Based in Barrie, Ontario Tarantula Tapes is an independent cassette label with a community feel. Started by Casey Cuff and Core Bee in the summer of 2020 as a way to help out their local punk scene, the label has expanded to include underground punk bands from all over Canada. They have put out some absolutely stellar music in their two years as a label including releases from bands including Future Girls, Gutser, Boring Girls, Viola Swamp, B.A. Johnston, Witch Island, and Audio Visceral. They've also relased amazing music from their own bands The Speed Humps and Heavy Petter and Casey’s band Angry Spells. With a DIY and artist focused approach to releasing music, it is clear from the outset that Casey and Core care deeply about what they do and the bands they work with. Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with both of them over Zoom to talk about the origins of Tarantula Tapes, running a label, the importance of community, the magic of cassettes, and much more. Read the interview below.
You’ve said that Tarantula Tapes started as a pandemic project. How did the idea to start a tape label come about?
Casey Cuff: It was pretty sporadic, we really didn’t set out to start a label. We’re in a band called The Speed Humps and in the spring of 2020 we had planned to release our latest EP onto cassette. We had just bought some blanks and we were gonna do it ourselves and then COVID hit and it was hard to get supplies and printing and you know, the world fell apart. [laughs] So it got put on hold and we ended up releasing it digitally. Then come August/September of 2020 we decided that it was time to just put it out physically, we had all these tapes sitting here. Then it was Core that said, “you know, we could just put this out as a label”, so I said, “you wanna just start a record label?” and Core was like, “yep”. We just had to have a name and say that it’s our label so that’s what we did. We had a friend come up with the logo and slapped it on and The Speed Hump’s Consumption was our first release. From there we were like, “wow, if we just did tapes we could release another band. That’s not too costly and overwhelming” and then it just kinda snowballed from us reaching out to other people and other people reaching out to us.
Core Bee: There are just a lot of bands that we’re jacked on. We were like, “let’s get their music out, help people outside of our local music scene, help other people get experience and be exposed to this stuff” and it’s grown from there. We were just doing bands here in Barrie and now we’ve got from Halifax to Red Deer, Alberta. We’ve got it covered all over. [laughs] So it’s been a lot of fun.
CC: We didn’t really mean for it to be a pandemic project but it definitely evolved into that. Because with everything being shut down you’re totally cut off from the music scene so this was a good way to stay connected and meet new people. We’ve definitely made a lot of new friends through the label.
Do you think the label would have come into being had the pandemic not happened?
CB: Hard to say.
CC: That’s a good question! So many people were on the internet then and we had a lot of traction in the beginning. We noticed the online traffic slowed a little bit once shows started happening, and people started going back to work, they weren’t living on the internet anymore. I think the pandemic did help a bit and that was the only way that bands could get some cash flow in, by selling merch online. It probably wouldn’t have blossomed the way it did if we hadn’t been doing it during the pandemic.
CB: Or may not have existed at all, who knows. We’re pretty busy like she plays in three bands, I play in two.
CC: And we work regular jobs.
CB: And have a bunch of other hobbies and stuff too. So it’s like, “would we have come up with this had we not had down time?” But now that everything is more or less getting back to the way things were, we’re still doing it. PLUS all the other stuff we were doing before. [laughs] It’s hard to say but I would like to think that we would’ve done it anyways but who knows.
Well I’m glad you guys started it and it’s still going strong.
CC: It’s been a wild ride for sure. [laughs]
Why did you choose a tarantula for your logo and does the tarantula in your logo have a name?
CC: No, it does not have a name but now I feel like it should. [laughs] The name just kinda came to me when I was at work one day. We were stewing over names and texting each other back and forth. My workplace is pretty rugged and I think I had seen a lot of bugs and big spiders at my desk that day and I was like, “oh, that’s the size of a tarantula - Tarantula Tapes! Oh my god!” [laughs] And it just kinda stuck. We gave it to our friend Devon [Priddle], who’s a graphic designer and artist and they came up with the logo. It has kinda a B-movie theme to it all. They did a really good job with it and it has been fun to use. We do a lot of play on words with it, our first compilation was called Tracknaphobia and just silly stuff like that. Since the beginning, on any mail-outs we do I’ve been drawing a tarantula or a spider on the package with something like, “hey” or “thanks” or “I love Sting” or something like that. Or “fragile”, whatever it needs to say. [laughs] But yeah, maybe we should do a naming contest. You’ve sparked something!
