Celluloid Lunch zine 3

Behind the pandemic: The Montreal label that launched during COVID

We spoke to Hélène Barbier and Joe Chamandy about Celluloid Lunch Records.

To feel connected to the music scene during the pandemic, Hélène Barbier and Joe Chamandy decided to launch Celluloid Lunch Records, a new label, during a fragile time for the music industry.

When the pandemic hit, Joe Chamandy and Hélène Barbier found themselves with a bit of free time. Both were already heavily invested in the local music scene, Barbier as a pop rock singer, Chamandy playing in a few local bands, and were now confronted with the cancellation of all live music. With this newfound time, they finally decided to implement their plan for creating a record label. This is how Celluloid Lunch Records was born.

“I guess there was a more limited range of ways to feel the connectivity of music without shows and it was something that had been stewing in my mind for quite some time. I saw friends with great records and no way to get them out and found myself in a similar situation. It’s a time when people who have been doing what they do for a while had to scale back and got hit pretty bad, but those of us who wanted to start something had free time and an opening, despite the new order of things, or lack thereof,” says Chamandy.

The current crisis has indeed been an issue for artists getting ready to release their music. Some album launches got postponed, while others were cancelled. Artists got stuck with their creative labour without any exit or opportunity to make themselves heard. The idea for Celluloid Lunch had been lingering in both their heads for a while, but it became real when all the right elements presented themselves during this hard time, as Barbier explains.

“It was still a vague project for me, something that I would like to do later, and the opportunity to release the record of Joe’s new band, Itchy Self, and Night Lunch was the right opportunity to get started. We admired Night Lunch and saw them numerous times doing striking music. It felt like an act of quiet justice to back them and work with them.”

Celluloid Lunch
Hélène Barbier and Joe Chamandy of Celluloid Lunch Records

The pandemic hasn’t been easy for record labels. Billboard reported that the three major labels (UMG, WMG and Sony Music) had losses in revenue during their second-quarter, due to the lack of shows and to sales of merch and album going down. This didn’t deter Hélène and Joe from realizing their project. Both of them want to champion great music being made by talented indie players. Celluloid Lunch aims to actively participate in what those artists are doing, even in the tiniest way.

“The goal is to put out music we like that otherwise might not get the attention it deserves on vinyl and other physical media,” adds Chamandy, putting emphasis on the bands they collaborate with.

For this couple, who are both musicians, Celluloid Lunch is a calculated risk. Barbier reflects on the temporary absence of concerts and the constant chaos of 2020. She understands that their attempt at launching a record label can seem futile to outsiders, but she wants everyone to know that there is a greater purpose behind this initiative.

“In order not to sink into apathy, it seems important to me to try to share some joy and help out people who keep being creative, and ultimately busy with something that makes them happy.”

As they talk about their goals behind their label, one thing is sure: they are doing the best they can to offer resources and quality production to bands, things they’ve always wanted as artists. For them, the purpose of a label is to help and provide musicians with whatever resources they have, even if they are limited. From releasing a physical product to distributing the music and getting the right people interested, Chamandy believes that everything should be done with great care.

“Care is more important than range. For instance, if you have 20 blogs copy a press release verbatim, that is worth less than one radio personality with good taste and integrity who plays one song, one time.”

Both of them are passionate when talking about their project, and the local music scene feels it. Barbier and Chamandy have been nothing but grateful for all the support they got from the indie community. From a window display at Phonopolis to a crate at Sonik, people have been helping them to get started and have been working hard, believing there is space for another indie label in Montreal. This outpouring of help makes them believe that Montreal will go through the pandemic stronger than ever even if the current state of things — including rent hikes and gentrification in the city — is worrisome, notes Joe.

“With the pandemic, together with rent hikes and the staggering number of industrial spaces being razed, Montreal is changing for the worse, like everywhere else on the planet. There are some institutions in Montreal’s scene that I would hate to see vanish, but I am optimistic that the creatives behind the city’s most vital contributions will find ways to morph, adapt and surprise.”

For Barbier, who is originally from France, her experience as an intern at Third Side Music, a music publishing company based in L.A. and Montreal, showed her how kind and genuine the people involved with the city’s music industry are. This differs from what she had seen in her home country.

“It really felt good and different from what I had experienced in France. From my point of view, people took themselves a bit too seriously (there), but I was younger, too, and easily impressed. I’ve only experienced the scene as a musician since 2014 with my first band, Moss Lime.”

Celluloid Lunch has great plans in a short term span: they guarantee that their two new releases will rattle people to their core. When asked about what they are looking forward to, they mention some exciting news and upcoming announcements from Freelove Fenner, a local psych rock band they are both fans of.

What is the one thing they are proud of during this pandemic? Hélène Barbier speaks up with a smirk on her face. “I just finished my second album and there is not a single song about isolation, confinement, baking bread or the virus.” ■

For more about Celloloid Lunch Records, please visit their website.

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.