Upon entering Blackbyrd Myoozik records, there’s an immediate sense of modernity. Sharing the cool marble entry way of a high-end fashion store in the upstairs area, this business is anything but a basement.
Dan Hanycz, manager of the Calgary location– sits casually, dressed head to toe in black with an acclamatory smile. We joke about the flowers on the shelf, as though they were a sacred relic that Blackbyrd wouldn’t survive without. It goes without saying this place could certainly still survive without all of the well-placed decoratives just based on information alone. Setting down our iced coffees on the otherwise pristinely organized counter, we fumbled for iPhone voice recording apps, calmed our nervous hands, and took a deep breath.
“Let me put on something a little more professional.” and suddenly, the room is flooded with calming jazz sounds as we get started.
A: Tell us a little bit about Blackbyrd.
D: The Calgary location has been around since 2015– we will be having our anniversary in October, but Blackbyrd originated from Edmonton where the indie business has been around for 20 years.
Upon opening the Calgary location we were met with months of adaptive change, constantly evolving to adapt to the local customer base. Previously working at Melodiya records, he acquired this gig through word-of-mouth, a theme especially represented in the world of record collectors. After an interview at Cafe Beano, he assembled a small team of workers dedicated to all things musical and committed to the goal of satisfying every and all consumer’s musical needs.
A: What’s been the most challenging aspect of the job?
D: Keeping up with releases. People often come into the shop first thing looking for a same-day release record, and sometimes we don’t receive the records until hours or days later. It’s important to take everyone’s interests into consideration when ordering records/CDs/tapes. Although you never do know if you’ll need one, ten, or twenty copies of certain things until they are released, its essentially a gamble.
The responsibility falls on Dan to figure out what records he needs, what he might need in the future, and what to display on the walls– which is a tall order in itself. After only a few visits to Blackbyrd, you realize that it’s a completely different store every time, a true form of art.
The busiest day at this establishment, by far, is Record Store Day. Usually around late April, major record companies label this holiday as a time to release coveted reissues, rare B-sides, and other special edition components that make this an amazing opportunity to get to the closest record store and spend a few hours perusing– although you have to get there early, there’s usually a line up down the street mid-day.
A: What’s your opinion on new issue stores versus majority used record stores? Do you find there’s a different vibe here?
D: When you operate a new record store you need to jump on the idea that everything is constantly changing– and that’s a good thing. Right now is probably the most exciting time to be a record collector. There’s new genres constantly being put on the shelves, but at the same time there’s reissues of classics being put out. With that, there’s compilations of older music being put back into the rotation of modern music that people likely wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.
He shows us a collection of selected east African music from the 1970’s and 80’s; Kenya Special; Volume Two. Accompanied by two other records (pictured below) that follow the same trend in different parts of the world.
D: It’s amazing, you would have never stumbled upon this music unless you were in that specific part of the world, in a record store… but here it is. People are putting it together for you.
A: It’s the equivalent of searching ‘African cafe music’ on Spotify but with an otherwise unattainable element of care and style that you can put under the needle. What’s one thing you’ve realized after working here?
D: Honestly, that I’m getting old. And that it’s nearly impossible to keep up– but that’s positive. There’s new concepts and new fads happening in the musical world everyday in attempt to make something new and keep the history of music on an upward as opposed to plateauing, it’s hard to take the time to appreciate every new aspect but, that’s kindof the point. There’s always something, and there always will be.
Growing up in a music scene, especially in Calgary, there’s a huge sense of community because of the local band presence. Every musician wants to be part of it, and every show-goer wants to be part of it and that creates an incendiary domino effect that remains inescapable in the best of ways.
A: Last of my questions. If you could say one thing about music, that everyone needs to know, what would that be?
D: It may sound a little corny, but music is truly the ultimate universal language. It allows people to convey a profound message without moving a muscle. You can hear a song in one moment, and then hear it in a completely different context, and you’re taken back to that moment. It’s transformative. You can put two different people who don’t speak the same language even remotely in a room, give them instruments, and they begin to communicate. To me, music is everything. It’s encompassed my whole life. Going deaf is definitely my biggest fear. Y’know– take my eyes, take my lips… just don’t take my ears.
R: Alright, if it’s cool with you my questions weigh a little on the more personal side. Not like “where did you grow up and tell me about your life” or anything, more to do with your relationship with music.
