A lot can happen in 30 years. It was enough time for Bruce Pavitt's Subterranean Pop zine to turn into a record label with Jonathan Poneman. It was enough time for that label to start signing eventual legends like Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and – oh yeah – Nirvana. Soon enough there's platinum records on your walls, airplanes bearing your logo, and suddenly the label's trademark "Loser" tagline carries a bit more irony than it did at the beginning.
This Saturday, Aug. 11, Sub Pop Records will formally celebrate their landmark 30th anniversary with a little shindig at Alki Beach with acts spanning across the label's massive catalog and storied history including Father John Misty, Beach House, Mudhoney, Fastbacks, LVL UP, Shabazz Palaces, Bully – just to name a few. The albums many of us know and love are just part of the story. As the city gets ready to honor this historic label, KEXP talks with label co-founders Pavitt and Poneman as well as current co-president Megan Jasper about the earliest days of the label, the trials they've endured along the way, and some of their favorite memories of music discovery over the years.
Get in, Losers, we're gonna learn some label history.
KEXP: I didn't realize the first moment where things gelled for you two was when Bruce came to KCMU to be a guest on Jonathan's radio program.
Jonathan Poneman: I don't remember exactly how it came together but I read Bruce's column and I was aware of Bruce and it had been suggested to me to have him up on the show and [I] heard the record. I was blown away. I was very impressed by the tapes that Bruce had done and his critical expertise as demonstrated in the now defunct Rocket magazine, so I had him up and we chatted about Sub Pop 100.
KEXP: Clearly you guys have had a relationship going on 30 plus years; was there instant chemistry?
Bruce Pavitt: I was really at ease with Jon on the show and Jon is a very thoughtful person and a genuine music fan, and so we were able to geek out on music pretty effortlessly.
KEXP: JP, what on that compilation grabbed your attention?
Poneman: I liked the Shonen Knife track, which is one thing that stuck out from the thematic continuity of the record. It was a really great track.
Pavitt: Calvin Johnson, of Beat Happening and K Records fame, came back to the Northwest with a Shonen Knife record, and I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that Calvin Johnson basically discovered Shonen Knife and played me this track, it was called "One Day at the Factory," and so I was able to get that on the trans-regional compilation.
KEXP: OK so at some point here between this radio show on KCMU and - what happens next?
Poneman: I saw Soundgarden play a show at the Rainbow Tavern, and at that point in time I was kind of a floundering musician and I decided I wanted to be a floundering record label exec, but I didn't have a name, nor did I have the inclination or the gifts for coming up with rudimentary marketing. I just knew that this band was fucking great and I needed to find somebody who was gifted in those other areas, because I felt like I could hear great music, but I didn't really feel accomplished in that way. I remember one time walking into the now long defunct Oxford Tavern and seeing Soundgarden meeting with Bruce, and I had for a long time – for like a year and a half – been talking to Soundgarden about doing a record, and then when I saw Bruce and Soundgarden meeting I got real territorial. I said, "Noooooo!" But Kim Thayil [Soundgarden] said, "Why don't you two guys work together?" and I said, "That's brilliant!"
Pavitt: It's a great idea. Little known fact: I grew up with Kim Thayil in Park Forest, Illinois. He dated two of my sisters. Just throwing that out there. And so I've known Kim for a long time (laughs).
Kim really made a very practical suggestion that really worked. I also want to take time to throw out the fact that Jon was also a music promoter. He wasn't just a DJ at KEXP. He was promoting shows and the Green River Dry as a Bone EP was released in June of '87. And by that time Jon and I had agreed to work together on Soundgarden, and Jon hosted that show at Scoundrel's Lair on the edge of the U District there, and that was one crazy show. So I kind of in my heart remember that Green River record release show as being a real genuine collaboration.
Poneman: To this day one of the greatest rock shows I've ever seen.
Pavitt: So that was kind of the first Sub Pop Seattle record. And when we shipped that out to radio stations and 'zines and so forth we included Soundgarden "Hunted Down" 45 as a teaser. So that's when things went off and running, and then six months later we released the Screaming Life EP.
