by Laura Stanley
Connory Ballantyne (20) and Will Crann (22), founders of the Barrie-based label Epoch Tapes, are ambitious. They burst with so much passion that it spills over and envelops me over the course of our fervent conversation in a busy Toronto cafe. They jump between grappling with post-modernist theories, definitions of experimentalism, finding inspiration in everyone from Radiohead, to Justin Vernon, to Steve Reich, to their friends. The conversation is littered with quotes from C.S. Lewis, Ira Glass, Ezra Koenig, and is commanded by a desire to make something important and to leave a legacy.
Ballantyne and Crann met in high school and started playing music together with a large group of their friends as House Art. They subsequently began Epoch Tapes in 2014 as a way to release their band’s music and the projects of their bandmates (S|NES, C. Robertson). Recently, they’ve expanded their roster outside of House Art and signed friends Forest Moon and Jojo Worthington. Ballantyne and Crann, along with Rebekah Hawker and Clarisse Robertson who round-out Epoch’s management team, have no previous experience running a label but they love their friends and their friends’ music and want to be involved in whatever way they can.
“I look at all the artists that I look up to and they surround themselves with good people,” says Ballantyne. “We are the sum of each other. Individually maybe we’ll make good music but as a team, as a group of people, when somebody looks at me, I want them to see all the people that have influenced me directly.”
Ballantyne and Crann are tired of current cultural trends and are ready, as their label name suggests, for the next creative epoch. They know they don’t have enough power themselves to plant the flag that says this is the next creative movement but that doesn’t stop them from envisioning the future or challenging current cultural norms. The pair bring the same passion that floods our conversation to every detail in each release they put out; it’s music with intent as Ballantyne describes it. They record, edit, do most of the design work, take photos, make videos, and take on all the necessary PR work.
In the label’s manifesto, Epoch is described as “a microlabel hand-curating intimate records.” Although they’re not objectors of the digitalization of music, Ballantyne and Crann believe releasing CDs and tapes, and the care that comes with these two physical mediums, alongside their digital releases is crucial in the fostering of an intimate listening experience.
“For me, all the records that have really tugged on me have been conceptual records,” says Ballantyne. “We’re artists, we don’t have to just be musicians and have everything in isolation. Why not create? When I pick up a record, I want to feel how it sounds. How do we make that happen? That’s something we have to figure out in every record.”
Epoch’s quest for closeness extends to the recording process itself. In direct contrast to the distant modern society who are afraid to connect in ways that are not impeded by a screen, the humanizing elements of their recordings are cherished. The creak of a piano bench or a conversation in the background are all signs of life to the pair.
“In all of the situations where we’ve been recording, it has all happened in one room,” says Crann. “I think something that we realized was cool early on was that all the sounds on all the records we’ve ever made have bounced off of our bodies at some point. That creation process makes it intimate not how much reverb is on it or the genre.”
Epoch Tapes are not necessarily doing anything new with their label yet, Ballantyne forthright says, “we’re not trying to make a new language,” but they do bring a sincere passion, one that is all too often lost on millennials. They are fuelled by the hope that their art will evoke something in someone like so many records have done to them. This drives them to pursue their next artistic manifestation; whatever that may be.
“If it’s not Epoch Tapes, it will be something else. If it’s not House Art, it will be something else. It will be the next band that hasn’t been formed yet,” says Crann.
“We as a group of people won’t stop making music together…unless the apocalypse happens,” Ballantyne continues.
Together they add, laughing, “Then we’re screwed.”