You and your team manufacture, duplicate, print, package, send out everything. What is this process like? How would you describe your day to day operations?
CC: We are fairly DIY. We do outsource a few things but it’s to other people in the music industry who have small businesses or side hustles of their own. It’s kind of a community effort. We’ll order blank tapes that are custom loaded to the length of the album and then we dub everything in house. Our friend, who has a printing company, will print the J-cards and labels for us. We have a graphic designer who helps with layouts or design if we need it and then we assemble it all by hand.
CB: Sometimes we have assembling parties. We’ll have friends over.
CC: Yeah if it’s last minute and we’ve got a lot of tapes to do.
CB: Yeah, “come on over and here’s how you fold them, let’s get to work! Put the labels on right.” [laughs]
CC: In the early days we were using just our home cassette decks and we were dubbing in real time while we were working from home just like, “side A, flip, side B”. Then we would listen to a bunch of them and make sure there weren’t any issues, which there were before because dubbing at high speed reduces the quality. And then if you’re not cleaning the cassette decks often then it sounds kinda crummy so you’re re-dubbing. It’s a process when you have to do it that way. [laughs]
CB: We’ve learned a lot. We have our quality control checklist for every release. We have to make sure we don’t forget anything and we keep adding to it as we learn something new. It’s pretty streamlined now. We can get them done a lot faster and efficiently.
CC: We’ve got a commercial duplicator now that can do three tapes at a time - both sides - in high speed and not ruin the quality so it doesn’t take too long. Core will usually do the dubbing and I’ll sit in front of the TV or something for a couple of hours and just stuff tapes. [laughs]
CB: Yeah, it’s fun though. Also in the spirit of how we started this and why we started this, just staying connected to the music community and the local scene. We’re working with people who were very involved in the music scene before and it’s like, “oh, you have this business where you do these things. We need these types of services”, so let’s work with these people who are part of the music scene anyway. Everybody kind of supports each other this way and we’re not sending it off to some company, some corporation. It’s going to this guy who plays bass in this band and this is what he does for a living. It helps keep the music scene connected and together.
CC: That’s that tape process, but we do everything else ourselves like writing press releases or reaching out to press contacts and trying to get interviews or features. We do all of our own social media. All the marketing stuff too, like if we need to do flyers or like inserts in our mail-outs.
CB: And show promotions. We’ve been putting together a bunch of shows lately. For our one-year anniversary we had like 9-10 bands, it was an all day thing, we had a great turnout.
CC: We help with shows and put together shows when we can. We’ll make merch for bands too. There’s a lot of coordinating that goes on behind the scenes too. [laughs]
CB: We recently set up at the Barrie Record Show. There’s like 50 or 60 vendors and we’ve got a booth. We normally sell Tarantula Tapes stuff but like we’re also doing distro for other bands that are self-released or maybe they’re released on other labels and we’ll buy a couple copies off of them and sell them. Maybe we’ll be doing a little bit more of these types of events and see how that works out.
CC: We run Reel to Reel Records now which was run by Kurt out of London and that’s kinda our distro now. So if it’s not a band that’s on the label, like Core said, we’re just buying wholesale from other people and that’s a lot of the stuff we’ll take to markets and stuff like that. We’re doing the Punk Rock Flea Market in Cambridge on June 4 too. Any way we can get out there. Fortunately I’m working part-time right now so I can dedicate a day or two to getting these things done so we’re not too overwhelmed. [laughs]
Previously you’ve said how tapes have such a unique sound to them. How would you describe the sound of cassettes?