KEXP: What made that show great?
Poneman: It was a little room with about 200 people and a band that was absolutely beyond… I mean explaining what made Green River so great at that particular moment is hard to describe. It was a combination of timing, situation, the show. It was a feeling that something really amazing was about to happen. I mean it happened in the show. The show itself was incredible, but there's was real feeling of euphoria. It wasn't a premonition of what was going to happen with this city, but it was a feeling of empowerment and just, you know, these people had been playing together and struggling for years, and had come up through the all ages scene in Seattle and, you know, not just the band, but the audience. And this is the one time where there was a shift and it felt immense in every possible way.
Pavitt: They were really somehow able to reinvent rock. It was kind of a fusion of hard rock and punk, and as we know Green River then split off into Mudhoney and eventually Pearl Jam, so there were some epic rock stars on the stage at that time. And I do want to say that as a frontman Mark Arm just consistently delivers. He has amazing presence. He has an incredible sense of humor as well as a stage persona, he is unparalleled, and the guy still kills it.
Poneman: He had a mesmerizing quality at that show where people were not merely rocking, but they seemed to be like under a spell cast. It was incredible.
KEXP: [Green River] broke up before you could release their first record, is that correct?
Pavitt: Their second record.
KEXP: Was their first record on Sub Pop?
Pavitt: First record was on Homestead, then we did the Green River Dry as a Bone EP, and then they had an album Rehab Doll which was gonna be our big record that we're going to release. You know, Jon and I, we move into the office, we're ready...we quit our day jobs. And they called us and said they were breaking up, so that was how we started.
Poneman: I remember Bruce giving me a phone call. He said, "I've got some good news and some bad news."
Pavitt: [laughs] What was the good news?
Poneman: The bad news is the big band it's going to follow off [Soundgarden's] Screaming Life record is breaking up. The good news is there's going be two awesome bands coming in their stead, and one of them's going to record for Sub Pop. That's Mudhoney.
Pavitt: Wow. I remember they did their first live show with Das Damen at The Vogue, second week of April, actually, kind of just when we had opened the doors, and their first show killed it.
Poneman: It was amazing. That was another show that was – it felt like something bigger than what was actually happening.
KEXP: Do you think Mudhoney changed, I don't know ... I can't stand the term grunge – but rock and punk? Do you think they changed music?
Pavitt: They kind of revived the garage band tradition, almost like a new generation of The Sonics and that vibe. And they did it so well that they were able to kind of bring people back into that sense of excitement for that kind of core rock n roll.
Poneman: Really simple, direct, great songwriting. Mark was at the peak of his powers. An unbelievable rhythm section with Matt and Dan and Steve Turner's guitar playing has always been…
Pavitt: Yeah, it's very rare that you see a band debut and they're great. They've got their songs, they've got their stage show, it was just all perfect from day one.
KEXP: How did you know they were breaking up and forming two separate bands? Were you kidding when you said that?
Poneman: No no. I don't know whether you [Bruce] remember this or not, but you did know.
Pavitt: I did know, yeah. And Mark [Arm] was really stoked about Mudhoney, and I remember I was back in the day working at the Muzak Corporation – ironically enough – with Mark Arm, and he brought in a demo of "Touch Me I'm Sick" and I thought it was epic.
Poneman: We did think it was epic, but this is another fact. We both thought that "Sweet Young Thing" was the A-side.
Pavitt: That's right. It was a double A-side.
KEXP: So the first two shows I promoted in Minneapolis, Minnesota (at the University of Minnesota) was Mudhoney (with Sonic Boom Productions) one night, and Soundgarden the next. It was 1988 or 1989, I guess. Just purely coincidental.
Poneman: Wow. Great week in Minneapolis.
KEXP: No kidding.
Pavitt: So what year was that?
KEXP: '88 or '89? I don't remember - I mean, it had to have been right before their first album came out.
Pavitt: How did the bands go over in Minneapolis?
