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Jeffrey Remedios strides into the boardroom of his Arts & Crafts record label, a mug of coffee and a ready apology in hand.
One of the chairs is broken, sitting upside down on a nearby counter, and Remedios, shyly smiling, shakes his head of black hair in its direction.
“It’s new,” he says, pushing past an upright piano to inspect a peel of glue on the underside of the ersatz leather seat. “And it’s already fallen apart. They really don’t make things like they used to.”
In contrast, Remedios points to the other pieces in the room – including a teak, three-seat harvest gold sofa and a modern-style black dining-room table, vintage pieces inherited from his Macau-born Portuguese parents when they recently downsized. He says the items look as good as they did when they adorned the Toronto house he grew up in, the youngest of three brothers.
“Sometimes the way things were done in the past was better,” the soft-spoken Remedios says.
It’s not an idle observation.
One of three panelists chosen to judge The Globe and Mail’s Catalysts contest for his ability to spot and nurture talent, Remedios is a stickler for quality.
His Arts & Crafts might be a young enterprise, overseen by someone just 37, but its values are as honed as the furniture he loves, similarly designed to win the test of time. “A sense of authenticity is at the core of all I look for,” says Remedios, settling his 6-foot-1 frame into a working chair positioned between displays of gold records and other prominent music-industry awards earned by some of the acts in his charge.
“Everyone has influences,” he continues. “But when people can transcend those influences and speak from an honest place, a place that’s their own, I take notice.”
His own influences manifested themselves when he was still young.
As early as 15, while a student at Pope John Paul II Catholic Secondary in Toronto’s Scarborough suburb, he was pursuing a music management career.
He played piano and saxophone – “I was a hack compared to the company I now keep,” he pronounces – and was in a rock band that he couldn’t help himself from managing, booking all the gigs.
Being simultaneously interested in marketing and music led him to pursue joint degrees in commerce and music at McMaster University in Hamilton. Immediately upon graduation, he was hired full-time by Virgin Records where, among other jobs, he staffed the promotions department and helped launched Virgin’s first digital media division.
Arts & Crafts, which he helped found in 2003 and which has generated 20 Juno Awards in just 10 years, seemed the culmination of many years of relentlessly pursuing a single-minded goal.
That it has been hugely successful for him is without question.
The evidence lies in this shaggy-dog boardroom, where, leaning against a less-than-pristine wall, is a row of album covers featuring Feist, Jason Collett, Dan Mangan, The Darcys and Timber Timbre and other acts hand-picked and nurtured by Remedios over the past decade.
“I think he’s got a big heart and he’s very sincere about wanting to help an artist move forward in many ways, “ says Collett, who has been with Arts & Crafts from the beginning.
“I’ve actually never signed a contract with Jeffrey in the 10 years we’ve been together,” continues the seasoned recording artist whose latest release, Reckon, was released by Arts & Crafts this past fall. “It’s what’s called a hand-shake deal – or, in our case, a high-five deal – and it’s based on faith and mutual respect.”
Collett and his fellow artists on the label release all their music on vinyl as well as CD and online, another retro touch that helps make Arts & Crafts stand out from the competition.
“Vinyl is tangible,” Remedios explains. “It’s the record as object, something you can hold in your hand and contemplate. Unlike a CD, it’s also far from perfect. Just like the artists themselves, it’s got its own individual sound.”
An individual sound is an Arts & Crafts signature, cultivated early on at the label’s inception and largely at Remedios’s insistence.
When he founded Arts & Crafts with musician Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene, the idea was to create a modern music company based, in part, on traditional values and practices.
Besides vinyl, the new company embraces collaboration. It fosters a sense of community. It takes an individualized approach to each artist, basically customizing a professional, if not life, plan to encourage success. It bucks all the industry trends in viewing music as art, not fashion, while still managing to turn a profit.
“That’s why I called the label Arts & Crafts,” says Remedios, whose 10th-anniversary celebrations of the label include releasing a retrospective album on April 16 and a concert in Toronto. “The idea from the beginning was to marry art with commerce. I wanted to put the same amount of care into an artist’s life as an artist puts into what it is he or she is creating.”
Mangan says that being able to be caring as well as commercial minded is what sets Remedios apart.
“Holding on to your pal’s band as it explodes is a no-brainer, but it takes a particular kind of wits and charisma to turn that opportunity into what A&C has become,” Mangan says. “Jeffrey has a magnetic quality as unique as any of the many artists he has helped to foster.”
But at the beginning, Arts & Crafts was something of a one-band operation. It existed mostly to feed the sprawling college-rock phenomenon Broken Social Scene, creating projects for the band and band members wanting to embark on a solo career, as was the case with Collett.
After a few years, however, Broken Social Scene was willing to share the love and was soon inviting in friends to participate in the Remedios-managed action, among them Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist, another former band member.
Known professionally as Feist, the celebrated Nova Scotia-born pop chanteuse went on to develop an international reputation after signing with Arts & Crafts, bringing the indie label buckets of accolades and Grammy-level attention as a result. One of her platinum records hangs on the wall of the company’s reception area, greeting all visitors to the fourth-floor, loft-style offices with the stark fact of many millions of indie label records sold.
Remedios gallantly declines credit for that.
“Feist is a total artist,” he says, “and my role with her has been as a minority player. She would have been a success wherever she went.”
Still, his reputation as a steadfast supporter of raw talent comes with a proven track record. He is credited for helping to nurture a number of homegrown acts, including Cold Specks, Hayden, Amy Millan and Apostle of Hustle, to name just a handful of artists on the label’s roster.
Remedios is now in great demand as a talent spotter, often travelling across the country to meet with and listen to acts wanting to be blessed by his Midas touch.
A recent trip took him to Calgary, where a local music presenter had lined up five bands for him to consider for signing. In the end, just one caught his fancy and not only because of musical talent. It all ultimately boiled down to a personal connection.
“I have to want to get involved in someone’s life,” says Remedios, leaning across his parents’ old table for emphasis. “I’m investing in a long-term relationship.”