Three Gut Punch

SMOKE AND MIRRORS with JIM GUTHRIE, ONEIDA, OXES, the THREE GUT ALL-STARS and more, at the Tequila Lounge (794 Bathurst),.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS with JIM GUTHRIE, ONEIDA, OXES, the THREE GUT ALL-STARS and more, at the Tequila Lounge (794 Bathurst), Friday (March 22). $10. 416-968-2001. Rating: NNNNN

this is not how indie labels aresupposed to grow.In just two years, the tiny Toronto imprint Three Gut Records has gone from being a minor player to arguably one of the most consistent and respected labels, independent or otherwise, in the country.

Run by Lisa Moran and Tyler Clark Burke, Three Gut’s success is even more impressive when you consider how slim their catalogue is. The label has released just five records by four bands, ranging from the lurching twang of Royal City to the wildly combustible soul punk of the Constantines.

There is no Three Gut “sound,” but the imprint is one of the few labels that can claim it has an aesthetic. Whether it’s in the elaborate packaging of the Constantines’ album or the artfully decorated clotheslines that take over a club during a Three Gut showcase, it’s clear that there’s more to Three Gut than just music.

It’s fitting, then, that the label’s Smoke And Mirrors two-year anniversary party Friday (March 22) at Tequila Lounge is equal parts freak show and concert, featuring an escape artist, a live re-enactment of an early-20th-century soft-core porn film and a clown as well as performances by Oneida, Oxes, Jim Guthrie and the Three Gut All-Stars.

“We used to have these discussions about what it would mean to be successful,” Moran offers, nibbling on some pasta. “For us, it was throwing this kind of party or putting out that record or having someone on our label open for this band. The weird thing is that we’ve accomplished most of those things on the list. It seems like six months since the whole thing started.

“No, it seems like six years,” Burke interjects. “I look at other independent labels that are doing 10 records a year, but our big thing was to make sure that we didn’t spread ourselves too thin.

“We’re also really focused on the United States. Part of the reason why things might seem to be moving quickly is that by focusing so much on the States we managed to get attention in Canada quicker. There’s this perception that bands like Royal City are huge in the States, but it’s just been two years of really hard work.”

Moran and Burke seem obsessed with breaking their bands in the U.S. So far, it’s worked.

Seattle label Suicide Squeeze is releasing an EP by Guelph punks the Constantines in April, Royal City continue to tour south of the border and get the thumbs-up from the No Depression crowd, and the entire Three Gut roster and staff recently jetted down to Austin for a South By Southwest showcase. It certainly beats day-long hauls across the frozen prairies between shows.

“There are 10 times as many people down there,” Moran explains, “and there are also 10 times more people who are into the music we’re releasing. There are artists and labels that we can ally ourselves with. That’s part of the goal of the label.

“There’s more of a community that supports the kind of music we’re putting out. It’s easier to find the right person who will appreciate the aesthetic of this label.”

The concept of community comes up a dozen times in our chat. Moran and Burke might joke about the Three Gut bands all living together in one house — there is a Three Gut house, home to, among others, Royal City, a Constantine or two and a rehearsal space — but the reality is that, hippy overtones aside, the label does seem like more of a family than a business.

“Part of the reason why the Constantines came to Three Gut is that they saw there was this creative community here,” Burke says. “That’s something we’re always trying to nurture.

“We’re inspired by labels in the States like Jade Tree and Simple Machines. They put out really amazing records but also operate with serious ethics. It showed that us that, yeah, you can do this.”

“That’s why it’s cool that at this anniversary it’s not just our bands playing,” Moran nods. “These are people who have all become part of the bigger community that is Three Gut. That’s what makes it kind of beautiful.”

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