Sub Pop

throwback thursday

Thumpers L-R: Marcus Pepperell, John Hamson, Jr.; image courtesy Sub Pop

We’ve had “Galore” by London-based duo Thumpers on repeat during this seasonal shift from frost to flowers, an album so energetic and full of life it can make spring cleaning fly by. Peep a snippet of the track “Roller” in our garden-kaleidoscope Spring Field Guide video, and listen to the full song below.

John Hamson, Jr. (drummer, multi-instrumentalist) talked to us from a coffee shop in the English countryside about growing up on Missy Elliott and feeling like most indie rock music is hecka boring.

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Above, in fleeting sounds and moving pictures, is a glimpse of what went down last week—when news crews and looky-loos converged on the corner of 6th and Pine outside Nordstrom’s flagship store, the band Helio Sequence blasted sonic ambrosia from inside our window display to the sidewalk beyond, and the founders of Sub Pop Records joined the ranks of local heroes from Jimi Hendrix to Bill Gates on our ‘Seattle Walk of Fame.’

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…And while we’re on the subject:


Here’s a clip we dug up from Sub Pop’s 25th-anniversary music festival last summer—at which we teamed up with Topman and Topshop to street-style passersby. (Watch for cameos from Sub Pop artists King Tuff and Dee Dee from Dum Dum Girls.)


And, just because we want to improve your Monday afternoon—and because we really like Soundgarden, one of the first acts Sub Pop ever signed—here’s a loud yet subtly satirical clip, wherein the dry-humored record label presents dubious commentary on the nature of fame, set to the plodding tempo and soothing distortion of SG’s 1987 B-side “Nothing To Say.”


Speaking of nothing to say (kidding—quite the opposite, actually), be sure to READ OUR FULL Q&A with Sub Pop founders Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt.
[Photo of Helio Sequence’s performance by videographer Patrick Richardson Wright.]

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Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman—founders of Sub Pop, the Seattle record label responsible for bringing bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden to the masses 25 years ago and still setting sonic trends today—joined the ranks of local legends like Jimi Hendrix, Ken Griffey Jr., Bill Gates and many more yesterday, when Pete Nordstrom led a ceremony inducting them into the ‘Seattle Walk of Fame’ that circles our flagship store at 6th and Pine in the Emerald City.

The brief ceremony, which concluded with the unveiling of Pavitt’s and Poneman’s bronze footprints newly embedded in the sidewalk, was followed by Sub Pop-signed power duo Helio Sequence performing live inside our window. Keep reading for an exclusive Q&A with Sub Pop’s founders, and photos from the event.

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Back in 2007, Seattle’s Sub Pop Records started Hardly Art Records, a label within itself, with lower financial stakes and a pop-rock fixation. The two labels reside in the same building in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood on 4th Avenue. Rock duo Deep Time is a fairly recent addition to the Hardly Art roster—an outlier from Austin, Texas, whereas most other Hardly Art bands are from Seattle, the Bay Area, or New York City. Their oddly-shaped songs are worth a listen. They charm, puzzle, and then are gone.

Deep Time played the Hardly Art showcase at the Sub Pop Silver Jubilee. Band leader Jennifer Moore was kind enough to grant us a quick interview.

MEN’S SHOP DAILY: Being from Austin, how do you feel about SXSW? Does it feel musically important to you, or is it one big Doritos ad?
DEEP TIME’S JENNIFER MOORE: “Big ol’ Doritos ad, with close-ups of the chips, and canned music playing very quietly in background.”

MSD: Austin seems to have a lot of ‘meat-and-potatoes’ rock bands. Does it feel like you are way out on a limb down there, with your left-field approach?
JENNIFER MOORE: “Austin is pretty rock-heavy, especially the garage variety. But there are tons of little scenes in Austin, and they do mix a bit. There’s a group of ten or so local bands we play with regularly. So we get a lot of support from that group, even if it’s tiny.”

MSD: How much pressure does Hardly Art put on you to make money?
JENNIFER MOORE: “Zero. It’s been really nice working with Hardly Art. They mostly just seem excited about putting out music they like.”


