with Indie Label Owners Cole Peters & Chris Jacques of Praerie
Label: Prairie Fire Tapes
City: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Artists Roster: Fluid; we work with local, national &
international artists. Higher-profile releases include those by Tom
Carter, Ajilvsga, & Vomir.
QRD – When & why did you start your label?
Cole – Chris & I started Prairie Fire in January of 2010 after
meeting at a show. Chris & I were both looking at taking our
bedroom/basement noise projects a little further than hocking the odd
CDR here & there. We decided to put out a split tape together,
& while we were at it, we figured we may as well start a label
to put it out on, as well. The whole process was very organic &
reflected our humble desire to interact with & promote the
local & international noise community.
QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?
Cole – The same place we still get the money to finance the label - our
pockets. Lately, the bulk of our financing is handled by Chris; with
additional funding coming right back from the (slim) profits made from
selling releases from our catalogue.
QRD – How many releases have you put out?
Cole – We just released a batch of tapes that took us to our 30th
QRD – How many releases would you like to do a year?
Cole – Our release schedule fluctuates depending on each of our own
personal commitments & available time. This being our second
year in operation, it seems that anywhere from 10-20 releases in a
year’s time is a comfortable amount for us.
QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many
would you like to?
Cole – We both work full-time & have families & time
spent on the label has to fit in between those & other
commitments. We both run our own noise/drone projects & are
recording for other labels & we both have interests beyond
music that we make time for. I’m pursuing a career in design, &
I’m heavily involved in photography. Chris works in education &
is currently devoting a lot of energy to preparing his thesis for his
QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a
Cole – Because I do all the design of the releases for the label (with
a couple exceptions), having a regular source of design work is a huge
perk, especially when I get the chance to design a release for an
artist I look up to. Of course, working with the artists &
getting to hear their new material is a thrill as well. We’ve had the
privilege of working with some amazing people already, & that
is certainly a huge reward for both of us.
QRD – How have your motivations for having a label changed?
Cole – As I mentioned, we started the label on a bit of a whim, so we
really hit the ground running; our only real motivation was to figure
this thing out & make it happen. We’re now in a place where the
various processes & our share of duties are starting to feel a
little more comfortable; our current motivations are more to the tune
of “let’s make it happen better.” We’re trying to figure out how to
make our label more efficient, but also more effective in terms of
sales & distribution.
QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the
Cole – As Chris runs more of the day-to-day operations, he probably has
more insight into this than I do, but for me an initial waste of time
was on the printing front. We had a number of challenges with finding a
good printer for our release artwork; poor paper stock, bad order
management, etc… We’ve managed to get a lot of things sorted out, but
we still run into the occasional time/money waster with our printing.
Unfortunately, we require a pretty specific service that a lot of
printers aren’t offering for a price that makes sense to us. At least
not that we’ve discovered yet.
Chris – Promotion & trying to get our stuff noticed amongst the
thousands of indie releases that are out there. Coming from a
smaller city in the middle of Canada, we’re pretty isolated. It’s
frustrating to release great music that you can’t get to people.
QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to?
Cole – At War With False Noise, Zvukovina, HarshFuckedForLife, Phage,
Absence Tapes (now defunct), & Hospital Productions are all
labels I admire for various reasons. Many of the people who operate
these labels do so with incredible dedication & talent,
& in spite of the fact that there’s not a lot of finance being
circulated through the noise community. Outside of noise, I’ve always
admired Constellation Records, Alien8 Recordings, & Sonic
Youth’s SYR label - they all put a lot of work into the presentation of
their releases, & the results are stunning.
Chris – Amphetamine Reptile, Not Not Fun, Ecstatic Peace… stuff like
QRD – What other work experiences prepared you to have a label?
Cole – Having been obsessed with design from a young age, particularly
the design of album art, I was more than ready to take on art direction
for a record label when Chris & I schemed up Prairie Fire. I’ve
been able to bring a constantly evolving knowledge of design &
production principles to our label, which is a great experience for me
&, I think, a benefit to the label. Ironically, my day job is
in advertising, so one would think some knowledge of advertising could
be brought back to our label, yet this is still a challenge for us. The
noise/experimental music community doesn’t exactly operate like
corporate North America!
QRD – What makes your label special & unique?
