Sub Pop is a record label founded in 1986 by Bruce Pavitt. Sub Pop achieved fame in the late 1980s for signing Seattle bands such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney, central players in the grunge movement. They are often credited with helping popularize grunge music. The label's roster includes Fleet Foxes, Foals, Beach House, The Postal Service, Flight of the Conchords, Sleater-Kinney, Blitzen Trapper, Father John Misty, Shabazz Palaces, METZ, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, and The Shins. In 1995 the owners of Sub Pop sold a 49% stake of the label to the Warner Music Group.
|Parent company||Warner Music Group (1995—present)|
|Founder||Bruce Pavitt, Jonathan Poneman|
Outside Music (Canada)
|Country of origin||United States|
The origins of Sub Pop can be traced back to the early 1980s when Bruce Pavitt started a fanzine called Subterranean Pop that focused exclusively on American independent record labels. Pavitt undertook the project in order to earn course credit while attending Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. By the fourth issue, Pavitt had shortened the name to Sub Pop and began alternating issues with compilation tapes of underground rock bands. The Sub Pop #5 cassette, released in 1982, sold two thousand copies. In 1983, Pavitt moved to Seattle, Washington and released the ninth and final issue of Sub Pop. While in Seattle, he wrote a column for local newspaper The Rocket titled "Sub Pop U.S.A.", a column he ended in 1988.
In 1986, Pavitt released the first Sub Pop LP, the compilation Sub Pop 100, which featured material by artists including Sonic Youth, Naked Raygun, Wipers, and Scratch Acid. Seattle group Green River chose to record their Dry as a Bone EP for Pavitt's new label in June 1986; Pavitt couldn't afford to release it until the following year. When finally released, Dry as a Bone was promoted by Sub Pop as "ultra-loose grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation". Also in 1987, Jonathan Poneman provided $20,000 in funding for Sub Pop to release the debut Soundgarden single "Hunted Down"/"Nothing to Say" in July 1987, followed by the band's first EP Screaming Life that October. Poneman soon became a full partner in the label. Pavitt focused on the label's artists and repertoire aspects, while Poneman dealt with the business and legal issues. Both men decided they wanted the label to focus on "this primal rock stuff that was coming out," according to Pavitt.
In early 1988 Pavitt and Poneman quit their jobs to devote their full attention to Sub Pop. Raising $43,000, they incorporated that April. "Of course that was spent in, like, thirty days", Pavitt recalled. "We almost went bankrupt after a month". That August Sub Pop released the first single by Mudhoney, a band featuring former members of Green River. Sub Pop released the Mudhoney single "Touch Me I'm Sick" in an intentionally limited first pressing of 800 copies to create demand. The strategy was later adopted by other independent labels.
Pavitt and Poneman studied earlier independent labels ranging from Motown to SST Records and decided that virtually every successful movement in rock music had a regional basis. The pair sought to create a cohesive brand identity for Sub Pop. The label's ads promoted the label itself more than any particular band. The label also sought to market a "Seattle sound", which was accomplished with the help of producer Jack Endino, who produced 75 singles, albums, and EPs for Sub Pop between 1987 and 1989. Endino recorded cheaply and quickly; in order to operate this way, he utilized some consistent studio techniques, which gave the records a similar sound.
In November 1988 Sub Pop released "Love Buzz", the debut single by Aberdeen, Washington band Nirvana, as the first entry in the Sub Pop Singles Club, a subscription service that would allow subscribers to receive singles by the label on a monthly basis by mail. At its peak in 1990, the club had two thousand subscribers. The club made Sub Pop a powerful force in the Seattle scene, and effectively made the label's name synonymous with the music of the Seattle area—much in the same way Motown Records was to Detroit—and helped to secure the label's cash flow. The original series was discontinued in 1993, followed by Singles Club V.2, launched in 1998 and discontinued in 2002.
