Winnipeg’s Smallman Records started in the mid-’90s, when 12 Eyes’ Jason Smith and Farley Mohawk’s Rob Krause wanted an outlet to release their own bands’ records. As it turns out, the pair had more fun releasing music made by others: Thelabel ended up dropping nearly 50 discs before quietly closing its doors in 2010.
Aside from working with a number of notable, mostly Canadian punk/hardcore/emo bands, much of Smallman’s legacy stems from the fact that they were based in Winnipeg—they proved that cool things could happen in the middle of the frozen, isolated Canadian prairies.
Here are the most essential records that Smallman released over the years.
Guy Smiley – Alkaline
One of the first bands to sign with Smallman was Winnipeg’s Guy Smiley, a hardcore-influenced punk band that formed in 1992. Alkaline is probably their best record, and it’s also their last—they called it quits in 2000. Not surprisingly, there’s one song that’s entirely about the Winnipeg Jets.
Another Joe – Cran-doodle Daddy
This Langley, B.C. trio formed in 1995, releasedAss Seen on TV, a split CD with Gob, andofficially joined the Smallman roster in 1999. For their debut,Crand-doodle Daddy, it’s obvious that Blink-182 were a huge influence—like Mark, Tom, and Travis, they play asnotty brand of pop-punk. The trio headlined the first ever Smallman Records tour in 2000, which eventually became an annual event spanning the country. Another Joe broke up in 2001, but Smallman found lots of new groups to fill spots in the coming years.
Choke – Foreword
If there’s any band that defines Smallman Records, it’s probably Choke. After self-releasing their earlier material, this Edmonton technical punk group signed with Smallman in the ’90s, dropped five full-lengths, then called it quits in 2007. Foreword is one of the stronger Choke releases, and it allowed the band and label to take things to the next level. Smith, Smallman’s co-founder, admits that bands like Moneen might not have signed with Smallman were it not for LPs like Foreword.
Moneen – Are We Really Happy With Who We Are Right Now?
Sure, this ended up being Moneen’s last Smallman release before jumping ship to Vagrant and Dine Alone. But it’s still pretty cool the label grabbed this Brampton, ON quartet for Are We Really Happy With Who We Are Right Now?. Many will argue that The Red Tree is the best thing Moneen released, but “Start Angry…End Mad” and “With This Song I Will Destroy Myself” are still classics. Ultimately, this record set the stage for Moneen, who became one of Smallman’s most popular bands.
The Reason – Ravenna
The Reason’s debut full-length celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2014, and looking back, it’s hard to believe singer Adam White had an emo swoop haircut. This Hamilton, ON outfit became a straight-up rock band, but Ravenna tracks like “150” are still catchy screamo songs that showcase what was going on in 2004. Being from southern Ontario, the Reason’s signing displayed the reach the label had, even if they eventually shifted towards western Canadian groups.
Comeback Kid – Wake the Dead
Winnipeg’s Comeback Kid didn’t sign with Smallman until their second record, Wake the Dead, but the band stuck with the label until the end. CBK has gone through a few changes since Wake the Dead2005’s release;most notably, guitarist Andrew Neufeld took over vocals from ex-singer Scott Wade. Nonetheless, the band still tours the world and puts out hardcore records in 2014—that’s a pretty big accomplishment. Few Smallman bands lasted long, but Comeback Kid are an exception.
Daggermouth – Turf Wars
Daggermouth didn’t spend much time on Smallman, as the Vancouver punk band signed in 2007 then broke up in 2008. Still, Turf Wars is a great record showcasing the band’s potential. They never wrote a song longer than three minutes, and the disc’s also known for its weird song titles—which had nothing to do with the actual lyrics. “This Is Chase Brennerman” is a shout-out to the Living With Lions vocalist/guitarist of the same name, who, according to Daggermouth guitarist Kenny Lush, once said that phrase in his sleep.
Sick City – Nightlife
Sick City is another band that released one record on Smallman before breaking up. Singer Josh Youngson ditched the band, and while they considered getting a new singer, it’s probably for the best that Sick City split—Youngson had a voice that wouldn’t be easy to replace. These Winnipeggers were overlooked by the rest of the country, but hometown shows were always well-attended—and if things had worked out, they could’ve been on the same level as Senses Fail.
Carpenter – Law of the Land
Vancouver’s Carpenter is the last great up-and-coming punk band Smallman signed. Their 2008 debut, Law of the Land, was influenced by John Cougar Mellencamp, and it was outspoken about sustainable farming practices. The record also caught the attention of Paper + Plastick, the Florida-based punk label that ended up releasing Sea to Sky shortly after Smallman shuttered.