New Brunswick

Fredericton-born Forward Music Group celebrates 10 years

Ten years ago, they were a ragtag group of Fredericton musicians trying to figure out how to put out records. Now the Forward Music Group has released more than 60 of them.

Music and management group has released over 60 albums, celebrating with ECMA showcase

The Olympic Symphonium, with Kyle Cunjak (far right), were one of the first four groups on the Forward Music label. (The Olympic Symphonium)

What seemed like a pipe dream at the time has become an East Coast music success story 10 years later.

Forward Music Group, an artist management and record label group with roots in Fredericton and Halifax, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and is throwing a showcase Wednesday to kick off the East Coast Music Awards in Saint John.

It was a business that was formed simply because there was nobody else to work with musicians who wanted to go professional in Fredericton.

"We were definitely learning as we went, and didn't have much knowledge at that point," said Kyle Cunjak, who operates the company.

"It was a group of us who were serious about music, and playing it a lot in Fredericton, but didn't really know anything on the professional side of it, what to do to sustain yourself and try to have a career at this."

Fredericton music scene was booming

It was a particularly strong time for the local music scene in the city.

Petunia and the Loons may be the only album ever recorded in Blackville, N.B. (Forward Music Group)
In addition to Cunjak's Olympic Symphonium, friends in the bands Petunia and The Loons, Share and Grand Theft Bus all had records they wanted to release, but no means to do that.

"All these groups were touring a lot and had fan bases and everything else, but just didn't have records," said Cunjak. "And it was just at the point where it was easy to do that yourself. Being able to record at home, being able to do it without a huge, huge budget."

"And we foresaw that we were going to have a lot more music coming down the pipes, so we had to figure out what to do. We didn't know how to press a CD, we didn't know how to layout our artwork, send press copies out, all the nitty-gritty stuff, behind the curtain stuff that you don't hear about."

They decided to go ahead, learning as they went.

Then, as now, it was a collective effort, the ownership really being the artists themselves, everyone pitching in where their talents lay.

ECMA winners Gypsophilia are one of the bands currently on the Forward Music Group roster.
"We felt there was strength in numbers, and we all enjoyed what each other was doing, so we felt it made sense to combine under one force," said Cunjak.

"Myself and a bunch of the other artists who have come on since those initial few who help run things.

"Everybody's got different skill sets, whether that's video editing or audio editing, or promotion or copy editing, or data entry or booking. We try to draw upon each other's skills and information-share as much as possible to make sure everybody's feeling like they're not over-worked but still contributing."

Halifax and beyond

The company has branched out in several ways since then. The office moved to Halifax along with Cunjak, mostly because that's where he's based now, as bass player with the David Myles band.

Others in the original group who started Forward are still closely connected. Zach Atkinson is now Fredericton's main music promoter, and puts on the yearly Shivering Songs Festival, which was started as a way to launch an album by The Olympic Symphonium. James Boyle also made the move to Halifax, running the Halifax Pop Explosion.

Over 10 years, Forward has released more than sixty albums, launched the sister experimental label Backward Music, has expanded to a roster including artists from across the country, and even one from the U.S.

Dance/electronic act JOYFULTALK played as part of the Forward Music Group Tenth Anniversary Revue on Wednesday on the opening night of the ECMA's in Saint John. (Robert Camilli)
They include Gianna Lauren, Gypsophilia, Joshua Van Tassel, Michael Feuerstack and Paper Beat Scissors.

Anniversary events

The label is putting on several anniversary events this year for each of the original four albums, including January shows that saw Olympic Symphonium and Share perform their debut albums in full.

They still operate with the same guiding principle.

"Pursuing things that we believe in with people who believe in it for the same reasons," said Cunjak.

"We're not looking to break the commercial radio charts, we're not looking to sell a million copies of a record, we're just looking to create a sustainable lifestyle for ourselves, working within music and art. The fact that a lot of the artists that we work with are able to do that is a testament to our success within that."

The Forward Music Group 10th Anniversary Revue is being held at the Sanctuary Theatre in Saint John Wednesday night, featuring Alan Jeffries, Loveland, JOYFULTALK and The Olympic Symphonium.