The life story of the Sub Pop label from Seattle, Washington is one that some may not know, but deserves to be heard, even if it is too long to be summarised in this article. The founders Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman have been through so much in terms of building the label, managing it, surviving tough times before its revival and change of sound that it deserves a book. Releasing debut records/tracks from Nirvana and Soundgarden to The Shins and Fleet Foxes, this label has been through one hell of a ride.
Originally started as a fan-magazine by Bruce Pavitt in early 1980s, focusing on American independent record labels then releasing tapes of underground rock bands, forming the name Sub Pop, Seattle group Green River approached Pavitt to release their EP under his new label in 1986. The following year sees other founder Jonathan Poneman, funding the release of Soundgarden’s debut single “Hunted Down”/”Nothing to Say”, both men joining forces in releasing primal rock stuff. A year later, whilst both founders had quit their jobs to dedicate their full efforts to the label, they released Mudhoney’s debut album and first single “Touch Me I’m Sick”:
In comes the release that same year, of the debut single “Love Buzz” from this band called Nirvana, around the time the label identified themselves as the leaders of the Seattle sound, Sub Pop was making its mark in the music industry. Even though the trio would move forward to a bigger label, their success not only helped the label’s reputation but also financially supported them for many years.
Those were the golden grunge years for Sub Pop, which unfortunately fell short for the next decade in terms of finding talent, sold some stakes to Warner Music Group, went through a coup from its employees, Pavitt wanting to shut everything down and marked a period of uncertainty many want to forget. Many thought this would be the end of the label, but suddenly after Poneman had heard of this band from New Mexico, The Shins arrived with their first album – ‘Oh, Invented World’ (2001). Since then the label hasn’t looked back and even though this was a completely different sound to what Sup Pop was created on, its stemmed a whole new movement just like it had before by releasing records for acts such as Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses and The Postal Service.
Even as its success grew, the song’s appearance in the movie Garden State (directed by Scrub’s Zach Braff in 2004) took a toll on the label’s growth which hadn’t been seen since its old days.
Like I previously said, a book could be written on the tales of this label, its owners, their experiences and vision which has changed the way labels go about with music to this day. The Shins arrival made Sup Pop a destination label once again, Poneman saying: “We were putting out music that everybody hopes for – music that’s connecting with people”. Reaching new audiences, a new sound and a new start, I recommend checking out the baffling story this label has and I can only hope it continues to stick around for many more years to come.