Table For One: An Oral History of Dine Alone Records
Looking back on one of Canada’s most successful indie labels after 10 years.
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When Joel Carriere started Dine Alone Records in 2005 he was already something of an indie music jack-of-all-trades. In St. Catharines, Ontario, he was actively promoting shows, working at a Sam the Record Man, and managing Alexisonfire through Bedlam Music Management, which grew out of Bedlam Society, a website he created to signal boost the music he cared about. Before that, he built an appetite for releasing music at the now defunct major PolyGram.
Once Walter Schriefels personally gave Carriere his blessing to name his next project after Quicksand’s first single, Dine Alone was born, and Carriere set about arranging a proper release for Sometimes, Dallas Green’s first solo record as City and Colour. Pairing up with Distort Entertainment owner Greg Below for that delivery as per Alexisonfire’s contract with the label, Dine Alone continued for the next few years as a partnership between the two tastemakers, and in 2006, Dine Alone and Bedlam Management moved to Toronto, where they neighboured Distort’s offices across the street from the Horseshoe Tavern.
After a small handful of releases trickled out, by 2007, Carriere and Below’s business relationship dissolved, and Carriere “restarted” the label as his own, soon after releasing Attack in Black’s full-length debut Marriage and Bedouin Soundclash’s Street Gospels. Dine Alone left its space on Queen Street West for a Victorian house in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood, and since then, it’s attracted major international acts like Marilyn Manson, vintage darlings like Swervedriver, and indie exports like Tokyo Police Club and the Sheepdogs. Some Distort alumni like Alexisonfire and Cancer Bats even jumped ship to join Dine Alone along the way.
Ten years on, their Toronto headquarters—among satellite bases in Los Angeles and Nashville—are decorated with gold and platinum records by Alexisonfire, City and Colour, and the Lumineers, and Dine Alone serves as the parent label for three genre-specific imprints—New Damage, Haven Sounds, and One Big Silence. As Dine Alone wraps up a year celebrating a decade through releasing music with honorary pressings and rereleases of works by early signees like Attack in Black, Dallas Green’s early band Helicon Blue, and Moneen, new signings, a roaming record shop, restaurant pop-ups, and even the publication of a children’s book (among other things), Noisey spoke with Carriere and others that have been along for the ride since Dine Alone’s beginning to flesh out the label’s history.
Joel Carriere (President/Owner): I was promoting shows, I had this cultural website [Bedlam Society] that I started, I was working at Sam’s, and I started working also at a major record label called PolyGram for a short period of time—maybe 18 months—and then I ended up working for some other rich guy that had a record label that was kind of like a hobby for his kids, but during that time, that’s where I met Dallas [Green] and some other great St. Catharines bands. There was this weird window where I was trying to do as much as possible. There weren’t really any mentors from St. Catharines that I could look up to, and no one’s really… at least I didn’t know anyone that had done it from St. Catharines, so I was just trying to figure it out.
Wade MacNeil (Alexisonfire, Black Lungs, Gallows): Joel was like the older guy that worked at the record shop in my city. He had a small kind of “Joel’s picks” section there, if I remember, and there was always some punk and hardcore stuff that I would talk to him about when I went in there. He was kind of like in the next generation of people older than me in my city that kind of hung out with like the Sick Boys and kind of that era of bands from St. Catharines—the bands that I went to see when I was really young—and then at some point he came to see my first band. I was putting on shows at a Chinese restaurant, which was one of the few places in the city that would let us play because we were so young—like, 15, maybe just turned 16 or something. They’d give us a night and they’d give us like six beers or something, and we’d thought we’d died and gone to heaven. Joel came to one of those shows and then got in touch with me about my band playing with Dallas’s other band [Helicon Blue], playing his record release show. He asked us to do that, and I guess that probably would’ve been when I started hanging out with him and when I started hanging out with Dallas a bit. I remember he called me the day after that show that he put on, and he was like, “Hey, you guys left without gettin’ paid.” And I was like, “I’ve never been paid for a show.”
