Kyle Cunjak  Photo: Justin Rutledge
Kyle Cunjak Photo: Justin Rutledge

Five Questions With... Forward Music Group's Kyle Cunjak

Halifax-based Forward Music Group isn’t an average label in many respects. The award-winning company has based its business model on offering artist-friendly contracts, maintaining a peer relationship with its roster, and pushing to make its acts viable outside of a commercial spectrum. While it covers genres from folk to jazz to alternative to electronic to roots, its artists overall are known pushing boundaries.

Forward is home to such names as former Snailhouse leader Michael Feuerstack, Snowblink’s Dan Meisha Goldman, in-demand session musician Joshua Van Tassel and others who, to date, account for Forward’s catalogue of over 75 releases.

This month marked Forward’s 10th anniversary, which is being celebrated with a new 12-track sampler, along with some select live shows. It provided an excellent opportunity to catch up with founder and owner Kyle Cunjak (a musician himself) and get his impressions on Forward’s growth, and what the future holds. You can find out more at forwardmusicgroup.com.

How have you planned to mark 10 years of Forward Music Group?

We've been promoting special shows all year, each featuring a variety of artists on the roster doing retrospective focuses on albums as they reach their decade-old status, through our mailing list and socials. And tying up loose ends on the digital release of our massive catalogue, and posting old photos, videos, audio, etc. It's been a fun experience to sift through old hard drives and emails to see how we've progressed since 2007.

So how would you describe the label's evolution?

It began with eager young minds with no clue working from a living room in Fredericton. From there it developed into vague professionalism in a tiny office of a converted schoolhouse with a couple of part-time employees. Then it became scrambling-to-keep-heads-above-water with interns and volunteers in the kitchen of a Halifax apartment to our current information-sharing collective working out of a fantastic office building in Halifax's North End community with a great team of part-time employees, a bookkeeper, and, from time-to-time, a mentee.

What's the best advice you ever took since you started the company?

I often cite a piece of advice I gave myself years ago that has helped keep my stress levels down and saved a lot of time and money—NEVER RUSH.

What are some of the albums you've put out that you're most proud of?

I’ll start with Snailhouse’s Sentimental Gentleman from 2011. As fans, we were quite excited to begin working on this project when Mike [Feuerstack] asked us to be his band for a few tours and then subsequently asked us to help make the final Snailhouse record. The chorus of “Airwaves” [“Surfing on the airwaves with the trust-fund kids”] is one of my favourite lines. It’s such a biting and subtle middle finger that unfortunately speaks a lot of truth. Dry wit is Mikey's speciality.

Also that year we put out Gypsophilia’s Constellation, which was the first time we worked with anyone outside our immediate FMG family. Gypsophilia approached us with this beautiful record, and when we “signed” them I had to figure out how to write a record contract. This was also our first instrumental release, the first jazz record we ever worked on, and the first coloured vinyl we pressed before that lost its appeal.

In 2012 we released the self-titled Paper Beat Scissors record, our first “big” international release. We partnered with Germany’s Ferryhouse Production on this album, which resulted in features in Rolling Stone and some more extensive European touring.

At the same time, we started our sister label Backward Music and put out Backward Music Vol. 1, consisting of work by three instrumental artists, Tim Crabtree, Joshua Van Tassel and Bing & Ruth. That was released as a special package with hand-screened jackets, the first few being gold-foil-stamped. We also made an accompanying interactive website, which got a bunch of digital attention that has resulted in millions of streams. I see that as some sort of milestone for an ambient album from Atlantic Canada—and it still helps us recoup losses from other albums.

In 2014, we did another project with Michael Feuerstack, Singer Songer.This record is unique to me for a few reasons. It's an amazing collaborative album where guest vocalists like Devon Sproule, Little Scream, Bry Webb, John K. Samson and others sing lyrics and melodies Mikey wrote specifically for them. It was a fascinating and well-executed concept. It was also our first significant Record Store Day release, before that thing went to shit, and was included in all the official promotion which, for a small team like us, was pretty neat.

If you could fix anything about the music business in general, what would it be?

Wow, that's a loaded question! There are so many things that need fixing in my opinion, but two of the big ones are equal opportunities for people of all backgrounds, gender, and regions, along with reforming immigration policies in North American, specifically for Canadians entering the US. Generally speaking though, I think there needs to be a better perception of the independent music industry, and how much work it takes to build a company like ours that has always stuck to its founding principles. I could go on.

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