KEXP: ...the Mudhoney show. I think it was chaos, because it was a small club, 250 people maybe, and then the Soundgarden show was packed and (really) heavy.
Poneman: I saw them play together so many times and I remember I loved Soundgarden, don't get me wrong, but Mudhoney used to regularly blow them off the stage. And I mean it wasn't – I don't want it to make it seem like a competitive thing. It's just that Mudhoney was so explosive and chaotic, and just had the moment, whereas Soundgarden felt much more studied at that point in time.
Pavitt: I would go with that part of Mudhoney's genius was that they didn't really care what you thought about them, and they were just constantly tripping all over each other, and playing guitar on their back, and jumping off of PA's. It was very, very physically expressive in a great kind of Stooges tradition.
KEXP: That's amazing. I've read that you studied early Motown Records and SST Records – what an odd juxtaposition to build your plan for how you want to launch your label or to release things. So why – if indeed that is true – why and what did you learn?
Pavitt: I think that is a strange juxtaposition and that's why we threw it out there. Motown was kind of a hit factory. They had a focus. They had a team and so did SST. You know, at SST, all their art was done by Raymond Pettibon, et cetera. So what we tried to do was set some parameters. We're going to be working with Jack Endino as a producer primarily, we're going to work with Charles Peterson as kind of like the house artist, and we're huge fans of his photos. So kind of creating these parameters gave us some focus and I think that really helped us out at the beginning.
Poneman: Absolutely. It gave coherence to the label and we worked with Bob Whitaker as the refreshment coordinator.
KEXP: You mentioned Jack Endino. That's a very distinct sound. When I think of Jack, I think of Mudhoney. Are there recordings of his from Sub Pop that really stand out to you?
Poneman: Well, what's interesting...he's been remixing a lot of the - like Rehab Doll and Dry As a Bone era stuff, [Bruce] have you heard any of this?
Pavitt: Yeah, he passed that on to me.
Poneman: It is incredible. The thing about Jack's recording is that it keeps giving decade after decade. You can hear it in one context, like initially, and just go, "Holy shit! This is amazing!" But years later after having listened to these records many times, and the iterations of pop music can continue to change and bring in new concepts, you go back to this. It sounds fresh all over again, and even different ways that you didn't hear the first time. Does that make any sense?
KEXP: It's one of the best things about music, actually.
Pavitt: It's super soulful recordings for me. I think the breakthrough record with Jack's signature would be Super Fuzz Big Muff. We released that about six months after we opened the office doors and it immediately started blowing minds. And as an observer of the British press – because the British music press were the trendsetters at the time – I'll never forget that Super Fuzz entered the indie charts, which was a rarity for American music, and it stayed on that chart for a year. So it made a huge impact on John Peel's BBC show, NME, Melody Maker, and so forth. It really helped put Seattle on the map, and that was Jack.
Poneman: I would agree with Bruce, but I would add one more record to the canon, which is God's Balls by Tad. You're dealing with this prodigy, this butcher from Boise who could also create symphonies, and create these mindblowing tidbits of rock insanity in his room. And then he puts together a band on the fly, and they go into the studio on this minuscule budget, and create this album, which is immense. It's just huge sounding and fully formed. This is the way it sounds, at least. The band was very much finding their groove, but I think Jack coaxed them into a level of proficiency and coherence. They sounded like they'd basically been hatched doing all this stuff right.
Pavitt: And if anybody listening out there had the opportunity to catch Tad, Mudhoney, and Nirvana at the Lame Fest show at The Moore, please send me your ticket stub and I'll put it on eBay for you.
KEXP: Who won that show? Three great bands. You said Mudhoney blew Soundgarden off the stage - who won?
Poneman: Nobody won.
KEXP: That's not the right answer.
Poneman: No, it's not the right answer, but I mean…
Pavitt: I will say this Mudhoney gets a consolation prize for, forgive me for sharing this, but kicking a security guard in the back off the stage. I witnessed that, and that was it was a very impolite thing to do, but the crowd seemed to love it.
