Moderna Records a Montreal based label whose releases over the last 4 years have really shone a bright light in the worlds of Modern Classcial, Ambient and Electronic music. Moderna having worked with and released records by artists such as: Ed Carlsen, Daigo Hanada, Tom Adams and Manos Milonakis continue to inspire with their love and dedication to their artists and music being released. It was a pleasure to have a chat with Évo and Nick and hear more about the past, present and future of Moderna and you can listen to their specially curated Contemplative Classical Guest Mix via the Contemplative Soundcloud page featuring old, new and upcoming releases from Moderna.
CC: Hi Guys, after following your label for a few years now and having enjoyed so many of your releases, it would be great to start at the beginning and ask what Inspired you to set up Moderna Records? How and where did it all begin?
Évo: I’ve always been attracted to and passionate about the world of music ; I remember as a teenager putting in long hours making mixtapes, burning CDs and hand making / designing cases for them. Going to the record store was always a highlight for me, as I’d come home with tunes that would keep my ears ringing and head spinning for days. I studied sound engineering later on and through that I discovered my love for the piano. This is also around the time that my tastes evolved from post-rock to ambient. I now listen to all kinds of music but have always been drawn more deeply to instrumental tracks than to songs; let’s say that Mogwai, Mono and Explosions in the Sky gave way to Goldmund, Stars of the Lid, Peter Broderick… After a few years of hanging around the ambient / classical scene with my solo project, I started connecting with artists and grew the desire of starting the label.
Simon (Tambour) was by my side in the label’s early days here in Montreal (he’s one of our two Canadian artists). One of the things that has always really motivated me is to discover a new artist – une perle rare as we say in french (or perhaps a diamond in the rough for all of you OG Aladdin fans out there) – someone in whom I see a real potential. To approach them, collaborate in conceptualizing the album, and to reveal it to the public ; I find this really special. For some reason I am not as drawn to putting out music by someone who is already multiple albums into their trajectory. I find this to be rewarding and meaningful to me, in addition to creating a more unique and personalized roster of artists and collaborators.
I met Nick through Simon in the spring of 2016 as we were working on the release of Tambour’s Chapitre II. The two met while playing gigs at one of our local classical music haunts, and Simon thought Nick could help us on the promo for his album. The three of us met for a beer and by the end of the evening, we were business partners.
CC: Do either of you play an instrument or compose or make music yourselves?
Évo: I’m more of a self-taught / intuitive one myself ; as mentioned, I had a piano-based solo project a while back which is pretty much dormant at the moment. I’m hoping to bring my upright back to my flat sometime soon!
Nick: Hi Matt! For my part, I’m kind of all over the map. I’m trained as a classical pianist, then went to grad school for experimental composition. I write and play chamber music, and have spent the last five years writing and touring with my wonky pop band Future States. At the moment I’m diving into a new duo project with my friend Jane Chan – who is an amazing cellist living in Colorado. Having loads of fun.
CC: Your artist roster spans far and wide round the world working with artists in many different countries. Is there a normal process of coming to work with and discovering artists?
Évo: In the 2-3 first years of the label, I spent countless hours on SoundCloud looking for music that spoke to me – there were really no barriers or rules, just a desire to come across creators whose music stood out due to its authenticity and originality. For me, beyond the complexity and/or quality of the production, it’s the ability of a composer/musician to transmit their emotions, their soul through music. I have come across entire albums (Jacob David’s Omkuld & James Maloney’s Gaslight among them), a single track which has inspired me to write the artist for more (Ed Carlsen’s The Journey Tapes), occasionally received demos (Veronique Vaka’s Erlendis, Josh Alexander’s Hiraeth), and even gotten in touch with artists in whom I saw potential and collaborated throughout the process of the album (Daigo Hanada’s Ichiru, Snorri Hallgrímsson’s Orbit).
Nick: Discovering artists and building a relationship with them is for me the most fun part of our work. OK I have to take that back a step – Évo discovers most of our artists, as he mentions here. He has a seemingly endless knowledge of this music scene, and it’s informed by an incredible work ethic & curiosity – he is constantly discovering and listening to new artists. I’d guess that for each artist that we put out, he’s listened to 100 more. And for me it’s quite wonderful, as he’ll send me albums to see what I think…to get my feedback, and see if I’m on board. I really appreciate his trust in this process. And then of course we do receive submissions and on occasion have some very nice surprises.