D: I’ll try my best, let’s do it.
R: Say somebody is pointing a gun to your head, demanding you pick a favourite album, what do you choose?
D: Bill Evans, Waltz For Debby. I know for a fact that’s the record that literally has the most play. It’s a jazz album, a trio recording from 1961. The reason that one’s so special is the bassist was Scott LaFaro, he was very young when they played together and it’s the last time they played together because two weeks later he died in a car accident, really tragically in ‘61. The intimacy, you can hear glasses clinking. It was live at the Village Vanguard which is one of the premier venues in jazz. It’s interesting when you look at photos, this grew into one of the most important recordings in jazz, but these guys were not stars at the time, you know? There are photos taken of them sitting backstage drinking cokes. They played the afternoon set and the evening and they made very little money. They were heroes and they didn’t even know it. That’s my favourite recording, it’s very intimate. Very relaxed.
R: There’s something very haunting about hearing something from right before someone passed away. I feel that way about LA Woman by The Doors, which was right before Jim Morrison passed. There’s something very prophetic about it.
D: Yeah, that last statement. Especially when you don’t know it’s gonna be your last statement.
R: You guys do an amazing job of featuring local artists, how would someone go about getting their stuff in here?
D: Literally just walk in. We don’t say no to anybody. We ask how much they want to get out of it, we add a dollar to two dollars and that’s it. Then the money can just go to the artist. I’m happy that we do have a good selection of tapes, I think that’s the most accessible medium for local music to be shared now.
R: What are some local bands that you’re most excited about?
D: Empty Heads, Lab Coast, Hermitess (hauntingly beautiful). I love the local jazz scene as well, going to the jazz jam at Betty Lou’s Library on Tuesdays is fantastic. I’m trying to think, I don’t want to just list bands because I find that’s favoritism. I’ve always been very involved, I used to book shows at Tubby Dog with a small collective, now I’ve taken a backseat cause there’s a new scene of youth that’s taken over that, it always has to be the person that’s most in tune. I wouldn’t want to still be doing it because I’m more out of touch. But now that Calgary has that new all ages venue down the street (McHugh House) we don’t have to deal with the issues that the all ages scene has been plighted with for 10 years, I’d say, of not having venues. We’ll do shows here, we don’t do them all the time but every now and then it’s good to have.
R: Are you part of any projects yourself?
D: I’ve played in a few bands over the years. Currently it’s only kind of active, a band called No Problem Fuck Everything (NPFE), it’s just like a pop punk band, we’re three best friends and now the one guy lives in Vancouver so it’s tough, we hardly ever see each other.
For a second eyes unfocus and then he declares; oh for local artist put down Ghost Factory that’s my favourite local project. They’re the most important band in Calgary. We went on tour with those guys a year ago, and that was the funnest time I’ve ever had in my life. Two three pieces, so just six guys in a van, and we did it in February. We got stuck in Rogers Pass, we almost didn’t make it to a show in Kelowna, it was the middle of winter, it was great, it was terrifying, I didn’t think we were gonna even make it home but there’s something to be said for that feeling.
R: What’s an album you feel is severely underrated?
D: Underrated. Hm. For an example, 70’s punk, everyone loves to go for The Sex Pistols and The Clash and The Damned to attribute to really progressing that genre, but they don’t realize in ‘77 when they did the Anarchy Tour of London, there was a New York Band called Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers, really just The Heartbreakers at that point. Johnny Thunders was from The New York Dolls, that had kind of spawned punk in New York early, right? He formed this band called The Heartbreakers that put out one album called LAMF, and that I think is the most underrated, it influenced everyone, they were just the best. But because of drug issues and poor management and a record label going under they just kind of fizzled out and the band never went anywhere and broke up in ‘79. But that band was so important to 70’s music I think. That would be my choice.
R: It’s interesting how circumstances formulate who’s gonna be known for that time.
D: It was not really their fault. They were on a label that just went under, it was a shame.
R: How do you feel music plays a role in your life?
D: It’s guided everything I’ve done since I was eighteen years old. I got out of high school and started right away into a more structured job and that became my life, it was this office job and I was like “What the heck” But all the while I played in different bands in Calgary, each band put out a CD which was nice. And just recently NPFE put out a record, we pressed a 7 inch and that was my dream!
