Joseph Shemoun is the hands tweaking the sound boards behind Nature’s Butter Records, a Toronto based label producing psychedelic and punk rock recordings of bands such as big smoke locals, The Get Alongs. As a vinyl collector himself, he hopes to help Toronto musicians press and release their works under his label, and support their growth in the local music scene. I reached out to Joseph to learn more about his role in the scene and his approach to churning out some buttery chunes.
My first interaction with Joseph was over an Instagram message where he big-upped Montreal heavy psych group Population II, suggesting we add them to our regular rotation, an excellent referral that prompted an exchange where he described their recent performance in Toronto for me. Shortly after, we were meeting online for a little lockdown rendezvous. Joseph popped up on my screen, a young man sporting a dark curly mullet and speaking with a paced, deep voice. He sat beside a sparkling, silver Gretsch Catalina maple drum set and his dog, Ginger, could be seen lying under a table nearby. I can verify his aforementioned record collection. We said our hellos and I mentioned that I had interviewed Jordan from Gossamer Blue the evening previous, having realized that the two are close friends. Joseph laughs and tells me:
“Jordan is a good friend actually. I recently started playing in Gossamer Blue, the live band. Jordan plays everything on the recordings which is really cool.”
Here comes the speed round.
Smol: What is the best age to be?
Joseph: It’s hard to say because I’m only 24 years old, so I don’t really know what it’s like to be 60 or something, but I feel like mid-20’s is the best to be, 24 or 25, that’s a great age. You’re in peak physical shape, for the most part, and things are fun as a young person. And it’s a great time being a student, like I’m a student, so I don’t have that many responsibilities yet so I’m enjoying that. I’m sure being 60 is pretty cool too, right?
Smol: Favourite animal?
Joseph: I’ve always loved polar bears but I don’t really know why, because I kind of hate the cold, but polar bears are just so cool. They’re big and scary but they look so adorable. You know? I also love dogs. I’m a huge dog lover. [laughs] She’s somewhere here, sleeping under the table. She’s a Bernese/Poodle.
Smol: Favourite book?
Joseph: Um, ok. I honestly don’t really read that much, it’s kind of bad, so I don’t know if I have a favourite book. I did read a couple books this last semester for a science fiction class; one was called Annihilation, which was pretty cool. But other than that… I mean, I think everyone read The Catcher in the Rye, but I feel like a lot of people are really indecisive about it, you either really like it or hate it, but I really liked reading it in high school. But other than that… I should read more.
Smol: What’s your favourite restaurant?
Joseph: Hard to say because I’ve barely been to restaurants in the past two years, but I’m living in Newmarket right now and there’s this one good spot in downtown Newmarket called Ground Burger Bar which is pretty cool. They have some pretty crazy burgers and good beers. I’d say that place is pretty nice.
Smol: Of the celebrities that died in 2021, which one do you miss the most?
Joseph: I remember in early 2020, Neil Peart died, which was pretty sad because I grew up loving Rush. That one hit kind of hard. And obviously he was an amazing drummer.
Smol: Describe yourself with 3 words.
Joseph: I’m pretty laid back and chill. I’m not too excitable; I’m mellow for the most part. I don’t really know. I would also say I’m a bit of a clean freak. Yeah, I like things clean a lot. But yeah, that’s it really.
Smol: It’s a classic interview question.
Joseph: I had an interview once that asked me a similar question, but they asked “If you were a house appliance, what would you be?” [laughs] I don’t know. That’s a strange question, it threw me off. Why would I want to be a house appliance?
Smol: How is school going? Tell us about your program. Do you like your school?
Joseph: I’m in my last semester of media production at Ryerson which is really fun. I love the program, the profs, the students, everyone is so great in the program. I’ve switched my program a couple of times, but I think that was a good decision. I’ve been focusing on audio production so it has been a lot of fun. It’s something that’s very useful for me to learn as a musician, as someone who wants to make music; it’s just a great thing to know. You can’t really rely on music nowadays to be like, “Hey, this is my career, I’m going to be a musician!” You can’t really do that unless you get lucky, but it’s good to know how to make your own music, and produce, and how to mix and master and all that, because then you can do everything on your own. But it’s great and I think I’ve learned a lot in the past four years. I have a couple of classes this semester that I’m really excited for. One is a music production class.
