Frontman of S.H.I.T. Talks Value of Brick-and-Mortar Record Stores
This week, S.H.I.T., pillars of Toronto’s hardcore scene, released their first 7’’ since 2014 via London-based label La Vida Es Un Mus. The result, entitled i, features four songs, three of which were on the band’s East Coast tour tape this past summer. Those tracks have been remixed and remastered for this release, and another new track has been added, giving sides A and B two songs apiece. Recorded by Jonah Falco, this set of songs is a swirling, howling stab of chaos.
Since their beginning in 2012, the members of S.H.I.T. have been some of the most visible and vocal champions of Toronto punk and hardcore, from guitarist Greg Benedetto’s longstanding Not Dead Yet festival and shows throughout the year to the short-lived venue S.H.I.B.G.B’s (which doubled as the band’s rehearsal space). More recently, S.H.I.T. vocalist Ryan Tong has been busy with his new record store, Faith / Void, which opened in the fall of 2015.
We had a chance to sit down with Tong inside the shop to talk about the themes behind the band’s new release, the communal support he got when he opened the store and the important role that brick-and-mortar record stores have in 2017.
So, this release came out as a cassette on your East Coast tour, right? Did you know at that point that it’d become a 7’’ with La Vida Es Un Mus?
Initially, we had a recording session in March of 2016 with Jonah [Falco], where we recorded these tracks. The intent for this recording was to have a tape for the tour. I think that we’d been speaking with Paco [Mus] for a while at that point about doing a release with him. We love [La Vida Es Un Mus], we’re all friends with Paco, and he had been asking us to do a release with him for a few years. Because we were so happy with the tracks and how they came out, and they all sounded good together, we approached him to see if he’d be interested in releasing them. So, by the time we put out the tape, he had said he would release it, and the tape ended up serving as a promo.
The 7’’ has a fourth track that wasn’t included on the tape. But they were all recorded at the same time?
Yes. All those tracks were part of the same session and recorded together. The three that were on the promo tape have been remixed and remastered as well.
And that was also by Jonah?
Jonah mixed it, and it was mastered at Noise Room in Japan.
All of the song titles begin with the letter “i.” Could you talk about the link between all of the songs? Was writing four related songs your intention going in, or was it a connection you developed afterward?
The subject matter of all of the songs has to do with ideas about identity and the self, and the external world, and how those two interact with one another. A lot of the lyrics that I’ve written have to do with that theme. I think the name of the 7’’ and the songs play into that as well. Initially, two of the songs on the tape shared that theme, and then I think I just ran with it.
The art also really connects with that same theme as well.
Yeah, the art was done by Teodoro Hernández, who is in this band Otan, who are incredible. He’s an amazing artist as well. He’s made art for bands forever. Greg [Benedetto] and I are really big fans of his stuff. We’re very happy to have him work with us. Initially, he sent a bunch of art for us to be made into merch for our East Coast tour, and eventually it just became the artwork for the tape and the 7’’.
So, La Vida Es Un Mus is not only a label that you’re now on, but one that you’ve also expressed your admiration for as a fan of what they do. You also have a different relationship with them as someone who runs a record store. Could you talk about the difference between those relationships? Did your store start working with the label because you already had that personal connection with Paco?
I had met Paco in person maybe during New York’s Alright 2014. Or 2015? Since the beginning of me running this shop, he’s been very instrumental in helping me learn a lot about mail order, about dealing with labels, wholesale, things like that. He’s offered to guide me along. He’s been doing the label for like 20 years now, and full-time for five or six years. He’s got a lot of experience with that, and it was very helpful to have him help me along and help me understand operating the shop. I think we’ve become better friends as a result.
That’s really great that he was able to shepherd you in that way. Do you find that’s the nature of the punk community you belong to? That people are willing to give you a helping hand like that?