Asia cracks a joke about dying happy and Dan laughs along; I’ve peaked, the best years are behind me!
But yeah, that’s been the magnetic pull, just follow music. I got out of the office job, I ended up getting really ill, I was in the hospital for a long time and when I got out there was something that was different. I don’t know what it was, but I got out and I quit my job, I went on tour with the band and then this job came up, and it was kind of perfect. Music is basically everything. Without that, I don’t know what I’d do. I would go blind, I would go mute, I would lose my legs before I couldn’t just sit around and listen to music.
R: What’s next on your wish list for records?
D: There’s one label in New York called ESP Disk, and that stands for Esperanto. Esperanto was one of the first early languages, it was an alternative to English, this universal language. They’re a free jazz label, they started out in New York in the ‘60’s. It’s really interesting, every record almost looks similar. They started out with artists like Albert Ayler, they did some Ornette Coleman and stuff. It’s really out-there music for what was happening in ‘65. So I’m trying to complete their catalogue. It’s small, but they’re not easy to find. It’s not stuff I can find locally, I need to track them down online one by one.
R: That makes it so gratifying when you do find it.
D: It does. They only have a catalogue of 100 of the first ones so that’s what I’m going for. It’s tough. Some of them, there were only 500 made, so it’s pretty tricky to find. That and John Fahey. He’s my favourite guitar player, I’m obsessive about his music as well. Any time I travel his are the records I end up buying.
R: Which genres do you find yourself leaning towards? Jazz seems to be a recurring theme.
D: Primarily instrumental music I’ll admit. That’s not really intentional, it was a progression I found from collecting for a lot of years and going through a lot of the classics early. When I was young I used to live by those books like “Rolling Stones 500 Albums You Need To Hear” and that would be my goal, to be 14 and not really have a social life. I went out garage sale-ing with my mom every weekend looking for records to complete the book. I knew nothing of it but if it was in the book, it must be important, I wanted to know why. And that lead me on a trail of backtracking music, and that was ten years of my life probably. So now, it evolved to a point, jazz was something I didn’t really understand, reggae was something I didn’t really understand, and that frustrated me. Even classical- I want to know the difference between Schubert and Bartok; I don’t right now. I got 25 classical box sets at a garage sale for $20.00, that’s 125 LP’s technically of all different composers. And you just take it and you go home and you listen to it. You grow up listening to lyrics, knowing words to songs. But then there’s a point that’s like “why is this melody so familiar” And a lot of melodies are transcended through time and genre implementing in jazz, folk, classical- it doesn’t matter. They all kind of have that lineage through it. So that was the big focus and that’s still where I’m at, just trying to learn. Last year was reggae, and it’s always jazz. Jazz is the only genre that truly is infinite. Anything can exist and you can call it jazz. That’s what I love about it. Any music that’s more about expression and not about saying something direct. I love a good protest song but you can say more with less sometimes. Subtlety.
R: So you’re driven by a love for learning?
D: Yeah. Definitely. Same with instruments in the same regard. My big goal in life is to learn the piano, because I don’t know the piano. I’ve spent 10+ years with a guitar and drums but I don’t know that so I need to know that. Then it will be the cello or something. There’s always something else to listen to there’s always something else to learn. And that’s the excitement. I’m sure there are people that feel the same way with books or with video games. Music just seems to be the most broad thing that everyone can relate to.
We all veer off track, marvelling in disbelief at people who claim to hate all music, discussing the innate ability music has to influence the way we feel without even realizing it. I express a love for the opening scene of Watchmen (a fight scene set to Unforgettable by Nat King Cole) and Asia recalls meeting a man who only had one Tupac song on his phone and claimed he disliked all music but that one song. And just like that, the interview comes to a close. We find ourselves reluctant to leave, with its organized shelves, vast variety and of course music’s own encyclopedia sitting behind the counter. Blackbyrd feels like a safe space, a place where conversation flows easier and all your favourite records are just an arm’s length away. The store is unique, one of welcoming warmth but respectful quiet if you so choose. You dictate your own experience, but I think it’s hard to walk out of Blackbyrd without feeling like you learnt something new, whether it be in silence as you browse the shelves, or from the knowledgeable staff behind the counter.
Blackbyrd Myoozik was founded in 1993 by Arthur Fafard.