A little ways down Richmond (or for the beer educated, kitty corner from the Labatt Brewery) exists a musical treasure meets mothers kitchen-esque array of tapes, vinyl, and DVDs known as Hot Dog: Musique and Cinema. Don’t worry: if you feel like you might get lost, it’s bright pink. I got the opportunity to chat with the two co-creators, Mike Bott and Pam Haasen, about their unique concept, their love for APK and Bill Murray, how important it is to support local talent, and how they’re not actually a hot dog restaurant (they’d like to take this opportunity to apologize for the mix-up). All unintentional false advertising aside, I think they’re onto something a little more fascinating than hot dogs: making people happy by always creating.
Where did the name Hot Dog come from?
PH: I don’t know. I don’t really know where names come from. We just kept thinking, “OK. What’s something we’re not going to hate” – something that won’t be too topical or lame. Then I head of this place in California called Hamburger Records and I loved that name, because right away you have this vision in your head of something goofy and fun so then I was like…what about Hot Dog?
And then it stuck? That was it?
PH: Well we put the question out to some people with good taste that we trust – mostly artists and people in bands – and we just gave them a list of the names and asked them what they thought. Hot Dog was the one most chosen but I had my heart set on it already and so did Mike.
Can you tell me a little bit about the concept?
PH: It just happened. I’m a big collector already. I just love things. Like jewellery boxes I’ll never put jewellery in, or a figurine missing an ear. I just like to have things around me that make me smile. And we know so many great artists. There are so many people in this city. Having this is like having a gallery of something so unattainable made attainable for musicians or artists. We have wall space. Just put your stuff up in here.
So it’s pretty open for anyone.
PH: Really open. So many local artists have their work here.
So it’s not just about music. It’s about showcasing any art form.
PH: I don’t really see a point in honing it. I do see the point from a business standpoint that you would say, “We sell this because you’re looking for this here and only shop here,” but our interests don’t just lie in one thing. I wouldn’t want to just restrict us to having one thing to sell and to talk about. I would just want to talk about movies all day with people, but because now we’re renting [movies] I have a reason to do that.
As much as it is first and foremost a business, is it really to you?
PH: I think that in a making money sort of way, that could have hindered us. This is the means we’re making. We hang out here, we listen to music here, we would do shows that were all-ages and always free and it just became a room full of friends having a good time. Without this space it couldn’t be done. It’s unfortunate that people have to make money and that [it] ever has to be a worry, but I like this so much I want to share it with everybody. It’s nice that that is what this has turned into.
What do you think Hot Dog is trying to achieve beyond being just a record store?
PH: It’s sharing, it’s promotion, and it’s just a launching board for something that has something that they want to do. We’ve met some of the strangest people and heard some of the strangest things, and I always think, “How would I have met these people that I now consider to be these conversationalists if it hadn’t have been for this place?” There’s a great give and take I think, too. Someone can give us art, and we’ll continue to share it.
Why open a store with a focus on media like VHS and records?
PH: I know that watching movies hasn’t changed my life but my perspective has been really opened up and altered, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. Having a focus on media creates this portal into something. You can hear something you’ve never heard before or see something you’ve never considered. There’s too much you can gather from something like this. And I get it that people want to live simply and not have as much stuff but to me movies and music is the way to live. We hand-picked everything in here. This was our movie/DVD collection. That was sacred to me. But having them out keeps me talking about movies and watching new ones.
And what better way to do it than set up a collective area?
PH: That’s it. It just made sense to us to do.
MB: I think movies and music enrich our lives. I believe there are two things that are hugely lost by downloading, and gained by purchasing/valuing the items we sell. Namely ‘Document’ and ‘Activity’. Downloads mean so much less to the work put into any art form especially music and movies. The Document represents the work and creates an interaction with the receiver. I think DL is great for sampling goods, but it also leads to exhaustion, the idea that everything should be free and ultimately less interest. Activity is equally as crucial. Taking a record, tape, CD, DVD out of the documented sleeve and putting it on calls greater attention to the work. I especially believe buying things like smaller releases (not necessarily local, but smaller and non-corporate) allows for an exchange of funds so the performers are able to continue to create.
Is it important that people enjoy records over digital formats?