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Joel Carriere: Then I started managing Alexisonfire [with Bedlam Music Management].
Wade MacNeil: Joel first connected the dots on me and Dallas playing together, and then Alexis started going and Joel was just there from day one helping in the small way that he could, and it’s just kind of like he was there from day one with all of us and it’s 15 years later and we’re still working with him. In the early days it was super simple stuff. He had a minivan that he lent us when we needed to play Sudbury or something like that, and eventually he just kind of “became” our manager, and then eventually we were like, “You’re our manager. We need a manager.” In a similar way, he was just down to help for whatever needed it. I think he pretty much put the label together to put out Dal’s solo record [Sometimes], and that fuckin’ ended up a gold record or a platinum record or something insane, so the label kind of jumped off right after that.
Joel Carriere: When I decided to start the label, it was to put out Dallas’s solo record, but I needed distribution. So I was personally going in thinking that I was able to not have a partner and Dallas and I would be able to tackle this ourselves, and we’re still doubtful… we needed the Alexisonfire approval (they were very for it) and I was playing it for a couple people, and I ended up playing it for Allan Reed, who’s now the president of CARAS and was the head of A&R at Universal, and a pal. And just seeing his reaction to that record was very encouraging. So I was like, “What do you think of this,” and everyone was kind of like, “Holy shit.” So that was very exciting. I liked the “Holy shit” aspect of it. So Greg Below kind of forced me to work with him—not forced me as in…we had conversations and shit, but I couldn’t do it without him because of the contract Alexisonfire had signed.
Wade MacNeil: I mean, it’s the same song with a lot of bands. You sign a really nightmarish contract when you’re young. And it’s too bad. For us we’d only find out what we were tied into [with Distort] later when we surrounded ourselves with a team of people that could actually advise on that kind of stuff.
Joel Carriere: So [Greg Below] was kind of part of the first incarnation of Dine Alone. He had the infrastructure already via Distort, which had already released two Alexis records already and some other records—I can’t remember all of them—so we kind of just tapped into his infrastructure, I did all the marketing and promotions, and we had the same publicists, and the idea wasn’t really specifically for City and Colour to take over Alexisonfire, it was just something that… well, he was doing this way before Alexisonfire and kids wanna hear it, so let’s just put it out and not put any pressure on it.
The other artist was Fullblast. I think that came out around the same month maybe. Fullblast was a punk rock band that I befriended at a SCENE Festival that they had played, and I promoted some shows with them and I thought I could offer a bit more, at least offer Alexisonfire and a tour within that system. So I think their first tour was opening for Alexis and Rise Against, and then they broke up. So it was really exciting. That first release that I’m spending money on… I was saving up to buy a cheap house in St. Catharines or something—I can’t remember—and then I ended up not buying a house and starting a record label, so that was my first band. The one band breaks up, the other gets massive. So it worked out.
Justin Ellsworth (Graphic Designer & Production Manager, Dine Alone; former Distort employee): Distort was sort of next door to the Dine Alone and Bedlam offices, and we worked sort of collectively in the first couple years.
Joel Carriere: We moved up from St. Catharines. That was a cool office space. The only problem is that everyone stopped by. It’s a high traffic area. Liam [Cormier] from Cancer Bats would sit there and answer phones, and people would just hang out there before shows, and it turned into a… well, when you’re only 25 and you have an office across from the Horseshoe downtown, for somebody from St. Catharines it seems pretty cool.
Liam Cormier (Cancer Bats): Distort, Dine Alone, Bedlam, all three of those were really close together, and I know that even the first Dine Alone releases were tied in with Distort, so when they were putting out the End and stuff like that, it was like, “Oh, this is kind of like a Distort band anyways,” and we would all tour together anyway. We toured with Attack in Black, we toured with the End, we toured with Johnny Truant, and all those bands, whether they were on Dine Alone or not or managed by Bedlam, it was all kind of the same family in those early days.
