With Shauna De Cartier, Canadian music’s gain was likely the oil patch’s loss. You see, the popular president of leading indie label Six Shooter Records was on the fast track to corporate success prior to taking a leap of faith into starting the label.
“I have an MBA and I was in the corporate world in Edmonton, mostly corporate marketing positions prior to starting the label,” she recalls in a FYI interview. “One day I had four job offers, and I call that a frying pan to the head moment. I clearly needed to do some soul-searching to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I could see where the corporate path was headed. It would have been a really succesful journey, but I could look down the road and see myself at 60 looking back at what I had achieved. Coming from Alberta it likely would have been marketing for some oil company or something like that. Is that what I want my life to stand for?”
Her key decision? “I wanted my life to stand for something I believe in, which was art, so I left that world behind.”
De Cartier first took on managing a band of her friends, Captain Tractor, and then had a career-altering visit to Toronto for Canadian Music Week in 1999. “I went to a Paquin showcase at Ted’s Wrecking Yard and saw Veal, led by a little guy with a giant guitar. That was a life-changing experience, it totally inspired me.”
The little guy was Luke Doucet, who has been managed by De Cartier virtually ever since. Doucet’s current band Whitehorse is co-managed by her and Six Shooter Management president Helen Britton, and is one of the company’s biggest success stories.
Despite interest from the likes of Song Corp and Warners, De Cartier couldn’t land Doucet and Veal a deal, and that was in part impetus for her to move to Toronto and create Six Shooter Records in 2000.
At De Cartier’s urging, Doucet recorded a solo album, Aloha Manitoba, that would soon become the first official release (Six Shooter 601) on Six Shooter Records.
She had similar success in encouraging Martin Tielli of the Rheostatics to record his first solo album, We didn’t even suspect that he was the poppy salesman, another early SS release.
In the 15 years since, Six Shooter Records has put out albums from an impressive range of Canadian talents, with its number of releases just now hitting the 100 mark.
The label’s motto is “Life Is too Short To Listen To Shitty Music,” a memorable phrase De Cartier confesses she stole from publicist pal Bobbi Beeson. They’ve only put out records that she and others at the label love, as she explains. “Why do it otherwise? If you’re an indie label the music will reflect the passion and tastes of people at the label. I don’t expect to put out a jazz album.”
Discussing the label’s roster and identity, she notes that “It has changed a little through the years. There has always been a strong element of roots-based music which I love, but it’s not the only music I love. I feel we’ve done some art-rock projects, like Martin Tielli. We’ve managed The Weakerthans and Shout Out Out, an electro-dance band.
"In more recent times I felt Six Shooter was getting a little pigeonholed musically, with the roots-rock element getting too powerful and starting to limit us. We opened things up a little, then blew it wide open with [Polaris-winner] Tanya Tagaq. She has been a gamechanger for Six Shooter and our genre repertoire has really expanded. The Wet Secrets are a new label signing, and they’re definitely a rock n roll band. We now have Sam Outlaw and Whitney Rose, our first country signings.”
American Sam Outlaw is the first non-Canadian act SS has signed for the world (they have others, like Mary Gauthier, Shakey Graves and Wagons, signed for Canada).
Six Shooter Records was first distributed in Canada by Outside Music, then it enjoyed a ten year run with Warner Music Canada, prior to switching to Universal in 2014. De Cartier explains that the US market is one the company now is especially focused upon.
The majority of SS releases have been critical rather than large commercial successes, but the company has survived, even thrived, in a tough market. “Even though the industry has been a on a steady decline since 2000 our company has been on a steady incline,” says De Cartier. “Last year was our most successful year yet, though it was such a dismal year in the record industry as a whole.”
She acknowledges that the management side of the company has been crucial in this success. “That is always been how we’ve done it. Not that we manage every artist on the label, but managing a lot of them has made us a better label. We’ve used it as a vehicle, a tool to further the careers of the artists. Helen [Britton] is such a good manager, as shown by what she’s doing with Tanya Tagaq.”
Other notable artists to have recorded for Six Shooter include Jenn Grant, NQ Arbuckle, Danny Michel, The Deep Dark Woods, Elliott Brood, The Good Lovelies, and Hawksley Workman.
In 2012 De Cartier moved into the festival field, creating the Interstellar Rodeo fest that is now held annually in Edmonton and Winnipeg. She’s currently super-excited about scoring the new Case, Veirs, lang supergroup for the Winnipeg fest, noting “kd lang has been my dream headliner since starting the festival.”
Earlier Six Shooter ventures included a physical record store (now closed) on Queen Street East in Toronto, HQ for what this scribe fondly remembers as the best annual NXNE party. The company is now housed in a space fittingly adjacent to the Horseshoe Tavern.
Despite the company’s impressive track record, De Cartier observes she has much more to achieve. “I still don’t feel I’m successful. I guess my ambition is vast, but I feel I’m well on my way. Looking forward I have certain quantitative goals, likely out of reach. I’d love to do 100 headlline shows at Massey Hall! I’m about to do my seventh, Rheostatics and [SS artist] Amelia Curran on April 29th. A long way to go there!
I look at heroes like Bernie Finkelstein. I remember going to his office one time and seeing all the gold records on the wall, and a trophy case full of Junos. Will I get even one gold record?”
She cites current fast-rising folk-rockers The Strumbellas as a very good candidate for gold record status.
To her, “Part of the joy of it is the journey not the destination. I’m inspired by the artists I work with. Every time we put a record out I feel so proud of that record. That is where I get my kicks.”
In addition to serving on the Nashville-based Americana Music Association board, De Cartier has been chair of CIMA for the past four years. She observes that “it’s a situation where there are not a lot of women on the Board. We don’t see a lot of female entrepreneurs in the industry, and I’ve made that something of a personal mission, to champion or mentor women wherever I can.”
There are few better role models in the music biz here than Shauna De Cartier.