Volume 92, Issue 18

Friday, October 2, 1998

homing in


Peeling back musical history

By Shawn Despres
Gazette Staff

Four score and seven years ago – oops wrong story. Actually this story started about five years ago.

Two young men, Mark Milne and Sandy McIntosh, got a little creative and decided to release some recordings by their band, Tristan Psionic and a couple of recordings by some of their friends' bands. They decided to release the tapes under a label they had created, which they called Sonic Unyon. Little did they know how the next five years would unfold.

"When Sandy was going to the University of Waterloo we were sitting in his basement one night putting together the first cassette for our band and we decided that we should put it on a label," says Mark Milne, co-owner of Sonic Unyon and guitarist for Tristan Psionic.

"We thought about starting a little label and we were like, well, what would we call it? We were reading an article on Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine and they described his guitar playing as peeling back the layers of a sonic onion. So we changed the spelling of onion to unyon so it was spelled differently than the vegetable. And then I told Sandy to draw the logo because he's the art guy," Milne remembers.

"When we first started the label, we never really expected to do more than release a few records for ourselves and maybe a few other bands locally," Milne says. "Over the first year expectations began to grow because things started working pretty well. But they didn't grow like crazy. If anything it was our geographical expectations that began to grow."

In the fall of 1994, after the label had set up effective coast–to–coast distribution, Sonic Unyon began to distribute other labels as well as its own.

"We thought that there was a lot of stuff worth getting out there that wasn't getting out there or at least wasn't getting out there effectively," Milne says.

"So we thought, as a service to like-minded labels, we could help them out. Besides, it makes more sense to ship 25 records than it does to ship one or two records. So it was also an economies of scale thing that sort of expanded. We started with sister labels, doing a few records and now we do hundreds of labels," Milne says. "Well not hundreds, I'm exaggerating a bit."

He's not exaggerating that much, as there are now over 60 labels distributed by Sonic Unyon throughout Canada. These labels range from small ones like Poster Girl Records and Sappy Records to some of the bigger American indie labels like Epitaph, Fat Wreck Chords and SpinART.

After almost five years of hard work and a move from Milne's basement to an office in downtown Hamilton, Sonic Unyon has established itself as a leader in the indie label industry.

As a result of its success, Sonic Unyon is holding its "Fifth Anniversary Party" at its offices on Oct. 3. Scheduled to play are Blonde Redhead, Thrush Hermit, Tristan Psionic, Danko Jones, Tricky Woo, Windy and Carl, Asha Vida, echoSEND, The New Grand, Mayor McCa, Shallow, North Dakota, Chore, Julie Doiron, Mean Red Spiders, 78 Days, Sinsick and Bill Priddle of Treble Charger. As well, there will be DJs spinning electronica, funk and space/drone throughout the day.

After the long haul in this growing business, one question remains – any regrets? "I don't think I really regret anything," Milne says, after several seconds of pondering.

As for the label's greatest accomplishment, Milne cites the endurance of the business. "It's really hard to do with any business, especially with one that's as competitive as ours. We've been really lucky and we work really hard which has a lot to do with it.

"I think the greatest accomplishment is managing to run the label, distribute for other labels, and keep our band going to some extent. We're opening a store and now we have a building, we manage the offices and the practice spaces – plus we've been renovating," he says.

"We take on a lot of work, I think it's kind of amazing that we pull it off. I mean we're more or less dedicating our whole existence to it." Hopefully Milne and McIntosh will be able to continue their hard work and dedication to carry Sonic Unyon to its 10th anniversary and beyond.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1998