When you think of active music scenes, you probably would never think of a city like Lethbridge, Alberta.
You may not even know where it is. You have probably heard of Calgary and Edmonton; but the little sister of Calgary – Lethbridge – is a nice little hidden gem just north of the glorious Rocky Mountains.
I myself reside in Lethbridge, and aside from a rapidly growing population crowding up traffic, and people who drive so slow that you question the point of life; I love living here!
Just shy of 100,000 residents, the people of this city love their coffee, beer, hiking, and music. There are a few small venues that feature local talent, and the big hockey arena has seen the likes of Stone Sour, Marilyn Manson, Slayer, Alice Cooper, and Shinedown.
Within the heart of the local music scene, exists a small record label that is refreshingly independent.
Norwegian Blue Records
Ran by a man of many talents, Tyson Wiebe was kind enough to answer some of my questions about his journey to falling in love with music, his musicianship and the bands he is in, and about running a very cool record label!
“You can’t Spotify that feeling.”
Which bands and/or artists were you first introduced to, and when did you fall in love with music?
I grew up in a pretty musical family. The earliest memories I have are sitting in my Grandma’s living room with my huge extended family, singing while my Uncle Bill played guitar. He’d do old versions of Johnny Horton, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson… really classic country stuff. As I kid I always thought they were his songs!
When I got older and started searching music out on my own, I was fortunate enough to have two brothers who never noticed when CDs or tapes disappeared from their collection. That turned me on to stuff like Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam… all that early 90’s grunge stuff.
The other really big factor was that my Mom bought a tape deck with a built in mic, so my cousin and I would spend hours taping music from an MTV wannabe music video station called The Box. All those old mixtapes are really what pushed me into wanting to make music of my own.
Growing up in Canada, how did music influence your life and did it play a role in how you viewed the world around you?
I grew up in a super small town (Jaffray) near the border of BC/Alberta. We didn’t really have radio that wasn’t country music. If I wanted to hear anything new, I’d either have to find it at a friend’s house or by browsing the one music store in the town we lived near (Cranbrook). It’s that looking for stuff that I always liked though, that thrill of the chase. Even now I’m scouring for new bands to like or new acts to add to the label.
When did you start becoming a musician, and start playing in bands?
I learned guitar when I was 15. The high school I was going to offered a music class called ‘Strings,’ which was essentially the music teacher giving us all acoustic guitars and having us plunk along to the stereo. It was a super easy elective and all my friends were in it, so I tried it and immediately was like “I wanna do this forever.” Started my first band with some high school friends when I was 17, and have kept busy ever since! I’m currently playing in four different projects (Cope; Mormon Girls; Atomicos; The Utilities) so you might call me a bit of a workaholic.
How did the decision to start an independent record label come about?
In 2008 I was looking to put out our first CD. I floated the idea of a label by a few friends and we all were stoked to do it, but we were all broke. So that version of Norwegian Blue Records can only be found on the album art of my band Planet Telex’s album Nova, and did absolutely nothing else.
Around mid-2012 we released our (Planet Telex) second album, Wednesday as a strictly digital copy. We printed off download cards for people in attendance, sold a few and waited for people to start downloading.
Well, not nobody, but maybe a fraction of the people who got them. Which I kind of should have seen coming. Download cards are pretty easy to get tucked in a wallet or back pocket or left at the venue. So that version of Norwegian Blue Records was a huge bust.
Then in 2014, I started playing in Mormon Girls with my friend Mickey Hayward and we had just recorded some tracks and wanted to get them out in a hurry. I wanted to get that physical option along with the digital and that’s when I started thinking about cassettes. They’re heavier so they won’t be forgotten like download card, plus how cool are cassettes right? So I started doing some research into tape labels, found a booming community of like-minded folks on Reddit (r/cassetteculture) and found a place in Canada that was still making tapes. That version of Norwegian Blue Records is the one that I’m still running now.
What are some of the challenges of running an indie label here in Lethbridge/Southern Alberta?
The cool thing about running a label in these times is that you’re so connected to anywhere in the world. I have put out bands from Ottawa, Philadelphia, and Essex, UK without having ever gone there. That part of it is amazing and I wouldn’t change it at all. The hardest part comes when it’s time to send the physical copies to the consumer. Canada Post is the bane of my existence.
The other tricky thing is that being from a city in Alberta that isn’t named Calgary or Edmonton means that there isn’t a national eye on our scene. Even though I think there should be.
What’s the vibe of the music scene here in the Lethbridge area, and what are some of the most exciting things happening in it?