Poneman: You know, there had been a history in this city going back many years with this security detail who had worked at a lot of these shows. And by the time this show had come around... it was kind of a scene's coming-of-age, so the bands went up and it's like, "Shit! We're playing The Moore!" And unfortunately the security detail had the same kind of [feeling] like this was their coming out party as well, so we're going to be even bigger jerks than we had been to the smaller shows that we used to do security for.
Pavitt: I remember talking to the general manager and he said, "I sent some of my security home, because the show is probably not going to do that well." I distinctly remember him saying that, because a local show had never really sold out The Moore. It was kind of beyond his frame of reference. And it completely sold out. So they're a little understaffed, and I think their security were going overboard in trying to quell the chaos, and they just created more chaos.
KEXP: Well, if you were a security detail and you were used to, I don't know, Air Supply, or Styx, and now you've got – so when I was a young person it was called "slam dancing" – so this was chaos! Kids jumping off the stage…
Poneman: I have to tell you Metallica was playing at The Moore, you would have a lot of bands. I think Bruce hit on the key thing which is they... underestimated it. When Metallica, and Slayer, and these bands were coming up through the early 80s and were playing The Moore they had an expectation. They had a record label machinery hype, some kind of educated perspective to know what to prepare for. But there was such an immediate dismissal of the whole idea of local bands, particularly from our community, selling out The Moore. It was ridiculous. So I think the real problem was not that they weren't used to dealing with it, it was just as Bruce said, they were understaffed.
KEXP: So you've alluded to a feud at a Mudhoney and Green River show... in those early to mid-years of Sub Pop... Were there moments in shows that really stand out to you?
Pavitt:What comes to mind is a show that Nirvana did at the Annex Theater, which was kind of a low-rent community theater. What's interesting about this show is they spent half their time kind of tuning up and in a way it wasn't classically a great show, but for whatever reason there was a kind of magic in the room. And I'll never forget just being spellbound and a good friend of mine came up to me, literally grabbed me by the shirt, and said, "These guys are the next Beatles!" And it just really resonated with me, and it was just such an unpretentious local show, with maybe 100 or 200 people, but there was a special quality there, and people could feel it.
Poneman: Yeah it's that sense of expectation. It keeps coming up. When we were talking about, or when I think about the shows from that era, it's not a feeling like the mythical Seattle that has become an industry over the years, but it was this sense that there was no manifesto and no hype, it was just an explosive all-encompassing experience. It's hard to explain.
Pavitt: But there was a definite sense of community. It wasn't just about the band, it was about the people that you were seeing at the shows over and over again. And you don't really experience that in Seattle now because there's so many clubs you can go to. There's just so much competition, whereas back then if you went to a show I could pretty much expect to see Jon there.
Poneman: There's a stratification now... there's a lot of different kinds of opportunity that there wasn't back then, but there was a cohesion, as Bruce said. The people who went to the shows basically attended all the shows, and they shared those moments of ecstasy together, literally and figuratively. I was trying to make that.
KEXP: Yeah I got it. You know, you put down some cards. I picked them up. Do you guys remember the first time you ever saw Megan Jasper – who has clearly become such a huge part of Sub Pop. You know, like your first initial thoughts on the swearing-est CEO on the face of the planet.
Poneman: I have two memories. I remember her at the Dinosaur Jr. show, but my first memory where it wasn't a person who was part of a larger detail, that detail being Dinosaur Jr's touring aggregation, but where she was Megan, was when she was sitting on the floor looking – I don't remember if it was Bruce and I having the conversation -– but she was sitting on the floor putting together Cat Butt promo boxes and she was looking at both of us with an "I smell shit" look on her face, like, "What are you guys talking about?" I don't think it was meant in the way that I was just describing, I think it was somebody who's simply trying to figure out what was going on. And Bruce and I would have various – I think from an objective perspective – probably amusing conversations, because we were always talking about which bill collectors we were going to stiff on a particular day, and whether or not paychecks would go through.
