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Interview with Wally Salem of The Beautiful Music label

1 March 2023

Canadian label head Wally Salem agreed to answer some questions about his life as a fan and also running an indie label. My print version of this interview appeared as a short take in Issue 91 of the magazine. Thanks to Wally for his time and passion for great music.

What were your earliest influences in terms of people in your life that led you to music?

Wally: My older sister liked music a lot and she played the drums in a school band and bought a drum set for our basement (which I quickly realized I had no coordination and would not be a drummer). She would buy a fair amount of vinyl albums and had a cool stereo system, set up in our basement, so she did introduce me to some of the more mainstream or popular music of the day, like Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, Supertramp, and The Eagles (all bands that I eventually got to see live with her except for Pink Floyd). However, the real initial influence was Lenny, a teenage friend with an older brother who introduced me to The Velvet Underground, David Bowie, and punk in the late 70s and also the initial new wave bands. My very first concert was with my friend and his brother in 1978, when we saw David Bowie play at the Civic Center here in Ottawa, Canada. It was an incredible first concert, and anyone who has seen Bowie knew that he put on a brilliant live show, so it had quite an impression on my future musical tastes.

Around this time, I also discovered the local university radio station CKCU and their magazine TransFM. This was another huge door opening up for me with radio shows like No Future Now, a punk show that was hosted by a very knowledgeable DJ Roch Parisien. There was another show called British Airwaves which aired on the same evening, and these 2 shows introduced me to loads of new music from around the globe and especially from the UK and the USA. Roch takes the credit for introducing me to the band The Sound and also The Outsiders (Adrian Borland’s previous band before The Sound), a band and musician that I still have a great appreciation for that inspired our tribute to Adrian and The Sound. Later on it was DJs like Steve Kirkland, John Westhaver, Dara Motahed, Michael Houston, and Joe Riley, who all had wonderful shows on CKCU that continued to feature music that I really enjoyed.

In my last year at high school, I went to school with another amazing music fan, Iain Walker, who would visit Scotland every summer and bring back loads of Scottish 7” singles and 12” EPs and other stuff from the UK that was pretty rare to see over here. He was thinking of setting up a record store, but initially he would sell stuff from his home in the living room. This was conveniently located across the street from the high school and I bought quite a few singles from him in the next few years, stuff like APB, Another Pretty Face, Care, Postcard Records, TV21, and stuff like that. Iain eventually opened up one of Ottawa’s best record stores, Shake Records, and also ran the Shake record label that released loads of great releases from The Barracudas, Shame (post TV21 band), The Nectarine #9, Ed Kuepper, and a host of Australian bands as well. Iain also had a big role in influencing my musical tastes and building my love of Scottish Pop and in some way probably inspired us to release our Jeremy Gluck album.

Early on, what were your favorite bands? Do you still listen to these same groups?

Wally: I have so many favourite bands that I discovered in the late 70’s and early 80’s, like The Sound, Echo & The Bunnymen, Bowie, The Comsat Angels, TV21, Kraftwerk, Television Personalities, The Wild Swans, Joy Division, New Order, Jonathan Richman, The Durutti Column, Pale Fountains/Shack, Tractor, Modern English, (and the list can go on) that I still enjoy listening to and will purchase their releases if they are still around. I have to single out a few bands that were very influential and ones that probably introduced me to many other bands, with Joy Division being an obvious one. They introduced me to Factory Records and many other bands like A Certain Ratio, The Wake, The Stockholm Monsters as well as Vini and The Durutti Column and a number of bands that members of Joy Division and New Order later played in or guested on.

Another band that I owe a huge thanks for, when it comes to my music collection is The Television Personalities as they are certainly one of my favourites and have inspired our 10 volume tribute series. I have often said that about a third of my collection has links to the Television Personalities in some way, and although it might be a slight exaggeration, I think many people would be surprised at how influential the Television Personalities were. If it wasn’t for them, Creation Records may not have existed so everything that Creation introduced to us or at least helped promote may not have happened. So bands like Teenage Fanclub, Slowdive, Primal Scream, Jasmine Minks, The Loft/Weather Prophets, Ride, Swervedriver, Apple Boutique, Edward Ball/The Times/Love Corporation/Teenage Filmstars, Jesus & Mary Chain, Biff Bang Pow!, BMX Bandits, The Sneetches, The Jazz Butcher, My Bloody Valentine, Felt, The House Of Love and many others not including Oasis who are an obvious one. Dan Treacy also ran two record labels Whaam! and Dreamworld and helped bands like The Marine Girls (a band that would later bring us Tracey Thorn and Everything But The Girl), The Direct Hits, The Pastels, One Thousand Violins, The Mighty Lemon Drops, The Revolving Paint Dream, and much more. Members of the Television Personalities are also linked to the Swell Maps, Jasmine Minks, Robyn Hitchcock, The Barracudas, and Joe Foster’s production and various record labels introduced me to even more music. I could go on for a quite a while, but I think you get the idea.

