Ani Difranco started her independent record label, Righteous Babe Records, after moving to New York and realizing the record industry wasn’t interested in embracing what she had to offer. Now with a staff of eight, and offices on two continents, the label has become more of a philosophy than a means to an end. Providing a beacon of hope to independent artists everywhere, DiFranco’s model has proven that the compromises of big business aren’t necessary. With the proper mixture of passion, talent and hard work, music can still support itself.
Nanaimo, British Columbia, based singer/songwriter Allison Crowe is of a similar state of mind. The artist has released three albums on her self-run Rubenesque Records. Through her own means she has developed a strong fanbase and backbone of critical support that has seen her stature in the Canadian music scene continually rise over the past two years.
Now with the release of her fourth album, Live at Wood Hall, she is preparing to head out on a tour that will see her play shows across Canada and into the United Kingdom. It’s a chance for Crowe to expose new audiences to her highly acclaimed live show, something that she has been perfecting for the past eight years.
Crowe began writing songs in earnest at the age of 15, soon after taking some compositions to the stages of local clubs to ever growing acclaim. “The occasional person would come up and say that they saw me at one of them,” she says of interest she gained at the time. “That was a really cool experience, because it was from people I’d never met. So, that was new and exciting.”
In 2003 she released Lisa’s Song + 6 Songs. The collection of live recordings not only marked her first recorded output, but also the first release on Rubenesque. She followed with 2004’s Secrets, a formal debut made up of originals and covers that further developed already growing interest from both the media and the public. Keeping with this rapid pace, her Christmas album, Tidings, soon followed. During this period she also taped two hour-long, nationally broadcast televisions specials, Inside Pandora’s Box and Tidings.
Live at Wood Hall is a two-disc live recording that merges her own writing with a series of songs by various other artists, including Leonard Cohen, John Lennon and Tori Amos. Showcasing a jump in production quality from her past work, the album places her striking vocals at centre stage, creating an exciting promise of the power of her show, and future work to come.
With both a solid catalogue and strong fanbase, Crowe appears to be in the perfect position to begin looking for the support of a major label. But she seems much more interested in following in the footsteps of one of her idols. “
“I have always looked up to artists like Ani DiFranco who have done things their way. I really want to be able to basically have an entity through which I could conduct the business part of the music,” she says of her decision to focus on working through Rubenesque. “Doing things the way I’m doing them is probably a lot slower than going with a major from the get-go, and is a lot of work. The fact that I get to slowly build and see everything as it happens and have complete creative control is ridiculously rewarding.”
The choice is one that more and more musicians across the country are making. One that lets their passion for their music sustain their careers, rather than contractual commitments.
“I won’t fault anyone for going that route, because everyone has a different goal and path, but there are other ways,” says Crowe. “It’s not easy, but neither is signing your life away. At the end of the day, I just want to be able to be content in what I’m doing.”
Special Noise CD release w/SS Cardiacs, September 2 at The Khyber Club, 1588 Barrington, 10pm, $5.