Mindful that garnering the attention of the American mainstream music press was difficult for all but the largest indie label, Pavitt and Ponemen took inspiration from alternative bands like Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, and Dinosaur Jr. and sought to publicize the label via the British music press. In March 1989, Pavitt and Poneman flew Melody Maker journalist Everett True to Seattle to write an article on the local music scene. As Pavitt had anticipated, the British press became enamoured with Sub Pop and the grunge sound. Pavitt said, "I really felt that the Brits and the Europeans wanted to see something that was unruly and that was more of an American archetype -- something that was really primal and really drew from the roots of rock & roll, which was very American." Poneman explained the label's success: "It could have happened anywhere, but there was a lucky set of coincidences. Charles Peterson was here to document the scene, Jack Endino was here to record the scene. Bruce and I were here to exploit the scene."
When Nirvana moved to Geffen Records, Sub Pop received royalties from sales of Bleach that kept the label going for years afterwards. A stipulation was also implemented where selected future Nirvana studio LPs were required to carry the Sub Pop logo alongside Geffen's. After the mainstream success of Nirvana, many successful grunge bands had left Sub Pop for major record labels. Soon afterwards, a joint venture was formed with Warner Bros. Records (which had distributed Geffen since that label was founded in 1980; after 10 years under Warner, Geffen was sold to MCA Music Entertainment Group), thereby ending Sub Pop's status as an entirely independent label.
Poneman and Pavitt had a disagreement about the direction the label should take, with Poneman wanting the label to become larger and make more money. In 1996, unable to take the new corporate culture following the Warner partnership, Bruce Pavitt left the label and was able to spend more time with his family. The split between Pavitt and Poneman was not amicable, and they did not speak for seven years.
The label opened offices worldwide and began major investment in new artists, but without achieving great commercial success, prompting a scaling down and a return to Seattle.
In 2006, Sub Pop Records became the first Green-e certified record label. Through work with the Green-e program and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Sub Pop "greened" their label by purchasing enough renewable energy certificates to offset 100 percent of the electricity they use in their office, showing their commitment to putting renewable energy in the mainstream as a way consumers can take action to do something about global warming.
In early 2007, Sub Pop started a sister label by the name of Hardly Art. This label is also partially owned by Warner Music. In August 2008, Sub Pop relaunched the singles club for one year to celebrate its twentieth anniversary.
In 2009, they signed their second hip-hop group - Seattle-based Shabazz Palaces, the first being The Evil Tambourines in 1999. Ishmael Butler, one half of Shabazz Palaces and former member of jazz rap group Digable Planets became A&R for Sub Pop.
Domestically Sub Pop has released two albums that have been certified as platinum, for sales of over 1 million units, by the Recording Industry Association of America: Bleach by Nirvana and Give Up by The Postal Service. Internationally, Flight of the Conchords self-titled album has been certified 2XPlatinum in New Zealand.
Six albums released by the label have been certified gold for sales of 500,000 copies: Oh, Inverted World, Chutes Too Narrow and Wincing the Night Away, all by The Shins, Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes, The Head and the Heart by The Head and the Heart, and Everything All the Time by Band of Horses.
Starting in 2008, Sub Pop has released Deluxe Editions of their top-selling albums, which features the remastered album as well as some live tracks. Some of the Deluxe Editions are known to contain some demos. The albums with Deluxe Editions are Nirvana's Bleach, Mudhoney's Superfuzz Bigmuff, Sebadoh's Bakesale, Jason Loewenstein's Codes, The Postal Service's Give Up, and Red Red Meat's Bunny Gets Paid.
Bleach is the debut studio album by the American rock band Nirvana, released on June 15, 1989 by Sub Pop. The main recording sessions took place at Reciprocal Recording in Seattle, Washington between December 1988 and January 1989.