Pavitt: We had some rather infamous financial battles, and to navigate that kind of stress that new companies have when they're trying to blow up, is to have a sense of humor. And one thing I've always really appreciated about Megan is she's got a great sense of humor, and that's really how you survive in rock n roll.
Poneman: That's how you survive in general.
KEXP: Megan, how did they approach you to work at Sub Pop? How'd that come together?
>Megan Jasper: So, at the Dinosaur Jr. show at the Central Tavern they played with Tad and Screaming Trees. It was a great show, it was so good! And that is where I met Bruce, Jon, and Susan Silver. I think Susan put that show together, and I mentioned to Bruce and Jon that I thought I might want to move to Seattle, because on that tour I was trying to figure out what my next move was. And they both said, "Well if you do, come by the office!" And I was super psyched, and I really admired what they were doing with Sub Pop.
KEXP: When is this exactly?
Jasper: This was March of '89.
KEXP: What had they done exactly that you had noticed?
Jasper: That they'd put out records.
KEXP: Which records?
Jasper: Mudhoney was a huge one for me. And Tad. I remember seeing Tad in New York, I think with The Lunachicks. Mudhoney I discovered when I was in Berlin, just out of the blue, because all the record stores were kind of pushing it. All the cool record stores. We listened to Cat Butt. We talked about Cat Butt in the van on the way up to Seattle from Portland.
Pavitt: I think Sub Pop's going to need to reissue Cat Butt, they're getting a lot of press. It's true.
Poneman: Nirvana actually had been out by then, wasn't it?
Jasper: Yeah! So we were listening to a lot of this music on the way up the West Coast. Anticipating being in Seattle... Seattle was awesome and you could ride your bike throughout the year, which was really good for me, because I used to have to stash it during the winter on the east coast. So, I could ride my bike, there was great music, there were people that I felt like I could relate to. And I just thought, "Fuck it! I'm moving to Seattle!" And I did. And actually on my first day in Seattle, I got in the night before, but that next day I went down to the Sub Pop office. And that morning I actually remember my friend Julia, who was in Seattle, put a flyer down, I think it was for a Love Battery show, and there was something about it where, I know it sounds super goofy, but looking at it I was like, "This is going to be a massive part of my life." I just knew immediately that it would have a tremendous impact on me in some way, and I didn't know what that meant, but I had a really weird feeling that I was supposed to pursue this thing. And so I marched down there.
You guys had just gotten a shitload of records in. So in their office they had the top floor of the Terminal Sales building, but the elevator didn't go to that floor. It went to the floor below. So every time pallets of records arrived they had to hoof it down and carry it, this was their workout. They had to carry all of these records up those friggin stairs, and there were these massive wood doors that you had to push open, so it was not easy to get anything onto that floor. So as I walked in it was complete fucking chaos. And I was like, "This is awesome!" And they said, "Maybe you could come back tomorrow." And so I did. We ended up having a super fun day, but I went back the next day and they said, "If you can, come in and intern and put these records together." And the moment, my shit-smelling moment that Jonathan described, it wasn't that I smelled shit.. But I think I was trying to understand how everything worked and what the dynamics were.
Toy was interning with me that day, so she was also stuffing singles. Toy ended up opening the London office in '93. And Erica Hunter – who was doing all of the marketing and promotion, most of it – she was on the phone with college stations, and the moment that defines that entire day for me was Erika calling a radio station and saying, "Hi, is Shoobie Doobie there? This is Erica Hunter from Sub Pop. And that's Erika Hunter as in MANHUNTER." That's how she would get – because it was all dudes at the college radio stations and that's how she would get them to call her back! She'd put on a super sexy voice and insert man as her middle name. And then she had all these horn balls calling her back, super stoked to talk to a foxy girl hustling music. It was perfect.
KEXP: That's hilarious, and sad, and pathetic all at once.
Jasper: Erika knew how to work it, man. She was so awesome. And it was a great day and super fun.
KEXP: Can you list how many job titles you've had at Sub Pop?
