6 Canadian indie-rock staples from Squirtgun Records

by Michael Small

November 27, 2014






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This past summer, By Divine Right‘s Jose Contreras released his first solo album. And aside from the critical acclaim it received, it was important for another reason: It marked the return of Squirtgun Records imprints, whose founder, Lee Maslin, also produced the records. Originally based in Brampton, Squirtgun was an important part of the Canadian indie-rock landscape from 1995 to 1998, releasing a torrent of 7-inch singles and CDs from Ontario and Maritime acts like Hayden, Elevator to Hell, the Hardship Post, By Divine Right, and hHead (whose bassist was a young Brendan Canning).

The company’s “send us a self-addressed, stamped envelope for free stickers” offer, which ended each of their snail-mail newsletters, put their bands’ names on high school lockers (and campus radio furniture) nationwide—especially after a few particularly successful albums and 7-inch singles. Here, we’ve listed some of our favourites.

By Divine Right — All Hail Discordia (Squirt CD-79)

Jose Contreras had been releasing cassettes as By Divine Right since 1989, but 1997’s All Hail Discordia was BDR’s breakthrough, and it was remastered and reissued in short order by west-coast giant Nettwerk Records. At 16 songs, this is a definite product of the CD era, but even at that length, the songs are consistently awesome, with a dynamic, warm, and heavy sound.

My friend Colin and I saw BDR at an all-ages Exclaim! anniversary party at the Masonic Temple (later partially gutted to become MTV Canada’s headquarters), and I remember us both saying that we’d just seen one of the best bands of our teenage lives. Our teenage lives obviously dug the refrain, “We put the high in high school.” Anyway, it was high praise coming from Colin, who did lighting for the tribute bands his dad managed every weekend. For me, watching Jose Contreras freak out to the sound of his own guitar chords, ringing out and fading through a tremolo or delay pedal (I dunno, I play bass), while the rhythm section locked everything down was inspiring. I went out and bought this album immediately. I bought the reissue too.

Full disclosure: I, like several Toronto bassists, am an ex-member of By Divine Right (2004-2007).

Poledo / Hayden — Lunar Landing Confirmed split 7-inch (Squirt SI-71)

Poledo and Hayden were both Sonic Unyon artists at this time, but here they were, splitting a 7-inch on Squirtgun Records. This kind of friendly co-operation reminds me of the time I played some old NHL hockey video game on co-op mode in a living room in Arlington, Virginia with a bandmate of mine, and our American host mocked us for being “way too Canadian.” But I digress.

Poledo‘s Mitch Roth and Josh Malinsky were Hayden’s high school bandmates; after Poledo broke up (here’s the handbill for their final show), Roth and Malinksy became members of Hayden’s backing band.

This may be Squirtgun’s most sought-after release—it has an asking price of $45 on Discogs.com, so I’m thinking of selling mine. Just kidding. It’s too awesome to sell. Anyway, check out that song! (Hayden’s side is pretty good too.)

Various Artists — More Of Our Stupid Noise (Squirt CD-74)

Before the internet made everything awesome, record-label compilation CDs were an important way for independent-music fans to hear new bands. Squirtgun’s apparent answer to Sonic Unyon Rock Hits, this one was a monster: 22 songs from people like Hayden, Eric’s Trip, Elevator to Hell, Julie Doiron (credited here as Broken Girl), hHead, and “Bubble and Star (Here’s Where the Guitars Come In),” a Superchunk-referencing, fake-live Treble Charger song I might count among the best rock songs of the 1990s. Maybe.

