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Last week, we offered an overview of Sub Pop’s greatest hits, both legendary and recent. Today, in our continuing tribute to 25 years of Sub Pop, we dig deep into the rocky underground that gives the Northwest label its name (Sub Pop = Subterranean Pop). We can think of no better tour guide than Robin Stein, a killer photographer here in Seattle, a good friend of Men’s Shop Daily, and a lifelong follower of Pacific Northwest music.

[Above: Earth photographed by Art S. Aubrey.
Below: U-Men by Rachel E. Tillman.]

 

While Sub Pop is widely known for its massively successful releases from bands like Nirvana, The Shins and Fleet Foxes, the legacy and scope of the label cannot be simply summarized by those artists alone. Sub Pop has long been a true promoter and purveyor of the decentralized underground world of Subterranean Pop. Here are some highlights from their back catalog that you may have never heard—but should. They’re selected to represent the legacy of music in the Pacific Northwest, as well as the grand scope of Sub Pop’s output. In no particular order:


1. The U-Men – ‘Dig It a Hole.’  Performing throughout most of the 1980s, The U-Men predated anything that anyone would or could call Grunge. Their song ‘Gila’ is featured on the first Sub Pop compilation, Sub Pop 100. The U-Men draw on the sludge and aggression of LA hardcore bands, the jarring start-stop rhythms from post-punk bands like Wire, and the wacked-out insanity of twang-weirdos The Cramps. ‘Dig It a Hole’ is on the aggressive side of the U-Men, and was never released by Sub Pop until many years later on the soundtrack to the film Hype. Nevertheless, this particular track foreshadows much of the aesthetics embraced by many Seattle bands in the years to come.


2. Green River – ‘Ain’t Nothing To Do.’ Green River might be the best example of the musical tension that went on to form the style that came to be known as Grunge. They’re a fast, heavy, punk band but with an overlay of glam-metal guitar solos. While this tension was ultimately the band’s demise (Mark Arm and Steve Turner went on to form Mudhoney, while Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament formed Pearl Jam), it just might be that Green River is the perfect blend of punk’s aggressive carelessness and metal’s heavy virtuosity. ‘Ain’t Nothing To Do’ is a classic teen-boredom anthem. Listen for the lyric that calls out being bored by the University of Washington’s old college radio station, which is now KEXP:  “… I’m so sick of FM, even KCMU…”


3. Girl Trouble – ‘Wreckin’ Ball.’ Go back into the history of music in the Pacific Northwest, and you’ll find it deeply rooted in classic garage bands—The Sonics, The Wailers, The Kingsmen, Lollipop Shoppe—mostly coming out of Tacoma, Washington. Twenty years later, Girl Trouble continued this tradition of Tacoma’s classic Northwest garage rock. ‘Wreckin’ Ball’ comes from their first Sub Pop release, Hit It or Quit It from 1988. Also worth checking out is their song ‘Neko Loves Rock ‘n’ Roll,’ about their good friend, former Girl Trouble go-go dancer and Tacoma native, Neko Case.


4. Steven Jesse Bernstein – ‘Come Out Tonight.’ Bernstein was essentially the poet laureate of Seattle’s music community throughout the 1980s. While suffering from mental illness and drug addiction, Bernstein gained legendary status as an intense and outrageous performer and poet. His writing reflected the gritty character of Seattle before the tech boom of the ’90s. Bernstein often took up residence in the hotels and boarding houses of Georgetown, the location of this year’s Sub Pop Silver Jubilee. This recording, featured on Sub Pop’s 1988 compilation Sub Pop 200, is a filthy pop-culture diatribe with the repeated, haunting refrain of “Cheri, Cheri, baby, won’t you come out tonight?” and the wonderful, barked line: “I am secretly an important man.”


5. Dead Moon – ‘Johnny’s Got a Gun.’  The members of Dead Moon have been playing in bands throughout every era of Pacific Northwest music, starting with Fred Cole’s 1960s psych-garage band Lollipop Shoppe, to their most recent incarnation Pierced Arrows. What’s most notable about the band is that Fred and Toody Cole, both grandparents in their 60s, are still one of the best touring rock bands out there, possessing a rabid and dedicated fan base all over the US and Europe. Most of the Dead Moon catalog is recorded, pressed, and released on their own label, Tombstone Records (they run their own record cutting lathe). Sub Pop released a posthumous Dead Moon discography, Echoes from the Past, covering highlights from the band’s nearly two-decade run. ‘Johnny’s Got a Gun,’ sung by Toody, is a revolutionary warning song. Also check out the hard-to-find Cat Power cover of the song above, a 7″ definitely worth digging for.


