The Label Makers: Vain Mina

Vain Mina founder Eliza Niemi and puppet (photo: Ben Mike; puppet: Jess Shane; art: Jim Di Gioia)

The Label Makers is a monthly feature that puts the spotlight on independent record labels from across so-called Canada. This month’s featured label is Vain Mina from Toronto.

In Finnish, the name of the Toronto-based label Vain Mina (vain minä) means “only me.” The idea to use the phrase as the name of *something* had been kicking around label founder Eliza Niemi’s head for a while. The multi-instrumentalist and songwriter first thought about using it as the name of her solo project (she stuck with her own) or for her first solo release (later entitled Vinegar) but settled on calling the label Vain Mina somewhat ironically. For Niemi, the name was a reaction to having played in various bands and been signed to other labels as part of the now-defunct band Mauno. “I had made this record all on my own and was releasing it all on my own, and I wanted [the label name] to have a vibe of like, ‘it was all me,’ explains Niemi. “It ended up very much not being that. Vain Mina was a product of my musical community, and a lot of people had their fingers in it, and I couldn’t have done it all by myself at all.”

“Label,” “collective,” and “imprint” are used interchangeably when Niemi refers to Vain Mina. At its core, Vain Mina is a group of pals helping each other create music and navigate the music industry. Initial conversations about the label happened during the winter of 2018/2019 when Niemi had lunch with Idée Fixe co-founder Alex Durlak and talked through her idea to start a label to release Vinegar. Niemi reconnected with Mark Grundy (Heaven For Real, Quaker Parents) in Toronto around the same time, who she first met while living in Halifax. Grundy was looking to release Our Drawing Club, his debut as Quaker Parents, and he became instrumental in getting Vain Mina up and running. By April 2019, Vain Mina officially launched with the release of Vinegar (a remix of the EP by Ben Mike was released this December), and Our Drawing Club came out the following month. In February 2020, the label released Toronto-based singer-songwriter Amelia Hankins’ debut as Ways Lain

While Vain Mina began with Toronto-based artists, its roster now reflects Niemi’s far-reaching musical community and includes artists from Montreal, Lunenburg, and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Last year the debut LP from Montreal supergroup MAYBEL (Ali Hendra, Loris Kecaj, Lauren Spear, and Fez Gielen) was first released on Vain Mina (it was later re-released on vinyl through Idée Fixe), as sloburn Hendra released her debut single, and Soul Boner (Nara Wriggs and Ryan Al Hage) put out their debut EP. Most recently, Lunenburg singer-songwriter Roo released her EP Blooming, Glooming (Part I) and Niagara-on-the-Lake-based singer-songwriter Avalon Tassonyi will put out their self-titled LP next month. Also part of the Vain Mina universe is Toronto-based bedroom-pop-rock artist Poolblood and Louie Short, a singer-songwriter and producer based in Toronto and LA. Behind the scenes, these artists share resources, collaborate, and support each other in any way they can.

“We’re trying to elevate each other through cross-promotion and get people to listen to each of our music and to hopefully listen to everyone’s music. We’re taking everybody’s strengths and trying to get everybody to benefit from them in a collective way,” says Niemi about the ethos of Vain Mina and adds, “I feel really lucky to be surrounded by all of these amazing musicians.”

The music put out on Vain Mina ranges from minimalist folk songs (like those made by MAYBEL, sloburn, Niemi, and Tassonyi) to slacker-rock (Quaker Parents) to experimental, genre-blurry sounds (see Soul Boner and Ways Lain). One of the most unexpected sonic moments from a label release comes from a sample of Vin Diesel on Soul Boner’s EP. But Niemi pinpoints the through-line between all Vain Mina artists: their focus on making lyric-driven music with as much poetry as songwriting.

Alongside Tassonyi’s forthcoming album, Vain Mina is gearing up for a busy year that will see a new LP from Niemi, the continuation of Roo’s Blooming, Glooming EP series, and new material from Soul Boner and Ways Lain. Niemi also mentions wanting to make a compilation of Vain Mina artists covering each other’s songs and whose proceeds will be donated to a Toronto-based organization.

While Vain Mina continues to grow further away from Niemi’s initial belief that the label would be a solitary endeavour, she’s happy to keep the community tight-knit for now, explaining, “The biggest challenges have been figuring out how to grow the label in a way that is sustainable and a way that I agree with and a way that I have the capacity for. It is a lot of work.” But the payoff has been sweet.

“It’s been really nice to see my friends release music on Vain Mina and seeing friends get press for the first time or have people listen to their music for the first time,” says Niemi. “It’s such a good feeling. I know that feeling so well, and it’s so nice, and to be able to facilitate that in any way is very rewarding.”

Thank you for Visiting DOMINIONATED

When you make a flexible one-time or monthly donation to DOMINIONATED or subscribe to PRESS PLAY, our $1/month new music feature, you join a community of supporters who are keeping DOMINIONATED’s conversations going. Your contribution ensures that our collective of writers and creators can keep producing valuable content like this in the future. Thank you for your support.