Friday, December 07, 2012

Interview: Matthew Cuthbert (A Mountain Far)


I don't think it would be much of a stretch to say that without A Mountain Far, there would be no hardcore scene in Toronto. Over the last four years Matthew Cuthbert has taken AMF from a promoter pet-project to the heart beat of the city's fledgling DIY community -- if you've seen a touring band in a Toronto basement within the last couple of years, there's a good chance Matt helped put it on. AMF also operates as a label, with a killer catalogue of music from local favourites such Animal Faces and Creeper, as well as impressive international acts like Beau Navire and Cerce. I recently had a chance to sit and chat with Matt about the future of AMF, the challenge of running a business, and most importantly, Orchid records. Enjoy.

TMHT: Let's get this bad boy started. What do you do at AMF?
Matthew Cuthbert: Everything, for better or worse (laughs). I do as much as I can basically, sometimes better than other times. I run shows, do releases, run a distro, that kind of stuff.
TMHT: Is it just you working on the label?
MC: Yeah it is. I've been contemplating expanding it with a couple of close friends, but for the four-ish years it's been running, it's been me. Which is cool, but it's also a lot of work.
TMHT: So how do you balance running a label with like...
MC: Real life? (laughs) It's tough. It used to be a lot easier; when I had a job that was completely brain-dead and I sat in front of a computer all day long, I pretty much did most of my booking and stuff at work. Then I was unemployed for six months starting [in the summer of 2011], and during that time I got so much label shit done because it was kind of keeping me sane and productive. Now that I'm working full time again, however, it definitely is more stressful. I guess it's just a matter of knowing your limits in terms of what you can handle. Am I going to do as many shows as I did when I was unemployed? No. But if I think a show is really awesome, I'm gonna find a way to do it.
TMHT: How many shows do you think you do a month?
MC: It depends on the season really, because in the winter there might be zero for like three or four months at a time, but in the summer there will be like three or four a month. This month [August, 2012] there will be four, which isn't that unreasonable. There will be some months like May or June where everybody starts touring again where I'll do like six shows, which is almost too much for me. This is my 73rd show tonight, I've been keeping track of them.
Random Voice in the Background: Do you have posters for all your shows?
MC: Most of them...
RV: Can you send me the posters for all the shows I've played so I can put them in my room?
MC: Sure
RV: Yeaaaaaah... 
TMHT: What motivated you to start the label four years ago?
MC: Yeah, I didn't really know what screamo or DIY hardcore or anything like that was until I was like 17 or 18, when I saw this band from Mississauga called the Strawman Fallacy. When I saw them I kind of had this eureka moment, and I ended up making friends with the singer from that band, who's like the nicest dude ever. He encouraged me to check out that kind of music, and I became intrigued with the community that goes with the music. But at first, the community wasn't very welcoming; a lot of people were from the same suburb; they were very insular and kind of looked at me like I was the weird kid from downtown that hung out at their shows. So at first it was a little daunting, but after a while people grew up and stopped being as into it, so shows got fewer and further between. That's when I decided I wanted to start putting on shows just so I could see the bands I wanted to see, and it kind of just went from there.
TMHT: Most of your releases so far have been of the "emo/screamo" variety, but for example, at the Xerxes show you put on, both of the local bands playing were straight up hardcore bands. Do you have any plans to branch out more into different sounds?
MC: Yeah, it's kind of all over the place. I have done a couple different releases, like I did the Mighty Atom/Total Trash split which is like a straight up punk/hardcore kinda thing. My heart is definitely in to emo and post-hardcore, so that's typically what catches my ear more, but to me if something is just awesome, I don't really care what the subgenre is. The next release I'm doing is with a band from Massachusetts called Cerce, which somebody described as if Bikini Kill were a doom-metal band, because they're this heavy as fuck hardcore band with this really awesome female singer. So yeah, I think it boils down to personal taste, but I think the label will always be rooted in the more emo/post-hardcore stuff.
TMHT: So how much does "business" factor into doing the label?
