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interview

Shawn Petsche & Maud Salvi

Sled Island Arts & Music Festival

Maud Salvi is the Executive Director and co-curator of Sled Island, a club-based music & arts festival in Calgary, a city whose reputation she’s dedicated to improving, one great show at a time.

Shawn Petsche’s split life as festival manager for the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, guitar player for Calgary rock & roll bands Napalmpom and Self-Cut Bangs and ex-life as visual arts and marketing coordinator for the Pop Montréal International Music Festival suggests he's somehow found a way to do what he loves for a living. He’s legitimately afraid of peanut butter and doesn’t have an allergy to blame it on.

Shawn Petsche & Maud Salvi

Where are you based?

Maud Salvi: Calgary

Shawn Petsche: a windowless basement office in Calgary, Alberta.

Where do you work? What do you do?

MS: I’m the executive director of the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival that takes place each year in June. We also promote one-off events the rest of the year.

SP: I play in two rock & roll bands (Napalmpom and Self-Cut Bangs) and am currently the festival manager for Sled Island, though I’ve had various roles at the fest since its inception in 2007. It’s a job that at the high level involves booking and scheduling 250+ bands in over 30 venues that fit the fest’s vision and, at varying levels, managing all of the logistics and staff to make it seem like the fest just sort of happens. To do that, there’s a lot of thoughtful strategizing mixed with e-mails nudging people for answers and spreadsheets with so many rows and columns that I have to hide 90% of them to make ‘em usable.

What are you listening to?

MS: Lately I’ve been listening a lot to Evinha, a Brasilian singer from the 70s that I discovered on Radio Alhara. Her album Cartão Postal is incredible, I seriously can’t get enough of it. Her follow up Eva is also really good.

SP: I just recently discovered Death By Unga Bunga, Scandinavians with a nod to the name and tones of the Mummies mixed with a lil’ Thin Lizzy swagger and some anthemic power pop (“Fight” is a great introductory song). I’ve also been loving Sweeping PromisesHunger For A Way Out, Ex Hex, Wares, Sparks and Viagra Boys.

How do you discover new music?

MS: There are quite a few ways.  Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve been listening to Radio Alhara a ton and discovered lots of good artists on it. Direct recommendations from friends are usually a big one, and I also take note when I see people with similar tastes post about an artist on social media. I shazam things a lot, especially when watching tv or a movie. I also find out about artists through streaming platform algorithms or when I travel to other festivals. Sled Island works with an artist guest curator each year who picks 10-12 acts to perform alongside our regular programming and I always discover great artists that way, be it among the ones we actually end up booking or other artists on their wish list. I don’t really read album reviews but I usually like checking out end-of-year lists, from The Quietus for example.

SP: Outside of work, mostly it comes down to having very vocal and opinionated friends (who happen to have good musical taste) and the occasional deep dive on a blog that I relate to. But, thankfully, it’s also built into the job through extensive agency rosters and thousands of emerging band submissions. Part of our submission process also asks bands who they’d die to see at Sled. It’s like asking your friends with good musical taste who their fave bands are, but exponentially more.

What formats do you usually listen to? LP, CD, Cassette, Digital, Streaming Services? Why?

MS: I mostly listen to music digitally, on streaming platforms (but buy digital albums I love). I do have a record player and occasionally listen to vinyl records but I’m by no means a collector. When I buy records it’s usually at a show as a way to support the artist. I have to listen to a lot of things for work, and I do too on my own time to find new stuff I like, so I find digital is the most convenient.

I don’t have any means to play CDs anymore and I don’t have a cassette player either.

SP: I tend to have the artist knee-jerk reaction against ever using Spotify, so mostly I use Apple Music at work or at home. I buy the stuff I love on Bandcamp and import it alongside the thousands of CDs I once uploaded to my library when I was a teenager with too much time on his hands. I like everything being in one place. I tend to listen to vinyl at home. Ten or fifteen years ago, it was a great format for taking chances on music, since used vinyl was so cheap…but now that it ain’t, I’ve really been focusing my LP purchases on the records that fall more into that all-timer category for me.

Where do you do most of your music listening?

MS: I’d say mostly at work on my headphones, when driving somewhere, and at home when I’m cooking, doing chores or just hanging out.