Cole – We’re from the middle of the Canadian prairies. That might sound
silly, but really, the amount of isolation we have from the noise
community at large (no matter how small it might be, relatively
speaking) means we’re not doing this for popularity or to be part of
some sort of crowd. We don’t have the luxury of doing things
half-assed; if we don’t produce our label in an interesting,
high-quality fashion, no one will give two shits about what we’re
doing. We’re genuinely interested in promoting artists that might not
otherwise get heard (as well as those who are regularly heard). Many of
the releases on our label are by artists who are either from our local
community or are otherwise totally unknown - along with some recognized
names; I think we’re promoting some seriously unique &
otherwise unknown acts. We also put a huge amount of effort into making
our releases properly executed in every way. Chris is super dedicated
to making the tapes sound amazing (which he always does), & I
think the overall aesthetic & visual quality of our label is
QRD – How has your physical location effected your label?
Cole – We are, in a huge way, defined by our physical location. We have
friends in cities across the world who can talk about the monthly noise
night they went to (which was sold out), or how many local record shops
are stocking interesting noise releases, or who they’re jamming with
next week. For us, we get stoked if an out-of-town noise act comes
through to perform once a YEAR. While we have a small &
dedicated community here, it’s comparatively miniscule when compared to
many cities in the US, or even places like Vancouver, Calgary, or
Montréal here in Canada. Never mind Europe. But despite the
challenges it brings, I think the experience of social isolation really
drives a lot of our work - I know it influences me greatly as a noise
artist. The core concept from the beginning for Prairie Fire was to
provide a platform for local noise/experimental artists who were holed
up in their bedroom making weird sounds that no one was listening to.
We’ve been able to do that to a moderate degree, & it’s hugely
satisfying for us & the artists.
QRD – Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to & how has
running a label effected how you listen to/hear music?
Cole – My listening experiences haven’t changed much since we started
the label. If I’m listening to a prospective release for the label,
I’ll of course be listening with a bit of a more critical ear than I
might otherwise, as we only have so many releases we can put out at a
time. Any sort of evolution in taste or appreciation of music I’ve
experienced has for the most part taken place outside of the label.
Chris – I don’t get to listen to too much music outside of what we’re
releasing - I have a huge pile of records that need attention.
QRD – What’s your demos policy?
Cole – Send it, we’ll listen. If we’re stoked, we’ll put it out. Pretty
cut & dry. Again, we have to be critical with our decisions, so
some demos do get turned down, but it’s not like we’re running a high
profile label with people other than ourselves to impress. If we like
it & we can sell it, chances are pretty good that we’re on
QRD – How do you find out about new artists for your label?
Chris – I’m always keeping an eye out for new stuff to release -
sometimes it comes via submissions & other times I’ll distract
myself from doing actual work by searching the net - soundcloud,
QRD – How do most fans find out about your label?
Cole – The internet is our best friend when it comes to promotion
& dissemination. Again, being from the middle of the prairies,
we have to reach as far out as we can to get any interest. We both have
networks of friends & followers that we keep updated, but
largely, we rely on word of mouth, distributors, & reviews to
get our work out there.
QRD – What’s been your biggest selling release & why do you
think it was?
Chris – That would probably be the Tom Carter tape we did last
fall. It was the first time we pressed anything beyond 50 or
so copies & it sold out.
QRD – What release that you’ve done was the most important &
special to you personally?
Cole – Aside from releases for my own work, I’d have to go with the
tapes by Tom Carter & Ajilvsga/Gremlynz. Chris & I were
both huge fans of Tom & Ajilvsga before we started the label
& getting the opportunity to work with them was a huge thing
for us. I don’t think we ever expected to get that caliber of
opportunity within our first year of running Prairie Fire, but it was a
great experience. The Ajilvsga/Gremlynz release has lead to several
other opportunities for us, as well, so we really hit a home run with
QRD – What are some things that make you want to work with a band?
Chris – If they sound good & are easy to work with.
QRD – What are some things that would make you stop working with a band?
Cole – Questionable practices & ethics & a lack of
motivation. There are a number of artists I’d love to work with, but
some people just aren’t concerned with getting things done in a
reasonable timeframe or with proper communications. Unfortunately, we
just don’t have the time to baby-sit these types of projects, which is
often a shame.
QRD – What is the thing all releases on your label have in common?
Chris – I have no idea how to answer this properly.
QRD – How involved are you with a band for acting as a producer as far
as hearing demo ideas or selecting tracks to be on a release or mixing
Chris – I make the duplicate master tape & do all the
duplicating. So I guess I’m pretty involved.
QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a
Cole – There have been a few instances where we’ve used art supplied by
the recording artist, but on the whole, I want to be front &
center with the art & design for our releases. The design is
really my sole contribution to the label & while finding the
time can be challenging, it’s a very important part of the label to me.