MC: More than I would like to be honest. In terms of shows it's a bit easier i guess. Well, here's the thing, for years I was really lucky and I never really had a show that bombed. So I would never really make money from shows, but I wouldn't really lose it either, so it was easy to do it for the joy of it and hang out with bands or whatever. But then I had a string of shows that didn't do well so I had to start dealing with venues and paying band's guarantees, and that's when it stops being fun and starts stressing you the fuck out. So that's why I'm trying to work with a small group of people to get a new DIY venue started in Toronto, kind of like a new Siesta Nouveaux but not sketchy (laughs). I mean, as cool as a place like Parts & Labour is, it's a business and it has to earn money. And if the bar's not doing well by the end of the night, I'm gonna be footed with a pretty big bill.
Also, I kinda suck at business, so with the releases I might spend $1000 on a release, and I might get it back, but it's in 10 or 20 dollar increments over the next year, and I'm not really paying attention at that point. So even though I made my money back, it's still showing as a net loss on my credit card. So I guess the short answer to your question is: more than I'd like it to.
TMHT: What would you say is the hardest part of running a label?
MC: I think getting it started is the hardest part to be honest, because once you really get it going and you've shown people that you're not sketchy and that you're willing to be honest about what you're into, people who are into the same things you are will find you somehow. Like for this show I literally don't even know these guys and they just sent me an e-mail saying "hey we hear you do these kind of shows, would you be able to do one of ours?" But at first it can be really daunting, especially if you're only doing it locally and getting your feet wet understanding the ins and outs of it. To be honest I see a couple new promoters every year who think to themselves "hey, I can put a couple bands on a bill, get a hundred people in a room, and make a lot of money for a nights work." Yeah, but if you aren't honest and you take most of the money and walk out on the bands, people notice really quickly, and they won't wanna keep doing things with you. If I was a bit more unscrupulous perhaps I'd be less financially stressed, but I also wouldn't care nearly as much. I don't really need to turn music and art into a money-making venture; I have a job for that.
TMHT: What kind of long-term goals or overarching purpose do you have for the label?
MC: It's funny, the label's called "A Mountain Far" because when I was scribbling stuff in class, the name  implied a sense of looking at a really far away goal and being like "let's get there," which felt appropriate because when I started doing shows under the moniker (before all the label stuff) I just wasn't seeing what I wanted to see, and I wanted to bring that closer. Things have come a long way from there, and I'm proud of that. Overall, I'd love to keep going, and I just don't ever want to get sick of it. But as long as I'm supporting stuff I like, and it's still honest and I still love to do it, then we'll figure it out. In terms of the label, I want to have a number of releases that I can look back on and be like "I can't believe I got to help put that out", which has kind of happened already, and I'm super stoked on that. I'm kind of rambling right now, but I just want to make sure it's honest and fun, and to make sure there's good shit going on. I want to have an alternative to those kinds of "cool guy" bar shows, because those have never really been my thing. I'm more interested in a community and a progressive atmosphere that has a cool vibe and makes people feel welcome rather than intimidated.
TMHT: What would you say the most rewarding part of running AMF is then?
MC: The friendship involved, most definitely. I make fun of these guys [the various members of Foxmoulder/Delo Truda running in and out of the room] all the time, but they've been some mainstays in my life for the past four years. Like my band is hoping to go on tour in the UK next year, a lot of which has to do with the fact that I've released records for bands over there, and those bands are stoked to have us come play over there with them. Are we gonna lose money? Oh fuck yeah, totally. We'll probably lose tons of money; but I'm willing to go on vacation with my band and sleep on people's floors. It's amazing how people you've barely met will treat you like an old friend if you're willing to extend that mindset towards them. We're not cool guys at all, we're just like, nerds who like shit. People recognize it with each other and they're almost best pals, like "oh sweet, you hunted down all the Orchid records too?"...
TMHT: Have you hunted down all the Orchid records?
MC: Actually my drummer has, even though I'm a waaay bigger Orchid fan (laughs), I've still gotta get two or three. I've got the skull split, which is pretty sweet.
TMHT: Do you have the Pig Destroyer split?
MC: I do, except it's missing the Pig Destroyer insert, but that's okay. I wasn't really getting it for them anyways. I'm missing Encyclopedia of American Traitors, Red Scare, and Combatwoundedveteran. But, yeah, you know what I mean? This is the kind of nerdy conversation I like to have (laughs).
TMHT: Any last words?
MC: Thanks so much to everyone who's supported me so far, I couldn't have done it without you.