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.
[News cameras and velvet ropes stopped many a passerby in their tracks.]
MEN’S SHOP DAILY: How did Sub Pop first come to be?
BRUCE PAVITT: “Originally, Sub Pop started out as a fanzine, and a series of cassette compilations documenting regional scenes from around the country. In ’86, I released the first Sub Pop compilation on vinyl, called Sub Pop 100. At that time, Jon and I were both DJs at KCMU, which is now KEXP, and he invited me on his specialty show, Audioasis, which honored local releases. So he was kind enough to invite me up there, and the first bit of Sub Pop promotion was on his show Audioasis.”
[A closer look at this month’s Sub Pop window display. You can control the music video that plays from an interactive touch screen.]
JONATHAN PONEMAN: “He paid me back the favor by making me a partner in his company. That’s the way the record business used to be done.”
PAVITT: “[Laughs.] And in ’88, we opened the doors to our first office at 1st and Virginia.”
PONEMAN: “On April Fool’s Day—an auspicious day.”
PAVITT: “We started working with both Mudhoney and Nirvana fairly close after that, and it’s been quite a ride since then.”
[L: Pete Nordstrom addresses the masses, and honors Poneman—to his immediate left—and Pavitt.
R: Nordstrom and JBL, two names you unfortunately don’t see side-by-side every day.]
MSD: What’s the meaning behind the phrase ‘Sub Pop’?
PAVITT: “The original name was Subterranean Pop, shortened to Sub Pop, and my thinking was that there were a lot of underground, local, regional bands that could potentially become popular, if given the right promotion.”
MSD: The word ‘grunge’ can be polarizing, especially here in the Pacific NW. What does it mean to you, and how badly do you despise it at this point?
PONEMAN: “I don’t despise it. It just is what it is. It’s part of the musical landscape, most notably in the Pacific Northwest, and most commonly in the late ’80s and early ’90s.”
MSD: What’s the relationship between Sub Pop and Seattle? Could Sub Pop have existed anywhere else?
PONEMAN: “I don’t think so. I think our community has been crucial in supporting the label, supporting the artists, giving the label its identity. I think Sub Pop and Seattle are inextricably linked.”
[A detail from our window display. Yes, those are special-edition Sub Pop Blazers.]
MSD: Some people might see Sub Pop and Nordstrom as an odd pairing. Why do you choose to collaborate with Nordstrom?
PONEMAN: “I like to collaborate with Nordstrom, and I think, speaking for the company, we share similar ideals: a commitment to the community, a commitment to quality, and being able to work with the community to support the things we believe in.”
PAVITT: “Nordstrom is very community-centric.”
PONEMAN: “And we share the same community, too: Seattle.”
PAVITT: “As part of this ceremony, Nordstrom is going to be donating $5,000 to KEXP, and once again shows a similar passion for supporting local business and local culture.”
PONEMAN: “And the arts.”
[Sound board at the ready—about to pipe multiple decibels from inside our store’s corner window to the sidewalk outside.]
MSD: What was the first album you heard that made you want to start a record label?
PAVITT: “That’s a good question.”
PONEMAN: “I think the first record that I heard that made me want to start a record label would probably be Deep Six, which was a pivotal compilation record that was put out on the C/Z record label. Before that, I had been a struggling, flailing musician, but when I heard this, it signified the emerging abundance of music, and an aesthetic unity, and approach, happening in this city.”
[L: Very meta. A picture of people taking pictures of Bruce Pavitt taking a picture of a plaque bearing his name—and footprints.
R: The plaque itself reads: “Since 1988, Sub Pop Records has lifted many Seattle-area musicians from local obscurity to international acclaim. Proud to claim Seattle as its hometown, Sub Pop has left an enduring legacy in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.”]
PAVITT: “The first time I became aware of independent music was in 1977, when I purchased a few 7-inch singles by a group called Devo when I was living in Chicago. It was just some of the strangest music I had ever heard, and I realized these guys had actually put out their own music, and that that was possible—that you could bypass the whole corporate system, and take control of your own culture—and so that planted a seed. And I was very influenced by the Deep Six compilation, as well.”
[Helio Sequence encased in glass, ladies and gentlemen.]
MSD: What are some of your all-time favorite, yet under-appreciated Sup Pop releases?
PONEMAN: “I would say…Steven Jesse Bernstein, Prison.”
PAVITT: “That’s funny, I was going to say the same thing. Another incredible record I keep going back to that’s currently out of print is Manos by The Spinanes. I thought it was just a great record. But there’s a long list of those.”
PONEMAN: “I don’t think that is out of print.”
PAVITT: “Really? Fantastic—it’s an awesome disc.”
PONEMAN: “Yeah, it’s a great record. Debut album by The Spinanes. HIVE MIND [motions to his and Pavitt’s minds].”
PAVITT: “[Laughs]. Mental note: reissue.”
[Pete Nordstrom hanging with Helio Sequence fans.]
MSD: Bruce, what is Jonathan’s most attractive physical attribute? And Jonathan, same question about Bruce.
PAVITT: “His brain.”
PONEMAN: “His hunkish bod. [Laughs.]”
MSD: Last question. If you had it all to do over again, what would you do differently?
PONEMAN: “[Pauses.] Not a thing.”
PAVITT: “[Nodding.] Not a thing. Good answer.”
— — —
Even if you missed yesterday’s ceremony and live performance, you still have ample time to visit the interactive window display—where you can control what Sub Pop videos play—at our flagship store, which will remain intact at the corner of 6th and Pine, Seattle, through the end of the month.
Here’s a preview of some of the classic and current Sub Pop music you’ll find there:
Mudhoney // The Postal Service
Soundgarden // Wolf Parade
Dum Dum Girls
Sleater-Kinney // The Shins
Father John Misty
Tad // Flight of the Conchords
The Thermals // Nirvana
Sunny Day Real Estate // The Helio Sequence
— — —
Special thanks to Bruce Pavitt, Jonathan Poneman, Helio Sequence,
and everyone at Sub Pop.
Check out coverage from our recent collaboration with Sub Pop at their
‘Silver Jubilee’ 25th-anniversary celebration here.
[Interview by Sonya Westcott and Justin Abbott. Photos by Justin Abbott.]