April 1st marked 25 years since Seattle’s Sub Pop Records officially opened it’s doors in downtown Seattle. But their story started a few years before that.
“It originally started as a zine in the mid 80’s by a gentleman named Bruce Pavitt down in Olympia,” says Tony Kiewel, Sub Pop’s VP of A & R. “He would include compilation mixtapes with copies of the zine. So the very, very first releases were cassette-only mixtapes.”
Tony says Sub Pop really became Sub Pop when Bruce met Jonathon Poneman.
“The story I was told was [they were] introduced by Kim Thayil of Soundgarden when both of them were approaching him to try to release a record. He said like, ‘Well, maybe you guys should team up.’ and the rest is history!”
Soundgarden was the first band to officially be signed by Sub Pop.
“Right in that time period was also Mudhoney and Nirvana was perhaps still the most famous from that era.”
Today, April 2nd, Mudhoney released their 13th album, Vanishing Point, to celebrate their 25 year anniversary as a band.
Sub Pop basically was grunge music and Tony says the budding record label did an amazing job of marketing the genre around the world.
“I mean, the whole identity of grunge was manufactured. We come to think of it now as, yes, there was flannel. They were very consciously trying to create this mythos of, these bands, they would just as soon be chopping down trees and flinging chainsaws around as making rock music. Yes, everybody probably was wearing flannel, but largely because you could get it cheaply at Goodwill. But it was really easy to sell this Wild Men of the Northwest mythology to the UK, who would never be able to point to where Seattle was on a map.”
In the past 25 years, Sub Pop has put out more than a thousand albums, singles and 7 inch records including bands like the Postal Service, fronted by Bremerton born Ben Gibbard and the Head and the Heart, who used to rock open mics at Ballard’s Connor Byrne before getting signed. They’ve even put out comedy albums for David Cross, Eugene Mirman and Flight of the Conchords.
Tony says he gets more than 50 CD’s a day from bands who want to be on the Sub Pop label.
“Lots of times music is handed to me with an apology, ‘I’m so sorry!’ And you have to explain, like ‘Yeah, no, as long as you’re not going to be sad if I don’t do anything with it’ because 99.9% of the time you just can’t. I get to sign maybe one thing a year, maybe. I hear about a million things in between signings. But meanwhile, if people stopped telling you about things, you’d be sunk. I’d never be able to do my job if people were afraid to give me music.”
We always hear about how digital downloads have trumped CD purchases, but SubPop will be ready for whatever comes along.
“Things are changing pretty rapidly. Like, yeah, right now people like LPs more than they did five years ago, so we’re selling a lot more vinyl records. But in Sweden, they can’t even sell MP3s. iTunes is barely a thing there. They’re not selling CDs. 70% of the market is Spotifiy. So it’s interesting to imagine that could be our future.”
Sub Pop is planning a free concert called the Silver Jubilee, that will feature bands from past and present. The line up will be released in about two weeks. Click here for more info.