The Label Makers: Grey Records

Grey Records founders Duncan Pickar and Lenore Maier. • Kathryn Imrie

The Label Makers spotlights independent record labels from across so-called Canada. This month’s featured label is Saskatoon’s Grey Records.

A lede that is too easy to resist: Saskatoon’s Grey Records is out of this world.

The presence of extraterrestrials is not limited to the label’s Fox Mulder-approved alien logo but is also felt throughout their releases. The bizarro spacey pop-rock of NoooDs sounds like it has definitely travelled to another galaxy (About NoooDs’ record, Bandcamp user reptarthescrub says, “if aliens made human music, but like really rad”) and to celebrate international UFO day in 2019, Grey Records released a single by Mothership entitled “First in the Sky” which is about a UFO sighting.

But perhaps what’s more notable about Grey Records’ catalogue is how it contains a galaxy of different genres. There’s post-punk, synth-pop, surf-rock, and one of the label’s most recent releases, Nero’s Waltz by The Local Group, is a bluegrass record. For label co-owners Lenore Maier and Duncan Pickard, this sound diversity is something they’re most proud of. 

“We don’t pigeonhole ourselves by genre necessarily,” Maier explains. “I think some other labels might have more of a tendency to not even consider specific types of music just because they don’t fit into a specific mould. I think that if Duncan and I have any rules or guidelines about the type of people that we work with. We want to work with people who are good people, make good music, and to keep a community that are defining genres.”

Maier, along with her two sisters, is part of the surf-rock band the Garrys, whose latest album Get Thee to A Nunnery was long-listed for the 2022 Polaris Music Prize. Pickard is a member of psych-rock band Shirley and the Pyramids, who released a 7” earlier this month. They started Grey Records in 2017 but met a few years before that when Pickard asked the Garrys to become part of The Sound & Silence Collective, an artist collective/show presenter/label he co-founded. Future meetings and exciting text exchanges revealed that Maier and Pickard had a similar vision for the label. 

“We saw so many cool artists in Saskatoon that didn’t know what to do beyond making cool music. So we tried to fill a gap by helping people make the right connections,” Pickard says. “Our core intention as an artist-run label is to be an artist-focused label. I can’t put it into better terms beyond saying we’re meeting the artists where they’re at and helping them get to where they are going with a release.” 

“I think that we let the artist define what we do for them,” Maier adds. “As opposed to us being like ‘these are our services and these are our rates.’ We’re very much like, ‘what do you need?’”

Over the last five years, Grey Records have put on a bunch of shows and has about 20 releases in their catalogue, including two charity compilations. Grey Matter 1 featured artists from across Canada and whose proceeds went to Girls Rock Winnipeg. Grey Matter 2 had mostly Saskatchewan-based artists, and the proceeds were split between Prairie Harm Reduction and The Lighthouse. While the label’s initial releases were limited to Saskatoon-based artists, Grey Records has since expanded its roster to include four Regina-based artists. 

“With Regina and Saskatoon artists, I think that it’s a Shelbyville / Springfield kind of thing that often happens,” says Maier. “There’s a lot of really cool stuff that goes on there, and I think we’re both really interested in bridging that gap between those cities because there are so many cool folks in each of them who don’t necessarily know each other.”

Whether it’s between cities or between an artist and their next step, for Maier and Pickard, Grey Records is all about building relationships and moving artists forward in their careers. 

“We have had artists release an album with us and then release an album with someone else later, and that’s awesome in our opinion! Whatever is best for the artist at the time, and that doesn’t always mean that Grey Records is going to be involved,” says Maier. 

“It was very important to us that the artist held onto their masters and weren’t exclusively bound to us in any way,” Pickard adds.

“If Grey Records can be a stepping stone forward for anyone, awesome, but if there are other opportunities to step forward that don’t involve us, that’s also awesome,” Maier explains. “It’s like the opposite of harsh feelings. It’s like good; you’re growing beyond us.”  
You could say that Grey Records want to believe that the future is bright for their artists.

“Music is Medicine”