MB: It’s important to understand how much more can be achieved through document and activity. It scares me how little value people place on music and movies. I know a lot of people that don’t buy music or movies at all – I think it’s a shame. It’s important to have a well balanced diet of music and movies, as it is to eat properly. Ultimately you are what you eat, and I think anybody that hasn’t banished his or her cable TV you should do so immediately. I also highly suggest not supporting the (mainly) parade of garbage at the cinemas. Also, I feel terribly for anybody in a work situation where they’re forced to listen to our atrocious commercial radio stations. That stuff will stunt your growth!
Where do you stand on the analog vs. digital argument? Does one mean more to you than the other?
MB: I like both. I think CDs are sorely overlooked. I think they’re an underrated format at this point. With dying interest they’re becoming cheaper and cheaper in a second-hand capacity, and really, again, it’s a document, and though I prefer records, CDs (if looked after) have more sustainability. I think DVD is quickly becoming an overlooked format as well. But yeah, I like both. I think analog is fun, but I don’t think of it as necessarily a greater source.
PH: I do really like vinyl. Things sound great on vinyl. It makes you dedicated because you’re on the go and you don’t have a million songs on your iPod to shuffle through. You are in it and it becomes your soundtrack. It forces you to be dedicated. I think it’s become pretty prevalent.
MB: False. Records are great, but there’s a lot of upkeep. It can cause a lot of headaches if not taken care of. I like crack, pop, and a little hiss, but too much of a good thing is too much, and can make the recording less enjoyable. I think there are a lot of advantages to the vinyl record, the splitting of two or more sides for example and, of course the large artwork. But yeah, I’m championing the return of the CD as well (I’m losing of course). I think too many people disregard CDs because they don’t have a CD player. They have an Xbox, DVD Player or computer or something that can play a CD, but it’s not the same as popping a CD in a CD Player – especially the single CD player unit. I don’t really dig the multi-disc players. This might sound silly, but I do think it plays a part in all of this CD hate. It kind of goes back to the activity. Also I really like how a quality CD shelf can display the spines so nicely. F*#@ CD holder books. You need the back and front of the document.
On Facebook and on the website you describe yourself as an “entertainment hub” for London. How do you believe Hot Dog achieves this best?
PH: It’s definitely by a very open door policy for artists and bands – live and local. It’s never just been local but a big showcase in that high school kids can walk in and say they have a band. Sometimes they are amazing. We do everything here. We can’t outsource anything but there’s no way to afford to do that. But if I don’t know what’s going on I need to. Even if it’s not our style you’re talking to someone and you see that they’re dedicated and we go for it. It’s no cost to us if they’re dedicated and love what they do. We make a poster and we’ll have them here.
So it’s a mother’s kitchen of media outlets crossed with a garage band practice in here.
PH: All we need is a skate ramp. We have a lot of room…we could probably fit a half pipe or something.
Where do your loyalties lay media-wise?
PH: For me it’s movies, but for Mike it’s all about the new music. He has a bloodhound’s nose for something new and great that’s going to be a hit before anybody knows about it. He just has this gift. It’s so strange how he does it and he’s the best at making up mixed CDs for anybody.
You both also have a radio show on CHRW.
PH: We do. It’s Saturday mornings from 9:30 to 11:30 and it’s called Bill Murray, after, of course, Bill Murray. We’re big Bill Murray fans; he’s sort of our unofficial icon. We play clips all the time during the show. We were so excited to be on the radio. We play pretty much absolutely anything.
Other music stores in London don’t appear to be doing what you’re doing with contributing to local music. In what ways does Hot Dog aim to play a part in the London music scene?
MB: Our goal is to inspire the community, to instill confidence that you can contribute your voice or ideas to make this city a better place. And we think it’s key to attract new minds all the time. We are very appreciative of our supporters, but it’s very important that every new person feels welcomed. I think some of the people that have created groups in this city in the past ultimately failed because they were uninviting of new ideas and people. I want make it clear: snobby scenesters repulse me and need to be banished every bit as much as the Richmond Row. Maybe I’m being too flowery here. Our goal is to find every kid and adult in the city that actually cares about music and/or movies—people that are willing to explore. It doesn’t matter what you like; if you walk into our store with a budget of even $3 we can find you something excellent. And we’ll do it with a smile and any knowledge we possibly have to pass on. We like people that value these things, pure and simple. We want to meet and greet every single person and form a relationship. We really need all of these people—badly!
