Hello, devoted readers! This week’s People Who Work Here brings you an in-depth conversation with Sam Sawyer, king of the online store and the man responsible for getting your goods out to you when order from subpop.com. Sam is an All-American kid from the Midwest with blonde hair and blue eyes. He’s sporty—he rides bikes and skateboards and sometimes even jogs on his lunch break. I referred to him as athletic the other day and he corrected me and said he preferred to be called active. Tomato/tomato, right? Oh, Sam has also male modeled for his friend’s bicycle apparel company—yes, that’s right, he’s a male model. Let’s meet Sam!
L: Tell me how and why you made you made it from Minneapolis out to Seattle? How did you end up working at Sub Pop?
S: I had a few friends out here before I moved, so when I was looking to leave MPLS, I thought Seattle might be an okay place to relocate, what with the friends and all. I was not totally convinced until I came out for a visit. It’s pretty here! It wasn’t a hard sell. As for Sub Pop, I met Andy K. in MPLS in the office of Sub Pop’s distributor, ADA, when he was visiting and I introduced myself. [Thanks a lot, Andy. –ed.] When I moved I sort of kept in contact with him and when Sub Pop was looking for someone, I was lucky enough to get an interview. I did not get that job. But luckily, I came in second, because next time they were looking for someone, they asked me. The timing was very good and I happily accepted the position in the gang.
L: You like the Replacements a lot, right? Do you think you have an affinity toward Midwestern rock music? Why or why not?
S: I really like the Mats. It’s hard not to love them; they are such goons. I don’t really have an affinity to Midwestern rock per se, just Minneapolitan rock. I don’t know what it is, but we’re a proud people (Twin City folks, that is) and I have to stick by anything that comes out of that town (I’m trying to think of exceptions but I can’t think of one – WAIT – there’s that Closing Time song. Semisonic, that’s the exception. I hate them.) Jimmy Jam rules. [Do you stand by Paul Westerberg’s ‘Singles’ song? It’s a lot like ‘Closing Time’. –ed.]
L: You do my old job here at Sub Pop. How do you like it? What is the best part of it? What is the worst? What job would you really like to be doing here?
S: I do like your old job. Your old job is pretty fun. The best part of it is definitely the interaction with my officemates, they are good folks. The worst part? I dunno. Dinky, the office mascot, a dog of some breed, bit me in the crotch once. It was really close to being a big disaster. Like when you see an x-ray of a dude who took a nail gun assault to the head – and if the nail were 1/10th of an inch to the left he’d be dead, you know what I’m saying? It was a close call. That’s not really an aspect of my job, but it was a bad moment.
L: Do you have a favorite online customer? A bud? Why would you recommend that people buy directly from subpop.com?
S: I have an e-pen-pal named Kenny that I met through his ordering from our site. He has two kids and lives in SoCal. [Why do you like to befriend old dudes so much? -ed.] He likes the Shins and seems like one of those Rad Dads that the Sub Pop office is teeming with. The other day, from another customer, I got a drawing emailed to me of a flightless bird/dinosaur with a robot riding him. It was his interpretation of the two of us celebrating his happiness due to his online order. It was touching. I think people should buy from us if they like extras. Little things like stickers and buttons. But also intangibles like a personal email from us if you have a question. We’re like a mom and pop shop, but a completely ice cream tree crazy one. Like if instead of being burned down, the Waco compound, led by David Koresh, started selling records online instead of doing such intense and threatening Bible-thumping. Or not, that’s a little weird.
L: How’s working with Mark Arm in the warehouse? Tell me the funniest thing that’s happened back there involving him. Like, have his pants ever fallen down while he’s trying to put a box of records on a high shelf?