Most of Squirtgun’s own roster appeared as well, and Americans Lou Barlow and Versus rounded it out. The CD’s bright, translucent green jewel case stuck out like an inanimate carbon rod on the CD shelves of nearly every iMPACT and Exclaim!-reading, Brave New Waves-taping indie rock-lover in the land. The final track was a punk rock cover of the “Laverne and Shirley” theme by none other than Len—yeah, that Len. It was already kinda legendary as the song they cut a Lee’s Palace matinee short with, after getting into an onstage spat with [name redacted]…

Two years later, the collection was reissued by Nettwerk as More of Our Stupid Noise ’98 with a slightly altered tracklist, including additions from Bionic, By Divine Right, Mystery Machine, and the Bonaduces. The front cover’s frowning, bearded sasquatch was replaced by a sorta-smiling gorilla, and the bright green jewel case was replaced by… some kind of beige.

Radioblaster — Sugar-Shock (Squirt CD-67)

An album with an overwhelming amount of fuzz-pedal distortion. The back cover tries to warn you with its photo of three Russian Big Muff pedals wired into each other. (The Big Muffs were also featured on Radioblaster shirts, and many were introduced to the band after Rusty singer Ken MacNeil wore one in the “Misogyny” video.) Their distortion needs to be heard to be believed, and I suggest skipping ahead to “G-Force,” below, for maximum ear punishment. A contemporary iMPACT Magazine interview answers every band’s most-hated question—”what are your influences”—with “mostly Eric’s Trip,” and that sounds about right.

The proverbial spoonful of sugar balancing it all out is the sweet boy-girl vocals, with lyrics about shyness, failing relationships, and playing Punchbuggy (the worst road-trip game ever—if you’ve never heard of it, you’re lucky). The last track was recorded by The Sadies’ Dallas Good, which gives it, according to one present-day reviewer, “lasting street cred.”

Radioblaster’s second album, Listen Closer, featured more complex, dynamic songs, and a wider range of instruments, but the band broke up soon after its 1997 release. Songwriter and bassist Derek Tokar was the only one to continue in music afterwards: you can hear him these days in the band Uncut.

Moon Socket — Take the Mountain (Squirt CD-80)

Moon Socket was Chris Thompson (of Eric’s Trip) supported by Ron Bates, who released his own music as Orange Glass—more on that project later. These two albums represent Squirtgun’s foray into the fuzzy, distorted pop centred around the music scene of Moncton, NB, and its hometown heroes Eric’s Trip (Squirtgun also released 7-inch singles for Thee Suddens, the Hardship Post, and Elevator to Hell).

Moon Socket’s most direct appeal was, by association, to Eric’s Trip fans. Stylistically, this album fit in with Eric’s Trip’s aesthetic: four-track cassette recordings of simple, honest pop songs with minimal, distorted instrumentation and lo-fi vocals. To my knowledge, they only played in Toronto once, at Lee’s Palace.

Orange Glass — Interstellar Interstellar (Squirt CD-75)

Orange Glass’ noisy, distorted, tape-saturated and psychedelic rock was introduced to us Ontarians by “Feel 500,” their song on More of Our Stupid Noise, and their 1996 full-length album offered a wide range of sounds to complement it. I saw them play a matinee show in a half-full Rivoli; they may never have returned to Toronto, though OG (as they were affectionately known) released at least one more record, the critically-acclaimed Underwater Underground, in 2001.

The label went dormant after Squirtgun Records: The Singles 1995-1997, a CD compilation of its 7-inch vinyl releases, including Radioblaster, The New Grand, Speedbuggy, Thee Suddens, Poledo, Hayden, The (New) Hardship Post, Elevator to Hell, hHead, and a Noah’s Arkweld song featuring a young Sarah Slean. Many of the bands on its roster had broken up and/or moved on. Squirtgun’s final album release of the 1990s was the self-titled debut from Montreal’s Bionic.

Michael Small is the bassist of the Meligrove Band.

Tags: Music, Cancon, News, Bionic, by divine right, Elevator, Eric's Trip, Hardship Post, Hayden, hHead, Jose Contreras, Len, Lou Barlow, Moon Socket, More of Our Stupid Noise, mystery machine, Orange Glass, Poledo, Radioblaster, Speedbuggy, Squirtgun Records, The Bonaduces, The New Grand, The Sadies, Thee Suddens, Treble Charger, Versus






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