6. Hazel – ‘Day-Glo.’ Hazel was a band from Portland, Oregon, featuring the paired vocals of Pete Krebs and Jodi Bleyle (Team Dresch, Free to Fight), along with bassist Brady Payne and full-time, free-form dancer Fred Nemo (I was once told that Fred could recite vast James Joyce passages on request). Hazel played throughout the Northwest all through the late ’90s. I probably saw this band perform more than any other while growing up. Side note: My first AOL screen name (dayglo269) is a reference to this song—perhaps embarrassing, but telling.


7. Eric’s Trip – ‘Girlfriend.’ This track is from the first album I ever bought on vinyl. Eric’s Trip (named after the Sonic Youth song) was a fuzzy four-piece from Moncton, New Brunswick. Their simple, distorted pop songs encapsulated a low-key blissfulness. This band always made me idealize the magic of Canada’s Maritime Provinces. Julie Doiron and Rick White of Eric’s Trip each went on to release music individually in later years; both of their solo albums are well worth a listen.


8. Beat Happening – ‘Red Head Walking.’ While Sub Pop is known for being a Seattle record label, all of this really started in Olympia, Washington, around the Evergreen State College’s free-form radio station KAOS. Bruce Pavitt started writing his Subterranean Pop ‘zines and releasing tapes with Calvin Johnson as a contributor. Johnson’s pivotal lo-fi group Beat Happening released several records on Sub Pop over the ensuing years. His iconic vocal style and the simple instrumentation from collaborators Heather Lewis and Bret Lunsford embraced the DIY methods and ideals of punk, and transposed it into something far less aggressive, yet still transgressive. Beat Happening laid the groundwork for so much music to come; their influence is unmeasurable. Johnson continues to run Olympia’s K Records, and maintains a complete online digital version of all of the original Sub/Pop fanzines.


9. The Monkeywrench – ‘Great Down Here.’ If there ever was a ‘supergroup’ for Seattle, it was definitely The Monkeywrench. Featuring Mark Arm and Steve Turner (Green River, Mudhoney), Tom Price (U-Men, Gas Huffer), Tim Kerr (Poison 13, Tim/Kerr Records) and Martin Bland (Bloodloss), The Monkeywrench is a straight-up garage-punk band. Awesome. If you’re on the tour of ‘grunge supergroups,’ by all means start with The Monkeywrench—and you might as well forget about Temple of the Dog.


10. Earth – ‘Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine.’ While Earth maintains a legendary status amongst fans of Drone and Doom Metal, the average Sub Pop fan is likely unfamiliar with the long legacy and influence of Dylan Carlson’s musical career. I’d recommend approaching this 27-minute track more as a meditative and minimalist dirge. Earth is truly a product of the environment here in the Pacific Northwest—reflecting the wet and uniform grey skies of winter, with a slowly roiling undercurrent of volcanic activity. We are living on the Ring of Fire after all…

 

By Robin Stein. Check out Robin’s photography in our recent Rick Owens and A.P.C. lookbook posts, and Dum Dum Girls and King Tuff interviews.

Nordstrom Men’s Shop was proud to co-sponsor Sub Pop’s 25th-anniversary Silver Jubilee celebration. For more Sub Pop content, check out our Festival Recap and Silver Jubilee Street Style.

Kanye West has been compared to Pink Floyd, Steve Jobs, and even Mozart. (That last article drew a lot of fire in its comments section, of course…as well as a few lucid arguments from music majors who backed their opinions up with historical facts and classical theory.)

Whatever you think about the man and his music, you have to admit that he’s been influential—in pop culture at large, as well as in the realm of menswear. GQ ran a retrospective on West’s style today, which points pretty clearly to the fact that (ethical qualms with floor-length fur aside) the rapper/producer’s present-day wardrobe choices are his wisest, and most relevant to the rest of us, to date.