It’s so important that we both be absolutely stoked by an album, as we are pouring so much of ourselves into each artist and release. And it really helps build a meaningful relationship with an artist – it’s pretty special to initiate a collaboration through such an exciting discovery of them. Still get butterflies when we come across some records, and as we write that first email to see if they’re into working with us.
I don’t think either of us intended for this project to be so global…we actually talk pretty often about trying to work with people closer to home. But you can’t help who you fall in love with as they say, and it’s really grown organically. It’s been pretty eye opening to work with people living and working in so many different localities.
CC: Your Single series last summer was an amazing idea and every week was exciting to hear new artists and their beautiful music. Have you got any upcoming series or compilations planned that you are able to talk about?
Moderna: Really glad you liked it! Doing the single series was a lot of fun, as it felt more fluid and lower stakes than doing a whole album. You know the release process can be so long, it was pretty exciting to work with people in a simpler context and kind of just say ‘we dig this, let’s put it out’. It also allowed us to work with a bunch of new people, which was great.
We talked about doing another series this summer, but we’ve got so many albums on deck that we’ve decided to shelve it for the moment. But I think it’s safe to say they’ll be another in the not-so-distant future…
CC: In a dream scenario if you could choose one album that you could have released on Moderna whose album would you choose and why?
Évo: ‘Eingya‘ by Keith Kenniff’s Helios – a blissful album full of rich instrumentation… such a unique soundworld that is nostalgically touching yet hopefully moving.
Nick: Fellow Montrealers Colin Stetson + Sarah Neufeld’s 2015 record Never Were the Way She Was. This is one of my favourite ever instrumental records, and I’m still mind blown that they recorded it live off the floor. The music is definitely not an exact fit for us, but damn…
CC: For those who might be new to Moderna would it be possible to write a sentence describing the music of following artists that you’ve worked with:
Moderna: Going to try to keep this light & fun!
Ed Carlsen: Infectious, driving themes with impeccable production.
Daigo Hanada: Inviting and intimate. Like sitting on a piano bench right next to your favourite pianist.
Snorri Halgrímsson: A dive into the depths of your soul, and finding humour and sadness holding hands.
Tambour: Scenes of childhood scored by your favourite French composer.
James Maloney: Layers upon layers of tasty textures.
Manos Milonakis: Storytelling at its finest.
Tom Adams: Reverberant, spontaneous instrumental slow jams.
Richard Luke & Amira Bedrush: Lush, grand, carefully orchestrated melodies.
Josh Alexander: Piano meets analogue synths for a walk in the woods.
Jacob David: Gentle and comforting, like a warming jacket which wraps around you.
Veronique Vaka: Evocative sound masses of strings and ambiance.
CC: How do you approach artwork for your releases? Is it something you like to arrange or heavily involved with or is it something your artists arrange or a joint effort?
Moderna: Good question! Overall this tends to be quite collaborative. We do the album layout in-house, and tend to research and scout for artwork with the artist (although some arrive with something specific in mind which expedites the process). It’s pretty wild how many cover ideas we exchange for certain albums, trying to perfectly capture the album’s mood and aesthetic & still exist in the Moderna visual universe (if possible). We take a lot of care in curating the visual side of the label, and that has grown through our personal tastes intersecting with those of our artists.
CC: Are they any other Record Labels that have inspired you over the years?
Évo: I’d say the early years of Type Records definitively had a big impact on my tastes for ambient/classical/electronic music & shaped some kind of direction to take with Moderna.
Nick: In a kind of hilarious contradiction to how we operate our label, my listening and music practice are hyper local. My favourite label is right here in Montreal – Constellation. They have such a strong artistic vision, put out amazing records and don’t shy away from difficult music. I think it’s such a great blend of experimental and pop practices, and they’ve stayed true to themselves while really innovating for years now.
The label that I’ve followed longest is Toronto based Arts & Crafts. While their direction and leadership has changed in recent years, I came up playing in bands during their early years (2005-10). They’ve had such an impact on developing Canadian musicians and shaping our scene. They’re also currently working with Montreal pianist Jean-Michel Blais.
CC: What is there you can tell us coming up in 2019?
Moderna: It’s going to be a great end to the year! Ed Carlsen’s sophomore LP Morning Hour will drop in September, which is a big step for him and something totally new for us (check out the album’s lead single Words to see get an idea) ; the soundtrack for a feature length by Snorri Hallgrímsson ; a reissue of our very first EP, Veroníque Vaka’s Erlendis ; and a few other surprises that’ll round things out!