Smol: I read that you are focusing on post-production. What does that involve?
Joseph: In terms of audio, well, there was an audio post-production class that I took which was really fun. It was basically just adding all the audio so, all of dialogue, Foley, sound effects, and music. This one class we had a couple of years ago, it was just that. Like, taking a clip and reworking the audio from the ground up, from zero to 100, like a random movie clip or a TV show, and that was a lot of fun to work on because you could do whatever you wanted. You could score an entire soundtrack for it, do all the sound effects. The whole process is just really exciting because you can do what you want with it and be creative.
In terms of music, post-production is, you know, once you’re done recording in the studio, you’re just adding all the plug-ins you need: reverb, compression, EQ, making everything sound amazing, delicious, and getting it to what you want it to sound like. You have to have a vision in your head, or your ears, to know what sound you want so while you’re working you can work to achieve that.
Smol: How did you get started with music? What instruments do you play?
Joseph: I play the drums mostly. I mean, through the beginning of the pandemic, and staying home a lot, I tried to pick up some guitar and bass but I wouldn’t say I play it, I’m beginner level. I’ve always loved music, growing up, in elementary school I got super into classic rock and, like, ACDC, and unfortunately Bon Jovi was a big thing for me which is terrible because he’s kind of bad, I’m not going to lie [laughs]. Yeah that was huge for me, in grades six, seven, eight, ACDC, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, Rush… All the good classic rock stuff came. And I started playing drums around grade seven or eight, took lessons for a little bit, and then kind of just did my own thing.
As a kid I didn’t really know that many people who played instruments and I always wanted to play with other people, and throughout high school I didn’t really get that. After that, I started to meet other musicians, especially at Ryerson, which was huge, and I was able to jam with people. You learn a lot by jamming with other people. That’s where I met Jordan!
Smol: How’s Newmarket? How long have you been there and what do you love about it?
Joseph: [Laughs] What do I love about it? Nothing. It kind of sucks. I’ve only been here for a year actually, my family moved here from Vaughan. I lived in Vaughan for my whole life pretty much, which is honestly the same. A little bit busier in Vaughan than Newmarket, but yeah, just another suburban town. I don’t really know much about what’s going on here in terms of a music scene, but I can tell you that in Vaughan and Richmond Hill there wasn’t much. It’s pretty scarce. Like pre-COVID times we did go to some of the bars in the area for open mic night, and there wasn’t much of a young crowd. Like, in Toronto if you go to an open mic night there’s a huge variety of people, but in Richmond Hill it’s mostly older people who come around and get drunk and play music.
Smol: You’re more familiar with the Toronto scene then?
Joseph: I think so? I mean, I’m not too experienced, but we’ve played shows around the city here and there, pre-COVID times. I play in this band called Burger Vacuum but we haven’t really done anything in the past couple years. It’s hard to coordinate things, it’s all in the air right now since we can’t really play shows or anything. And yeah, my friend Jordan, we’ve been jamming a bit. It’s fun. We played Sneaky Dee’s last October and it was pretty fun. It felt surreal in a way, being back. And it was weird because there were actually a lot of people, which I never would have guessed, because generally our shows have no people [laughs]. I think when we come out of this, a lot of just regular, small, bar shows are going to be so packed because we’ve been deprived of this for so long. I think it will be good, I mean, from the one show we had it seemed like it was good. So we’ll see.
Smol: Who is your favourite local band?
Joseph: There’s this one band, you’ve probably heard of them, Wine Lips. I love Wine Lips, they’re so good. Great garage rock. Their latest record is so good, their style is great, his vocal style is amazing, the riffs - beautiful. Yeah, I’ve been listening to their new album a lot. There are some other good bands, like Mother Tongues, who are amazing. There are some really cool psychedelic bands and punk rock bands coming out of Toronto right now. It’s a genre that’s popping up I think, which is really cool because I love that kind of music, even if it’s not psych rock, just like elements of psychedelic music in anything.
Smol: Any specific memory of a show that stands out?