CB: I guess for older people who grew up on tapes there’s a nostalgia element but younger people who have never seen a tape before they’re probably not going to have that nostalgia aspect. With some of the tapes they don’t always sound exactly the same, two copies of the same tape will sound a little tiny bit different because of the process and how they’re made.
CC: Some might sound a little bit fuzzy or distant.
CB: If you maintain your equipment and clean your tape deck, which most people never do, they sound really good. I had a friend of mine recently who was saying that his tape deck sounded like garbage and I told him how to clean it then he was like, “that completely changed everything!” So yeah, I think tapes do sound good if you play it on equipment that’s maintained well.
CC: And tapes that are recorded properly.
CB: They’re analog, so it’s more of a warm feel. It’s hard to describe a sound. [laughs] It’s definitely not as crisp as digital but there’s still a clarity. You still hear everything.
CC: If you don’t care about ultimate perfection with everything you listen to then you’ll enjoy it. [laughs]
CB: And we’re also not putting out radio pop music. These are DIY bands and most of them have DIY recordings. The kind of music we’re putting out works really well on cassette.
It adds more personality.
CB: Adds a nice little charm to it. [laughs]
CC: Charming imperfections.
You both play in Speed Humps and Heavy Petter. What have you learned from being in bands that has helped you with running the label?
CB: Well, definitely the networking. To be in a band you need to network all of the time. It’s all about: you play a show with bands, you connect with them, you make contact, you develop that relationship, and this is basically just the same thing but on a bigger scale. You’re dealing with more bands all the time as opposed to just the ones that you may have played with last weekend and you’re trying to get something moving forward. Being organized, maintaining a schedule, and clear communication. [laughs]
CC: I think a big thing also is being able to recognize both sides of it, not just having the label or business perspective but having the artist perspective as well. Like if I was going to be on a label, what would I expect from it, what would I not want, what would I not agree to, what would be shitty, what would be awesome. [laughs] Stuff like that.
CB: We’re definitely very artist focused. I’m sure if you were to talk to some bands that are on different labels and compare their experience to how we’re doing things, we’re much more generous with what we give back to the artists and what we do for them. Because ultimately, we’re music fans. We just wanna get this music that we think is really cool out there for people and we think this is worthwhile, we think people need to hear this stuff. If roles were reversed that’s how we’d want it to go. We wouldn’t want to work with a label that sees us only as a paycheque, we’re people and we want to get this music out.
CC: I think that’s the biggest thing that we’ve learned with being artists ourselves - being artist focused.
More of a community feel to it too.
CB: Very much so.
CC: Yeah for sure. Fortunately, thankfully, people have told us that it feels like a community or has a family feel. That gives us some warm and fuzzies too for sure. We’re going for that.
You’ve put out tapes by great, underground Canadian bands and artists like Matty Grace, Future Girls, Gutser, Boring Girls, Witch Island, the Heavy Petter split with The Holdouts. What do you look for in bands you put out? How do you find them?
CB: The vast majority of everything we did for probably the first year was bands that we’ve played with or bands that I recorded. I recorded Speed Humps, I recorded our stuff on the Heavy Petter split, Merloaded, Witch Island.
CC: A lot of people we knew at first. People who we were familiar and comfortable with.
CB: We want to get this music out because we think it’s great which blossomed into people reaching out to us and stuff.
CC: Generally we play punk, that’s what we listen to mostly so that’s just the world that we’re in.
CB: I love the DIY stuff too, like Viola Swamp. I don’t think it would get classified under punk rock but the punk rock ethos is there, like they’re DIY and they have the “I’m just doing my thing and I hope people like it” attitude. I really like that attitude. I’m not really interested in putting out a tape just because I think it’ll sell well. It’s like well, if I don’t like the music or the people why would I put it out? Nobody gets rich selling underground punk rock tapes, right. [laughs] So it’s not about money for us.
CC: It needs to be something we’re jacked on.
CB: Yeah, it’s really gotta be music that we’re like, “this is awesome, we love it and we want to contribute to getting it out for other people to experience”.