See above. West’s tough, monochromatic minimalism seems right in step with the bluntly reduced electro thump of his new album, Yeezus, out today. In his recent NY Times interview, West says a lamp by minimalist architect/designer Le Corbusier changed his entire point of view. He also says it takes him a fraction of the time to get dressed these days—proving what we’ve known for a while now: Throw on a leather jacket with anything, from a T-shirt to a tie, and you’re good to go.

[We're not saying West did or would wear these particular jackets; but if you'd like to recreate his minimalist MOTO look, start here. Pierre Balmain | A.P.C. | Just Cavalli]

The image up top is from West’s performance on Saturday Night Live last month—one of the darkest, most jarring, and most fascinating things that’s happened on that show maybe ever. (Well, there was this.) We can’t exactly show the video here, but if you can handle some controversial political topics, click here.

Here’s a few more live music performances, some from Kanye, some from SNL, and some from 20+ years ago, whose style tips you can take to heart today:


West and Jay-Z performing their Watch the Throne single ‘Otis’ at the MTV Video Music Awards. Kanye reps DENIM ON DENIM, with a touch of AMERICANA in the form of a hanky in his back pocket. (Oh yeah, and the giant US flag-inspired backdrop, designed by Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci as part of the duo’s album art.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaOkhAs6LMA
At his previous SNL appearance, performing ‘Runaway’ off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West definitely got our memo on BOLD BLAZERS (or, maybe, it was the other way around).

 
Kanye West famously wore a women’s blouse by Céline at Coachella a couple years ago. Bold move—and we won’t fault him for it. For the rest of us though, vintage grunge heroes like Pearl Jam, promo’ing and dress-rehearsing for SNL in 1992, are probably better role models for summer FESTIVAL STYLE.


Meanwhile, for more BOLD COLOR (colour?), surf-inspired gear, tank tops, high tops and wildly printed pants, Living Colour in 1989 take the cake. (OK, fine, we just like this song.)

 
 

[Intro image via Gorilla Vs. Bear. Video clips © NBC and MTV. Individuals pictured do not endorse Nordstrom.]

The Seattle Music Project, a photography exhibit in the Men’s Shop at our flagship Downtown Seattle store, is still open through this weekend.

[UPDATE: The exhibit has been extended through October.]

Although it encompasses Northwest musicians (and photographers) from the 1960s through today, the exhibit—featuring hundreds of photos, songs, posters, flyers, backstage passes and more—was curated by local photographer Lance Mercer, whose career came into focus during the early-’90s (don’t call it grunge) Seattle music scene.

We talked with Mercer about the exhibit, his inspirations, and why perfection—and politeness—are overrated.


[This photo, and photo of Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder above, © Lance Mercer.]

MEN’S SHOP DAILY: What was your role in the Seattle Music Project exhibit, and how did it all come about?

LANCE MERCER: “Pete Nordstrom and I had coffee last winter…He wanted to have a photo exhibit in the store [incorporating] Seattle music. It was more of a grunge, ’90s vibe at first, but I was really inspired by this photo by Jini Dellaccio, who’s a big hero of mine. She shot all the early garage stuff. I started looking at her photo of the Sonics, the very iconic shot of them on the beach, and the clothes they’re wearing are very pertinent to today: the Beatle boots, the Mod [look], the peacoats and parkas.

“So the idea became: Let’s cover the last five decades of Northwest music, as it relates to fashion. I mean, Nordstrom is a Seattle landmark. I used to hang out at the [Nordstrom] coffee shop in the ’80s, with guys from Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone…Bands have shopped at Nordstrom forever. Even Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart—they bought a lot of those clothes, like the whole gypsy look from their Little Queen era, at Nordstrom.

“Thanks to the Nordstrom creative team, we brainstormed and kept building on this idea—with ephemera, and music, and photography, and flyers—all this stuff. The process incorporated the things that I love: Music, photography, the people in Seattle, the connections I’ve made over the last 25-30 years—I was able to really put all those things to use. And man, I love going through people’s archives…That was kind of my job over the last six or seven months, just gathering and acquiring all this amazing content—and I love it.”


[Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, photo © Lance Mercer.]

MEN’S SHOP DAILY: How did you get started in photography?

LANCE MERCER: “I started going to shows when I was about 13. I was mainly going to punk shows, and the punk scene in Seattle at the time, around 1980 or ’81, was really small.