Jasper: I don't know how many, but I can list them for sure. Intern, Receptionist, Sales person, also Payroll, then the weirdest title ever: Senior Product Manager - which was basically like Marketing Director - General Manager, Executive Vice President, CEO. Seven. Like the dwarves.
KEXP: Okay, so you guys signed for a 49 percent stake with Warner Brothers. You gave Warner Brothers a 49 percent stake in the label, is that correct?
KEXP: So, you've talked about financial hardships. I mean for God sakes, you had employees, you had to pay them, you had to eat yourselves, you had to pay rent. Tell me what went into that decision and how it felt afterwards.
Poneman: So we had an individual who ended up being our East Coast liaison representative. A very nice person, Joyce, a very accomplished person. A friend of hers was a gentleman whose name was Dana Jekedo – and, rest in peace – he was a money manager, and Bruce and I had found ourselves in a position where we were actually making money, and she suggested, "You know, you guys have had a history of financial chicanery. Why don't you work with somebody who actually knows what to do with the money?" And so one thing led to the next, and you know Bruce was, tell me if I'm wrong, Bruce had gotten married, and basically had a family, and I had the desire to follow suit someday. But at the time I was full bore into the label, and things had gotten so overheated. Bands that at one point in time would have cost us two thousand dollars to sign, it ended up costing us ten times that amount. I think Bruce had an interest in and understanding of what was going on with the label, but I think from my memory his interests were compounded by the fact that he had a family and wanted to pursue that a little bit more. And I was much more aggressive in wanting to be able to keep the momentum that we established with the label – not the hype – but to be able to increase our expertise and our opportunity that was coming our way through having been a record label for a certain period of time.
If you hear a little bit of self-doubt in my voice, it's because I have since learned many times that the path that I was pursuing at that time was wrong-headed, because the thing that makes Sub Pop great is our community. And at that point in time, as Bruce later pointed out to me, which it took me a while to get, but I live by it now, is the community overall. At the time I kind of fancied Sub Pop, not as being divorced from the community, I just didn't take the community into consideration as much as I should have. When it came to making certain kinds of decisions – but we'll come back to that.
Pavitt: Well stated Jon.
KEXP: Could I stop you for one second. When you hear him say that, what's your reaction? He's saying that he didn't agree with you at a certain point, and then learned from that. How do you respond to that?
Pavitt: My response is: Well stated Jon. And, just to pause and reflect, that deal went down in basically early '95. And that's post Nirvana. So post Nirvana we actually had cash coming in, which was awesome, but at the same time because Nirvana was so hot every label in the world was competing for alternative acts, and if Sub Pop so much as went to a show, major labels would stampede there. All of a sudden because what we had helped to nurture became so popular the competition was fierce, and bidding wars were essentially hard to avoid. It was a crazy time. Of course eventually labels realized that alternative music wasn't as profitable as they thought, and they moved on, but it was kind of a crazy period, so getting an additional influx of cash through Warner Brothers made sense. But the challenge was: How much growth do you want? How much do you want to compete with the majors? How much do you want to stay indie? It was a challenging period I think because of all the competition.
Poneman: I would also add – what Bruce said is absolutely correct, about how challenging it was – but you didn't have to play that game. And that's the thing that I learned is that there were always bands who were destined for greatness who weren't looking for the cash payout, they were looking for the experience, they were looking for the community. And that's what I'm talking about, the thing I had to come back to.
Pavitt: I totally agree with that and I think at this point in history Sub Pop is cruising in the sweet spot where they're working with very creative people who are seeking more independent culture, and it's grown very well because of that.
KEXP: How did it feel when [Bruce] left? Was there any animosity?
Poneman: I never felt any animosity towards Bruce. I always loved Bruce, and I think he's funny guy and a smart guy. I had a serious disagreement with him, and sometimes... if I were to see him in social situations it would be like the 800 pound gorilla... because neither of us would would broach it in conversations. We didn't see each other socially that often anyway. But this is my experience. I had respect for Bruce and his perspective. I had learned from my experience with him and from him enough to know that it wasn't malicious, it wasn't a thing aimed at me. It was a thing aimed at a particular perspective that I had and vice versa.
