Since its launch in 2002, Toronto-based (weewerk) has maintained a reputation as one of Canada’s most vital independent record labels, as well as artist management and promotion companies.
Co-founder and self-described “indie-rock defender” Phil Klygo has never wavered from (weewerk)’s original mandate to release music by cutting edge Canadian roots-based artists, a vision that kick-started the careers of Elliott Brood, among others.
Klygo and (weewerk)’s most lasting partnership remains with Great Lake Swimmers, whose self-titled 2003 debut album effectively put the label on the map. Although the band subsequently moved to Nettwerk Music Group, Klygo and (weewerk) continue to serve in a management capacity.
Another of Klygo’s personal projects has been helping re-establish Art Bergmann as one of Canada’s most respected singer/songwriters. Although Bergmann will always be known as one of the Vancouver punk scene’s founders, since his 2014 (weewerk) EP Songs For The Underclass, he has experienced somewhat of a career renaissance, as evidenced by his 2016 Polaris Prize long-listed full-length album The Apostate.
With the demands of running an indie label becoming a labour of love more than ever, we caught up with Phil Klygo to find out what keeps him going.
(weewerk) has been a going concern now for 15 years. How would you describe the company’s evolution?
Unique and profound. It’s been a once in a lifetime opportunity that I attribute to karma and the right timing. (weewerk) originally started in the fall of 2002 as an experimental salon/gallery space in our apartment above the [Toronto] record store Rotate This at their Queen St. West location. Co-founder Germaine Koh and I started doing one off events there that showcased mixtures of art and music. We purposely kept things low-key in terms of promotion, preferring to have word of mouth spread what we were up to. It did not take long before the space took off and we had folks eager to not only come to our events but to host their show.
One of the first musical acts we booked was Great Lake Swimmers and Tony [Dekker] ended up asking us if we would help him with his debut album’s release. We became a boutique indie label overnight. More than a year later we ended up moving from that space and (weewerk) began to focus entirely on being a full-fledged label with proper national distribution through Outside Music.
We had a tremendous run of album releases including the debut from Elliott Brood, The Barmitzvah Brothers, United Steel Workers of Montreal, Canteen Knockout, Ox, Jon-Rae Fletcher, Don Browning, The Two-Minute Miracles, and more. Late in 2006 I took over running the company and (weewerk) began managing Great Lake Swimmers, which led to a whole new level of work. It got so busy that I resigned as Festival Director from Canadian Music Week to focus entirely on the label and management.
What are the biggest challenges you've had to adapt to recently?
Over the last several years the challenge has been turning a profit over the expense of manufacturing product, promotion, mail-outs, etc. With the steady rise of streaming services taking centre stage in terms of how people consume music it has meant drastic cuts in sales across the board of digital and physical sales, whereas it has become a real challenge for any label or artist releasing albums to make money. On the other hand, as the industry around touring and live shows continues to get smaller, the competition for the best venues and show dates means you now have to start even earlier with planning a proper album release which can be difficult.
As mentioned, your longest relationship has been with Tony Dekker and Great Lake Swimmers. What's on the horizon for them?
Yes, working with Tony since the beginning has been an honour. In 2006 we had some initial interest from Mark Jowett at Nettwerk during the band’s SXSW performance and we decided it made the best sense to sign with Nettwerk in hopes that partnering with them would exponentially build awareness of the band. That indeed happened with their next album Ongiara in 2007, and we’ve done five more albums with Nettwerk since then. The Swimmers are working on their next full length now, which we hope to have released in the spring of 2018. The band has some summer and fall festival plays this year as well, including Mariposa Folk Festival and headlining appearances at the Sandbanks Music Festival and Ontario Small Halls Festival.
You've also been working closely with Art Bergmann. How would you describe that relationship?
Working with Art has been an interesting challenge, as well as a learning experience for me personally. Art had sort of retired and dropped away from the music scene for over 16-17 years, so it was an real eye-opener putting out his first new music after all that time with the Songs For The Underclass EP. There was a lot of excitement from folks who began to realize that this icon of the ‘70s and ‘80s punk years was in fact still alive and not only kicking but offering up some of his best music to date. When he followed that up with The Apostate in 2016, it really affected me. So much of what Art writes about is right up my alley and I love that he gives zero fuck all about telling the truth. It makes for some interesting and refreshing social media exchanges I can tell you. And I think the bottom line for Art, like all artists, is that he just wants his songs heard by the people. I think (weewerk) has done an extremely good job of that, as we have done with all the albums in our discography.
What (weewerk) release means the most to you and why?
I am a real fan of all the music that (weewerk) has released or they simply would not be on the label, but I think the recent re-release of Art Bergmann’s 1991 self-titled album, which he retitled Remember Her Name, is the one I feel most strongly about right now. Not only are we trying to help Art reclaim his back catalog but this album comes across almost like a greatest hits package to me. Every song is stellar and re-releasing this album more than 25 years later sort of feels magical as well as powerful. To know that songs this good still stand up over time in a testament to Art’s songwriting talents, and I think working with (weewerk) has helped motivate him to continue to create new songs which is a win-win situation for us all.