The Origins of Shed Island
Shed Island is a new independent music festival taking place August 14-17th in St. John’s, Newfoundland. I sat down with promoters Glen May and Micah Brown to find out a little bit about the origin of the festival, and the community from which it stems.
Editors note: Since the recording of this interview, the band Battlewulf [Toronto], have dropped their NL tour dates.
Kieran: I want to talk a little bit about what Shed Island is, because I think you guys have been pretty coy up until this point.
Brown: Not without intention. I like to advertise things in as confusing a way as possible, y’know just to really mess with people’s minds.
May: We want you to think we don’t want you to come but, we really want you to.
Kieran: I thought it was pretty cool when you didn’t want me to come.
May: Maybe we should stop this interview now.
Kieran: Well what is it? What is Shed Island?
Brown: The entity or the festival? I think it is sort of two things at this point. Ultimately it is going to be a weekend in mid-August — August fourteenth to the seventeenth. A few bands are coming from out of town, and basically what you have is the cumulative forces of people who like to book shows and play music around town in a certain scene. We decided to band forces and bring some of our favourite semi-local, but really out of town artists. We’re not reaching too far. Maritimes, you know.
May: Yeah it is all pretty East Coast. I think the furthest we have is Toronto.
Kieran: So Glen, what kind of bands do you have coming in?
May: Some of them are touring acts, but most of them we are just bringing in for the festival. We’re bringing in The Mouhtbreathers (Sackville), Battlewulf (Toronto), Old and Weird (Halifax), and Surveillance (Halifax).
Kieran: What made you guys want to establish this festival? Was Salmon Fest not enough for you?
Brown: It almost was, and that was sorta like the make or break. Statistically, we had to look at Salmon Fest for the last ten years. We broke it down into spreadsheets and at the end of the day it just came up short.
May: Just constant disappointment, y’know?
Brown: That’s it. I think there has been an unrepresented demographic for a long time, and it’s not to say that our community here hasn’t been productive, because I think it has been extremely productive. It’s one of the few groups of musicians that is not the really popular indie artists who are consistently putting out releases, playing shows and going on tour too.
May: And getting grants.
May: Well they apply for it, and generally most the bands we are looking at playing with who are local don’t really get grants, or don’t have a lot of the popular support. Not that people don’t like them, they’re almost like unsung heroes, y’know?
Brown: Yeah, totally. And I mean, I think a lot of the time their those kinds of bands that you’re not going to have a reunion for said band at Mile One Stadium in a few years. But it will be like that classic local release that you have that you find when you’re moving and you’re like “Fuck, I gotta throw that in.” You listen to the songs and it just throws you back to a time. It’s like, really, I don’t know. DIY.
May: Busting out the dirty word.
Kieran: So you’re fundraising yourselves too right?
May: Yeah, that is probably biggest distinction between this festival and say, Lawnya Vawnya for example, which is probably the closest thing that we could compare this to locally. Most other fests in general would search for grants, search for sponsorships, anything like that. But we are doing it entirely out of pocket.
Brown: What a bunch of idiots. ‘So what you’re trying to sell me is a music festival with not overly popular bands, you’re funding it yourselves, with no intent to make any money.
Kieran: But you guys had some fun stuff happening leading up to the festival too, it’s not just going to be that weekend, right?
Brown: No, I mean we already did a few things. We had our first showcase and that was at the Rose and Thistle. The fine folks at the Rose and Thistle do not mind us being loud or raucous. We had another one in July, and that [lineup] was entirely new bands. I’d say a big part of the ethos behind this is we just want to make things happen in the community, so that is sort of another benefit of having fundraisers. It is a reason to get people out and sort of involved
May: Yeah it really reflects the fact that everybody that is involved is kind of just doing because they think it is an interesting thing to do. Nobody is really looking at it as like a money grab or anything in that respect. Everybody just seems to be into it for the sake of doing [the festival].
Kieran: So, it really is a grassroots project.
May: That’s another dirty word I wanted to avoid using but, it’s totally legit — that’s exactly what it is. It is 100% grassroots. We’re relying on the local artists to play because they want to do it.
Brown: Yeah, contact us. We have a Facebook page if you search up Shed Island and www.shedisland.com is the website. We’re official, we got the .com, we splurged for it, didn’t settle for the .tk.
