Hamilton Music Label Hidden Pony Celebrates Five Years
‘Parkside’ Mike Renaud has long forged his own path in an industry that has long since lost its way. The Burlington born Renaud grew up in Hamilton but moved to Montreal in 1996 to start a band with a friend. Choosing to work behind the scenes, Renaud left potential rock stardom and transformed into a successful manger and record label owner although Hamiltonians may not be as familiar with this music industry mogul in their midst. This weekend Renaud and his record label, Hidden Pony, shine a spotlight on their five years of success.
“A friend of mine was going to McGill and he and I decided to start a band in Montreal — I was the drummer,” recalls Renaud on his former band Parkside Jones. “I was in the band for about four years but the band outlasted me by a couple of years. I started working for Donald K. Donald, who was a legendary concert promoter and who owned a couple of labels. I started as an unpaid intern. The whole history of the label had been shoved into a storage locker in the basement and one of the first things I did was to clean that up. I learned the history of Aquarius Records in two or three weeks as I categorized all of the albums by artist and release date. Quite quickly, I kind of knew more about the label then some of the people that were getting paid to work there.”
Learning a hands on history of Canadian rock from the likes of April Wine, Cory Heart, Sass Jordan, and Men Without Hats, at 21 Renaud would rise to work in Artist and Repertoire with Aquarius working with bands like Serial Joe, Sum 41 for the next seven years. Renaud then moved to Richard Branson’s V2 Records for the next two years working with the likes of the White Stripes, Stereophonics and more but when that company was sold and their Canadian office closed, Renaud decided to go into artist management full time with his own company.
Started managing old high school friend Jeremy Fisher and expanded Upper Management’s roster to include the Odds, Said The Whale, Rah Rah, Elephant Stone, Royal Tusk, Imaginary Cities and the Danks.
“I’m from Hamilton so I moved back here and started a family,” offers Renaud. “I’ve helped out Sonic Unyon with a lot of things — I’ve been involved with SuperCrawl since the very first year. Hamilton is an amazing place to live and raise a kid. Business wise, I have an office in Montreal and I can go to Toronto whenever I want.
“My interests lay in discovering new talent and as a manger the first thing you do when you discover new talent is to find a label to put it out,” reasons Renaud on the birth of Hidden Pony. “As the music industry continues to shrink, we though instead of trying to get other people to believe what we already believe in, we have the skill set and knowledge to be our own label. That way, we can use our label to develop artists in the beginning and eventually partner with another label if we need to. We don’t need to be the record label for a lot of the artists we manage but we end up doing a good enough job that there is no reason for them going to another label, particularly in Canada.
“The name Hidden Pony comes from a youth leadership seminar I attended in grade 10 while at Westdale High School,” adds Renaud. “The only thing I remember from the seminar was about keeping a positive mental attitude, where if you take a kid and put them in a room full of horse manure, instead of having a horrible attitude about it being such a horrible place, the kid would optimistically say, ‘there’s got to be a pony hidden around here somewhere’. It felt very freeing to be able to put out music by artists that I thought were good but other people didn’t want to invest in. I had worked at a label for a long time so to be able to put out these artists on my own and to become partners with Donald, it made me feel like I was a grown up.”
With nine years running Upper Management and now five years with Hidden Pony, Renaud felt it was time to celebrate.
“Our greatest accomplishment could be still being here five years later,” smiles Renaud. “It’s taken a lot of financial and emotional investment. I am very blessed to have an incredible team. I have Paul Quigley here in Hamilton who is amazing and Tracy Sim in Montreal who is also unbelievable. Over five years, Hidden Pony has sold over a hundred thousand records and downloads – that’s a number I’m proud of. I don’t see myself leaving Hamilton. In the short term, we’re busy with a bunch of different records. In the long term, this is kind of the only thing I know how to do so I’m just going to keep doing it for as long as I can.