Joel Carriere: In 2007 I couldn’t work with Greg anymore. Him and I just didn’t share the same values in business and how we conducted ourselves and how we wanted our companies to run, so it was kind of an ugly, dirty breakup and I had to restart Dine Alone.
Liam Cormier: I was in the office every day hanging out being really close to it, so then [Cancer Bats] left and went on tour for like nine months straight, and we were gone for like the entire year, so I left and their offices were still together, and then we came home and that split had happened. Things were a little bit different, but because we were sort of outside of it—we toured the east coast with Alexis, we still played tons of shows with Attack in Black—it was a lot different, it was like, “Oh, okay. Now Joel and Bedlam are completely separate and they’re on the east end of the city, and Greg and Distort are still on Queen Street, and they eventually moved to Parkdale, so it was kind of like opposite ends of the city. But where we were at as a band, that was as Hail Destroyer was coming out and we were starting to tour more and more, so we weren’t around for any of the split, which is kind of nice. It’s like when you move away from your parents’ house to go to university and they happen to get divorced and you’re like, “I don’t know why they did, I just come home and go to two different Christmases,” you know what I mean?
Joel Carriere: I restarted it all over again so I could release Attack in Black’s Marriage and Bedouin Soundclash’s Sounding a Mosaic.
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Lisa Logutenkow (Vice President, Dine Alone): We definitely restarted, because technically they were two separate companies, so technically Greg was still running the old Dine Alone Records that had Johnny Truant and the End and the [Alexisonfrie/Moneen] Switcheroo record and Sometimes. So when we started, we were starting a new company, but because it was basically Joel’s brand, we continued to carry the brand and Greg wasn’t going to continue to release records on it, so it was just starting all over. So Attack was really our first real record that we put out. Besides maybe the… we were involved in that Bedouin “12:59 Lullaby” thing and [Attack in Black’s] Widows EP was kind of part of it. During the transition.
Spencer Burton (Attack in Black, Grey Kingdom): If I remember correctly, we were just doing our thing and we were playing around the Niagara Region in the backs of different bars, and Joel was just kind of starting his whole Dine Alone Records thing at that point. I think we were one of the first few bands to be signed to the label, and he approached us after the show and we knew Joel kind of, we knew all of the dudes in Alexis and stuff, and we were all chummy, simply because we were all people playing music in the same area. Joel came up to us after one of the shows and I was really stoked and we had a few drinks, and one thing lead to another, and then we were signed to Dine Alone Records.
Lisa Logutenkow: We continued our relationship with Universal, so it was easy to jump into distro world, but it was a brand new adventure for all of us really. We were doing managements, we were obviously involved in new releases, but it was like starting over. We wanted to put out things that we loved and at that time that ended up being artists we managed. Attack in Black we were managing, Bedouin Soundclash we were managing at that time, and we just wanted to get records out that we were really in to. But most of it was linked to our management.
Wade MacNeil: [Alexisonfire] wanted off Distort because it was no good for us. They were there in the early days and I’ll give them credit for that—it’s not like a lot of people were beating down our door to sign us—and they’re definitely part of the story of the band and the reason we did the stuff we did. They were part of that, and I won’t take that away from them, but it’s a label we wanted to have nothing to do with. We got fucked around as young kids. So signing to Dine Alone—signing with our buddy who we trust—was a step away from that and I think more than anything, Alexis was a kind of band where we had a very clear idea of what we wanted to do, and Joel was just down to help us do that. So it was a real no-brainer, really.
Joel Carriere: I think the first signings that maybe weren’t involved with management were Sleepercar—which was Jim from Sparta and At the Drive In—and Hot Hot Heat just before Tokyo [Police Club], and I think those were our first signings.
Justin Ellsworth: Around that Sleepercar time was also Brant Bjork, so if it wasn’t bands that we necessarily worked with and loved, it was still artists that we had loved on a different level outside of our local scene.
Joel Carriere: We found our way through it by the fact that we weren’t signing obvious bands and we were growing bands that weren’t necessarily mainstream.