The further we go with the label, the more I’m interested in harvesting
a cohesive & effective visual “brand” for the label. I’m
obsessive about design, so the more involved I am, the more excited I
QRD – How long is it from when an artist delivers an album to you until
release date & why?
Chris – It depends. We approach artists as we are ready to release
their stuff. Sometimes we’ll agree to a release date
& then feel financially comfortable to bump it up a few
months. The goal is to not have things sit around for too
QRD – If a band breaks up between the recording of a release &
the release date, how does that effect what you do?
Cole – Noise acts don’t often break up so much as they might just fade
away. A lot of the members of noise groups will work with other groups,
as well - it’s not the traditional band structure. Many artists we work
with are solo artists, so this really hasn’t been a concern for us.
QRD – What do you wish bands on your label would do?
Chris – Help us sell their tapes.
QRD – What’s a record you’d like to put out that you’ll never be able
Cole – A new Set Fire to Flames album? Otherwise, I really don’t see a
lot of barriers to putting releases out, providing there is interest
from the artist.
Chris – I’d really like to do a series of tapes by guitarists I admire:
Tom Hazlemeyer, King Buzzo, Helios Creed stuff like that… doubt it’ll
ever happen, but a girl can dream.
QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t sure you could sell many
copies of their record; what do you do?
Cole – This is the case with a lot of artists we work with. Noise is a
fickle mistress, & sitting on inventory for extended periods is
a reality we constantly face. There are some releases we’ve done that
have barely raised an eyebrow & there are others we moved
through ten times faster than expected. Welcome to the noise scene.
Chris – Because we control the production of our stuff a run can be as
large or small as we need it to be. Not an issue.
QRD – How is financing of a release split between artists & the
Chris – I’ve been thinking about that lately. Right now it’s
been 100% us. I like it that way because it’s my risk - so I can retain
control of the process. If a band were to want a kind of packaging or
run size I wasn’t comfortable with - I would feel okay with asking them
to contribute financially.
QRD – How do you split profits from a release between artists &
Chris – No profits - no hassles. Folks get 20% of
the run as compensation.
QRD – Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals?
Chris – All verbal contracts. We’re an ethical bunch. If we
screw over people - we won’t be around for long.
QRD – Do you take a cut of a band’s publishing?
Chris – No.
QRD – How important is it to you to have touring acts on your roster
& what do you do to encourage it?
Chris – I don’t meddle. If an artist wants to only use us as a vehicle
to release something & not be part our family - we can figure
that out pretty quick & aren’t in a rush to work with them
QRD – Do you handle promotions in house or hire out & why?
Cole – We do move releases through distributors, but aside from that,
our promotions are handled entirely in-house (though our promotional
operations aren’t anything to really speak of at the moment). We’ve
done some online ads; but otherwise, as previously mentioned, we count
on reviews & word of mouth as our main source of promotion
QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fanbase?
Cole – I run a blog through another label - Dub Ditch Picnic - I post
all kindsa wacky crap there.
QRD – Do you have intern & street team programs & if
so, how do they operate?
Cole – Definitely not. I can’t imagine having that sort of luxury!
Anyway, I don’t know how effective a street team would be for us… our
posters would get covered up by the hardcore bands in a day here in
QRD – How big of a staff do you have & how big of one do you
Cole – 2 people, Chris & myself. I can’t imagine what anyone
else would do on our label; our operation is far from massive!
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with record stores?
Chris – Go visit them & buy records there.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with radio stations?
Chris – Wait until they ask for our music & then send it to
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with magazines &
Chris – I source out likeminded blogs & fanzines,
etc. I will send out a stack of releases for a while - if
things are printed - that means they’re into it & I’ll keep
sending. If they aren’t writing about our stuff - I stop
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with bloggers?
Chris – There are a few I like & send stuff to.
QRD – Do you view advertisements as a way to generate interest
& revenue or more as a way to financially support magazines
& websites you like?
Cole – We’d love to have the budget to be able to support magazines
& websites; but in reality, we have to look at advertising
strictly as an aid in generating sales - thus, the magazines &
websites are supporting us more than the reverse.
Chris – We pay for ads - I’m not sure it’s worth it though.
QRD – How do you decide how big the initial pressing of a release
Chris – I consult the Magic 8-Ball
QRD – What percentage of a pressing do you use for promotions?
Chris – Roughly 10% - though I have been sending digital copies out
more & more.