“We felt we had been so focused on the marketing and branding of our artists that we hadn’t really capitalized on the fact that we have had all of this success so we found a way to have a party for Hidden Pony and put some fun stuff together,” adds Renaud. “We’ve got some of our cool bands playing, some giveaways, the whole show is free and we’re thinking there might be some surprises. If you like free music on a Friday night, then you should come.”
Hidden Pony’s Fifth Anniversary party happens this Friday June 20 at This Ain’t Hollywood with the Odds, Rah Rah, and Royal Tusk. Doors are at 9pm and there is no cover. Click on hiddenpony.ca
The Inflation Kills Return
It was a decade ago that Phil Williams (vocals/guitar), Adrian Murchison (bass), Matt Fleming (guitar), and Nicholas Daleo (drums) came together as the Inflation Kills. Casting away the bands (Kitchens and Bathrooms, PFA) they grew up with in the local all ages scene, the foursome were maturing and wanted to get serious with their music. TIK would record their sole collection of songs at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio in Chicago with Matt Talbott (ex–Hum) producing and release the music on their own TikTokTikTok Music Label distributed through Sonic Unyon. It seemed they had a plan — until, it all mysteriously fizzled out and TIK disappeared. A decade later, the Inflation Kills pick up where they left off with a hometown reunion show to kick things off.
“We were all in strange places,” recalls Williams on the last days of TIK. “Nobody really knew what they were doing in life as individuals, and that makes being in a band an incredible challenge. We all made individual decisions to pursue professions that would allow us to have families. We disappeared into the vapour when Matt and I moved to opposite provinces for divergent pursuits in education. After being in Thunder Bay for a year, then studying in Toronto for two years, getting married, and living in rural Alberta for three years, it just didn’t seem like it was going to be possible to keep it together.
“I was a school teacher and a school principal in that time — I’m deeply committed to public education,” adds Williams. “For the last five years, I’ve either been pursuing graduate degrees or working in a public school system. I’ve also been squirreling away songs and traveling as much as possible. Really, I needed a lot of perspective... and still do. I’d always wanted to return to Hamilton as a schoolteacher. I had a five–year plan to be out of province, then come back, and continue my career in Hamilton. With my partner pursuing a PhD at York, starting a postdoctoral fellowship, and because my mom had recently gone through a divorce and then an early retirement — it was an easy family decision to come back sooner but, really, it was an incredibly challenging professional decision. I’ve been back since November and I’m really lucky to have found work related to my training and professional interests at McMaster.”
Williams is no longer the ever–acerbic all ages indie rocker looking to disturb the complacent —well, maybe he’s grown up but that love of music that originally made him a local tastemaker came to fore upon his return to Hamilton.
“I think this was all an elaborate plot by Jag from WTCHS,” quips Williams on TIK getting back together. “We’ve been sitting on this old demo of nearly a full–length [collection of songs] and Nick and Jag had been talking about our impending plans to get back together to record it properly. Jag strongly encouraged us to play a couple shows with them and strongly recommended that PERDU release an album of ours on vinyl. So we tried to rally everyone back together, but Adrian had moved on and, after initial excitement, declined to participate but Dave O’Connor of TV Freaks is now playing bass for us. We’re thrilled to have him. We’ve all just grown so much as players in different ways. It’s been a lot of work to get back to where we were, but I think we’re almost there.”
This weekend, the Inflation Kills plays an NxNE showcase in Toronto and their first show in Hamilton in the better part of a decade. Will old fans remember? Will new music fans care?
“I think the music of TIK is more relevant now than it was ten years ago,” assures Williams. “Sure, a lot has changed, but most of the songs were about time slipping away and the impending neo–conservative era and financial collapse. We’re still in the collapse, so songs about misery, despair, a ticking time bomb, and the erasure of life are still highly relevant. Besides, when else do you get to have so much fun celebrating extinction?