Pavitt: Right on. I've always had a lot of respect for Jon, and I think for me during that crazy growth period in the 90s I realized that as a personality type I enjoy working with smaller groups of people. I'm more of a mom and pop, DIY person, and the label was growing and growing and I felt less connected to a larger group. We all function differently, some people like to work alone, I like to work in smaller groups. That's where I feel like I'm most productive. So it was kind of a split of energy and I was feeling pretty frustrated, and that's behind me for sure. And I'm very excited about the direction the label's gone in, and the culture at the label, and the community focus, and the amazing music, and I'm super honored and stoked to be coming to this 30th anniversary. I mean, jeez, how many classic indie labels have stayed around 30 years? Certainly not Motown, certainly not Stax, certainly not Sun. I mean it's pretty amazing.
KEXP: I was thinking about the labels that were big when you guys started. I'm probably gonna miss a few, but Amphetamine Reptile out of Minneapolis. Maybe Touch and Go. Does Touch and Go still release stuff? I have no idea.
KEXP: What does Sub Pop represent to you today?
Pavitt: My take on Sub Pop is if you look at the history of it and where they're at today, it has always been a sanctuary for creative outsiders, always. And it's a blessed institution. And we should all be super stoked that it's still around.
KEXP: What do you [JP] think?
Poneman: I can't add to that.
KEXP: You have to.
Poneman: What Bruce says. No. My feeling is, and I defer to Megan because I think that Megan has done a lot of shepherding and a lot of thankless work, both behind the scenes, and as an advocate for the label and a visionary for the label in it's most recent, and I should say, most successful iterations. But I will say that there is continuity between what I understood Bruce's ideas and desires to be when I first met him and he was hawking the philosophy behind Sub Pop 100, all the way to the 30th anniversary. And community in collaboration and the regeneration of both of those concepts in different musical expressions and in different modes of working are what I think... establish[es] continuity in Sub Pop from generation to generation.
KEXP: Has your illness fueled your want to continue to support the arts?
Poneman: My illness is giving me frustration today, because I took my medicine [and it] doesn't seem to be doing anything, but from a day-to-day basis my illness is an irritant, but my feelings and my emotions are driven more by greater events than whether my medicine is working on a given day. I am continually inspired by Sub Pop. I mean the individuals who have come and left the label, who work at the label now. I mean it's staggering. It humbles me. I don't know how often you guys, meaning Bruce and Megan, think about some of the fantastic people that we've had the opportunity of working with. Not just the artists, but our co-workers and the impact that we've been able to achieve. Our community consciousness I think is – I mean, we certainly didn't invent it. We inherited it and you know continue to participate in our community. But I would like to think that we've impacted the city to a somewhat measurable and favorable degree.
Pavitt: I agree with that.
KEXP: How does your relationship feel right now?
Pavitt: Pretty damn good.
Poneman: I'd say the same.
KEXP: And so what brought you back together?
Pavitt: A big ass party in West Seattle. Which is mindblowing. The event that's going to unfold here this August is going to be the Woodstock of indie rock. Be prepared.
Poneman: Yeah, I don't feel like anything brought me back to Bruce because I don't feel like anything ever really split us up. We've had disagreements, but people have disagreements. They were epic disagreements, but they're dwarfed by the passage of time.
KEXP: Imagery of Sub Pop. I'm wearing a Sub Pop sweatshirt right now, this logo is incredible. What did the imagery of Sub Pop mean for the label?
Pavitt: Here's the deal about record labels. Your reputation is built on music, but the first impression is always going to be visual. That's why those Charles Peterson photos in the early days were so effective. In two seconds people would get it. And this Sub Pop logo, which I think is awesome, and iconic, and beautiful, and it's just been reiterated and remixed over and over and over again, and it's become part of the Seattle culture. So I think visuals are absolutely crucial, and I think the best labels in history have always known that. Whether it's Blue Note, or SST, or what have you. Graphics are key. Or videos. In this day and age it's video, and I think Sub Pop has done an excellent job with getting videos out.