Bleach failed to chart upon its original release, but was well received by critics. The album was re-released internationally by Geffen Records in 1992 following the success of Nirvana's second album, Nevermind (1991). The re-release debuted at number 89 on the Billboard 200, and peaked at number 33 on the UK Albums Chart and 34 on the Australian albums chart. In 2009 Sub Pop released a 20th anniversary edition of Bleach featuring a live recording of a Nirvana show in Portland, Oregon from 1990 as extra material. Since its release in 1989, Bleach has sold more than 1,900,000 copies in the United States alone. It is Sub Pop's best-selling album to date. In April 2019, Bleach was ranked No. 13 on Rolling Stone's "50 Greatest Grunge Albums" list.Candy / Molly's Lips
"Candy"/"Molly's Lips" is a vinyl-only split-single from the American rock bands The Fluid and Nirvana. It was released in January 1991 on Sub Pop records and includes two live tracks: "Candy" by The Fluid; and "Molly's Lips", a cover of a song by The Vaselines, performed by Nirvana.Constantines
Constantines is an indie rock band from Guelph, Ontario, Canada.Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes is an American indie folk band formed in Seattle, Washington. Their first two albums were released by the Sub Pop and Bella Union record labels, with their third by Nonesuch and Bella Union. The band came to prominence in 2008 with the release of their second EP, Sun Giant, and their self-titled debut album. Both received much critical praise and reviewers often noted the band's use of refined lyrics and vocal harmonies. Fleet Foxes' second studio album, Helplessness Blues, was released on May 3, 2011, and their third album, Crack-Up, was released on June 16, 2017, on Nonesuch Records.Green River (band)
Green River was an American rock band formed in Seattle, Washington in 1984. Although the band had very little commercial impact outside their native Seattle, Green River pioneered the grunge music genre. The grunge style was featured both in Green River's own music and the music its members would create in future bands, including Pearl Jam and Mudhoney. Green River reunited for several live shows in 2008 and 2009.Low (band)
Low is an American indie rock group from Duluth, Minnesota, formed in 1993. The group is composed of founding members Alan Sparhawk (guitar and vocals) and Mimi Parker (drums and vocals), joined by Steve Garrington (bass guitar). Previous bassists for the band include John Nichols from 1993 to 1994, Zak Sally from 1994 to 2005, and Matt Livingston from 2005 to 2008.
The music of Low is characterized by slow tempos and minimalist arrangements. Early descriptions sometimes referred to it as a rock subgenre called "slowcore" often compared to the band Bedhead, who played this style during the 1980s and early 1990s. However, Low's members ultimately disapproved of the term.Parker and Sparhawk's vocal harmonies represent perhaps the group's most distinctive element; critic Denise Sullivan writes that their shared vocals are "as chilling as anything Gram and Emmylou ever conspired on—though that's not to say it's country-tinged, just straight from the heart."Mudhoney
Mudhoney is an American alternative rock band. Formed in Seattle, Washington in 1988 following the demise of Green River, Mudhoney's members are singer and rhythm guitarist Mark Arm, lead guitarist Steve Turner, bassist Guy Maddison and drummer Dan Peters. Original bassist Matt Lukin left the band in 1999.
Mudhoney's early releases on the Sub Pop label, particularly their debut single "Touch Me I'm Sick" and the Superfuzz Bigmuff EP, were massively influential on the Seattle music scene. More than almost any other release of the era they inspired the dirty, high-distortion sound that would become grunge. Later on, Mudhoney also mixed heavy blues rock and punk rock into their sound at various stages. Although the band has found little commercial success during its long career, which has yielded nine studio albums, it has inspired countless grunge and alternative rock musicians.Nirvana (band)
Nirvana was an American rock band formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987. It was founded by lead singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. Nirvana went through a succession of drummers, the longest-lasting and best-known being Dave Grohl, who joined in 1990. Though the band dissolved in 1994 after the death of Cobain, their music maintains a popular following and continues to influence modern rock and roll culture.