“The energy I was getting from those shows was something that I really latched onto, and one thing that really changed the course of my whole career path was the discovery of the Ramones, the Clash—and the photography that went along with it: Abrasive, not technically proficient, but very fitting [to that style of music]. I realized I didn’t have to be Ansel Adams to capture photography the way that I wanted to.

“The cover of London Calling by the Clash [photographed by Pennie Smith] had a huge impact on me—it was out of focus, it was just weird, but it captured the essence of that band. It’s very rare when that happens, when somebody can look at a photo and get that same feeling, like they were there.

“And when I was going to all these shows, that’s what I was trying to capture by taking photos: the feeling of being there. Still to this day, throughout my career, I’m still trying to capture that. I don’t think I’ve ever perfected it, and that’s one thing that keeps me going.”


[Photo © Lance Mercer.]

MEN’S SHOP DAILY: When did you realize that doing what you loved—shooting shows, hanging out with bands—could become a career?

LANCE MERCER: “Just continuing what I was already doing, I became friends with some of the guys in Green RiverMalfunkshun…and as they pursued their careers, I kind of just tagged along. As they gained notoriety and went on to Mother Love Bone, and eventually Pearl JamSoundgarden and all these things, I was kind of along for the ride.

“I would say it was definitely right place, right time, but also being pretty driven. I wanted to be Annie Leibovitz shooting the Stones, I wanted to be Robert Frank documenting people and events. It all kind of accumulated to being able to go on tour with Pearl Jam—just as a friend, and eventually becoming, for lack of a better term, their official photographer. That was ’91 or ’92, and I’ve been self-employed as a photographer ever since.”


[Photo © Charles Peterson.]

MEN’S SHOP DAILY: What makes Seattle a special place for music?

LANCE MERCER: “Since we were up here in the corner, and [touring bands] never came up here, we kind of created our own scene. There was some stuff here that was not happening anywhere else, and you could just kind of feel it. It’s been said, it’s cliche, but the weather definitely had a big influence on it—dark days, long winters, people locking themselves in the basement—and the music had that same vibe.

“Even the Sonics and the Wailers, and the old photos I’ve been looking at, are very representational of Seattle. It can be dark and gloomy here. Having traveled a lot, I know every scene has had their own experience based on where they’re from, and their own uniqueness—Athens, Minneapolis, there are very distinct sounds that come from there. And I think a lot of this kind of slowed-down, heavier music was a result of the vibe here in Seattle.”


[Photo © Charles Peterson.]

MEN’S SHOP DAILY: What’s been your most memorable music experience, as a fan?

LANCE MERCER: “Just being the impressionable teenager that I was, the Ramones at Eagles Auditorium, in like ’84. The DamnedTom Waits at the 5th Avenue Theater. Those are pretty unforgettable experiences.

“And Iggy Pop at the Showbox, way back in the day. Everything right now is really safe—thank you, and we’re glad to be here, and want to thank the promoter and all these people—but at that show, Iggy Pop came out and scared the crap out of me, to the point where I was frozen and couldn’t move, and had to stay and watch the rest to see what the hell was going to happen. Throwing the mic stand out, antagonizing the crowd. That danger level, I haven’t seen since—and I want that. It’s a feeling. It doesn’t have to make you feel good. So that really changed some perspective for me.”


[Photo © Charles Peterson.]

MEN’S SHOP DAILY: You’ve branched out over the years to many kinds of photography—but would you say shooting live shows is still your favorite?

LANCE MERCER: “Absolutely. I’m a little older, so I don’t have the physical capacity I used to. I mean you have to remember that shooting live back in the ’90s was like being a war photographer. I had the experience of being in punk clubs, being right up front, getting slammed around—but shooting festivals like Lollapalooza, or the Endfest, I mean—yeah, it was insane.

“But once that kind of synergy between the audience and the band ‘clicks’—people who play in bands know that feeling, and people who are at shows—it’s kind of unexplainable, and trying to capture it with photography is not easy. There’s nothing like it.”

 

VIEW PREVIOUS POSTS FROM
THE SEATTLE MUSIC PROJECT
: 1960s | 1970s
 
 


The Seattle Music Project
is an exhibit of photos and ephemera commemorating five decades of Northwest music. Curated by renowned local photographer Lance Mercer, the exhibit resides in the Men’s Shop of our Downtown Seattle store, now through the end of October.

[Additional photos above by Charles Peterson. Individuals featured do not endorse Nordstrom.]