CC: Also we wanna know that the people we’re working with are also jacked on getting this out and they wanna promote it.
CB: They’re good people. [laughs]
CC: Yeah, they’re not shitheads, you know. [laughs] Because obviously we’re going to have a relationship with these people and we want to have that community feel. We bring people together all the time, we don’t want to have a cluster of assholes.
CB: No drama, no fighting, just get along. [laughs]
CC: We haven’t had any of that. So that’s very lovely, that’s great. We wanna be excited about the music, we want them to be excited about working with us, and we want them to be active too. It’s very hard to push a product that the artist isn’t promoting themselves or if they’re not playing shows. It’s just harder to get it out there, especially in the early days when we were pretty new and no one really knew about us. It was really hard for us to get it out there. Because it is still DIY we don’t have a marketing budget, we’re not putting out ads everywhere so we rely on everybody sharing as much as possible or touring or doing their own promotion. We need to know that a band’s going to be active.
CB: Although we have broken that rule. There have been some bands we’re like, “I know you’re not together but we need to get this stuff out. I really like your music”. There’s been a couple times where it’s like, “I don’t care if you guys never play another show - I would really like you to - but you’re just sitting on this music. People need to hear it so let us put the tape out please.” [laughs]
What have been some of your exceptions?
CC: Die Sci Fi was one.
CB: So, Die Sci Fi had two EPs that they’d recorded and then I recorded an EP for them and then their drummer ended up moving away, he moved to New Brunswick. Fortunately they just got a new drummer and they’re playing a show next month which is super cool. But when we were talking about putting the EP out I was like, “we have this EP literally sitting on my computer, it’s done. Let’s release it. And why don’t we also release your other two EPs because they’ve never been released physically?” We put out their entire discography. They were kinda trying to talk me out of it like John, their singer, was like, “well I don’t know if we’re going to be able to sell any, we’re not playing shows” and I was like, “Don’t worry about it! We’re just going to do it anyway.” [laughs] And other stuff too like Gutser for example, when we were talking to them they were like, “we’re not really punk rock we’re kinda a bit different from a lot of the stuff you do.”
CC: They’re pretty heavy.
CB: And I was like, “But I really like your music so that works”. It’s not exclusively punk rock. There’s other stuff that we’ve got coming out later in the year that would not be filed under punk rock but for us it’s music that we really like with cool people and we want to work with them.
CC: There’s still people in the punk scene that play with other punk bands. There’s still a lot of crossover. We did an instrumental, surf-rock EP which is very cool. And there’s Cursed Arrows. They have some punkier songs but a lot of them are grunge-y alt-rock too. They have an incredibly diverse catalog. They’re playing with punk bands in the punk scene. They’re extremely DIY. They just live and breathe art and they’re great people too.
CB: It’s almost like there are all these rules but there are also no rules. Which is kinda the beauty of having your own record label. We can kinda do whatever we want to do. [laughs] Which is kinda nice but sometimes we’ll have to hum and haw over stuff like, “should we, do we want to?”
CC: And we have to think about the time restraints. We wanna do so much but we only have so much time and brain space. We can’t put out every band that we want. Already we’ve had to turn down some submissions for this year which stinks because we would’ve loved to have done them but it’s like, “well, let’s just keep in touch and maybe we can work together in the future”. We learned very quickly that doing too many releases is very hard and very stressful so sometimes you just have to pick and choose.
As the label you also organize and throw shows. How does it feel to be putting on live events again and getting back to that?
CC: Good! Kinda tiring, we literally just rolled into town from London because we were playing there last night. But it feels great to be attending and hosting shows and seeing people again, that’s for sure. I think people are getting more and more comfortable which has been nice because obviously it’s been a weird time, people have been isolating for so long. I think for the most part people feel pretty good about getting out and we do too. It took us a little while to warm up, not as long as I thought it would but I don’t know if we play as fast as we did two years ago but we’re working our way back up. [laughs]
CB: It’s been fun. Before the label we were just booking shows for our own bands or promoters would just reach out to us. Unless we were doing a special event, bands typically aren’t booking shows, people will put shows together and ask you to play. But I think now that we’re working with so many bands we want them to be playing all the time and together. It’s kinda like a-choose-your-own-concert, “who do you want to see?” Selfishly like I’m doing it for me because I want to see these bands play together but unselfishly it’s like let’s get a whole bunch of people to come watch these bands because we think they’re really cool.
