Mint Records Celebrates A Quarter Century

Kerry Doole's picture
Mint Records fixture Nardwuar (middle) helps the gang celebrate
Mint Records fixture Nardwuar (middle) helps the gang celebrate

VANCOUVER: Mint Records has never had a gold-selling release. By plenty of other criteria, however, the Vancouver-based independent label has written a significant success story over its 25 years of life.

It has played an important role in building the careers of some notable Canadian (and American) artists, bringing them international exposure along the way. That list includes Cub, Neko Case and the New Pornographers, whose early recordings all came out on Mint.

2016 marks the 25th anniversary of Mint, though the label marked it in comparatively understated fashion. At its Christmas party at The Astoria in Vancouver last Saturday, a special anniversary cassette was given away. Quarter Life Crisis features 25 tracks from Mint artists and deep cuts from the Mint vaults. Playing at the party were Jay Arner, Supermoon, Faith Healer, Fake Tears, woolworm and Aaron Read.

In an interview with FYI yesterday, label co-founder Bill Baker rather downplayed the milestone. “Turning 20 was a big deal and 10 was a huge deal, but 25 rather feels like just another year," he says. “It is odd to believe it is a real thing, but it’s nice to hear it though.”

The roots of Mint Records can be traced to the University of BC’s radio station, CITR. That is where Baker met fellow indie music enthusiast Randy Iwata. After a lengthy stint volunteering there, the pair took the plunge and started a label. “We asked ourselves, ‘what could we do with our lives business-wise that could somehow capitalize on the experience we have had here?’” recalls Baker.

The first Mint release, in 1991, was a double A-side 7-inch single, shared by Windwalker and Tankhog. It was followed by a Windwalker full-length, and then a debut single by female Vancouver trio Cub that quickly grabbed attention. “Cub was a fuel that powered our engine for quite some time. We cut our teeth there,” says Baker.

The demise of Mint’s distributor, Cargo, in 1997 almost sank the label, but the success of early solo albums by Neko Case and then the signing of The New Pornographers brought rejuvenation.

Since then, the label has continued to release albums from artists in a wide range of genres. Baker estimates the total of Mint releases to date at “around 125 or 130.”

Prominent acts associated with the label include Gob, The Pack A.D., The Handsome Family, The Hanson Brothers, Duotang and Immaculate Machine. Those currently on the roster include Jay Arner, Renny Wilson, Carolyn Mark (a label stalwart), Geoff Berner, Halifax’s Monomyth, and The Evaporators.

Baker stresses that Mint only signs acts they genuinely like, as artists and as people. “We’ve had opportunities up the ying-yang to work with bands we didn’t really like but who we knew could make some money. But that has never been what it’s about. As long as we can keep an even keel where we’re not in the poorhouse and we still get to work with people we enjoy, that’s a blessing.”

Mint Records long-time Canadian distributor is Outside Music, with Revolver handling the US, Shellshock the UK, and a range of other companies covering European markets.

The label website is here. Look for more from our interview with Baker soon.