Wade MacNeil: It’s very much Joel’s own thing. It’s grown into a pretty huge thing, but you can still see that he still just signs what he likes. When he put out that first Brant Bjork record [Punk Rock Guilt], I know how much he loves that dude’s music. Joel’s a huge stoner fan. I look at the label and a lot of it’s very much Joel’s musical taste … It’s a huge label and there’s a lot of stuff, but he believes in everything he puts out. And then you can look at certain things that are super, super specific, and you can tell he just does it because he loves music and it’s what he’s into.
I was like, “Hey man, I’m gonna put out that Black Lungs record [Pagan Holiday], for free. Wanna do the vinyl?” and that’s probably not a very exciting opportunity for a lot of labels—“Hey, I’m gonna effectually cut out all the money we could make on a record myself, do you wanna put it out anyways?”—and he’s like, “Yeah, awesome. I love that idea, that’s great.” I was like, “I wanna do it on Halloween,” he’s like, “This is the best.” So I think that’s another cool example of him just getting behind stuff that he likes, and what makes me stoked to work with him.
Justin Ellsworth: We’re still signing bands like the Cult. So we’re still signing those passion projects while Monster Truck’s touring with like Nickleback and Dal’s selling 8500 tickets and then [Dine Alone’s] signing a band that I listened to when I was younger.
Wade MacNeil: I think the things that you could tell where it was doing really well are the passion projects that Joel feels lucky to be involved with and the label feels that they can do something because the label is doing well. I think them working with Jimmy Eat World or something like that, I think that’s probably more of a victory for the label, even though it might not be the hugest selling thing that the label puts out. But getting to work with them, it’s like, that’s a band I know everyone that works at the label—Joel and Tricia [Ricciuto] and Lisa—that’s a band they’ve been listening to for a really long time, so for them to be a part of that band’s story, I think those are the big victories for the label, and that’s the stuff where I feel like they’re doing exactly what they want to do.
New Damage Records, Haven Sounds, One Big Silence
Wade MacNeil: There was a time when [Dine Alone] was putting out tons of pop stuff like the Lumineers—a lot of people with acoustic guitars and shakers. And then Marilyn Manson. I remember texting him—“What the fuck?”—and he was like, “I don’t know, I’m just fed up with everything being so safe.” It was like, “Sign Manson, shake things up a bit.”
Joel Carriere: I loved that we signed Marilyn Manson, because I was hoping he was gonna do more press, and he’s very smart, and he’s kind of left of center, so he challenges people. But he didn’t do a lot of press and he kind of just came up a couple times, but I was like, I really want something that can get back to my roots, that was a bit edgier, and kind of catered to aggressive music, although there are bands still on Dine Alone that are aggressive, but you’ve kind of got to pick and choose where they fit. So I wanted something that I could put everything heavy on that we wanted to sign. Because I couldn’t just filter it all on Dine Alone. I didn’t want the focus to be heavy; I wanted the focus to have a lot of genres. So we started New Damage.
Lisa Logutenkow: There was a lot of stuff that would come to us that didn’t feel right for Dine Alone, and we felt like we needed to put it in a different home, so it was like a natural progression. It made sense. There are a lot of bands that we’re friends with that happen to fit better on New Damage. And as much as Dine Alone is very—genre is not pigeonholed, we do put out a lot of stuff—it just felt like there was a lot of that similar stuff coming to us, and we didn’t want to turn Dine Alone into the heavy label. We wanted to keep it different. So New Damage made sense at the time, and now it makes even more sense. We’re getting more and more releases that fit there.
Liam Cormier: I was really stoked when [New Damage label manager Richard Fernandes] was looking to move on from where things had kind of left off with Distort and looking to have more of a fresh start. We were all really excited. I was the one that brought Rich on to run Distort when they needed a label manager, so it was like, “Well, you’re obviously my dude, so wherever you’re gonna go is where we’re gonna end up,” because he and I hustled and got the Dead Set On Living record out, and that went great.