May: Who knows, by the time this interview goes out we will probably have some more avenues to be reached on. We’ll have some more Facebook presence that really gets the information out a little bit more.
Brown: It is honestly a big learning process because I think it is just us doing what we don’t like having to do with music, but it is essentially what musicians have to do to stay relevant.
May: Yeah exactly, we’re exposing ourselves to this other angle of things that for the most part we were like ‘fuck that waste of time.’ You’re right, [putting off shows and getting involved] is totally necessary, and it is not even 100% difficult.
I don’t know, when you sit down to write a bio for music it is like music criticism, how do you really describe a band or a sound? It almost seems fruitless when you get it done. You’re like ‘why am I writing a bio for this band? Just click the fucking link and listen to them. Get just as stoked as I am.’ But that is how this kind of thing works.
Brown: Yeah or like managing the Facebook page or things like that, where essentially you’re just trying to get people to come out. And I mean I think that is what we have to do, and I’m not complaining about that, I’m saying it is something we’ve avoided up until this time.
It is such a scene that is based around friends playing music in their basement and then when they practice enough they invite people into their basement to play music. We just enjoy ourselves. And the funny thing about it that always really sort of shocks me is that it is not any less popular than anything else that is happening in the city, in fact it is more happening a lot of the times.
Like you could go to a random bar on an average night, or a house show, and you will probably see more people at the house show unless it is a well promoted thing downtown. But I think it just has lacked a legitimacy for so long, and it’s just sort of become almost a running joke among people who are a part of it. I guess this is sort of the jump to that legitimacy because we want to do something bigger.
When you bring a dozen people who do not live in Newfoundland to Newfoundland it costs money. But also, we love the shit out of these bands and what their doing, and that is the biggest part. We just want people to see these bands because we love it, we think it is the coolest thing on earth, people in other places love it. So, we’re trying to make it as accessible as possible, get people involved, we don’t want real hierarchy behind it.
May: We want to expose people here to stuff away, we want to expose people away to stuff from here. I was talking to my friend Colin Moore, he said that he went out to Fredericton for the night and people there were talking about Shed Island. Word is getting out there, and if that is something then who knows?
Kieran: Speaking in terms of legitimacy, are you guys looking to any organizations for help? I know you aren’t for fundraising, but how about promotion or distribution?
Brown: Are you talking about conspiring with the man?
May: Let’s go back to the beginning of the interview: DIY.
Brown: It is more like nobody wants to help us out.
Kieran: Well I’ve heard a rumor that you are in cahoots with some Weird Canada folk.
May: There is truth about that.
Brown: Weird Canada are awesome.
May: I haven’t been talking specifically to anyone from Weird Canada, I think Chris Scott who is also involved has. Chris Scott and Michael Phillips are the other guys who are doing a lot of work for this. Chris Scott has been talking to the Weird Canada folks, and without revealing too much of what is going down just yet, they want to get involved and give us a hand. They’re really into the whole DIY festival thing, you and your friends can put one off. It is not impossible. They have an article up on their website that is “how to put off your own DIY festival.” They want to help work with it. A lot of the bands we are bringing in are on Weird Canada, they have a lot of coverage on Weird Canada. The Mouthbreathers, Old and Weird, Surveillance, anything they do will inevitably be on Weird Canada.
Brown: Yeah I think Battlewulf did a few Weird Canada showcases. If you google that band, you will see it.
May: It is cool that they want to get involved, they are super into it, and really nice people. There is not really a strong connection between Weird Canada and St. John’s right now, though there really should be. Hopefully this will be something to kickstart it all, and maybe we can see more Newfoundland presence on Weird Canada stuff.
Brown: Oh man, they are awesome. I remember when they first got that grant money to be what they are now. From what they were to where they are now, I think logistically anything like that some takes time, but the work they are doing and how they can mesh in with this sort of stuff, it is just an amazing resource to have. So to know that we somehow might have tapped into a small part of that is really cool. I want people everywhere to know about it. The hope, ultimately with this sort of thing, is that you want to be able to do it well, and you want to be able to do it well enough that you can do it again. So, if we can build it, and if we have someone on a national level like them who are willing to…
May: Hold us up a little bit.
Brown: Yeah it is huge, it really means a lot. I guess a big part of that is I just think there is so much cool stuff going on here. I hear about things that are happening in other places so much, and I am so exposed to it that sometimes you can just forget what’s in your backyard.