Pod Spotting is a monthly column that focuses on friend groups. Here, the word “pod” is used in the same way Linda Holmes uses it in an article she wrote for NPR’s entertainment and pop culture blog in 2013, where a pod is defined as a small community of creatives that tend to share certain sonic, aesthetic, or ideological characteristics. This story is about Egg Paper Factory, a label in Montreal run by Josh Boguski, Alex Bourque, Raff McMahan, and Alex Lavoie that had its first release in April, 2014.
By Caleb Oldham
At 1511 14th Street, Calgary, Alberta, stands a collectibles shop called “Moments In History.” From Google Street View, the building doesn’t look much bigger than a shack, and in reality the space can’t hold more than a few dozen people. Calvin, the store’s owner, is passionate about his work. He provides his clients with the best rare action figures, comics, and snakeskin skeletons that he can find. He is, in the words of one Yelp reviewer, “an amazing guy with an amazing business.”
Five years ago, before Calvin came in, the space was leased by a young couple, Michael Wallace and Nicole Brunel. At the time, Wallace drummed in a band called Women (which would later reform as Viet Cong), Brunel played in the post hardcore trio Puberty (which would later reform as The Courtneys), and both performed together in the local experimental pop outfit Friendo. Unlike Calvin, Michael and Nicole didn’t envision the building as a house for cultural artifacts but as a place where culture could be actively created, in a city that desperately needed artistic spaces. Their goal was clear: “to provide Calgary with an inclusive, interdisciplinary space for local independent artists to display their many talents.” In January of 2010 they opened up “Comrad Sound,” an all-ages venue whose name pays tribute to both the community-oriented ideals upon which the venue was founded as well as the “Commercial Radio & Sound” electronics store that had been there before them.
Comrad Sound held shows and workshops daily; entry was donation-based. The license they operated under however, was for an “entertainment establishment,” and thus prohibited them from legally putting on performances. Calgary, a conservative oil town of just over one million people, had no sympathy for artsy communities bending the rules; the venue was shut down less than a year after it opened. In its short run, however, it would leave an impact not only on Calgary’s small postpunk, distorted/experimental pop scene but also on a much wider audience, 2,200 miles away in Montreal, years later.
It was at 1511 14th Street that many of the core members of what was to become Egg Paper Factory first met. Five key players would end up being instrumental to the founding of Egg Paper Factory: Josh Boguski, Alex Lavoie, Raff McMahan (who would all eventually end up becoming label heads alongside Alex Bourque), and musicians Micheal Halls and Jean Sebastien Audet. In 2010, around the time Comrad Sound opened, Boguski was in a band called Man Legs; Halls, Lavoie, and McMahan had formed Telstar Drugs; and Audet had already started so many bands that he was running his own small cassette label called Yew Nork. At this point, at Comrad Sound circa 2010, they’re all about 15-17 years old.
Boguski still remembers receiving a Myspace message from Nicole Brunel inviting him to play at Comrad Sound. For Boguski, and other 10th graders like him, the fact that someone was listening to his music, and more than that, actually wanted to hear him play live, was enough to make him take his hobby seriously. “To be given the time of day by people I considered to be (and still do) some of the best artists was incredibly inspiring,” he remembers in a conversation over the phone. “Suddenly playing music went from being this very naive endeavor to all that I cared about.” In a similar turn of events, Comrad Sound would also be where Telstar Drugs played their first show (and, as it turns out, on the same bill as frontman McMahan’s father).
It's difficult to summarize Jean Sebastien Audet’s output because he’s essentially his own separate music scene. His personal philosophy is maybe best summed up in an interview he did on a radio show that Egg Paper Factory hosted last month: “I feel like I’m wasting my time when I’m not recording.” When you start to delve into the 19-year-old’s career, you start to realize how true that statement is; between his solo and collaborative output he already has nine projects to his name : Faux Fur, Pencil Ledged, Wealth Plant, The You Are Minez, Zouk Fuck, The Gooeys, Darren Wantz, Phil Withers, and most recently, Un Blonde.