[Deep time drummer Adam Jones]

MSD: What was your favorite thing you experienced at the Sub Pop Silver Jubilee?
JENNIFER MOORE: “People watching was pretty satisfying! The concertgoers were all over the place, age-wise, with lots of weirdos, and parents, and teens that looked like maybe they were at their first concert. But everyone seemed especially pumped to be there.”

MSD: Please recommend some restaurants in Austin. Have you been to Paul Qui’s place, qui? What about tacos and Tex-Mex?
JENNIFER MOORE: “We have not been yet. We are saving our pennies, but we have been to Uchi, which is kind of an epic eating experience. Chapala off Cesar Chavez Street is our favorite taco/Tex-Mex place. It’s also very affordable. One meal at qui equals 70 at Chapala.”


 

Nordstrom Men’s Shop was proud to co-sponsor Sub Pop’s 25th-anniversary Silver Jubilee celebration. Don’t miss our Silver Jubilee Street Style recap and Q&As with King Tuff and Dum Dum Girls.

 
 

[Text and interview by Andrew Matson. Andrew writes about music and culture for publications including The Seattle Times, NPR, and The Stranger. Follow Andrew on Twitter here. Photos by Robin Stein—see more of Robin’s work here. Videos © Hardly Art and Deep Time.]

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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.

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Last week, we showed you the fruits of our labor during Seattle record label Sub Pop’s 25th-anniversary music festival—by way of some first-class Seattle street style. Today, we have a subset of those shots that our team wanted to present separately as a special report: Below, individuals who are doing their part to foster a new golden age of Seattle music.

Photos by Robin Stein (pictured above right). Words by Andrew Matson.

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Ian Judd. “Seattle’s vibey-est, smallest concert venue (and vintage store) is Cairo in Capitol Hill. Judd is the genius who books the music there. While he’s at it, he hand-picks some of the best bands for his label, Couple Skate (Naomi Punk, The Numbs, Weed). Basically, come to Cairo on any given Saturday night and see what will be happening next year in Brooklyn.”
[Pictured with a friend who looks kind of like this guy. Click small photos to enlarge.]



Larry Mizell, Jr. “It’s safe to say Larry is the voice of Seattle hip-hop. The host of weekly show ‘Street Sounds’ on Seattle’s crucial (and streaming worldwide) radio station KEXP, he’s also the columnist behind ‘My Philosophy’ in Seattle’s alt-weekly The Strangeran emcee in the band Don’t Talk to the Cops, and an artist manager. Fun fact: Mizell, Jr. is also the son and nephew of Larry and Fonce Mizell, legendary jazz-fusion producers.”


Erik Blood. “This is the guy who records your albums in Seattle, if you want someone who will actually vibe with you on your weird idea and bring it to fruition. As a bandleader, Erik Blood is a My Bloody Valentine devotee. As a producer he’s done hip-hop (Shabazz Palaces, THEESatisfaction), folk rock (The Moondoggies), and ‘swirl’ (Stephanie), to name a few. He also knows more about Prince than anyone else, ever.”



Sasha Morgan & Alex Kostelnik. “Sasha works in radio relations at Sub Pop and promotes concerts on the side. Alex runs 20/20 Cycle—a bike shop where pricing can sometimes be negotiated, and intimate concerts occur by Sub Pop-related acts including Mount Eerie and White Rainbow. As far as independent culture in Seattle goes, you’re looking at a power couple.” [Click small photos to enlarge.]

 

Nordstrom Men’s Shop was proud to co-sponsor Sub Pop’s 25th-anniversary Silver Jubilee celebration. Watch for continuing Sub Pop content in the days to come—and in the meantime, catch up on Silver Jubilee Street Style and our Top 5 Sub Pop Albums Ever.

 
 

[Text by Andrew Matson. Andrew writes about music and culture for publications including The Seattle Times, NPR, and The Stranger—follow him on Twitter here. Photos by Robin Stein—see more of Robin’s work here. Individuals pictured do not endorse Nordstrom. Intro photo by Melia McGee.]

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Amidst the flurry of Sub Pop Records x Nordstrom Men’s Shop related goings-on this month (music festival! street style! interviews!)—we realized plenty of people out there could use a 101 crash-course in what exactly the now-25-year-old Seattle music label is all about. Count us among the curious, especially when a guy who lives and breathes this stuff, like music writer Andrew Matson, is doing the talking. Without further ado, here’s Andrew on his five favorite Sub Pop albums of all time:

My top-five all-time Sub Pop albums? Impossible! The label has too many good ones. But as a music writer, this is the kind of insane ranking I actually love to do.