“These songs are just such a faded snapshot of a specific time in my life when nothing seemed to make sense anymore,” adds Williams. “I think the album is what it is, it exists, and it means whatever it means to the 200 or so people who have copies. I can say that we have a full album’s worth of new material; I think you’ll be seeing a fall release. I also think that anyone that remembers us is at least interested in our return. For the up and comers, it’s worth it to check out a snapshot of what loud rock and roll looked and sounded like ten years ago.”
The Inflation Kills play this Friday June 20 at Club Absinthe with WTCHS as well as Hunters and Anglers. Doors open at 9pm and $10 gets you in. Click on facebook.com/theinflationkills
Ash and Bloom’s “Let The Storm Come”
Since 2005, James Bloemendal and Matt McKenna cut their teeth on the local stage with their band Garner but have more recently pruned down to a duo with their new full length as Ash and Bloom being released this week.
“Garner had a couple of different members cycling through,” recalls McKenna. “In the end, the drummer realized he didn’t want to tour, but James and I only wanted to tour more. Seeing that it wasn’t going to work, we ended Garner.
“It was a chance to disappear,” he adds. “We weren’t at the level where we wanted to be and thought, ‘what if we just took the time to develop ourselves and become better songwriters and singers and players?’ We felt like we had potential and didn’t know what to do with it but we knew that when we re–emerged, it would be something completely different. We did a lot of learning with Garner and wanted to give this new project a clean slate. We’re a duo now because that always felt good. As we played over the years, other players came and went, but it was always centred on us singing and writing together. Ash and Bloom is kind of shedding the young musician insecurities of hiding behind more. For the first time we just let ourselves be enough.”
As the designers of their destiny, two minds and two voices could better present their music together and a nickname or two later, Ash and Bloom were born. The duo then took their time out of the spotlight to assemble meticulously their debut with an inspirational ’60s duo — Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel — definitely in mind.
“The three years we spent in hiding were focused on becoming better songwriters,” explains McKenna. “We wrote over 400 songs for this album and twelve made the cut so humbly I can say that quality songs were paramount for us and the harmonies have become the most true–to–us way we could deliver those songs. Songs and harmonies are at the very core of what we do.
“We immediately started working with husband–wife producer couple Marc Rogers and Karen Kosowski,” adds McKenna. “Once we had the songs and the sound, we went up north and took over a remote lakeside cottage. We wanted to incorporate some of the playfulness that happens when you don’t have the pressure of paying by the hour and going to a cottage allowed us to hit record whenever inspiration struck any of us. It was the most fun and relaxing time any of us have ever had making an album. We took a couple of pages out of the recording techniques used in the Simon and Garfunkel album “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” That playfulness was one of those pages. Another was to sing the vocals together on one microphone, like Simon and Garfunkel did. They’re a huge inspiration and we wanted part of our sound to feel like that album feels.”
“Let The Storm Come” offers Intertwining finger picking guitars, voices bouncing in and out of unison and in harmony with straightforward, sing–along choruses and it’s not surprising the duo get comparisons to their inspirations. Currently on tour with dates that take them through Ontario to British Columbia, the US and then Australia, the duo is busy but are excited about returning this week for a hometown release party.
“For our Hamilton release party, we’ll be playing with the cast that helped us make the album,” says McKenna. “The musicians on the album will join us on stage. We only ever play as a duo, never with a full band but it’s the release and we’ve been waiting for this day for years so this time we’re pulling out all the stops.
“This is a folk show; you’re going to get some foot stompers and you’ll get some chill tunes but all the songs are very lyrically driven,” adds McKenna. “It’s all been thoughtfully written so it’s thoughtfully delivered. Expect to hear lots of harmonies from the stage and come with your voice warmed up because we have a few spots where we treat the audience like a choir. We’re very honest about who we are. We’re not trying to be anyone else. But at some point, in some way, we hear [comparisons to] Simon and Garfunkel after every show so if you’re a Simon and Garfunkel fan, you’ll probably want to check out Ash and Bloom.” V
Ash and Bloom play Wednesday June 25 at the Casbah with Jojo Worthington. Doors open at 7:30 and $12 gets you in. Click on ashandbloom.com