KEXP: Megan, how did you guys take that to the next level? These guys clearly made amazing stuff (with the imagery) in the early days, and you've gone beyond that.
Jasper: I would say when I came to Sub Pop Bruce was really pushing a lot of the visual images. And even back then we worked with really good art directors, and we've had the good fortune of having a lot of awesome artists in our office. Hank Trotter, Jeff Kleinsmith, Sasha Barr, Jesse LeDoux, we've had so many good visual artists. I think in the past 20 something years it's been largely Jeff Kleinsmith pushing a lot of the visual aesthetic.
KEXP: Is there an artist – and when I say artist, I mean like a musical artist for the label – you pushed, that grabbed you and captured your heart, and you're really proud to have released their music and been part of that?
Jasper: There are too many to mention, because what you say ¬ that happens on so many different levels with so many bands. But the band that I have to say really changed us in a truly profound way was The Shins, and the reason why is because when we started working with them nobody knew who they were. It seemed like they came out of left field. We were still a little bit fragmented as a company, and we were broke again. It turns out that Sub Pop is really good at getting money and spending money. So we were hurting and there was something about that first record and those songs. They were quirky and weird, and they defied every rule of songwriting. They were catchy, and fun, and uplifting, and deep, and that music brought us together. It brought our minds together, I think it brought our hearts together. It made us feel really proud to work at the label that was putting this music out, and it worked. And they started selling records. And there's something about when you're in that state where you need help in a lot of different ways, and something really beautiful comes your way and becomes successful, and you are all a part of it as a team. It is so bonding, and so uplifting, and it makes you feel like everything is okay in the world. And that's exactly what The Shins did.
KEXP: Yeah. And I'm living in Connecticut when I hear them for the first time, or New York. And this happens across the country, across the globe. How does it feel to you when something you love ends up being loved by, in this case, millions of people?
Jasper: It makes me feel, and I think all of us feel, like there is a common denominator that is perfect.
Poneman: I couldn't say it better.
Pavitt: Likewise. That was very beautifully stated Megan.
KEXP: Tell me about Fleet Foxes. What attracted you to this band?
Jasper: A few things. First of all, they were working with Phil Ek, who is a dear friend to us, and has worked on a lot of Sub Pop records over the years. Asia their manager, and Robin's sister, was a friend who brought the music to Sub Pop, but also there was a huge buzz in our city about this band. And when they would play there would always be a line out the door of people waiting to go in. So it seemed – I mean, you can't ignore an entire city that’s saying, "This is special!" And when we got those demos, Asia brought them into our office, and Phil gave us a copy as well. We played them, and at that point it felt like it didn't really sound like anything else that was happening here, or really kind of in our world. It sounded like maybe some music from decades ago that we all loved. But there was still something different about it. And I think the more we sat with it the more we realized that it was just something so incredible happening in our city, and we would be so fortunate to be able to work with them.
KEXP: Jonathan, what makes Megan unique and special as, in this case, now with this role as CEO of Sub Pop records?
Poneman: I think that she's done a lot of hard work, and continues to do a lot of hard work both in building and maintaining relationships, and inside the company with the community. She earns and deserves trust. You know, an argument could be made that Sub Pop is actually celebrating its 32nd anniversary, or it's 35th anniversary. The thing that is unchallengeable is that we've been around for a long time. And I think there's something to be said for endurance, and Megan practices endurance and achieves the results in many aspects of her life. One of the results I think is a profound insight and knowledge, and an ability to go longer distances than most do. I think the crucial stuff that Megan brings comes from those long distances.
The Sub Pop themed Boeing 737-800 will make regular trips up-and-down the west coast, starting today.
Plus the label announces new split singles from Mudhoney & Hot Snakes, Shabazz Palaces & Chad VanGaalen, Frankie Cosmos & LVL Up, as well as METZ & Clipping
Legendary independent record label Sub Pop will turn 30 years old this year, and Seattle-based public broadcaster and arts organization KEXP will pay tribute to the label with a four-month retrospective.