The Shambolic Life
It all started in a glorious flood of flannel, long hair, and power chords. The place: Olympia, Washington. The year: 1979, when Bruce Pavett, a rock enthusiast with an entrepreneurial vision, launched a fanzine called Subterranean Pop. Featuring cassette compilations of eager garage bands from all over the country, readers and listeners got to experience firsthand music previously unavailable to the public, all without the intrusion of big labels and slick producers. And so began the inner workings of a sonic revolution that was to change the face of music as we know it. Yes folks, I am talking about grunge and the shambolic mosh-pits, converse sneakers, and thrift-store getups of yore. Oh, what a joy it was to look so sad!
Due to a surge in popularity, Subterranean Pop soon switched to an all cassette format until finally releasing their first LP, a compilation simply titled The Sub Pop 100, which featured renowned artists such as Steve Albini, Skinny Puppy and Sonic Youth. It was around this time that Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil introduced Bruce Pavitt to Jonathon Poneman in a mattress store, of all places. From there, the two forged a partnership that would inevitably lead to the launching of Sub Pop Records in 1986. The first EP to be released was Soundgarden’s Screaming Life. Some of you may know what follows: With the release of Nirvana’s Bleach (which was incidentally the first and only Sub Pop album to go platinum), Sub Pop became the forerunner of the grunge explosion, launching idols like the late Kurt Cobain into the eternal pantheon of rock, while also seeing the early releases of bands like Babes In Toyland, Afghan Wigs, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, and L7. Then there was the crowning of Jon Poneman as CEO of Sub Pop Records, and the exit of Bruce Pavett who went on to pursue new ventures. Sub Pop also joined forces with Warner Brothers, creating a sort of meta-label. But what some of you may not know is that during this time there was much more going on within Sub Pop than just grunge, grunge, grunge.
Part of the secret to Sub Pop’s endurance through the years has been their willingness to try on new outfits, even when it wasn’t so chic to step out of the flannel. And in the past five years or so, it has again claimed it’s title as a forerunner of cutting-edge music by featuring bands like The Postal Service, Iron and Wine, Wolf Parade, Dntal, Band of Horses, and of course The Shins, who recently gave Sub Pop a gold record with their 2006 album Wincing The Night Away. So lets raise a glass in honor of Sub Pop, and in the following pages take a closer look at some of the best and brightest to don the Sub Pop label right now: Loney, Dear, Flight of the Conchords, and The Postal Service.
Loney, Dear, a.k.a. Swedish one-man band Emil Svanangen, is already making waves with his first release on Sub Pop Records, Loney, Noir. With a sound comparable to Sparklehorse – but without the inevitable star-studded line-up of special guests – Loney, Noir boasts the voice of an inward-seeking troubadour conducting and performing orchestras from the comfort of his tiny Stockholm apartment (and sometimes his parentÃ¢’s basement!). Despite a background in both classical and jazz, Svanangen cites
Brian Eno, A-ha, and Kraftwerk as influences, further broadening his musical palette. Releasing three albums on his own, one being the first incarnation of Lonely, Noir, Svanangen had already sold over 5,000 copies of his homespun demos by the time he signed onto Sub Pop Records. Since signing, Loney, Dear has toured with such acts as Sonic Youth, Joanna Newsom, Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah, and Bloc Party, and will soon be supporting Peter, Bjorn, and John on their upcoming September UK tour. Loney, Noir is available on Sup Pop records
Flight of the Conchords
New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk parody duoÃ¢â‚¬Â are taking the world by storm as of late, thanks in part to a record deal with Sub Pop and a hilarious new hit show on HBO. The cable series finds the Conchords’ creators and members Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement fresh off the boat from New Zealand and adrift in New York City. They’re hopelessly trying to make it into the music industry with their digi-folk parody duo called (you guessed it) Flight of the Conchords. The situations the two find themselves in are funny enough, but what really sets this show apart from the rest are the songs. From folk to reggae, covers to self-effacing originals, McKenzie and Clement really hit their stride by doing what they do best, being the fourth most popular Â¦ eh, you know the rest.
Between sold-out summer gigs in Seattle and LA, and the taping of their new show, it seems that the guitar-toting duo are quite busy in real life these days. With their cute New Zealand accents and sidesplitting combo of parody and humility, it’s no wonder the premiere episode of their song-filled HBO show grabbed the attention of some 1.5 million viewers. Their EP, The Distant Future, took flight to all record stores last August.
The Postal Service
If you hear people talking about the Postal Service, and chime in to curse the two-cent postage hike, you may be living under a rock. What started as a side project between Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Dntal producer Jimmy Tamborello soon became an indie phenomenon, all but eclipsing their past outfits. Their 2003 album Give Up, which sold over 650,000 copies to become the most successful record released on Sub Pop since Nirvana’s Bleach, boasts a unique post-new wave style that imitators everywhere have tried to recreate. You know the sound – a soft, digitized beat patters alongside understated synths, all hovering beneath Gibbard’s delicate, soft-spoken vocal. Buzz about their forthcoming album has reached fever pitch with anxious fans who have endured a four-year wait. Rumor has it that recording for a new album began as early as June 2006, but with no release date in sight, critics, teens, and scenesters alike are getting restless. And then of course, there is the song Such Great Heights, which has been used on a multitude of television ads, including a spot for the United States Postal Service. The band handed the song over as a compromise, after the USPS threatened to sue for trademark infringements. Ironically, you can now buy Give Up on the official USPS website. How’s that for trade and commerce?
Bruce Scott for movmnt magazine
First published in movmnt magazine “Got Fame?” Issue – Fall 2007