Were you involved in band or orchestra as a youth, or have you been in any bands?

Wally: I did try my hand at playing the trumpet in grade school, but I was so bad the teacher encouraged me to stop. I have never played in any bands and seem to lack any kind of musical ability, but as I often tell people, I can play a mean stereo :).

How about other music related pursuits like DJIng, music writing, etc?

Wally: No, I have never been a DJ, although I have been a co-host on a few radio shows on CKCU and CHUO. I did try a bit of writing with a blog I had, which is sadly gone now, but I don’t think I excelled in the writing category either.

When did you get the idea to start a label? When did you officially start TBM?

Wally: First and foremost, I’m a big music fan and the progression to starting our label, if you can actually call it that, seemed like a natural one. Like many other music fans, I would often make mix tapes of music I discovered that I thought others would enjoy and distribute these to friends, local record stores, and radio DJs. This later became mix CDs, and then it didn’t seem like a big jump to releasing and distributing stuff on a label. Things really got started when some long time friends who played in several bands were putting on a concert in 2002. After hearing the wonderful music that night, we joked about starting a label to release music by those bands and thus came our first 3 releases starting in January 2003. Tremolo (who later became Skytone), The Mules, and later Nick Danger & the DCR (which features Jamie my co-conspirator and label partner). Then we thought, why not do a pop compilation and then came the idea of doing tributes to some of our favourite bands who are often ignored. We then really got going as more people found out about us and started sending us their music.

How have you found bands to be on your label?

Wally: Since I purchase quite a bit of music, I’m always finding bands I like that I want to help in our own small way. Also, by working on our various tributes, we were in contact with many other bands from all around the world. These contacts and friendships would sometimes lead to us releasing their music, which is what happened with bands like Dot Dash, The Yellow Melodies, and Roy Moller. Sometimes I stumble across an artist whose music just makes a huge impression on me, and I just can’t understand why more people have not heard their music. This is what happened when I bought an album by Armstrong through MySpace, and his music reminded me a lot of the guitar pop music I loved like Aztec Camera, The Bluebells, Pale Fountains, and bands like that. I thought, I just had to release his music so others get to hear this beautiful music.

How do you afford sending out so many extra CDs to listeners as a bonus for buying something?

Wally: I was fortunate to have a pretty good day job, and a very tolerant wife and family that didn’t mind me spending money on music and the label. Also, since I don’t have many other hobbies, and the label is not run to make a profit, it gives me the freedom to spend a bit more on spreading the music and helping out bands I love. However, I am limited in how much I can do to help and often encourage bands to move on to other labels if they want more exposure.

Does TBM also produce vinyl?

Wally: We have not released anything on vinyl so far, but we have worked with a few other labels and sometimes the bands themselves to have them release albums and EPs that are on our label on other labels. We would love to produce some vinyl, and it may happen in the future, but our business (or lack of business) model where we give away more than we sell is not very conducive to releasing on vinyl as the cost to produce it and mail it is significantly higher.

How has your label been impacted by the pandemic?

Wally: The label itself has not been impacted very much by the pandemic. We don’t put on live shows and mainly focus on releasing and helping promote music on radio shows, blogs and social media, so we have continued to release 3 or 4 releases a year. The bands however, especially the ones who play live frequently like Dot Dash and The Yellow Melodies probably noticed a big change in the number of shows they were playing and it may have slowed down things.

What music are you enjoying these days?

Wally: Here are a few new releases that I have been listening to quite a bit the past few weeks:

Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band – Dear Scott
SUPER 8 – Universal Journey
The Orchids – Dreaming Kind
Rachel Love – Stories From Another Time
The Reds, Pinks & Purples – (so many releases to pick from but I love them all)
Anything on The Big Stir, Subjangle & Spinout Nuggets label

Any future releases coming that you can discuss?

Wally: I’m very excited about Dot Dash’s new album, which should be coming out this fall. We also have several albums that are almost completed by Skytone, Roy Moller, and the follow-up to the Adrian Borland / Sound tribute and a few others that I’ve probably forgotten. We always have more projects on the go than we have resources to finish, but we gradually get there.

Have you ever considered hanging it up (hope not)?

Wally: I will likely keep doing this as long as I’m still breathing and discovering music that I enjoy and provided I continue to have the finances to do it.