S: It’s like working side-by-side with Jesus. Funny story: Once we had a UPS man overload his hand-truck and was having a hard time leaning it back to get the wheels rolling, you know, due to the immensity of the days shippings. Without warning him, Mark decided to give a tiny push to the hand-truck to help the tower of boxes out with its momentum. It was a little more than the UPS man could handle, and a few hundred pounds of records spilled on top of him and he was crushed by many, many boxes of Mudhoney (one would assume) CDs and LPs. [Mark Arm is like the Charles Atlas of the warehouse. He doesn’t even know his own strength! –ed.] Anyway, Mark got totally screamed at by the UPS fella and it totally wrecked the vibe back there for the afternoon.
L: What do you like to do for fun? Do you ever do any drugs?
S: I’ve got nothing against drugs but I’ve never had much interest in them, personally. Fun? I like spying on my neighbors and shoplifting. [Why am I not surprised by this answer? -ed.]
L: Which dude in the office would you marry, boff, kill?
S: I definitely value humor in a mate, so initially I thought I’d go for Chris J. But then I thought, maybe a sensitive guy is what I need. And Andy K. came to mind. But my coworker/Netflix friend, Dusty S. and I have 86% similar movie tastes, according to our Netflix reviews, so I am going to choose to marry him. And since I am such a monogamist, I’m going to go right ahead and “boff” him (are you cool with that, Dusty?) I’m gonna boff him so hard, his beard’s gonna fall right off his face. I’m not an advocate of violence of any sort, so no one dies by my hand. No, nevermind. I’ll kill Richard, just to feel what it’s like to kill, nothing personal. [It’s because he’s foreign. –ed.]
L: You were hit by a car while riding your bicycle not too long ago and you had to use a cane—did you get a lot of chicks? Do you hate car drivers? Give me your best pro-bike rant.
S: That was a weird time in my life, so I can’t really answer the chicks thing. [I’m making a whip noise right now. –ed.] I will say that I was surprised by how much female interest there was in me when I was missing all of my front teeth and couldn’t walk without a cane. But I didn’t really “get” any chicks. But I didn’t try hard either, in my defense. I love car drivers! I just bought a little truck and became part of the problem. No pro-bike rants; ride one if you like. If someone wants some exercise, I’d suggest a bike.
L: Please tell me your favorite Sub Pop release of 2007—why is this record so good?
S: I think the Handsome Furs record was my favorite release this year. It was just a good record. It’s a pretty sad record without being too mopey. At the time of its release I was looking for just that – a record that would listen, but wouldn’t cry with me.
L: Why do you think we fight so much?
S: You and I don’t get along super well, it’s true. But I think you’re great, Lacey. I don’t have any ill feelings at all, I just think that some people have some natural friction. You and I have the most of anyone else I’ve ever met, but I kind of like it. It’s like our own special relationship. [I thought it was because you are a jerk. J/K –ed.]
L: Okay, now tell me your very first memory.
S: I remember when I knew for sure I was done wetting the bed or peeing in my tiny overalls. I was three and got up before everyone because I had to go, and as I walked down the hall I remember thinking “I got this potty thing down”. I haven’t had a (sober) accident yet! [Way to go, little dude! –ed.]
It feels pretty great to spread good news, doesn’t it? It does! Ready?
We just wanted to let you all know that the long-awaited new record from Iron & Wine will be out on September 25th has us positively jubilant! As if sharing that news isn’t bringing us more than our fair share of joy, gluttons that we are, we have still more for you: If you pre-order the CD or LP through September 25th you’ll get it for $1 off our already low-price. We are clearly not in full possession of our faculties! Plus! (I’m beginning to feel like I’m hosting an infomercial…) We will include a bonus CD with two b-sides (the songs “Serpent Charmer” and “Arms of a Thief”), as well as the stickers and buttons for which we are internationally somewhat famous for giving away to you, dear friends who give us your money.