CC: Fortunately we have people in town that we can work with and we work well together, both at the bar here in town and at a punk house. We collaborate a lot to bring a lot of Tarantula artists to town or just to put shows on in general. Again, more of a community effort.
How would you describe the punk scene in Barrie?
CB: It’s different than it was before COVID. [laughs]
CC: It was pretty lively before but we also had a dedicated rock and punk dive bar. It unfortunately closed early in the pandemic which was probably a good move for them, it would’ve been very tough here. That means we don’t have a dedicated venue to punk specifically. It doesn’t bring out the same crowds and we also don’t have a weekend venue right now, other than a punk house.
CB: Sundays through Thursdays are when the shows are right now which is kind of a bummer because it’s hard if you work or have kids or go to school.
CC: It’s a big family town here. It’s not like Toronto or Hamilton where there’s funky, artsy people walking the streets all the time and opening up cool shops. People like their sports bars here. There’s not a lot of focus on live music venues.
CB: When most people are like, “I’m looking for some bands to play” that’s code for, “I want top 40 cover bands”. I’m not interested, sorry. [laughs]
CC: People are here and the promoter that was working at the bar that closed, she was the first one to approach another bar in town and be like, “can you let me throw shows here because we need to keep the scene going” so thankfully because of her that has been happening.
CB: We’re very grateful that Gillian [Dorella-Scott] works so hard to put these things on. She works tirelessly, I don’t know if she ever sleeps. It’s just amazing.
CC: The people are here in town. It’s just that we don't have the same hub as we used to, it’s not seven days a week. It’s usually school nights and it’s hard now and life is different now, life is more expensive now.
CB: Like in any city the scene’s going to shrink and grow and shrink and grow. COVID shrunk everything but we’re not going to stop and neither are the people who are playing and putting on shows.
CC: People are still here, I think they’re just doing different things. Some bands have stopped playing, some have started other projects. So people are around but the scene is different now. It might be in a bit of a dormant phase but we’re coming back.
CB: We’ve played a bunch of different cities over the past few months and it’s pretty booming in other places. I think as soon as we get a place that supports this kind of music and will do shows on Fridays and Saturdays then the scene will start growing and hopefully getting back to what we had. Pre-COVID the city was awesome. It was like, “I’m so glad I live here right now because there’s so many cool bands playing here right now whether they’re local or touring acts”. The city was becoming, “you always go play Barrie when you’re touring”. It was starting to become known as that so hopefully we get back to that.
CC: It would be great to have more underground venues. We have an Arts & Culture department but it’s very focused on more mainstream music because there’s more mainstream artists out there. The underground scene is significantly smaller in most cities and it doesn’t bring in a lot of tourism and money. There’s a scene, it’s just morphed into something different and it will probably morph again. [laughs]
Would you ever put on a Tarantula Tapes festival over a couple days?
CB: We’ve thought about it.
CC:That’s kinda what we thought our first year anniversary party was going to be but it ended up being one very long day.
CB: We started looking at stuff back in October of 2021 so there were still a lot of restrictions in place. We were like, “realistically, if we were to do this outside we would need to deal with insurance, we need to have washrooms” and all the logistics that go with the COVID protocols. It’s a lot to manage and it became overwhelming to think, “how could we pull this off?”
CC: We had a lot going on then too.
CB: We keep talking about the idea. I would love to do something like that. So maybe in the future. It’s definitely something that we’ve talked about and thought about lots.
CC: I think it will happen in the future. We know enough people who have thrown festivals or weekend-long shows and we’re always up for more work. [laughs] So I’m sure it would happen too. We’re doing another anniversary party this year, not a weekend show but it’ll be a long show again.