SP: I honestly listen everywhere. My headphones are in for probably ½ of my work week, and then at home I’ll put a record on front-to-back from time to time. I also love the couple-of-hours-in point of long road trips when the travelers have accepted that it’s okay to not converse 100% of the drive…it’s at that point that I often blast albums that I haven’t listened to in a few years. But, if I’m being honest, my favourite way to listen to music, for pleasure and for listening back to my own mixes, is on headphones during a long walk. There’s something about moving, and the sound being intimate and isolated when I’m physically not, that keeps me an active listener.

How do you find and listen to pre-release music?

MS: Most of the pre-release music I listen to is sent to me by artists or agents. In general, they send me an email with a link to a private streaming page or a code to access a download. I also listen to premieres on NPR or other blogs.

SP: These days, most of my pre-release music comes through submissions to the fest. I used to be a fiend for unreleased music, even burning CDs of ½ downloaded, low bitrate music because I literally couldn’t wait to hear the new Hellacopters’ riffs, but these days I tend to like hearing it when it’s deemed good and ready.

What are your frustrations with listening to music digitally? Any benefits?

MS: Again, for me it’s about convenience. I’m on my computer most of the day so it’s just easier that way, but there are definitely some down sides. For one, most streaming platforms pay artists peanuts, so I buy the albums that I really like through Bandcamp, even if I listen to them usually on a different platform. The other downside is that I’m sometimes guilty of not listening to a full album, which wouldn’t happen if I was listening to it on vinyl. On the plus side, I really enjoy playlists (listening to them and making them) which is super convenient online.

SP: At work, as long as I can click a link and instantly listen to it, then I’m good. Anything that requires extra steps like verifying an email or remembering a login can be a deterrent, but I realize that makes me sound like the laziest man in the universe.

Most streaming platforms pay artists peanuts, so I buy the albums that I really like

How do you keep track of everything you are listening to?

MS: I don’t have a great system and it frustrates me sometimes. I usually end up writing lists on the sticky notes on my desktop but some things definitely get missed, and I also forget to look at the sticky notes sometimes…..so, yeah…not a foolproof system by any means.

SP: At work, we’ve got spreadsheets with comments that are colour-coded based on priorities. On a personal level, I just tend to not have any problems knowing what I want to listen to at a given time, it’s just again important to me that it’s all in one place. I try to avoid the TV/film streaming service problem where you know you want to watch that new Steve Coogan movie but can’t find out which streaming service in Canada actually has the rights to it.

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Do you tip other people off to new music? How?

MS: There are a handful of people that I usually text when I find out about a new artist or album I really like, and I like to make playlists for friends every once in a while. I’ll sometimes post on social media about something I’ve been listening to a lot but it’s fairly rare, just because I’m not super active online.

SP: It used to be a lot easier when we could actually socialize in-person, since, get a couple of beers into me and my friends and the conversation will inevitably turn to nerding out about great songs. That said, I guess this is kind of built-into the festival, since every year we present 250 bands that at least Maud or I, and most often both of us, really stand behind either as fans or appreciators of what they do. I guess that makes me kind of boring or annoying, that often my recommendations come with “they are playing at Sled this year” or worse “you should have seen them last year.”

often my recommendations come with “they are playing at Sled this year” or worse “you should have seen them last year.”

Anything you want to “promote”?

MS: A fairly recent discovery is OBUXUM, an amazing producer from Toronto that I highly recommend.  Also, I feel like not enough people know about Jamila Woods, who I adore. Definitely one of my most listened-to artist of the past couple years.

SP: Paul Lawton once wrote something that hit me really hard. “The only thing more humiliating than promoting your own band is not promoting your own band.” So, in spirit of the shame and pride that comes along with that, Self-Cut Bangs put out an album in October that I hope is the exact opposite of what quarantine feels like, and Napalmpom has two full-lengths a split and some singles that I’m really proud of. 

And again selfishly, the Sled Island Lemonade Stand Vol.1 & 2 on Bandcamp features over 50 Calgary bands. It’s pay what you want, with all proceeds going to two very deserving charities (Black Health Alliance and Legacy Of Hope). I’d say it’s a great snapshot of the music community here, but truthfully, there’s so many more bands that could have been on them that, maybe it’s more of an entrypoint for anyone wondering what music being made by Calgarians who aren’t named Chad VanGaalen or Reuben Bullock sounds like?

"as long as I can click a link and instantly listen to it, then I’m good."

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