Joel Carriere: So now I have this aggressive thing, and I’m like, well we’re gonna sign some of these style bands on Dine Alone, but I want it to have its own culture so if we’re gonna throw some parties and sponsor different events and be a part of that culture, that’s kind of where Haven’s kind of like the opposite styles of music, but the same kind of focus as New Damage, it’s just that Haven’s moving along a bit slower, just trying to find the quality artists to put on there. But we are signing a bunch of bands in the last year. That kind of stemmed from a drive to Bonnaroo. I had the idea for a while and then I was like “I just wanna do this,” and I realized two of my new employees were super into electronic and hip-hop, and I was like, “Alright, we’re starting it, you guys are gonna run it,” and that’s where that started. Then we partnered up with Mike [Haliechuk] from Fucked Up on his thing One Big Silence.
Lisa Logutenkow: Haven is brand new, and again, it’s the same kind of thing. We’re trying to form those smaller communities through those brands.
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Joel Carriere: For me, it was a great time. It was new, we were all kind of in it together, and it was small. So like I said, it was like an “Us vs. Them” thing. Now, things have grown considerably, and we all can’t be pals and friends and take on the world together. It’s just a different dynamic. So for me, personally, I like going back and revisiting those moments, because they’re very special to me, and I think with the accessibility of Spotify and everything, people getting back into vinyl—even cassettes are popular now—it’s really cool for us to re-release this stuff and not be on CD and give it a whole new audience.
Lisa Logutenkow: It’s great to look back at everything and just appreciate it more. When you’re in it every day, it’s just happening and things are just going. There’s been so many amazing times and so many amazing releases, and actually forcing us to think about what we’ve done and everything, it’s pretty great. It’s pretty great to feel a part of it and know what’s been accomplished.
Justin Ellsworth: It’s been so long and there’s been so many stories that pinpointing a couple… it’s so difficult to do. There’s been so many good highs and amazing records. When I look through my record collection at home, to be a part of some of these releases and looking through some of my favourite bands, like Jimmy Eat World, and get to the record I worked on, that’s fucking awesome and that’s something that I’ll always look back on.
Spencer Burton: It’s so weird. I mean, I still put my solo efforts out with Dine Alone Records and they have this massive roster now, and it’s obvious they’ve grown and they have huge acts with them now, but I don’t look at it like that. I’m just like, “Oh, it’s just Dine Alone.” I can still walk into their office and make a bunch of jokes and take the Red Bulls out of the fridge and treat it like it’s my own house. It’s weird. They’ve obviously grown, but I just can’t see them as that. It’s like when your best friend in the whole world lands a role in the new Batman movie and all of a sudden they’re famous, but you’re just like, “it’s still my friend.” I kind of look at Dine Alone as part of my family and not really like the driving force of independent music in Canada that they’ve become. I just look at them as my family.
Liam Cormier: It’s a super strong Canadian label that has come from a DIY place, which I think is the best, and I love that about Canadian music because you have these labels that come… like Rich comes from touring. He tour managed Silverstein and Protest the Hero and that’s how we met him. Lisa came from touring with Moneen and all that stuff. Joel came from touring the country with Alexis. It’s all of these people who are now doing amazing things in the music industry and well respected in the Canadian music industry all come from this DIY punk and hardcore background. And they know what it’s like to play floor shows in a hall as much as they know how to sell out the ACC at this point, and I don’t think there’s a lot of labels that have that same kind of perspective. Which I think is awesome.
Wade MacNeil: It’s a label run by a bunch of my friends, and I think that’s one of the best parts about working in music, is those relationships. I think we’re lucky. It’s been going on so long, and I plan to continue that way.
Joel Carriere: To be able to still develop new artists, for me, is very exciting. It’s my favourite thing to do. But on the other hand, I get to work with guys from like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and At the Drive In and Quicksand, and the Cult, and Marilyn Manson, so I’m getting to work with people that were kind of superheroes to me because I was such a fan of their music when I was younger. Now I’m in it with them, which is super weird, and I’m also creating new superheroes.
Tom Beedham is an arts and culture journalist living in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.