From its semi-remote headquarters in Head of Chezzetcook, Nova Scotia, Divorce Records has become a Canadian cornerstone of status-quo challenging sounds. Founder Darcy Spidle launched Divorce as a self-dubbed “vanity label” in 1999 with early releases from Halifax artists straddling the line between punk, noise, power electronics, and performance art. Over the years, it has grown to include a sundry international stable ranging from free jazz to solo guitar to beat-driven pop, all while upholding an anomalous and (often) unsettling aesthetic.
Photo: Darcy Spidle, Divorce’s founder.
The imprint has also branched off into gnarled offshoots such as the OBEY Convention festival—which happens from May 22 to 25 in Halifax—homegrown horror film Lowlife and classical cassette sub-label Heavy Fog, but all roots lead back to Divorce. We asked Spidle for his recollections on 12 defining releases.
D01: Dead Roads – Murder in the Trees c20
“Divorce started as a vanity label via this punk band that I was in during the innocent days of ’99. The Dead Roads was a very degenerate project with only nihilistic aims. Many of my more shameful experiences in life happened during this time period. The tape has a lot of energy. From a music making perspective, it one of my favourite projects.”
D13: Gilbert Switzer / The Hold – State of Nature 7″
“The Hold was my later punk band. We had a few albums worth checking out. The legacy of Gilbert Switzer in Halifax has yet to be eclipsed. These dudes were the most intense and fun band that I’ve ever witnessed. Their singer Troy Richter was a madman. I remember one show where he rolled around shirtless in a bunch of glass while crooning in the most sensual and hypnotizing fashion imaginable. Fond memories.”
D19: Husband & Knife / Dog Day – Borden Sessions / See You Later c20
“Dog Day is another band that is adored here and in many places. Their early days were really special for me, and again, offered a soundtrack for a certain period in my life. Raw pop music that isn’t just corporate indie / CanCon junk can be very hard to pull off, but Dog Day do it perfectly. Nancy and Seth are two of the smartest people I know. Husband & Knife stuck on a most depressing vein of folk music with this one. These early recordings are hardcore but also tender as hell. This tape was dubbed on a weird system the either made the tapes too fast or too slow.”
D20: Unicorn / Torso – Split CD
“Unicorn is Bill Nelson from Bastard Noise, and Torso is Sandy Sanders, a (then) young noise dude from Halifax who I just met a year of so before this recording. I was really finding my way into noise music at the time, and Sandy further helped me discover this world (and the world of underground film). I have seen a decent number of world-class noise artists over the years, but Sandy is still my all time favourite noise performer.
He delivers a crushing performance that is dark, emotional, and visceral. People are always in tears by the time he is done. Bill and Sandy had collaborated online for a bit. Sandy invited him to Halifax with Bastard Noise to release this record. The duo drove all the way from San Francisco, hauling their own PA. They played a show with Sandy at a small cafe and one again the next night solo. Jaw-dropping, life-changing stuff. That was the first OBEY Convention.” Check out Torso here.
D21: Be Bad – Vision Correction CD
“Be Bad was another very special Halifax band that is [still] talked about today. They played a discordant, art-damaged punk rock that got the hardcore kids moving and kept the music nerds scratching their chins. They were very visceral performers as well. Be Bad’s drummer Will always vomited during the shows. Great stuff. Ha!
Their singer, Tobias Rochman (also of Grand Trine), was a big influence on Divorce in those early days. He was/is a very inspirational guy and has offered me a lot of guidance over the years. He booked a North American tour for this band at the age of 18! As to the record itself, Vision Correction was certainly the biggest production on the label at that point. It paved the way for North American distro, touring, press, and all kind of other important inroads.”
D27: Gown – The Old Line LP
“The Old Line consists of four outsider guitar ballads that totally warped my conception of songwriting or the lack thereof. Actually, like Sandy does with noise boxes, Andrew (Gown) is able to infuse the strangest guitar playing and singing with pure emotion. I was putting this album together during the few months before my daughter was born. It was a heady time, and this album took me deep within myself.”
D31 / 37: Shearing Pinx – Weaponry / Night Danger LP
“In my opinion, Shearing Pinx are one of the best Canadian punk bands of the last decade. If they are still unknown in some circles, it’s only because they could give a fuck about making music by the rules. Their aesthetic is very lo-fi and noisy, but their playing is complex and touches on so many incredible styles of music—free jazz, noise, indie, drone, punk. And live, they destroy. Weaponry / Night Dangeris a four-sided concept album. It’s a very heavy listen. We also got our collective hero Rick White (Eric’s Trip) to do the artwork, which makes the set very special.”
D36: Jerry Granelli – 1313 LP
“Jerry Granelli is sort of the most famous musician in Halifax. He is a legendary jazz drummer who has played with everyone one from Ornette Coleman toVince Guaraldi. His style had gotten really far-out by the time I started seeing him play live. It’s a rare treat to see a musician with as much virtuosity as Jerry.
Anyhow, I started seeing him around and we talked a lot about late ’70s avant-jazz, which is one of my favourite eras of music. One thing led to another, and we were making a solo drum record. Jerry is an intense musician and personality. I have a ton of respect for him and so was very intimidated at the start. I think the engineers, Charles Austin and Dave Ewenson, were also quite nervous. Jerry really took charge. Haha. But in the end, I’d say it was one of the most artistically rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. As we gained Jerry’s trust, the project expanded into a lot of high-level discussions about music and sound. I learned so much, and the album is a trip.”
D38: My Cat Is An Alien – Living on the Invisible Line LP
“Like the Shearing Pinx, MCIAA is a prolific band with a discography of well over 100 releases. Albums for bands like this are often hard to sell, but I’m entirely fascinated by the idea of obsessive documentation and artistic discovery on record. So I’ve tended to work with a lot of bands like MCIAA.
In any case, this brother duo is world-renowned. They toured with Sonic Youth a number of times and have done collabs with everyone from Nels Cline to Keiji Haino. Their work has a sort of free, spiritual vibe that is incredibly moving. This album in particular was one of the first that they recorded at a remote cabin in the Italian Alps. It has a very lonely, pastoral quality that hit me hard. In fact, I cried when I first played the demo. The brothers are also really great people that have become friends. We used some of their music in Lowlife, and I hope to bring them to Halifax someday.”
D39: You’ll Never Get to Heaven – You’ll Never Get to Heaven LP
“You’ll Never Get to Heaven is the much loved dream-pop project of Alice Hansen and Chuck Blazevic. I first met Chuck when he asked me to help with a Lubomyr Melynk show in Halifax. We stayed in touch. I always liked his project Dreamsploitation quite a bit, and we had him at OBEY Convention one year.
Shortly after that show, he and Alice moved to London, ON for school. During this time, they put together a demo of YNGTH, which was this record. I’m not sure if they had big plans or not, but when I heard it, I was blown away and immediately offered to release it on vinyl. The combo of experimental textures with Alice’s haunting vocals and melodies is incredible. From a label perspective, it was very rewarding to see this project go from a bedroom demo to acclaim in the international music press. It’s been one of our most successful releases.”
D40: JFM – JFM LP
“Jesse Frank Matthews started sending me tapes wrapped in weird, photocopied collages of pornography many years before this record came out. I always loved his sound and played the tapes non-stop. That whole process led to this album, which is essentially his masterpiece for that time period. He moved to Halifax to record it and utilized all kinds ofunconventional techniques. The results speak for themselves. It’s a really deep listen that satisfies both my base need for fat, hypnotizing beats and my love of heady musical concepts.”