Joseph: Oh yeah, there was one at the Phoenix. Death From Above 1979. They had this free show back when weed was first legalized and they partnered with Aurora, the weed company, and for some reason they were promoting this free show. That show was wild, it was amazing, and I loved it. Huge mosh pit, yeah, it was so much fun. And I think it just made it more fun because it was free. Oh, and I caught Sebastian’s stick, which was really great.
And when I saw Population II, I love that band, such a cool vibe. I spoke with the drummer after the show and I asked how they got signed on Castle Face Records. He said that they just sent them the record and that’s how they got it. That’s so cool. That record is probably my favourite of 2020. They’re such a great band.
Smol: I did some Nardwuar-esque creeping around and saw that you work at the LCBO. Can you recommend a good beer?
Joseph: [Laughs] Nice. Yeah, I love Bellwoods. I don’t know if they’re popular now, I guess they are. Everything Bellwoods makes is amazing. I think Jelly King is one of the best beers. Roman Candle is probably my favourite IPA. Also, Flying Monkeys they make some really good stuff. Sparklepuff IPA – ouff that’s good. 10% IPA that doesn’t taste like it. Dangerous.
Smol: What are your biggest achievements in music?
Joseph: [Laughs] That’s funny. I don’t know if there are any achievements. Hopefully more achievements, eventually, in the future. No, but it’s all been small so far. I think that as a small, local, musician, being able to put your music out into the world is a huge achievement, right? Like, when we put out the single for Burger Vacuum, the last one, it was just so exciting. Even if you know nobody is listening to it and it’s not gaining any traction, at least you know that you did something. You put your music out there and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. That’s what being a musician is all about, and it’s an achievement. It can be hard. Some people will sit on their singles or albums for a long time just trying to get it perfect. But you can’t always get it perfect, you just have to release it how it is and be happy about it!
Smol: Tell us about Nature’s Butter Records. How did it start?
Joseph: It’s actually a thesis project for my final year. The whole idea was to start a label, and I just wanted to produce some bands and record them and mix their songs for them. That was the main goal. Another aspect of it that I really wanted to do was to have a live show. I wanted to be able to promote these bands and set up a show to showcase the whole work of the label. And what I wanted to do is have a KEXP style thing, yeah kind of like that, have bands perform in the studio or in a smaller venue and record them, make a concert video, and record the songs to make a live album, a compilation album for the record label. But that really didn’t end up working out because it has been kind of tough with COVID.
So for now, we’re just focusing on working with some bands from Toronto and getting their music heard. And that’s the whole point, right? I think that coming up, like as a musician, it’s hard to do things on your own, and I think it’s cool to have people who have a little bit of experience to be like “Hey, we can help you. We have the skills and the equipment to help you record your music. Let’s do it and let’s put it out!”
Smol: Absolutely. You’re working with The Get Alongs, right?
Joseph: Yeah, they’re an amazing band. If you haven’t listened – or if anyone reading this hasn’t heard of them – they’re so cool and I think they’re great to see live. Their energy is so great. Exciting punk rock.
Smol: What are your plans for 2022?
Joseph: I’m hoping to further the label, at least in some aspect. It’s been tough because it’s mostly me and a couple of other people, so it’s been slow recently. But I have a vision in my head of supporting local bands and doing some releases. And yeah, a goal is maybe scheduling some live shows.
Smol: Tell us about Burger Vacuum. When did that start?
Joseph: It was formed around 2018, maybe 2019. It came out of another band I was working with, where we kind of put out an ad looking for a bassist, and this guy Rob, who is in Burger Vacuum, came and we played with that band for a little bit but it wasn’t the style we were going for. So we branched off, me and Rob, the guitarist, and the bassist of that band, Jeff. We started to make music we like which is more like stoner-rock, garage-rock, psych-rock kind of stuff. And yeah, I guess it started mostly as us just playing open mics in Richmond Hill. We’d just be bored and we’d be like “Let’s go play the open mic at Archie’s in Richmond Hill.” Which is a really trashy bar [laughs] but hopefully nobody from there ever reads this.