Here’s some info on the new record…
2005’s Woman King distinguished itself from previous Iron & Wine records with a deepening integration of spiraling, dense opuses with intimate confessionals and with The Shepherd’s Dog this integration is complete. Recorded by Sam Beam with the assistance of longtime producer Brian Deck and engineer Colin Studebaker, The Shepherd’s Dog succeeds in accomplishing a cathartic recasting of the artist’s intentions. The arrangements here are kaleidoscopic and rich. “White Tooth Man” rocks with a desperate, menacing intensity while “Boy with a Coin,” the album’s first single, is darkly playful with a handclap hook tumbling under its cascading melody. The whole album breathes. Its seductive rhythms percolate and undulate, from the Psych-Bhangra-redux of “Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car” to the album’s last dance-a waltz-“Flightless Bird, American Mouth.” Compositionally, it is Iron & Wine’s most ambitious and accomplished recording to date. It’s also the most satisfying.
People Who Work Here is super proud to work with (al)most everyone on the Sub Pop staff, but Jeff Kleinsmith holds a special place in my heart, and not just because I can get him to do free design work for me from time to time. Jeff is the art director here at HQ, and he, along with partner in crime Dusty Summers, is responsible for all of the visual hoo-ha associated with everything we do here from album covers to advertisements. (I tried to think of a ‘z’ thing that they do to have that whole ‘a to z’ thing happening but I couldn’t think of one. Instead you get ‘a to a’ which makes them seem lazy somehow but I can assure you that’s not the case.) Jeff is married with two lovely daughters and he’s also a lover of animals, but not in the same way he loves his wife. He is a vegetarian that hates cooked vegetables, and the other day I caught him microwaving a bowl of, get this, canned kidney beans and chopped up raw tofu for lunch. Jeff collects shoes like a woman and he is very sensitive and also very funny. He’s also good for an old fashioned debate, so if you happen to end up at one of his many public speaking events please be sure to engage him in a lengthy conversation about art or why cats are better than dogs. Also, this mofo is right in the middle of having a book written about him! Let’s meet Jeff!
L: How did you get into graphic design? What is your main piece of advice for aspiring graphic designer?
J: It really started in about 1980 when my friend’s older brother, Dan, tried to scare us with Black Sabbath. He wore rock shirts, had long hair, and hung out with the stoners (and had a 4.0). I totally looked up to him. His bedroom was plastered with awesome rock posters (Iron Maiden, Pick Floyd, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, etc.) and he had a wall full of LPs – alphabetized and neatly stored in plastic sleeves. My friend and I were big AM radio fans and I think Dan just simply couldn’t take any more Hall and Oates mucking up his Thin Lizzy so he brought us into his room one day and cranked some metal at us. Though I was supposed to be frightened and repulsed, I was mesmerized and enchanted. We were hooked. After that he sorta took us under his wing, or more accurately, we put ourselves under his wing. He taught us the difference between Zeppelin and Deep Purple (I know!), told us what to buy, and made fun of us for listening to girl metal (Journey). I still have every LP I have ever bought. Oh right, sorry, graphic design: I found myself grounded a lot around this time and to pass the time I would become heavily involved with these LPs. I’d listen carefully, rock out, air jam, whatever, and after the visceral experience subsided I started noticing the art up close. I played with the packaging, redrew the logos, and tacked the inserts on my wall. Eventually this led to making my own posters, shirts, locker door art, tape cases, etc. Fast forward to college… I was flailing about with no real direction and just taking whatever classes sounded cool at the time until it became jarringly apparent that I had to focus on some particular area of study. My mom encouraged me to take some drawing classes, which I did, and additionally, took a beginning design class. [Your mom’s a fool—the money’s in computers. –ed.] I was blown away. I had never felt more comfortable, focused, and confident as I did in those classes. It became a passion. My advice to youngsters is to spend twice the time on typography as on the image.
L: You are in the middle of having a book written about you. How weird is that?
L: What is the best album cover of all time? What is the worst? Why?
J: First Black Sabbath album. Hands down. It creates a mood that is undeniable and uncontrived. It’s what I think of when I read Turn Of The Screw by Henry James (I know!). Still so scary. There are so many websites dedicated to obviously bad album covers so I can’t really think of one in particular. The one that I think I recognized as ‘bad’ early on was Cosmo’s Factory by Creedence Clearwater Revival. I actually think it’s awesome now but as a kid looking through my mom’s albums I always stopped to look at the weird dudes in the basement. “Where is that guy going on that bike?” [Stuart Fletcher has a shirt with that dude on it and he wore it this week. Coincidence? –ed.]