Let’s see: The Flight of the Conchords album really brought me together with my parents. That’s a special thing. And Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues tells two stories excellently, one of pristine acoustic beauty, another of the importance of producer Phil Ek, who added a touch of majesty to that record, and The Shins’ Sub Pop stuff, and Band of Horses’. In a low-profile way he has been a major factor in defining the label’s sound.

How about, here are five albums I can say are quintessentially Sub Pop—that is, they indicate similar artists the label worked with, and will stand up to critical evaluation infinity years in the future.

Happy listening! (And for the record, just looking at all the 2000s-era albums I picked below is making me second-guess myself. I do realize Sub Pop put out amazing albums in the ‘90s. My favorites from that decade are by Sunny Day Real Estate and Red House Painters. But again, there are so many. I digress. Let’s get started.)

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Nirvana – Bleach (1989). This is essential. You can hear Mudhoney and the rest of grunge, and obviously (obviously!) the churning/artistic tendencies of Melvins and B-tthole Surfers. But there is this other hypnotic, beautiful component—and that, my friends, is Kurt Cobain.


 
 


Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005). At one point, Sub Pop was promoting an endearing, melodramatic strain of Canadian indie rock. Wolf Parade’s first album is the best of those, with the highest highs. Its magic has something to do with the tension between very different songwriters Dan Boeckner (straight-ahead rocker) and Spencer Krug (free-form poet).


 
 


Damien Jurado – Ghost of David (2000). Three Sub Pop touchstones in one album: lo-fi yet adventurous recording style (Jurado spent his advance money on cheap equipment and used his Seattle house as a studio), subject matter focused on mental illness, and lonesome acoustic guitar music. Sound depressing? It certainly is!


 
 


Shabazz Palaces – Black Up (2011). It all comes down to the song “Are You… Can You… Were You? (Felt),” which is just the purest, most artistic, most wistful rap tune ever. I’ve listened to it a billion times and still can’t believe it exists. The refrain says it all about love, life, and the underlying anti-logic of Sub Pop: “It’s a feeling.”


 
 


THEESatisfaction – awE naturalE (2012).  Sub Pop is known for starting things: grunge with Nirvana and peers, emo rock with Sunny Day Real Estate, indie pop with The Postal Service and The Shins. The duo THEESatisfaction are next, with their digital hip-hop jazz. Like Nirvana on Bleach, you can hear them influenced by heaviness, but feeling out their own style.

 
 

[By Andrew Matson. Andrew writes about music and culture for publications including The Seattle Times, NPR, and The Stranger—follow him on Twitter here. Intro image via. Album art and songs © Sub Pop and the respective artists.]

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Arguably the best-dressed band signed to Seattle record label Sub Pop, California rock group Dum Dum Girls plays a particular style of music that could be described as bubblegum deadpan. Their music follows the example set by The Ramones and The Jesus and Mary Chain, and perhaps above all, Richard Gottehrer—their producer, and the songwriter responsible for retro-rebellious classics like “My Boyfriend’s Back.” Below, the all-girl quartet’s frontwoman, Dee Dee, test-drives some Topshop and answers a few questions:

MEN’S SHOP DAILY: Is it true that Dum Dum Girls were partly named after the Vaselines song “Dum Dum”? Is that your favorite act signed to Sub Pop (besides your own)?

DEE DEE: “Yes, indeed true on both accounts—although Nirvana, Dead Moon, Beach House, Male Bonding, and David Cross are also favorites.”

MSD: What attracted you to working with producer Richard Gottehrer? Can you give an example of something he did in the studio that you felt changed your sound for the better?

DEE DEE: “I recorded the entire first album (I Will Be) myself, and it would’ve sounded like my first EPs and 7-inches without his initial ‘intervention.’ Aside from all the obvious reasons he’s a good match for me, I most value his lifelong enthusiasm. I don’t believe there’s a jaded bone in his body, which is saying a lot, considering how long and varied his career in the music business has been.”

