Thanks to Nik Christofferson, Seattle's Music Scene Is Heavy Again
"I talk a lot of shit [on the internet]," laughs Nik Christofferson, the 31-year-old founder of Seattle's Good to Die Records. He takes a swig from the pint of beer he's been nursing for the last 20 minutes and flashes a telling grin. "I've gotten in trouble so many times. I've probably alienated every other blogger in town."
But it doesn't seem possible when you first meet him. Christofferson is mild mannered—polite, maybe even a little shy—talking quietly from behind the brim of his baseball cap. He speaks about how he likes Pearl Jam and baseball (the former earning him a good amount of flak from his friends). He grew up in Everett, didn't start going to shows until he was 18 ("It was a parents thing"), and politely chuckles at jokes. But he's the first to admit that he can be especially tenacious when it comes to working for and defending the bands on his record label.
Once, out of frustration for what he perceived as a lack of support for Good to Die artists, he picked a fight with Easy Street Records over Twitter (they've since made up). And whenever online commenters denigrate Good to Die bands, for better or worse, Christofferson is the first to jump to their defense.
His friends have called him "Papa Bear" and "Bossman." Nat Damm, the drummer of Sandrider (which released an excellent blistering-stoner-rock record on Good to Die last December), says Christofferson is the "godfather" of Seattle's heavy music scene.
And to think it all started with a blog.
In June of 2009, Christofferson started the website and music blog Seattle Rock Guy with the goal to write about the Northwest's louder side, the bands he felt weren't getting their fair share of attention as Seattle's sonic landscape started to focus more on folk rock and alt-country. He didn't have any writing experience ("I got Cs in English—you can probably tell if you read my blog"), but that didn't stop him. He used Seattle Rock Guy to focus on bands like Helms Alee, Book of Black Earth, and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth—and things got going.
In 2010, he started promoting shows under the same name, sticking to the same focus—the heavier, the harder, the better.
"When I was going to see a lot of these bands before, when the blog was young, attendance was piss-poor," says Christofferson. "You'd see a great bill with Lozen, Madraso, and Android Hero or something at the Sunset, and there'd be like 20 people there."
Now Seattle Rock Guy showcases fill venues like the Comet, Sunset, and Blue Moon.
Last year, Christofferson took the next logical step (if you're crazy) and founded Good to Die Records, a label that works primarily in vinyl and digital releases, and seems to pick up where Sub Pop left off back in the 1990s, before it started signing gentler bands like Fleet Foxes and the Head and the Heart.
"That early Sub Pop stuff is a huge influence on what I'm doing," he admits. "I've always been a little annoyed or wondered why they went the direction that they did."
Good to Die is home to Monogamy Party, Sandrider, Brokaw, Dog Shredder, Absolute Monarchs, and, most recently, Deadkill. As of April 17, the label will have released five records in six months, and it's still a one-man operation.
"I'm just going for it," Christofferson laughs, when asked about the hectic release schedule. "The Sandrider and Absolute Monarchs records weren't going to come out if I weren't putting them out. That was the driving factor. It was like, 'I'll just put these two out so at least they're out there and I can play them myself.' It's a selfish thing."
For something that was so selfish, Christofferson sure did have to sacrifice a lot. First, he had to convince his wife, Tiffany, it was a good idea—thankfully, she was on board. "When Nik first mentioned the label, I immediately thought it was a cool idea, but I didn't take it too seriously because Nik has lots of ideas," she says. "I soon realized he was serious about it, and that freaked me out a little bit, but I knew Nik's passion would drive him to success."
The next step was taking time off work to figure out exactly how to run a record label, as he had zero business experience.
"That was my year of writing a business plan, which is 40 pages long and it took me forever," he laughs. "I read books, and they said that's the first thing you should do."
The next step was dipping into his savings and earning extra cash by DJing a couple weddings. He took his business proposal to friends and family members, a few of whom agreed to be "angel investors." He approached a couple bands (Sandrider and Absolute Monarchs were the first), and once it was a go, he named the label after one of his favorite Red Fang songs and turned his Ballard garage into an office/record warehouse/mailing room.
Show flyers cover just about every inch of the garage walls. A whiteboard hangs above the desk, showing the calendar of upcoming release dates and planned press. On the opposite wall, a metal shelf holds boxes and boxes of records—Monogamy Party's 10-inch Pus City, Brokaw's debut, Interiors. He starts out with about 500 of each pressing.
"That space right there," he says, pointing to the one empty foot of shelf space, "that's where the Deadkill 7-inch will go."
Since founding the label, Christofferson has also returned to work as a network administrator for a company in Sodo, so all the label work—the e-mailing, the promotion, the distribution deals—is done afterward, and it's proving to be a full-time job of its own.
This summer, Monogamy Party will tour the United States and Brokaw will tour Europe. Last month, Dog Shredder debuted a song on Pitchfork, bringing the label an extra dose of national attention. And recently, Christofferson got an e-mail from major label EMI, which is interested in releasing the Sandrider record overseas (they also love Absolute Monarchs, apparently).
Thankfully, despite all the extra work that's going into it (between the hours of 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.), the relationships he's built up (or fixed, after ruining them on Twitter) won't let him fail.
Tiffany helps out whenever possible—"I've recently become a master album stickerer. Also, my crafty paper-cutting skills and girlie graffiti have come in quite handy."
His bands have his back, too, and not just because he's releasing their records.
"He's had a very positive impact on the heavier music scene in the city," says Joel Schneider of Absolute Monarchs, a band that will release its full-length on Good to Die Records on April 17 (see article here). "He has created more of a community among bands in this city that are still willing to get loud. This has made for better shows and more new bands coming up in the scene. You always know an SRG show is gonna be loud as hell, you're probably gonna get nice and drunk, and you will definitely have fun. What more could you want?"
Even Christofferson agrees there's been a positive change, but he's humble when it comes to whether or not he's responsible for it.
"I think there wasn't really a community [before]; it was fragmented," says Christofferson. "There were little groups of bands who'd play with each other, and it's totally different now. Everybody seems to be super-stoked, everybody wants to play with each other, everybody's building each other up."
Good to Die Records is benefiting from the scene's success, too. Sales are steady and the label has gotten a handful of positive press. "It's almost like people are more interested in the label than they are in some of the bands sometimes," Christofferson laughs.
"Everything that's happened, all the press it's getting—it's only been six months, but financially it's going well. It's a slow process, but you plan for that."
And no matter what, Christofferson assures us that he won't be changing his format, despite what music trends may do. "It's all gonna be hard rock and heavier stuff," he says. "Good to Die will not go the route of Sub Pop. I would stop doing it if that's what I needed to do to keep it going."