A few of the bands that ended up on the Egg Paper Factory roster played at Comrad Sound during this time and were all around the same age. Those include Gretchen, Telstar, and Dories (then Kindergarden). At that time Audet was playing in Faux Fur with Michael Halls and Andy Flegel (the brother of Patrick Flegel and Matthew Flegel of the previously mentioned group Women). Getting a grasp on the interconnectivity that exists between these core members can be tough; if they aren’t directly collaborating in the form of a band, it’s almost certain to find one playing in the live band of the other, or at least mixing or mastering the others’ project.
Before Egg Paper Factory in Montreal, there was Meow Posse in Calgary (minus a few members). Although both labels were started for the same reason of "putting all of our recordings on one webpage,” according to Boguski, the degree of seriousness varied. Alongside sampled farts and experimental video game music on Posse, you can find beautiful recordings of collaborations between the five friends, including Fallopian Grooves (Halls, McMahan), No You Hang Up (Halls), Creature Comforts (McMahan), and Dwagme (Audet, McMahan), among others.
Meow Posse came into existence shortly after Comrad Sound closed down, and it too lived a relatively short life. It’s easy to see why, as it never seemed to be more than a joke label where a few friends could post scraps of musical projects online. Just a year later, Halls and McMahan were trying to think of another name for a label that they could put out recordings, finally settling on Egg Paper Factory (egg paper being a fictional currency the two imagined). This was 2012, two years before the label was launched in earnest. There are plenty of great bands from this era that get released, but don’t make it on to the official label later in Montreal, bands like The Squids (McMahan, Boguski, Halls), Darren Wantz (Audet), and Edie Bread (McMahan).
The incredible output of the Calgary scene was due in part to the diverse, close-knit community of supportive musicians, most of them below thirty yet still representing different musical “generations.” Older bands like Women, Puberty, Friendo, and Beija Flor played alongside high school bands like Telstar Drugs, Faux Fur, Man Legs, and Gretchen — the former mentoring the latter, but no doubt the two inspiring each other as well. Then there’s also the fact that those making music in Calgary were doing so it in spite of where they lived, and not because of it. The Calgary music scene thrived because it was so concentrated and because its musicians saw themselves as being a minority: a minority which cared about doing something other than making money off of oil.
Montreal, then, represents a sort of cultural beacon for Calgarians, and much of Canada for that matter, where, in the words of Boguski, “a lot of young kids come to search for a bigger music scene.” One of those kids was Alex Bourque, whom Boguski met soon after moving to Montreal for college. The two hit it off because of Bourque’s knowledge of Calgary bands, “bands I thought only people in Calgary would know,” Boguski says. Telstar Drugs continued to play shows, and at the same time that Halls, Audet, Bourque, Boguski and McMahan were all doing their own projects, they continued to collaborate frequently. Again, the idea of putting all of their recorded music onto a single web page presented itself. Instead of returning to Meow Posse, they decided to go with the somewhat more serious name of Egg Paper Factory. In April of 2014 they picked out four of their favorite releases that had already been recorded and released them on the Egg Paper Bandcamp page. Over the last eighteen months they’ve put out ten subsequent releases, either their own projects or those of friends.
Today, the four label heads (Boguski, McMahan, Lavoie, and Bourque) live under the same roof, working at a cafe next door to pay rent. All are between the ages of 21-23, and half of them are still in college. Labelmates The Dories live nearby, and operate a venue called Poisson Noir that Boguski calls “a whole nother pod of its own.” Keeping with the quick pace that the label has already set, September will the release of a new Telstar Drugs album as well as the debut of a supergroup called Family Band, composed of Josh Boguski, Talia Boguski, Lavoie, and McMahan (if “supergroup” even has any meaning in the context of the ever-interwoven Egg Paper factory crew).
Egg Paper Factory’s story is not a lesson on how to find financial success or widespread recognition (not yet anyway) — it's a lesson on what can be done to “make a scene”: mutual respect among artists of different ages, collaboration among friends, and some sort of physical space to rally around (a lower cost of living than NYC doesn’t hurt as well).
For those interested, there’s a lot more to learn about the Calgary music scene. A good place to start might be here.
In researching this article, I had to listen to a lot of music. Here’s a compilation of my favorite Calgary cuts that aren't already on this page: