Tessa Smith

Interview by Angela MacKenzie
Portrait by Allison Staton

Tessa Smith grew up in Halifax and has lived in Montreal for the past 10 years. She is a musician in the band Brave Radar and also co-runs the indie record label Fixture Records. As if that wasn’t enough, Tessa also works for POP Montreal, and is the engine behind their artisan market, Puces Pop. This interview was originally published on September 26, 3013— the first day of the fall Puces Pop edition.


When did you start working with Pop Montreal and Puces Pop?
I started in 2011 over the summer. I first came on kind of

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as a co-director/curator of Puces Pop with Marlis Cardinal. The person who had previously been working with her had left. I came on to coordinate the event on a part-time basis with her. Then the following year she got another job and left. They decided not to hire another person and to just make it a full position. So since then (early 2012) I’ve been the Puce Pop person but also a fulltime Pop employee. So I also organize the Espace Pop gallery space and do other administrative things in the office.


How has Puces Pop evolved in the past few years?
It’s been around for quite a while now— next year will be its 10th year. Since the beginning you can definitely see changes, even in the people that participate. Many of the artists who have been coming out since the early days have been able to develop their business over the last decade. Some have now established themselves locally and even internationally and they’re still coming back to the fair. So that’s a pretty neat aspect. There are also new people participating each year. In terms of how it’s changed, I’ve mostly just tried to maintain the tradition. I think having my position be more full-time has helped support the event itself. I’m there between the fairs so I can provide more continuity. I can be in contact with the artists all year-round and we do popup events between fairs and events to keep up the momentum. I’m always trying to find a balance between what works with the artists and the audience. Three fairs a year seems to be our magic point. In December we tried having a third day and it worked really well. This time it will be four days for the fall edition

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during Pop Montreal. There are people coming to town from all over, so the market will be open for them for most of the festival.


Which new vendors should we watch for this year?
There are quite a few new vendors this time. Off the top of my head, there’s a new bath and body line called Les Painteurs who just launched their business a few days ago. They do more fun, pop culture bath and body stuff. Noémiah is a jewelry and accessories designer who has been doing the sale for quite a while now. She’s going to be presenting her first clothing line the fair, which is pretty neat. She’s returning with a new angle. There are at least 20 new vendors and I’m always really excited to see those artists.


What is your favourite part of the job?
Definitely being at the event. That moment when you look

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out and you see that the fair is full of people, the artists are just doing their thing and the event is just kind of happening. You’ve done your work and it’s kind of just going. It’s a pretty satisfying feeling to step back and take a breath for a moment. To know that I could walk away for a moment and it would still be happening… and then rush back to make sure it’s still happening! I tend to just pace around like a madwoman checking in on everything. There is a sense with Puces Pop that at a certain point it’s going to be pulled off. It will come together, regardless.


Do you have a hard time not buying everything?
Yes. I always know I’m going to spend at least $100 and that’s just a given. My weakness is always the new stuff, the novelty, the stuff I haven’t had a chance to see in person yet. You go through the applications, you see it online, you’re emailing with these people, but to finally see it in person is pretty exciting. I tend to want to buy it all and take it all home with me. There are also returning vendors that I always go to because I have to get my rations for the next few months.


When the festival ends do you have anything that you do to celebrate the completion of it?
I usually sleep! In terms of a ritual, I don’t really have anything other than sleep and trying to stave off the comedown cold which a lot of people who work at Pop tend to get a week or so after the festival. Usually on the day after the fair, once we’ve finished load-out and drop offs, if the weather’s nice my assistant and I will just go and sit in the park and not do anything. That’s been really nice. I did that with Marilis too.


Let’s talk about your band, Brave Radar. When did you guys form?
The band started with my boyfriend Connor, before I knew him. It was a solo recording project that he did when he used to live in Australia. He moved here with the project to play a show at Pop Montreal, which is kind of funny. He stayed and was looking for people to fill out the band. We met through mutual friends and I came on to play bass in the band. A year after that we added our friends Andrew and Gabe. So in its full form it has been around five years.


Are you touring this year?
The band tends to be the first thing that drops off when I get busy and this is the height of that right now. We are playing a show at POP, which is kind of a crazy thing to do. It’s on Saturday night, which might be a recipe for burnout. We’re playing the Fixture showcase on Saturday, a project we run on the side.


What is it like to be in a band with your boyfriend?
It’s always felt pretty natural because I was in the band before we ever were together. It’s always been a natural part of the relationship and what we consider to be our rapport. For both of us, songwriting and playing is something that we both enjoy and need to do. We tend to write separately and privately and then we bring it to the band.


Do you have a method or favourite space to work in when you’re being creative?
I like working at home. I’m not super comfortable writing or recording or playing outside of a pretty private space. Even in practice spaces, I tend to be uncomfortable. I’m not naturally the type of person that likes to perform and play shows. So that aspect of public-ness is definitely a hurdle that I have to kind of get over any time we do something like that.


Is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing at POP? I don’t know if you’ll have time to go to any shows?
I hope so! I’m really excited about everyone playing the Saturday show. A lot of them are our friends. The Brasserie Beaubien shows are going to be great too.


That’s a fun venue.
It is. It’s one of my favourites in the city.

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There will be a lot of smaller Canadian bands but they all sound really good. In terms of bigger shows… Dorothy Moore. I want to see Legendary Pink Dots. I’ve never seen them play but it sounds like it’ll be a good one. This year for me it’s more about the smaller, mid-size Canadian bands. That’s what I’m most excited for.


You were really young when you came to Montreal and you’ve been heavily involved in the arts and culture scene ever since. Have you had any mentors help you out since you’ve been here?
Definitely Risa Dickens is one of those people. I would say I was loosely involved in various arts projects when I came here but my first organizational role was with Risa and Indyish. I interned for about a year and then I was site editor for a while and worked with Risa for a couple of years. I think that was really important in pushing me towards things that came after that. Also the group of women I work directly with now.


It’s interesting that there are a LOT of women that work for POP Montreal.
This year in particular it’s really skewed that way. At the moment there are about 40 women and 4 men in the festival staff. Of the core year-round staff it’s basically all the women who work there, there’s five or six, who I would consider to be mentors. They’re all inspiring and incredibly hard-working, knowledgeable and generous.