Oh man, oh man have I got a treat for you guys this week! That’s right, ladies and germs—this week’s People Who Work Here has scored an interview with the Big Cheese, the Head Honcho, the Captain of the SS Sub Pop—Jonathan Poneman himself! Jonathan is an elusive creature who darts in and out of the office at odd hours, travels to work via handsome cab, and lives in an underground bunker on his own private island. Okay, I lied about all of that, but I would describe Poneman as a mysterious and highly intelligent dude. JP has a couple of Boston Terriers, he doesn’t eat meat, he goes to lots of rock shows, and as far as I can tell, he doesn’t do drugs anymore even if he does threaten to treat us all to some of Bruce Pavitt’s homemade PCP from time to time. Let’s meet Jonathan!
L: You still into this for this week?
J: Hell, yeah. It’s like the therapist’s couch. I’ve noted how people in the office seem elevated after laying their burdens down during these sessions. I, for one, have deep, ugly secrets that have been gnawing at me for years… [I should really start upping my rates. –ed.]
L: Tell me about Jonathan Poneman age 13-18. What were you into? What was you home life like? What did you want to be?
J: I was a nice kid. My first job at age 13 was pumping gas at Rick Lawrence’s Gulf station in Toledo, Ohio. I sold a tiny bit of drugs on the side. [Once a businessman, always a businessman. –ed.] I remember going swimming at Centennial Quarry after smoking a joint of angel dust with my buddies. I thought that I had miraculously grown gills! That was an idyllic summer. By the time I was 18, I was pumping gas at Gary McDonald’s service station in Bellingham, Washington. I soon moved on to cleaning up the parking lot at the late, great Samish Drive-In Theatre. It was all meaningful preparation for my present duties here at Sub Pop!
L: When did you move to Seattle? Why did you come out here and what was it like then?
J: I moved to Seattle 28 years ago at the age of 19. My then-girlfriend had broken up with me because she was through with dating teenagers. (She had just turned 21.) [Yeah well look who’s laughing now! –ed.] I moved down from Bellingham and secured a one bedroom apartment on the south side of Queen Anne Hill…$210.00 a month. I worked for a company called Textured Yarn Arts. We used butane lighters to fuse together huge spools of synthetic yarn. Very technical. And some serious huffing! Seattle was smaller and far more charming then. But I actually prefer Seattle now. I prefer it if for no other reason than it is “now”. Nostalgia is a waste of time—unless one is trafficking in Grunge for aging X-ers. Then it—nostalgia—is a meaningful diversion. [Also known around the office as a “cash cow” –ed.]
L: How old were you when Sub Pop became super famous? Did that notoriety change you in any fundamental way?
J: Super fame changed fundamentally. From my perspective, Sub Pop was already “super famous” before I even got involved. Bruce put out cassettes, the Sub Pop 100 compilation album and “Dry As A Bone” before I came knocking, hat-in-hand. He was already a media magnate and I was just another morose dirtbag with a crummy band. Frankly, I feel like I’ve been the luckiest person in the world. Getting to work with and be around what’s happened musically in this city over the years has been a gift that keeps on giving. Kind of like an open chancre sore!
L: You travel a lot-what’s your favorite place and why?
J: First, listen to my concept: I think old cities in the High Plains, Midwest and the North Central states are where it’s at. Great, forgotten art museums, ghostly, dilapidated-yet-still-majestic neighborhoods and easy on the wallet. Why I like it so much that I’ve decided to move the company to Saginaw, Michigan. Get packing…
L: What do you think you will be doing in the next five years?
J: Introducing Grunge to my buddie’s grandkids. From dust to “Dust”.
L: What’s your favorite food?
J: Pet. Besides that—hmmmm. Is Nardil a food group? [I googled it so you don’t have to! -ed.]
L: Please tell me the secret to your success.
J: Surrounding myself with the most lovable, smart and talented people that a person can hope to know. [Aw shucks. –ed.]
L: What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you?
J: Ah, the questions have gotten serious. Hmmmm. Losing my father and nearly losing Sub Pop during a two week period in 1997. Kurt Cobain’s death was super hard. It’s not like I was close to him in the years leading up his death. But it was a transformative event that hit me hard. Very profoundly. Largely because it was so traumatizing to our community. I contrast it to Chris Takino’s passing which, while being very sad, immediately inspired so many acts of love and altruism. [No wonder you need the Nardil. –ed.]
L: What’s your favorite newish band and why?
J: There is this band, Foals, on the Transgressive label in the UK. I heard some of their new stuff recorded with David Sitek of TVOTR. Really some of the most compelling recordings that I’ve heard in ages. Besides that, I listen to stuff all the time that I get excited about. But if an artist’s name has more than one syllable, I may as well be memorizing the Vedas. I have a shoddy memory for names.
L: Tell me a funny story about Mark Arm.
J: Mark Arm is no laughing matter.
L: Knock knock.
J: Who there?
L: A pile up.
J: A pile up wh…hey!
Feel free to log-in and ask JP any other questions you’d like answered that we may have missed in this quick interview. Sample questions include things like “how much money do you make?” and “when did you lose your virginity?”. Please, ask away!