In the late 1980s, Nirvana established itself as part of the Seattle grunge scene, releasing its first album, Bleach, for the independent record label Sub Pop in 1989. They developed a sound that relied on dynamic contrasts, often between quiet verses and loud, heavy choruses. After signing to major label DGC Records, Nirvana found unexpected worldwide success with "Smells Like Teen Spirit", the first single from their landmark second album Nevermind (1991), which sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Nirvana's sudden success popularized alternative rock, and Cobain found himself referred to as the "spokesman of a generation" and Nirvana the "flagship band" of Generation X.Following extensive tours and the EPs Incesticide (1992) and Hormoaning (1992), Nirvana's third studio album, In Utero (1993), was released to critical acclaim and further chart success. It featured an abrasive, less mainstream sound and challenged the group's audience and has since sold over 15 million copies worldwide. Nirvana disbanded following the death of Cobain in 1994, but many various posthumous releases have been issued since, overseen by Novoselic, Grohl, and Cobain's widow Courtney Love. The posthumous release MTV Unplugged in New York won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 1996.
Nirvana has received twelve awards from twenty-five nominations, including an American Music Award, Brit Award, Grammy Award, seven MTV Video Music Awards and two NME Awards. The band has sold over 25 million records in the United States and over 75 million records worldwide, making them one of the best-selling bands of all time. Nirvana has also been ranked as one of the greatest music artists of all time, with Rolling Stone placing them at number 27 on their list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time" in 2004, and at number 30 on their updated list in 2011. Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, in its first year of eligibility.No Age
No Age is an American noise rock duo consisting of guitarist Randy Randall and drummer/vocalist Dean Allen Spunt. The band is based in Los Angeles, California, United States, and was signed to Sub Pop records from 2008 to 2013. Its fifth studio album, Snares Like a Haircut, was released by Drag City on January 26, 2018.Sebadoh
Sebadoh () is an American indie rock band formed in 1988 in Northampton, Massachusetts, by Eric Gaffney and Dinosaur Jr. bass player Lou Barlow. Along with such bands as Pavement and Guided by Voices, Sebadoh helped pioneer lo-fi music, a style of indie rock characterized by low-fidelity recording techniques, often on four-track machines. The band's early output, such as The Freed Man and Weed Forestin' (both released 1990), as well as Sebadoh III (1991), was typical of this style. Following the release of Bubble & Scrape in 1993, Gaffney left the band. His replacement, Bob Fay, appeared on Bakesale (1994), but was fired before the sessions for the band's major label release The Sebadoh (1999).
The band then went on a 14-year recording hiatus, during which time members pursued other projects while occasionally touring as Sebadoh. The group, fronted by singer Lou Barlow, returned in 2013 with the Secret EP and a full-length album titled Defend Yourself, which were both self-recorded.Sunny Day Real Estate
Sunny Day Real Estate was an American rock band from Seattle, Washington. They were one of the early emo bands and helped establish the genre. In 1994, the band released their debut album Diary on Sub Pop Records to critical acclaim. However, shortly after releasing their second album LP2, the band broke up, with members Nate Mendel and William Goldsmith joining Foo Fighters and Jeremy Enigk embarking on a solo career. In 1997, they regrouped long enough to record two more studio albums and a live album but ultimately disbanded once again in 2001. The band reunited again in 2009. Bassist Nate Mendel, who chose to remain with Foo Fighters during the previous reunion in 1997, took part in this reunion. In a 2013 interview with MusicRadar, Mendel said Sunny Day Real Estate was inactive. According to Mendel, the band attempted to record a full-length album after the end of their reunion tour, but the sessions "just fell apart". In 2014 the band released one song from those sessions, "Lipton Witch," on a split 7" vinyl with Circa Survive on Record Store Day.Superfuzz Bigmuff
Superfuzz Bigmuff is the debut EP by the Seattle grunge band Mudhoney. It was released on October 20, 1988 through record label Sub Pop. The album was later re-released in 1990 in the form of Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles.Tad (band)
Tad (often styled as TAD) was an American grunge band from Seattle, Washington, formed in 1988 by Tad Doyle. Among the first of the many bands which came out of Seattle in the grunge era, Tad was notable for the fact that its music was inspired far more by 1970s metal (much like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden) than the punk which influenced many other grunge bands.The Head and the Heart
The Head and the Heart is an American indie folk band. They were formed in the summer of 2009 by Josiah Johnson (vocals, guitar, percussion) and Jonathan Russell (vocals, guitar, percussion). The band also includes Charity Rose Thielen (violin, guitar, vocals), Chris Zasche (bass), Kenny Hensley (piano), and Tyler Williams (drums). The band is signed to Warner Bros. Records and have released four albums thus far. The band released their third studio album, Signs of Light, in September 2016 and toured in both North America and Europe in support of that album.