QRD – Do you sell merchandise other than the music (t-shirts, etc.)?
Cole – Right now, it’s just the music. T-shirts or posters could be
interesting, but we’d have to see some demand first.
QRD – Do you sell music that is not on your label?
Chris – Yeah - I have a small distro - Dub Ditch Distribution
QRD – How has running a label effected your own artistic career?
Cole – For myself, aside from giving me an outlet for art &
design work, it’s certainly helped me meet some people that I wouldn’t
have met if it weren’t for the label & that’s resulted in some
interesting collaborations & cross-pollination of ideas here
Chris – I hear all kindsa great stuff that makes my musical efforts
seem pretty elementary. I’m always challenged to step up my
QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?
Cole – If that’s the ideal, we’re living the dream. We release a
regular amount of our own work on Prairie Fire. But we’re first
& foremost interested in other artists’ work.
QRD – What do you do to try to build a sense of community within your
Cole – As much as we’d love for Prairie Fire to be a hub of the local
noise community, or the noise community at large, it’s just not much of
a reality at this point. Our “roster” is scattered all over the globe,
so it’s not like a traditional label that develops a sort of familial
or communal relationship, really. We’ve made some new friends through
working at Prairie Fire & we keep in touch with the artists
whose work we’ve released (as well as, of course, working closely with
them on the releases), but the inter-label community really just boils
down to Chris & myself.
QRD – What’s your most common conversation with bands as far as
balancing artistic integrity & financial viability?
Cole – The balance is tipped pretty favorably to the “artistic
integrity” side of that coin. If we take on an artist’s release, we’re
already reasonably sure that we can move a decent amount of the
releases & we’ve never once tried to modify the artist’s output
in order to turn a bigger profit. We don’t exactly have a house style
that we’re after & we encourage the people we work with to do
what they do best.
QRD – How often do you look at your “return on investment” &
adjust your business model?
Chris – It’s a money loser. I’d love to adjust the model…
maybe one day.
QRD – Do you worry about search engine optimization & website
Cole – Not often enough. It’s often a challenge to get time just to
update the website, never mind getting into SEO operations. I’m going
to be upgrading the website to a much better platform this year (right
now it’s developed with fairly sloppy HTML), & hopefully that
will allow us to keep track of things a little more easily.
QRD – What have you done to cut costs over the years?
Chris – I have tried to sell my body in exchange for free printing… it
didn’t work out so well.
QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?
Cole – Who knows? We love “dead” formats, so even if it was, we’d
probably be stoked either way!
Chris – We release tapes… it doesn’t get more dead than that.
QRD – Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad?
Cole – As far as independent/experimental music goes, I don’t think
they ever really went away… cassettes perhaps dropped off a little, but
I don’t think we’re riding the crest of a fad per se… there are always
peaks & valleys in what’s cool & hip this year as
compared to last year; but frankly, we don’t much care about being cool
& hip. We just keep doing our thing, like the rest of the noise
Chris – It is what it is. I don’t care about it all that
QRD – Is it important to have physical releases over digital ones or
does it not matter?
Cole – The physical release is the focal point for us. It’s very
important to have an “artifact” produced at the end of the process - it
makes the release tangible & allows an emotional connection
with the material that you cannot hope to achieve with a digital
format. We do offer download codes as a purchase option, but it’s more
a matter of convenience for those who don’t have regular access to a
QRD – What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than
Cole – They’re all we do. We love them! Firstly, we don’t have the
budget to produce mass or unlimited runs & secondly there
aren’t enough people in the world to buy them up!
QRD – What do you think of “print on demand” discs?
Chris – In terms of ecological responsibility - anything print on
demand is great. If you have the resources to do it - it’s a smart way
QRD – How much content do you feel should be available free to fans?
Cole – I’m somewhat torn on this issue. I support labels &
artists myself whenever possible, but I also know that it can be hard
to afford all the music you want to own. I’ve done a few free releases
here & there, & offered up out-of-print releases as
downloads, but I also think there needs to be a regular amount of money
flowing in & out of the community. The reality is that, while
we don’t expect to make huge profits from our work - whether as a label
or as artists - we put a lot of time, energy & resources into
what we do & I think that those people who truly appreciate the
work will find a way to support it financially, eventually.
QRD – What do you do about people distributing your music without
financial compensation (piracy & file trading)?