MSD: How strict is the wearing-all-black part of being a member of the Dum Dum Girls? If someone wears blue jeans, do you kick them out?

DEE DEE: “It’s a non-issue at this point. And for my band, it doesn’t have to be anything more than an on-stage aesthetic. One hour of darkness.”

 

Nordstrom Men’s Shop was proud to co-sponsor Sub Pop’s 25th-anniversary Silver Jubilee celebration. Watch for more Sub Pop posts coming soon—and catch up on Silver Jubilee Street Style and our Q&A with King Tuff.

 
 

[Text and interview by Andrew Matson. Andrew writes about music and culture for publications including The Seattle Times, NPR, and The Stranger—follow him on Twitter here. Photos by Robin Stein—see more of Robin’s work here. Styling by Ashley Helvey and Margaret McMillan Jones. Videos © Sub Pop and Dum Dum Girls.]

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We’re still recovering from the awesomeness that was Sub Pop’s Silver Jubilee music festival last Saturday—and, we’ll continue to roll out exclusive interviews, photos and favorite Sub Pop playlists as we celebrate the legendary Seattle record label’s 25th birthday for the remainder of the month.

Today, we present for your enjoyment a throng of street-style photos, captured both in the wild of the crowds as well as in our own mobile photo set—sponsored in part by our friends at Topman and Topshop.

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L: Hair and makeup artist Kaija Mistral Towner.
R: Hi, How Are You.


Wilfred Comer, son of our Men’s Shop creative strategy director Andy Comer, rocking a perfect white OCBD.


L: Architect/sculptor Suzanne Stefan and Nordstrom stylist Ashley Helvey.
R: This show-goer looks a little like Sally Draper—in the best possible way.


Monster Children magazine editor Jason Crombie…and friends.


L: What would summer in Seattle be without Rainier Beer?
R: Hana Ryan Wilson of Seattle’s Craft & Culture…and photo bomber.


The crowd (and food-truck scene) in Seattle’s Georgetown ‘hood at sunset. That’s the former Rainier Beer brewery (now used as studio space) on the right.


L: An amazing day-glo x leopard look in the crowd.
R: Sailor stripes at Father John Misty.


Matt Korvette with stylists Margaret McMillan Jones and Danny Mankin.

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The candid photos from here up are by Men’s Shop creative director Strath Shepard—who bravely wandered the festival grounds pink and sunscreen-less, camera in-hand.

Below, our friend and extremely talented photographer Robin Stein ran an all-day photo booth where Nordstrom friends old and new alike could cruise through, don some Topman or Topshop gear if they so chose, and go blue-steel for an impromptu #streetstyle session:


Monster Children magazine editor Jason Crombie (L) with surfer Warren Smith.


Our senior women’s features writer, Mary O’Regan.
[Wearing Topshop: Sheer Panel Romper | Mixed Chain Collar Necklace]


L: The family that rocks together, rolls together. (Cool pink socks, young sir ma’am! Sorry for the oversight, kind reader.)
R: Sub Pop digital communications manager (and Bob Seger fan) Sam Sawyer, and Nordstrom social media manager (and taco connoisseur—proof here and here) Lily Wyckoff.


Matt Korvette of Sub Pop punk band Pissed Jeans.
[Wearing Topman ‘Darren’ Woven Shirt.]

 
L: Topshop Lace Trim Jumpsuit & Studded Clutch.
R: Topshop ‘Mini Roller’ Hat


Nordstrom stylist and site merchandiser Danny Mankin.
[Wearing Topman: ‘Duke’ Print Woven Shirt | ‘Palmer’ Trousers]


L: Photographer and Nordstrom trend forecaster Jessica Carter.
[Wearing Topshop Circle Cutout Crop Shirt]
R: Topshop High Neck Romper | ‘Wylde’ Faux Leather Biker Jacket | ‘Cord & Stone’ Necklace


Aaron Dunford from Nordstrom Men’s Marketing—looking kind of Trainspotting with the buzz cut, dark shades and Topman ‘Teddy’ Tip Polo.


L: Beards and boots—summer edition.
R: Sub Pop x Topshop x Tie Dye.
[Wearing Topshop ‘Wylde’ Faux Leather Biker Jacket, cape-style like a boss.]


