- Bazillion Points
Before he became co-owner of Sub Pop Records with Jonathan Poneman in 1986 (and a bit after), Bruce Pavitt was a prolific music critic/essayist, with a special focus on the Northwest. During the ’80s, he published nine issues of the Subterranean Pop zine and for six years wrote a monthly column for Seattle’s Rocket newspaper, displaying an impressive diversity of coverage. Pavitt’s writing from this time is being collected in a book titled Sub Pop USA: The Subterranean Pop Music Anthology 1980-1988 (out Nov. 15 via Bazillion Points Press). Fantagraphics Bookstore will host a release party Sat. Nov. 29 with music by K Records’ Calvin Johnson and Larry Reid, both of whom wrote essays for Pavitt’s book.
Below, Pavitt answers a few questions about that era and his critical role in the music scene.
Were there any things you wrote in Sub Pop USA that you think made you feel like a seer?
Pavitt: May I humbly suggest that the book is the broadest and deepest index of '80s indie music available, with over 1000 artists of all genres referenced. Perhaps because I was so focused on digging up the latest US regional recordings, I was able to call it on a number of artists before they established their iconic status in the indie community (Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Run DMC, Beat Happening, Hüsker Dü, Replacements, Beastie Boys, Dinosaur Jr, Minor Threat, Pussy Galore, Butthole Surfers, etc.)… Could I accurately be referred to as a prophet? Only false humility would claim otherwise.
Did you publish anything in Sub Pop USA that you really regret now? Like a farcically wrong prediction or a rave review of a record or band you hate now?
Is there anything that wrote in Sub Pop USA that I regret? Yes. Although I thought Darby Crash of the Germs was a brilliant writer and gave the Germs' album a rave review, I colorfully referred to him as a “homo.” That was a gratuitous provocation and an example of immature punk-rock sensationalism. Other than that, the book is a visionary masterpiece without any embarrassing miscalls.
Do you think ’80s indie music is inherently more interesting and exciting than today’s indie music?
Some of the '80s indie music holds up, some of it doesn’t. I do feel that the DIY culture of the '80s helped nurture some very pioneering and heroic personalities, who were drawn to the flea-ravaged punk-rock house circuit because they craved art and adventure over security. The new DIY artist of this generation has many more financial opportunities than the '80s artist, especially when it comes to licensing.
By the same token, how do you view Sub Pop Records' '80s roster compared to this decade's?
As for Sub Pop, the '80s artists were all part of a local, tribal Seattle community that liked to rock (on their own terms). Strong beer, crowd surfing, and a sense of humor was what kept the scene together. Obviously, the current Sub Pop roster is less focused and much more diverse (which is actually more of a reflection of the early zines and tapes).