But yeah, there was this sign outside this bar at a different strip plaza that said, like there was a burger place near this vacuum store, and the sign said ‘Burger Vacuum’. I think someone came out of the bar at one point and was like “Hey, what’s your band called?” And we looked up at the sign and we’re like, “Burger Vacuum!” The open mics were not good. We wouldn’t even have anything rehearsed, we would just improvise jam, it was just an excuse to jam really [laughs]. That’s how it started. We recorded some stuff on iPhones and put it on Bandcamp, and then Rob started writing some songs, and yeah.
Smol: What difficulties do emerging Canadian artists face? What do you hope changes in the future?
Joseph: I hope there are more opportunities for young bands, smaller bands. I found, a couple of years ago when we were trying to book shows, it was very difficult. A lot of bars, I feel like they should just let people play. Even if they’re bad, just let them play. Let them get some experience, you know? Like that’s a huge thing for music now is live music, obviously it has been dead for a while now because of COVID, but looking forward to shows happening again, that has to be a thing. Bands have to get shows, because like, if you don’t have anywhere to play your music, how are you going to get heard? How are you going to make anything of it? I also think that grants need to be more accessible for artists. They should make it more accessible and way less confusing. Because as artists, you need money to make music, and if you don’t have money, what are you doing? That’s the main thing. It needs to be easier to access things as a musician. Easier to get shows, easier to get funding for projects, that’s important. I think that’s how you make it better, encourage people to make music and support them.
Some venues, like when we were looking for shows with Burger Vacuum to promote the release of our EP, it was so hard, some of the mid-sized venues would tell us, “Ok, you need to pay this much,” just to be able to play! How are we supposed to pay that upfront? We’d have to charge over $20 per ticket just to afford the show. Even if you did pay to play a show at a venue, you might not have enough money to make merch to sell, and you’re not making any money off of digital streams… It’s hard to do anything with that.
Smol: Are Canadian artists disadvantaged on the global scale?
Joseph: That’s a hard question. I want to say no, but maybe a little bit. I feel like with the internet, in the current age we live in, I don’t think we’re disadvantaged because you can put your music on the internet and anyone can listen to it. Like look at Australia, for example, there’s some crazy punk-rock and psych-rock coming out of Australia and I'm living in Canada, listening to all those niche, small bands! I think it goes to show that it doesn’t make a difference these days. Maybe 40 or 50 years ago, in the radio age, Canadian bands weren’t played on the radio too much, but Canadian radio stations have to play a certain amount of Canadian music now. And I think Toronto has a great music scene, and Montreal has a great music scene. Another cool band, Pottery, they’re from Montreal and they’re killing it.
Smol: How can fans support Canadian artists right now?
Joseph: Everything right now is on the internet, it’s all social media, I think the biggest thing is just sharing music, it’s the simplest thing to do. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s huge. I found that myself, like even pre-COVID, when we’d release something it was hard to get people to share it and be like, “Hey, this is my friend’s band, check them out.” That doesn’t really happen and I think if that were to be more accepted, and people were to do it more, it would really help. It’s a simple thing people can do to support local bands. And if you have money you can buy their records or support them at their shows.
Smol: If you had to give one tip to someone wanting to record music for the first time, what would it be?
Joseph: Stick to the used market. I think people just getting into it might just go to a Long & McQuade and buy whatever the person there recommends – but I find if you do a bit of your own research, check out Kijiji, Facebook marketplace, you can find good stuff for pretty cheap. I think that’s the way to go.
Smol: How many guitar pedals are too many?
Joseph: Never too many. Your pedals should be overflowing off of your pedal board [laughs]. Nah I’m kidding. I love pedals, but you don’t want to go crazy with it and have a million effects at once. Good to have the basics, like, you need a good fuzz, reverb, delay, and chorus. But, no pedals? Nope. You gotta have pedals.
Smol: What is the best song to sing in the shower?
Joseph: Maybe some Willie Nelson. “On the Road Again”, that’s a great one.
Smol: If your dog played an instrument, what would she play?
Joseph: [Laughs] Do you remember those batons that are all coloured and different lengths, kind of like cylinders and you hit them, and they’re kind of annoying? Boom Whackers! Ginger would be a Boom Whacker because she’s kind of annoying and kind of loud, but she’s fun.
You can check out Nature’s Butter Records on Instagram and listen to Burger Vacuum on Bandcamp and Spotify!