CB: I like the idea of a festival. We go to Pouzza Fest every year, we’re going next month and I’m so happy that it’s back. When you have a multi-day event like that everybody gets together and you keep seeing the same people day after day and it’s like a punk rock vacation. Everybody travels to the same place, spends a couple days there, then they leave. I like the idea of doing that, obviously not to that scale but a smaller festival idea. Not to say that we’d ever mimic what Pouzza does because they’re on a whole other scale but I just like the idea of a multi-day event bringing all these people together and just having a good time.
What bands are you listening to right now?
CC: I caught Mvll Crimes for the first time at the Bovine on April 23 and they were fucking awesome. They’re from London and they’re gonna be putting out some music through Cursed Blessings so definitely going to keep an eye out for that. I’m really into them right now.
CB: I’ve been listening to a lot of metal lately. It’s funny, my playlist will go from like underground metal bands that I’m just starting to discover, new stuff that I’m getting into, to kinda Ramonescore 16th notes and hi-hats, like Marked Men, bands in that genre. I’m just kinda all over. I’m really interested in hearing something that I have not heard before and always chasing that, like, “what’s new, what are you listening to, oh I’ve never heard of that” and make notes on my phone and go check them out. But yeah a lot of metal and a lot of Ramonescore. [laughs]
CC: I’ve been listening to a lot of stoner rock, stoner doom metal stuff too like Acid Mammoth. I always go back to Kyuss, super old stuff but it’s good.
CB: AAWKS, they’re like a psychedelic stoner rock band from Barrie and they have their first full-length coming out. It was recorded earlier this year, and we’re doing a cassette release on June 10.
CC: It’s a co-release with Northern Haze, out of Sudbury, they’re an actual stoner metal label which is why we chose to partner with them plus they’re pretty local. We don’t have a huge stoner metal audience but they’re an awesome band, and they’re in our punk scene, they’re in our music scene.
CB: They’re great people.
CC: And we’ve worked with them on other things.
CB: Tying into our earlier conversation is like totally not a punk rock band but we’re stoked on it so we’re going to work with them. [laughs]
CC: We can put it out and collaborate with another label that might be able to leverage that fanbase for them.
What’s next for Tarantula Tapes?
CC: We just did a double release, Matty Grace and Future Girls, so that just came out on May 6. We’re super stoked on that. Anything Matty does is always great, so we’re very happy to be working with her. The June release is AAWKS which is the stoner metal band out of Barrie and there’s going to be more coming up for the summer. We'll be at the Punk Rock Flea Market in Cambridge on Saturday, June 4. I would check out our social media or sign up on our Bandcamp emailing list for shows. We have a lot planned. Not just our own bands but we try to send out e-blasts or big updates for all the shows for the month for every band that is on the label. There’s a lot of people playing in May.
CB: I know it’s Tarantula Tapes but for the split with The Holdouts we did a lathe cut vinyl. Very DIY, they're all handmade and stuff.
CC: We thought we’d dip our toes into a new market.
CB: We’re definitely going to do more vinyl in the future. Definitely not every release because it’s expensive, it takes forever, and a lot of times we’re putting out bands that aren’t going to sell 500 copies. We’ll do a little bit of vinyl, keep doing lots of tapes, putting on more shows. Who knows, whatever else. We tend to just keep taking on more and more stuff. [laughs] When you’re interested in something and when you’re enjoying it you tend to just keep going like, “what else can I do? How can we help bands more?”
CC: You just get carried away. [laughs]
CB: We’re helping some bands now just get merch because they’re playing shows. They’re like, “I need shirts” and we’re like, “we can help you. Let’s get a whole bunch of merch made and get you out on the road and selling this stuff”. Just whatever we can do, whatever bands need we are willing to listen and see how we can help you. Everyone has unique requirements so if we can help fill a gap or help out in some way, we’re here. Some bands like to do everything themselves and that’s fine too. [laughs]