Absolutely. I don’t know — what we do is so small-scale, and in other ways, it’s on a large scale. In the city that you exist in, or the country that you live in, there’s a very small portion of people that are into or dedicated to this. But internationally, these labels and operations are everywhere. I think that dynamic is really interesting, in punk and hardcore, but also with respect to subculture as well. It’s like, what we do is secret and what we do is small, but it’s got this larger scale and more powerful element. That’s very apparent in like fests like Not Dead Yet, which brings a lot of people together from all around. People who want to show each other support and help each other out.
It’s nice that you have that network to rely on, because it’s so difficult to start your own business. Are there other people outside of Paco who have helped you as you’ve built your business?
A lot of people who are involved in punk and hardcore have helped, or have offered their help and just been very supportive. Anyone who even just shops here has been really supportive. You’re right — it is incredibly tough to start an operation of this nature, and I think I had the benefit of already having a community to back me. Since day one. I think a lot of people can’t say that, and that’s absolutely due to the nature of this subculture and this community. Bobby [Egger] and Melissa [Mazula] from Vinyl Conflict have been hugely supportive. Tom Ellis at Static Shock. Paul [Miller] at SAMO. Mark [Shubert] from Beach Impediment. Basically, any label that I bring stuff in from are people that I’ve met through being involved with punk and hardcore, either through the band or doing shows or buying these records. That is definitely something that is unique to the nature of the kind of music, and media that I bring through this space. These people, they go beyond the business relationship. Because things are of such a small scale, we have to help each other out and support each other in order to ensure it continues.
Before Faith / Void opened in Toronto, there was the punk record shop Hits and Misses, which closed in 2012. Was the aim of your shop to fill the void they left behind?
Absolutely. Every city needs an alternative. There should be a punk record store in every city, right? This stuff needs to be made available. It’s important to have the person who’s making it available be somebody who cares about it, or is involved with it beyond selling it. Then it’s more than just an issue of, like, a capitalistic endeavor. My aim is to have a place where this stuff can be accessed.
Why is it important to you, in 2017, to have a physical place where people can come to buy records and related ephemera?
Oh my god, that’s such a big question. Hardcore and punk — subculture in general — have always been tribal movements. We document our own history, we have artifacts that go beyond just the music. Zines, clothing — anything that’s physical is part of the history and evidence of its existence, and also of its evolution and legacy. In an age where we move further and further away from the physical, and integrate more and more into virtual and non-physical realms of communication and engagement with art, culture and music, the live element of this music is so important. The participation of real individuals in real places is so important. Being physically present. [It’s important] to have a space where people can meet, exchange ideas, collaborate, talk, discuss things, disagree, argue, make noise, and engage with this stuff in a more connective and dedicated way. The problem I have with this push toward virtual communication is that it doesn’t take dedication. It’s disposable. It just makes it easier to not care about it, or put more effort or energy into something. Everything is so easy now, and cheap. It’s as cheap as it possibly can be. If you have an internet connection, you can listen to something and just throw it away instantly. But things like records and zines, they take and demand a lot more of the individual.
Is that why Faith / Void stocks more than just records, i.e., zines, books, shirts and artwork?
It goes back to what I was saying before. I think about documenting what’s going on. I think that you can do that through music, and you can do that through visual art or writing or fashion as well. These are all elements of culture that can be used as tools to express and document what is going on. The shop is meant to be a reflection of that. These are the things that this culture, this movement, with its ideals and ideologies, is producing. I hope to provide a space where that stuff is created as well.
That’s what I like about your approach to the shop: You see the culture happening on a continuum of media. That same ideal is represented in the fact that you don’t just stock punk music either. Why is it important for you to carry more than just a specific sound or style?
I think the ideology behind DIY, punk and hardcore transcends a certain sound in that it’s an approach. What does punk sound or look like in the modern age? Should we continue to pigeonhole it or limit it to a particular look or sound? Or should it be distilled to this raw ideology of your approach or motivation? Because I think it’s more powerful if you do [the latter]. It’s more freeing. It makes it more accessible to the people who can get something out of it and who can get something out of creating it. I do believe that this is a hardcore punk shop, but whether or not I explicitly present it as such, I try to carry music and things that represent the ideology and motivation, versus some idea of what it should or does sound like.