They released their fourth studio album, Living Mirage, on May 17, 2019.The Postal Service
The Postal Service was an American indie pop band from Seattle, Washington, consisting of singer Ben Gibbard, producer Jimmy Tamborello, and Jenny Lewis on background vocals.
The band released their debut album, Give Up, in 2003 on Sub Pop Records, to mostly positive reviews. The album reached number 114 on the US Billboard 200 album chart, and received platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America.
The Postal Service remained largely inactive from 2005 until 2013, when they reunited for a tour and released a re-issue of Give Up to celebrate its tenth anniversary. Laura Burhenn joined the lineup throughout the tour to provide additional vocals and instruments, with Jen Wood filling in for a few shows.On August 3, 2013, Gibbard announced that the band would disband permanently after the last show of their reunion tour.The Shins
The Shins are an American indie rock band formed in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1996. The band's current lineup consists of James Mercer (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, songwriter), Jon Sortland (drums), Mark Watrous (guitar, keyboards), Casey Foubert (guitar), Yuuki Matthews (bass, keyboards), and Patti King (keyboards). The band is based in Portland, Oregon.
The band was formed by Mercer as a side project to Flake Music, who were active from 1992 to 1999. The band released two 7" singles and a full-length album When You Land Here It's Time to Return on Omnibus Records and were touring with Modest Mouse when they were signed to Sub Pop Records. The band's first two records, Oh, Inverted World (2001) and Chutes Too Narrow (2003) performed well commercially and received critical acclaim. The single "New Slang" brought the band mainstream attention when it was featured in the 2004 film Garden State. Consequently, the band's third album, Wincing the Night Away (2007), was a major success for the group, peaking at number two on the Billboard 200 and earning a Grammy Award nomination.
Following this, the Shins signed to Columbia Records and Mercer parted ways with the entire original lineup, deeming it "an aesthetic decision". Following a near five-year hiatus, Port of Morrow, the band's fourth studio album, was released in 2012. Their fifth album, Heartworms, was released in March 2017.The Thermals
The Thermals were an American indie band based in Portland, Oregon. The group was formed in 2002. With influences heavily rooted in both lo-fi, as well as standard rock, the band's songs are also known for their political and religious imagery.Touch Me I'm Sick
"Touch Me I'm Sick" is a song by the American alternative rock band Mudhoney. It was recorded in March 1988 at Seattle's Reciprocal Recording studio with producer Jack Endino. "Touch Me I'm Sick" was released as Mudhoney's debut single by independent record label Sub Pop on August 1, 1988. The song's lyrics, which feature dark humor, are a sarcastic take on issues such as disease and violent sex.
When it was first released, "Touch Me I'm Sick" was a hit on the indie circuit; it remains the band's most recognizable song. The heavily distorted and fuzzy guitars, snarling vocals, blunt bass line and energetic drumming contributed to a dirty sound that influenced many local musicians, and helped develop the nascent Seattle grunge scene. According to Allmusic, "the song's raw, primal energy made it an instant anthem which still stands as one of [grunge's] all-time classics".Wolf Parade
Wolf Parade is a Canadian indie rock band formed in 2003 in Montreal. The band released three full-length albums before taking a five-year hiatus in 2011. They announced their return in 2016, releasing a self-titled EP in May of that year, and a fourth studio album, Cry Cry Cry, in October 2017.
|Atlantic Records Group|
|Alternative Distribution Alliance|
|Elektra Music Group|
|Warner Bros. Records|
|Warner Music Nashville|
|Music publishing and licensing|
|Uproxx Media Group|