to sign more bands,” he adds, also sure to mention Bedouin Soundclash, the reggae pop trio that had its own success with Street Gospels in 2007, the follow-up to 2005 smash Sounding A Mosaic.
Those releases, plus a sort of overarching spirit of adventure, he says, have been the keys to building a business that’s successful and relevant even when much of the music industry is struggling to be either.
“When I find something I like I just kind of go after it,” insists Carriere, who managed Alexisonfire for years and is working to bring them under the Dine Alone umbrella ahead of their fourth major album.
Enviably, Dine Alone is still in a position where commercial success doesn’t dictate direction.
A Dine Alone mug bearing the title of Arkells’ hit single.
Days before Arkells headlined a sold out Friday night show at The Horseshoe with The Waking Eyes and We Are The Take at the start of February, Carriere used the young band as an example of how good things seem to happen for his team.
“We were at an event for Attack In Black on their album release at the Dakota Tavern and the owner came up, gave us this CD and said, ‘I think you might like this.’ It kind of got shelved because we get a lot of CDs and when you have time you listen to them. One morning I was in a really great mood, so I put the CD on and it was amazing.
“I came home from the U.K. a day early to see them and I was hoping they were gonna suck because I was like, ‘Oh, that means I have to sign another band and work more.’ But they didn’t suck.”
No Dine Alone artists do. The label’s small, diverse but overwhelmingly legitimate roster extends to former members of At The Drive In in Sleeper Car, Alexis guitarist Wade MacNeil’s Black Lungs, Bedouin singer Jay Malinowski’s solo stuff, and perhaps most notably – at least to Carriere – a wealth of material from Walter Schreifels, the former Quicksand frontman whose song gave the label it’s name.
It’s a story Carriere grins all the way through, one that illuminates the obsessive music fan within that constantly bubbles to the surface.
“There’s a couple of bands that change your views on music, and Quicksand just ended up being that band for me. Then I was at an Eagles of Death Metal show on my birthday and Walter was opening up and I was a little too nervous,” he recalls of the moments that preceded their first meeting.
“I flew him back up and I’m actually now putting out his solo album. It’s kind of cool that we’ve got this label named after one of his songs and now we’re working with him.”
“And I’ve got more milestones to come,” he promises.
Arkells singer Max Kerman (top) and guitarist Mike Deangelis during a Feb. 6 show at The Horseshoe.
Carriere views his releases like a loving parent would multiple children. When asked which albums stand out as Dine Alone hallmarks, he spews forth a lengthy list, careful to mention something from almost every artist.
“Attack In Black’s Marriage album is front-to-back one of the best albums I’ve heard in such a long time,” is the closest the proud poppa will come to setting anything apart.
But Carriere also knows you have to have your ear constantly glued to the street these days, which accounts for an extensive travel schedule that currently has him with Moneen, Bedouin and AIB at Soundwave Festival in Australia even as the Dine Alone website promises the label is currently accepting demos.
And it gets a lot of them, almost all of which Carriere says get a listen by someone on his staff of fewer than 15, label and management side combined.
“We try to all listen to it, we have enough people and we all have similar flavours that we can tell if one of us can dig it,” he insists. “I think it’s great that bands are ambitious and stoked and they want to send labels stuff, but a lot of them should probably practice more. Still, we don’t have a junk pile – it’s more a listen to and don’t really dig pile.”
And when it is dug, Carriere tries to gobble it up regardless of who he thinks might listen.
“There’s always that art-versus-commerce thing you have to play with and being such a big music fan it’s tough,” he admits. “I sign everything because I’m a huge fan of it, I can’t sign everything I’d like to sign because I’d go bankrupt.
“I haven’t signed anything just because it’ll make us a bunch of money and I don’t like it. Maybe when I have two kids and I’m 50 maybe I’ll get there I’m not sure, but as of right now I can still be adventurous and take those risks and not have to worry.”
And if that’s true, Carriere and Dine Alone are in a highly coveted and rather rarified space within today’s weathered music industry – making money and a mark – in an era when people assume that music is free.