L: What new designers do you like and why?
J: The new designers usually aren’t very good. And even if they were I wouldn’t acknowledge it. [This is a lot of the reason why we get along so well. –ed.]
L: Tell me about Jeff’s ultimate best day ever. What would you do if you could do anything?
J: I’d have to do it as two days. One of those days would be spent with my awesome family. Katie, Juniper, and Frances and my two hound dogs. It wouldn’t really matter what we did. Coffee and scones. Trip somewhere. Camping. Whatever. I love more than anything to just hang out with them. The other day would be by myself. I love my alone time. I would go to a coffee shop and read a book until the first movie of the day started. That would be followed by a lunch date with myself and off to movie number two. Dinner break with me and then movie number three. [Jeff’s butt is made of the same material that astronaut’s use for their space waffles. –ed.] I only do this when the ladies go visit relatives in Portland.
L: Tell me why you no longer smoke weed or drink.
J: I had no issues with alcohol. I drank the normal amount (mornings, while driving, in class) until one night in 1988 when I went to see Scratch Acid with my friend Brian. There was a party already going on when we got home and I was totally sober. I took a couple of drinks of a beer and I couldn’t stop throwing up. That went on for eight hours until I had to go to the emergency room. I tried again a couple of weeks later (I know!) and I felt instantly horrible. My doctor said that while it was pretty rare, I was probably allergic to alcohol. [That guy is such a liar! When I lived in Mexico I told the people I was allergic to protein so I didn’t have to eat any more weird animals. –ed.] So, with that sound medical advice, I ramped up my pot smoking to epic proportions. I smoked a lot of pot for about 10 or 11 years until it started fighting against me. I would smoke it and instantly hate the fact that just smoked it. I felt abnormally paranoid and depressed so I quit. [But isn’t that what smoking pot is all about? –ed.] It’s coming up on 10 years since I’ve even SEEN any.
L: Tell me about your old bands. Do you miss playing music? Did you ever think you could be a full time musician?
J: You mean, tell you about The Funeral Party, Fireclown, and Stymie? Sure! As the name “The Funeral Party” suggests, we were into The Cure, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Echo and The Bunnymen. I played guitar save for the show-closer when we plugged the Casio into the bass amp and I sang a poem I wrote called “As I Watch You Die” in my best Nick Cave voice. Fireclown was metal/“grunge”. I sang. The name is from a Tygers of Pan Tang song of the same name. We loved Skin Yard, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney but sounded nothing like any of them.
Stymie was our most ‘together’ band. Most of the time we were a six-piece. [Featuring Steve Manning as “dancing honkey” on tom, stick banging, and tambourine! –ed.] We were influenced by the aforementioned bands but add in Treepeople, and Sonic Youth. We wrote a lot of songs and spent a lot of time in the studio. I miss all of the bands for different reasons, but mostly because I enjoyed hanging out with my friends [and thinking of bad band names… -ed.] I love playing music and still play guitar at home but I don’t miss ‘being in a band’. Frankly, I would have much rather been a pro basketball player.
L: When did you lose your virginity? Was it weird? Did you feel like you had become a man or was there some guilt/shame afterwards?
J: I had just turned 18 and I was in love. No guilt. No shame. She was also a virgin and we spent months planning our first time. Laugh at me, but I wanted to be in love for my first time. [Ha ha! -ed.]
L: You are a fan of both metal and Kate Bush. Tell me why these two things are not mutually exclusive? Did your metal friends accept your love of the Bush?
J: Generally speaking my friends have very wide ranging musical interests so it never really comes up. It’s only at work that I get made fun of. [I highly doubt that. –ed.] I secretly listen to her AND metal when Dusty’s not here since he’s so closed-minded to legends like Rush, Kate Bush, and Corrosion of Conformity. I love Kate Bush SO much that I a.) I don’t give a fuck what anyone has to say about her/me and b.) if they are making fun of me I am too busy basking in her awesomeness to notice.