One of the best things about the scene here in Lethbridge is the University campus, and especially our campus radio station CKXU. Because we’re a college/university town, we always have an influx of people who, like me, want to seek out new music. CKXU does an awesome job of engaging the community and puts on wicked events like Love & Records.
In any scene there are ebbs and flows, bands come and go. In 2016 we saw a huge number of local favorites like Lustre Creame, The Ruby Plumes, The Delawares and betterhalf call it quits. The cool thing is that even though those bands are gone, the people behind them are making excellent music now as A. Trozzo & The Electric Few, J. Blissette, Biloxi Parish and MTBC. I guess that’s the Law of the Conservation of Energy for you. Lethbridge bands never die, we just get new members.
You’re a label that wants to actually release physical music, which is awesome, but also a challenge. How does your creativity flow with this, while you face the challenging obstacles of living in this technological/digital culture?
I have always loved the physical aspect of media. I remember pulling apart j-cards or CDs to find the liner notes. I wanted to know everything there was to know about these bands: who produced them, what instruments they used, the lyrics, what they looked. Before the internet was everywhere these liner notes were like scavenger hunts.
That was something that I always found fascinating, and now, I love to be able to do that for others. Even if no one else cares, I’m still happy that those things are in there.
The other thing that is fun creatively is coming up with how to present those ideas. Since the beginning the layouts of the albums has been done by me & Mickey as Team Modest. It’s so satisfying seeing an idea become an object, and we want to be there every step of the way.
I find that vinyl and cassettes are making a resurgence. Do you think that it will last for a while, and if so, what does that mean for record labels who really care about the physical art that goes along with the music?
It’s hard to predict trends and what people will like. I hope this resurgence lasts, and I think it will. If you would’ve said to someone in 2003 that vinyl was going to outsell CDs in 15 years, you’d have been laughed at. Will the same hold true for cassettes? Maybe yes, maybe no. If I knew that answer I’d be an investor instead of a label!
Lots of people dismiss what we do as nostalgia, but it’s more than that. We really love the physical medium. We really love that you get music but you get something else. You get a package. You get a carefully chosen set of songs. You get the satisfaction of the TCHUNK-hisssss as you put it in your walkman or stereo.
“You can’t Spotify that feeling.”
So far, what are some your proudest moments for Norwegian Blue Records?
For some reason I’m seen as an authority on the subject of cassettes, so whenever I get to talk about it I’m both proud and grateful. Last year I was on TV being interviewed about cassettes, and my family got to watch me, so that’s still a cool memory I can always keep.
Do you have any advice for anyone out there who may be thinking of starting an independent label, or any other type of endeavor similar to what you do?
Start small. I’ve seen so many tape labels come and go because they put out a ton of records in their first year and get burnt out. It’s in our nature to equate doing more with being successful — but more just means more.
More money, more work, more hassle.
The other advice I’d give is if you want to know something, find someone who is doing it and ask. That’s how I got started. I asked people on Reddit and found like-minded labels on social media. These people were, perhaps unknowingly, my first mentors and I wouldn’t have done it without them.
My last bit of advice is probably the one I need to work on the most myself. If a band wants more than you can give, don’t be afraid to say no. It’s unfair to them and to you if you can’t give them your 100%
One more! Name 5 bands or artists that you are currently spinning on high rotation.
Slates – Summery. This has been in constant rotation since it came out.
J. Blissette – Until I go Blind. Former frontman of The Ruby Plumes turned glam rock with a flamingo fetish. Would get top points even if he wasn’t from Lethbridge.
Dagan Harding – Best Times. Dagan used to play in both Despistado and Geronimo. They played a ton with local legends Atrophy Manuscript (whose 2012 album we re-released last year.) Dagan’s solo stuff is amazing and he has a new one on the way soon.
Pizza Bath – You Are What You Eat. My Calgary friend Sean Hamilton, like me plays in so. many. bands. This one is melodic pop-punk and it’s awesome. Plus it’s my favorite band name of all time. Come on? Pizza Bath? COME ON?
Miesha & The Spanks – Girls, Girls, Girls. Sean plays as The Spanks to Miesha Louie’s Miesha. This album will make you believe in rock & roll again.
Thank you to Tyson for the interview! Check out his bands!
This Canadian grew up in the great state of Montana, so naturally punk and hardcore music served as a proper soundtrack to his early life. Now living in the arctic tundra he enjoys vinyl collecting, bearding, Canadian brew and long walks on the beach he makes up in his mind.