Cole – I think anyone passing too much judgment on this issue risks
becoming a hypocrite. There’s not one of us that hasn’t, at one point
or another, downloaded an album that we should’ve paid for, or
duplicated an album for a friend, or something along those lines. I
think people should be respectful if a concern is brought to light -
i.e., if a blog is hosting a release for free, & they are asked
to remove it, then they should - but if you think you can stop the flow
of free, unauthorized material in the world, whether it’s music,
software, literature, whatever... you can’t. You can ask politely for
the people responsible to stop, you can shit-talk all you want, but at
some level, you need to accept it & move on. What else could we
do - sue the blogger for their tape collection? Ha...
Chris – It is how people listen & learn about music.
If the release is good enough, a free download won’t suffice &
they’ll buy a physical copy. If it gets a person to a show some point
in the future or perhaps they buy some of our tapes in when they’re a
little more flush - awesome.
QRD – What’s something you see other labels do that you think of as
Cole – I don’t encounter such things too often in the
noise/experimental community (though with the amount of subversive or
extreme subject matter that exists in noise, some people might
disagree). I think it’s unethical for major labels to finance some of
the artists that they do (especially when so many of the
murdering/raping/abusive dirt bags are marketed to kids & young
adults). I understand why they do it, but I certainly don’t agree with
it. If I had kids, I’d sooner let them listen to Prurient or Wolf Eyes
than some of the stuff I hear on the radio every day. At least you know
that there’s no one out there that Wolf Eyes have actually “Stabbed In
QRD – What changes in things would cause you to stop your label?
Chris – When I get bored of it or when it is obvious that I am
releasing tapes/records/etc that no one is interested in.
QRD – What would you suggest to someone starting a label today?
Cole – Care about what you’re doing. Even if you don’t have the budget
to make things happen how you’d ideally like to, make sure you’re
passionate about what you’re doing. There are enough labels out there
run by kids who just don’t care about what they’re sending out into the
world. Do everyone a favour & give a shit - it shows in your
work & people will appreciate you & your work
exponentially more for it.
QRD – Where do you think money is currently most available to
labels/musicians & where in the future?
Cole – If you’re interesting or pretentious enough to get a government
grant, you’ve probably got it made. Otherwise, there’s not a lot going
around. Unless you become a sudden smash hit with the hipsters (like
Wolf Eyes was for awhile) - although I’m sure even then, they weren’t
exactly making a killing by any means. If you’re involved in noise, you
should know that expecting to profit from yr craft financially is a
pretty dim prospect. In a strange way, that kind of works in the favour
of everyone involved, though very few of us are making money by making
noise, so the people who stick around for awhile & keep
producing new work are pretty much obligated to be passionate about it.
QRD – Why do you think labels are still important to artists?
Cole – In a day & age where everyone, & I mean
everyone, could be producing & distributing their own work, I
think that people, especially creative types, still need to feel
valued, to feel appreciated & to feel like they’re part of
something bigger - even the most nihilistic of us. Practically
speaking, there’s also the fact that producing & distributing a
release is heck of a lot of work, even for a run of 30 tapes, &
having someone to do that work for you (especially if they can do it
better) can be incredibly valuable.
Chris – It’s validating to have someone else think your stuff is good
enough to lay out some cash to produce it.
QRD – Music has had different hotspots on the internet over the years
(newsgroups, MP3.com, MySpace, LastFM), but with MySpace’s decline,
what do you see as the place where “normal” people go to find out about
& get excited by new music?
Cole – Forums seem to be the virtual home base for a lot of noise
artists we know (including ourselves). It can be a bit of a gong show,
but there are a lot of smaller forums with particular foci (like the harshnoisewall.com
forum that I frequent) than can be a great place for communal
discussion, especially considering that so many people in this
“community” are spread across the globe. The people I speak with most
about noise (aside from Chris) are in Norway, the US, France, Italy…
These forums are often where you find out about new releases first
(& in some instances, they’re the only place you’ll hear about
QRD – In 20 years what do you think/hope your label will be
Cole – Producing unique, alluring releases with a passionate focus on
craftsmanship (be that in the production/recording quality or the
presentation of the release), & hopefully, helping to shape
something of a profile for noise in the Canadian prairies.
Chris – That I was a stand up guy that supported underground music in
Winnipeg & Canada.
QRD – Anything else?
Cole – Huge thanks to QRD for taking an interest in our label &
allowing us to share our thoughts & stories, the artists that
make our label something more than two dudes swapping tapes &
my partner in crime, Chris Jacques, & anyone who’s ever bought
a Prairie Fire tape.
Chris – Buy tapes.