Neil Leyton is a man of duality, although he probably wouldn't agree with that statement.
But truthfully, it's easier to imagine this soft-spoken intellectual reading in an upscale caf», rather than throwing microphone stands and engaging in onstage rantings against recent political affairs. However, the local singer-songwriter is more than the sum of his parts, and that's part of what makes talking to him so fascinating: he's spent more than ten years in the Toronto music scene, and the decade's accumulated wisdom shines through.
As well as gigging around town either acoustically or with a full band (though scenesters from mid-90's Toronto might recognize him as being the former frontman of glamrock band The Conscience Pilate), Leyton is quite possibly one of the most ambitious and driven indie record label owners in Toronto. He heads Fading Ways Records, home to such notable artists as The Sinisters, Galore, Red Orkestra, Jim Clements, and many more familiar faces. But many of these musicians are not just names and numbers; to Leyton, they're also his friends.
"I started running Fading Ways more out of necessity back in 1995-96," Leyton says, "and since the beginning I didn't want it to function like any of the other labels out there, so it was more about running it as I saw fit. It's more about having these friends who have bands that need a label to release their music through. It's all about meeting one band through another band, and it's about coming across artists that might be overlooked otherwise. And these artists are always free to move on if they get offered a better deal -- we're not going to hold them to anything. But the bottom line is, if I go out some night and see a band I really like, I'll want to help them get an album out.
"I think everyone should run a music label, because it's a better option than signing yourself to one of the major labels that'll just control you, eat you up, and spit you out."
Almost ten years later, Fading Ways has expanded into a label with over 35 releases and a branch in the United Kingdom, where many of their artists have loyal fanbases. As such, a number of upcoming releases will be exclusive to the UK branch, yet both UK and Canadian releases are coming out on the Creative Commons license. This is Leyton's response to the rapidly growing issue of copyright infringement and the supposedly illegality of online file sharing.
"For them to be suing 12-year-old girls in California for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and their parents have to mortgage their house in order to come to a settlement with the record companies... as far as I'm concerned, that should be illegal," he says. "It's extortion based on a legal misappropriation of the original concept of Copyright. Now, it's not illegal because the governments are in the pockets of the lobby groups of the corporations, so it's nearly impossible for citizens to assert their rights..."
He's now into full swing with this subject, a current issue that he's obviously very passionate about. "When copyright was started, it was to ensure that somebody that invents something or creates something benefits from that. But what's happening now is that people aren't benefiting from it at all. It's the corporations that are benefiting, because they're not paying the artists - they're exploiting them! So copyright is going the way of the dinosaurs. It's becoming this outmoded concept." He leans forward, ready to give the solution. "And the way to deal with it now is to go to CopyLeft and the 'some rights reserved' route, which puts control back with the artists instead of the recording industry of America."
Fading Ways is the first label in Canada to adopt this manner of licensing - "maybe even the first label in the world," Leyton notes. To take this sort of revolutionary step isn't beyond Leyton's nature; he's spent most - if not all - of his musical career rebelling against conformity and preformed notions of what popular music ought to be. For this reason, he may never be rich or famous - "Making ends meet is an accomplishment!" he laughs - but it's obvious he'll never sell out or compromise his values.
"There's so much wrong with the world today that I wouldn't want to have kids in it," Leyton says. "But that doesn't mean I can't keep doing my bit to make it a slightly less bad place."
Writer: Caitlin Hotchkiss