Cool Indie Record Labels: Bullseye Records – 30 Years and Counting

Jaimie Vernon and Simon Bedford-James had met while playing in rival bands at Lester B. Pearson high school in Scarborough, Ontario and decided to pool their songwriting talents in 1983 in a new band called Moving Targetz. Vernon had already achieved a modicum of success in 1982 with Toronto punk act Swindled. Their lone, self-financed, single was a Do-It-Yourself affair that got the single front-racked in the more alternative retail outlets in Toronto including Records on Wheels and Record Peddler.

Moving TargetzSwedish FishWith many of his connections still intact and a slew of new ones acquired through the band’s Queen Street gigs, Vernon set about getting Moving Targetz’ 12” EP “The Wonderful World Of…” recorded and manufactured [using money he and his fiancé had saved for their wedding that summer]. On April 20, 1985 they released the EP on their own Bullseye Records label which was stocked in bigger retail outlets like Sam the Record Man and A & A’s and reviewed in major Canadian print media such as Music Express Magazine. It aided in landing Targetz better live shows and the attention of agents and management. Bullseye Records of Canada was officially open for business.

By August 1985, the Moving Targetz had a manager and was struggling to figure out its future prospects. With much gnashing of teeth over the usual battle of musical direction, the band split in half. Vernon carried on under the Moving Targetz banner and Bedford-James formed Swedish Fish with fellow Targetz guitarist Sav Schembri. Still friends, the split proved to be a positive strategic move as Swedish Fish became the label’s second signing. Two back-to-back 7” singles followed and launched Swedish Fish as media and club darlings. From there a Swedish Fish splinter group emerged called Daughaus whose cassette ‘Something I Stepped In’ was the label’s next release in 1987. A reconfigured Moving Targetz line-up released their follow-up album, ‘Bulletproof’ in 1988 followed by Swedish Fish’s first full-length LP, ‘Light Side of the Moon’, immediately after.

Vernon soon began soliciting demos from other struggling artists and signed three American acts next: Elyse Thorpe (Idaho), Shawn Gardener (Minnesota) and The Id (New Jersey). With a compilation called “Yo! Sample This” in hand and material from Moving Targetz and Swedish Fish he headed to New York City in 1989 for the music industry trade show New Music Seminar. While there he cultivated dozens of music relationships with publishers and distributors and returned to Toronto with a mission.

PAMHe would team up with an entrepreneur named Paul Anand (P.A.M.) and producer/engineer Brian Gagnon (Sound Dynamix) who had previously worked on all the Bullseye recording. With a single office space in Markham, Ontario they launched a recording studio, media duplication facility, record label and Canadian music magazine called ‘Great White Noise’. Taking advantage of a grant offered by the Ministry of Communications P.A.M./Bullseye released six independent music compilations on CD, the first of their kind in Canada, from 1990 to 1993 entitled ‘Unsigned, Sealed & Delivered’. The series was a massive success and featured such acts as The Kings, Carl Dixon (Coney Hatch), Paul James Connors (The Nylons), Kenny MacLean (Platinum Blonde), Walter Zwol (Brutus), Victims of Luxury, Jeff Jones (Red Rider), Virginia Storey (Soho 69) and nearly 70 others.

Moving Targetz had long split up by this point and Vernon set his sights on his new band Sharon’SISTER (aka Spare Parts) with sister-in-law Maureen Leeson and former Moving Targetz drummer Duanne Welsh. They released Bullseye’s first single artist CD in 1996 entitled ‘Steeped’. Meanwhile, a chance encounter with former Klaatu member Terry Draper (“Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft”) led to his signing to Bullseye Records for 1997’s ‘Light Years Later’ solo album. Sharon’SISTER would became Draper’s backing band for his live showcases and they would release the results on CD-Rom later in 1997.

Klaatu 347 ESTWith Klaatu as a new sales angle, Bullseye released a fan-based tribute CD. The interest in the media and from the cult of remaining fans convinced ex-Klaatu guitarist Dee Long to come out of retirement and sign to Bullseye as well. His debut EP, ‘Digital’, was released in 1998 and a 2CD collection of post-Klaatu demos entitled ‘Been Here B4’ was released in 1999.