L: Please tell me the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you this year so far.
J: There is this messageboard that I frequent called gigposters.com. It’s where a lot of the poster makers from the past and present go to show work and just generally say dumb stuff. I’m not a “blogger” or a message board guy AT ALL but I got sucked in to this one years a go. I have made a number of actual real live friends there so I keep going back. About four years ago there was a discussion going on about drive-ins: “Aren’t they great.” “Boy, do I miss them.” “That’s where I saw Kentucky Fried Movie!” Stuff like that. As many around the office already know, my past is rich with drive-in stories so I chime in. Here’s an excerpt:
ME: “Oh, man, I loved drive-ins as a kid. My family used to go every summer weekend in the ‘70s/’80s. There were several in a 30 mile radius of my hometown in Oregon. I saw my first R rated movie when I was eight (One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest). I saw the only Star Wars movie I’ve ever seen (1976), and I felt my first real live boobie at a drive-in (Pxx Hxxxxx).”
Two weeks ago I get this:
So I google myself and guess what I find? something like this:
“Oh, man, I loved drive-ins as a kid. My family used to go every summer weekend in the ‘70s/’80s. There were several in a 30 mile radius of my hometown in Oregon. I saw my first R rated movie when I was eight (One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest). I saw the only Star Wars movie I’ve ever seen (1976), and I felt my first real live boobie at a drive-in (Pxx Hxxxxxx).”
I never knew I was your first real live boobie… LOL!!! So yea I see your a rockstar designer, very cool.
So HELLO my old friend…. I hope all is well in your life.
Love to hear from ya sometime. I live in portland.
:) pxx "
Embarrassing? Yes. But the worst part is not the interaction between me and P** because, as you can see, it doesn’t seem to bother her all that much that I put her name out there like that. It’s when I tell others what I think is this “great story” as the now 40 year-old father of two that I am. I feel creepy and embarrassed for some reason. Like right now. [It’s okay. The more you say boobie the less creepy it gets, I swear. –ed.]
L: Would you prefer to drown or be burned alive?
J: Drowning, for sure.
L: Say you got gored by an elephant or something and you were about to die; what is the last piece of advice you’d give to your children?
J: Have fun. Do it because YOU want to do it not because you think it will make you cool. Trust your instincts. Go easy on your mom, she is about to lose an AWESOME guy to an elephant-goring!
The Go! Team, whose really very excellent new album Proof of Youth we at Sub Pop just released last week here in the US of A, have put together a great documentary about their band and their new record. Directed by Bob Jarocs, this film really captures the exuberant cut-and-paste spirit of the band – it’s enthused, raucous, fun and occasionally funny. And, there is lots and lots of jumping; rampant jumping on a scale you might have previously, and not unreasonably, thought unattainable.
The first part of this film was recently posted on Youtube and you can check it out here. The entire film is somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 minutes in length, so they had to chop it into pieces for consumption on the internets. The subsequent portion(s) of the film will be posted subsequently (you’re welcome).
Chad VanGaalen, history’s most talented and charming very tall Canadian person, currently recording for the Sub Pop Records Entertainment Group of Seattle, Wash., was very recently nominated for The ECHO Songwriting Prize. For the uninitiated, The ECHO…
“…is designed to identify what’s next and what’s best in current independent music. The prize honours (sic) some of the most innovative, creative and artistic songs created in the past year by emerging songwriters in Canada. Five songs, determined by a panel of respected, knowledgeable tastemakers in the music community, are posted for you to listen to and vote on. The writer(s) of othe winning song will receive a $5,000 CDN cash prize. You can vote for your favourite (sic) once a day, from now until the deadline of 4:59 p.m. on September 28, 2007.”
Anyone even passingly familiar with Chad’s excellent 2006 release Skelliconnection or his equally fantastic 2005 album Infiniheart will find themselves with ample reasons here for unabashed ballot box stuffing.