PH: It’s so weird because it took me a lot of years to like London. I just didn’t understand it at all. I’m from Strathroy and Mike’s from Mitchell. One summer Mike and I started going to APK and meeting people in bands that had music coming out. It made me realize that there are all these people doing things in the tiny pockets of the city that you just don’t know about until you dive in. They aren’t being promoted and aren’t really promoting themselves. For us local its about continually meeting people and hearing what they’re doing so that other people in London can know. So many people have connected because of Hot Dog, because they just happened to stop in to buy a tape and stumbled upon a show going on.
What is your connection to local venues and in what way does this compliment your business?
PH: We did our first show the summer before we opened, which we had a good response to and we like doing it. We became very close to APK and people that book there and Brennan’s Beer and Bistro because we have a very similar policy to then: open-door and artist-driven work. It’s a good way to meet other business people and it’s exciting to see what other people are doing that works. That’s how communities are built: doing what you can and meeting other people that are doing the same. We have a couple places on the list of where we want to do shows.
MB: APK is really the only club that has cared enough to partner with us. That has a lot to do with Western student/APK Entertainment Director Matt Trocchi seeing an opportunity and wanting to help out. I should also mention we’ve had a good relationship with Joan Brennan and Brennan’s Beer Bistro for nearly 2 years, and it has recently integrated with APK. I am terribly excited about this merger. The former APK on York Street was far too big and really required the club to book less interesting acts with name value. What it did have was a name built up by a great staff doing what they could to provide a lot of people tired of the redneck mentality ‘Bro/Ho Richmond Row’ an escape of sorts. Brennan’s on the other hand was a difficult place to promote, as they didn’t have the pull or contacts with the younger local community. Meaning we could only hope the people we knew would pass on the word. Brennan’s also lacked a sufficient sound system. But it’s always been a great space, and Joan’s willingness to allow young local promoters and acts an opportunity to showcase interesting non-mainstream music has been huge. The combination of APK and BBB is potentially a huge winner for this city. And if the opening weekend was any indication it will be.
MB: Local means everything. In the summer, we were honored to have been able to spend some time with the legendary Calvin Johnson. That man created Beat Happening and curated K Records – not only some of the best and most important ‘Punk’ of our lifetime, but he also created excitement and a thriving scene in his home city of Olympia Washington. A city a sixth the size of London, so there’s no excuse for boredom here. There are good, interesting, and talented people throughout this city. The lack of an even adequate free weekly paper covering what’s actually happening downtown in the music and arts scenes is a huge problem. Specifically ‘Scene Magazine’ completely fails this city. They’re only concerned with selling ads, and they foolishly think putting an overexposed movie or pop star on the cover along with one-week late news is the key to that.
We always thought creating a hub like Hot Dog would help in this fight, but truth be told there are lot of people that don’t bother to inform us of what’s happening. We look around and pass word when we can, but the clubs (minus APK who are great people) do absolutely nothing to network with us. We have gone out of our way to [communicate with] these places and have gotten rarely even an answer to our inquiry. It’s sad really. I’d like to specifically point out Aeolian Hall and the London Music Hall on that one. Being in those social networks, allowing us to sell their tickets would increase our reach so much. It’s so needed, but they could care less about a little record store past the bridge on Richmond.
But I’m getting off track. Yes, local means a lot to us. We are so excited about a number of music projects in the city (namely You’ll Never Get To Heaven, Curb, Disleksick, The Syndrome, New Zebra Kid, Wet?, Quinn Read-Baxter, Tim Limsana and the SMS crew, Adam Sturgeon and the Out of Sound Crew, Holden Main, Indigenous Nudes, Suangi, Cladda, The Riderless, Don’t Touch the Dancers, S.M., Anything James Kirkpatrick, the Castledrum crew, Nihilist Spasm Band, Eric Stach’s Free Jazz Groups, etc. etc.). And, yeah, certainly there are some projects that don’t do much for me or us, but you won’t catch us talking trash. We love any honest effort we see. Unless, of course, it’s just regurgitating for the sake of ego or status. But it’s hard to know that, so generally we’re just interested.
The local involvement side of the business seemed to almost happen organically.
PH: It really did. It wasn’t this conscious decision. So much of the stuff we found out about we didn’t know before the store. We knew about friend’s bands but this became a way to start getting into more and more. This was the best way to do it so why would we deny it? It’s worth being excited about.
Leah Lalich is a second year MPI student who two-times with the English program. She writes on thewildvibes.com and talks on CHRW’s Beige Alert about her spontaneous music obsessions. She once saw John Stamos on a plane and he thought she was pretty.