Rolling Stones and Ray-Ban Clubmasters—can’t argue with the classics.


Your friendly neighborhood Men’s Shop Daily editor, Justin Abbott.
[Wearing Topman: ‘Kyle’ Denim Shirt | ‘Dollar Sign’ Print T-shirt | ‘Dexter’ Skinny Fit Stretch Jeans]


L: Topshop Body-Con Dress & ‘Stud & Tube’ Collar Necklace
R: Nordstrom social media pro Lara Bain. Aviator game strong.


Topshop hat: $24. Cat tattoo: $200. This photo: priceless.

 

SHOP: TOPMAN | TOPSHOP

 
 

[Candid photos by Strath Shepard. Portraits by Robin Stein. Men’s styling by Danny Mankin. Women’s styling by Ashley Helvey and Margaret Jones. Individuals pictured do not endorse Nordstrom.]

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Effectively A&R’d to the label by indie rock guitar god J Mascis, Vermont native King Tuff is so talented that Sub Pop is letting him do whatever he wants—and right now, that’s putting out zippy albums like King Tuff and performing as a power trio. He sings in a high-pitched voice with a perfect falsetto, and plays lead guitar like a beast. He didn’t come here to bore you. It’s always straight to the groove, the hook, and then the next song.

MEN’S SHOP DAILY: When did you feel like you ‘got’ what Sub Pop was about?
KING TUFF:
“They were the first label that talked to me, and I didn’t even really think about it, it was no question. They had such a good vibe, everyone I talked to. They seemed really genuine, like they weren’t trying to make money off me. They just seemed like fans. Like people I would actually hang out with, as opposed to some weird record executive or something.”

MSD: Word has it that your writing process consists of months of anguished unproductivity, then a flurry of songs. Which phase are you in now?
KING TUFF: “I’m definitely in anguish right now. I’ve been on tour for the past couple years. At this point, I have to learn how to do it again. I’ve totally forgotten what it’s like to even have time to create. So I have to learn how to do it again. Or learn a new way. But I’m excited to do it again. That’s where the real passion is, writing songs and making recordings. It’s funny, though, it is anguish. But I know I can do it again.”

MSDYour songs are so catchy, you could ghostwrite for a mainstream pop band. Have you ever written a song someone else has performed?
KING TUFF:
“I haven’t done that yet, but it’s definitely something I want to try to do. Because I write a lot of songs where I’m like, well, this doesn’t sound like me—but it does sound like Taylor Swift. And I think that would be awesome if I could write a song for someone like that, or to hear someone else’s interpretation of a song that I wrote for that purpose. Because I sometimes write songs that I don’t think I can pull off. They’re not in my kind of singing style, or something. I think when I’m too fat to move, I’ll start doing that.”

MSD: Are your parents musical?
KING TUFF: “My dad plays guitar very privately. He’s the reason I play guitar. He’s a huge music fan and he’s into the same stuff I’m into. I grew up with his music collection of old psych records and stuff. They are way cool.”

MSD: Everybody says that Sub Pop is so artist-friendly. What does that mean, that they don’t tell you what to do…ever?
KING TUFF:
“They’ve never been like, you have to put out an album in a month. They’ve never given me a deadline. And sometimes I need a deadline, because I’m a major procrastinator since high school. But the fact that I can be in control of the album artwork, down to the finish of the paper, that’s pretty artist-friendly. Like No Age, their new record, they’re manufacturing the first press by themselves. [Ed. note: That means No Age requested they be allowed to hand-assemble their record in order to stay true to their DIY ethic.] There’s not many labels that would do that. I feel like I could ask them for advice—ask them anything.”

 

Nordstrom Men’s Shop was proud to co-sponsor Sub Pop’s 25th-anniversary Silver Jubilee celebration. Watch for more interviews coming soon—and catch up with our Silver Jubilee recap and Sub Pop Mega Mart visit.

 
 

[Text and interview by Andrew Matson. Andrew writes about music and culture for publications including The Seattle Times, NPR, and The Stranger. Follow Andrew on Twitter here. Photos by Robin Stein—see more of Robin’s work here. Videos © Sub Pop and King Tuff.]

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