It was early days of the internet but on a whim Vernon asked the fan base if they’d be willing to invest money into helping Dee Long record a brand new solo album. The response was swift and encouraging. One Klaatu fan, Jim Hoeck, offered to not only invest in the project but the label as well. The company was still part time for Vernon as he maintained a day job as content editor for the short-lived Sam The Record Man retail website.

Logo2Starting in the spring of 2000 Bullseye Records actively began licensing and digitally re-mastering nearly 60 “lost” Canadian works by such artists as Goddo, Klaatu, Santers, Moxy, Brave Belt, The Guess Who, Brutus, Bruno Gerussi’s Medallion, Silverlode, Moving Targetz, Swedish Fish, Harem Scarem, The Shakers, Florida Razors, The Dishes, Dave Rave, Silverlode, as well as the Bomb Records catalogue (including Bob Segarini, David Quinton, and Twitch). KOCH Entertainment stepped up to the plate and offered Bullseye a three year distribution deal.

The KingsAs word spread about the label’s generous advances and royalty splits, they began taking some of these ‘Evergreen’ acts and putting them back into recording studios. Over the next few years Bullseye produced new releases by Tom Hooper (ex-Grapes of Wrath), Creighton Doane (Harem Scarem), Terry Draper and Dee Long of Klaatu, Jeff Jones (Red Rider), The Kings, Swedish Fish, Moxy, Honeymoon Suite, Goddo, Mainline, Luke & the Apostles and the Killer Dwarfs to name but a few.

John Boswell_Stranger In the MirrorThe label also invested in new talent with the likes of Soap Opera, Geoff Gibbons, The First Time, Maureen Leeson, Cheaper than Therapy, Velvet Hammer, Cats & Dogs, and The Anger Brothers. Singer-songwriter John Boswell would supply the label with its first Top20 single & video with the hit song “Forgive Me” in 2002 and was later nominated for an ECMA Award. Bullseye even released the Greg Godovitz autobiography ‘Travels with My Amp’ book and the very first stand-up comedy DVD in Canada by Glen “That Canadian Guy” Foster entitled ‘Shot At the Empire’.

Ian Anderson Display MontrealContinually expanding its business base – and adding three additional staff members – Bullseye signed a US distribution deal with Burnside Distribution in Portland, Oregon and switched distribution to Fusion III for Canada. 2004’s ‘It Was 40 Years Ago Today: A Tribute to the Beatles’ became the label’s most successful critical and commercial release with over 3,500 units sold worldwide. In 2005 Vernon successfully managed to get Klaatu to reunite on the back of a career spanning rarities collection called ‘Sunset: 1973-1981’ and in 2006 licensed new releases from Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Ronnie Hawkins, and 1970s pop crooner Leo Sayer.

Cd PlusBy the time 2008’s global recession hit, both of Bullseye’s distributors had collapsed forcing the label to give up its office lease and lay off staff. Bullseye released only two more CDs, Klaatu’s ‘Solology’ (2009) and Goddo’s ‘Under My Hat – Anthology Volume 1’ (2008). The label closed its doors on October 10th, 2010 having released nearly 200 products over 25 years. It was a bittersweet end to a long-standing friend of Canadian pop music.

Bullseye Records Master TapesFast forward to 2015 where Jaimie Vernon is working as a security guard at Toronto’s largest cemetery and he receives word that Bullseye’s old master recordings have begun showing up in used record stores. At the end of 2010 when Bullseye folded he was forced to leave behind much of Bullseye assets with his former landlord. The landlord had grown tired of waiting for back rent to be paid and began selling off the assets. Vernon realized then that this was no way for the label to die; not with a bang, not with a whimper but with a slow, meaningless, fade to grey. He needed to take back what he had worked 25 years for. Bullseye needed to be reborn.

Bullsography2015 is Bullseye 30th anniversary and to celebrate, Vernon has launched a crowdfunding campaign to buy back the master tapes and the long, stored inventory from its former home as well as restore, digitize and re-issue the archives for the iTunes Age. Help make that dream a reality and donate to the ‘Bullseye 30th Anniversary Revival’ project. $20,000 will get the label back on its feet full-time and will be capped with a book called ‘Bullsography: The Bullseye Records of Canada Story”. http://www.kapipal.com/bullseyerecords