Sohrab from Obits has been chatting, on the wall of the Obits’ Facebook page, with this 16 year-old kid about Sub Pop being 49% owned by Warner, what “indie” means, etc. And, though that summary sounds incredibly tired, it’s a pretty good conversation. Here it goes:
Obits, what do you think about the fact that Sub Pop is 49% owned by Warner?
Wow. Is this part of a Seger-Saget-Sub Pop conspiracy?
It’s a complicated question. Short answer is we signed on the dotted line. Longer answer involves breaking down the myths of independent labels and how bands actually get treated in many of those relationships.
It’s a slippery slope in both directions but, in our specific case, we are very happy to work with Sub Pop. They are honest people who truly care about music and are wonderfully realistic about their expectations in an industry that is rarely so….
I suppose I might feel differently if it were Monsanto or Pfizer, but the Warner affiliation is what it is and doesn’t seem to effect us.
How do you feel about it? Does it color your opinion of the label or our band? Do you think it makes a difference? I’m asking sincerely, by the way.
I mean, it slightly taints the idea of Sub Pop being a true “Indie” label like they used to be, but in the long run, as long as they are still coming out with such amazing music, like you guys / No Age / Fleet Foxes, I’m not about to condemn them. So I guess it would say that it doesn’t really matter too much. Also, it would be my dream to be on Sub Pop. What do you guys think of the term “Indie” in general/how it’s used these days?
B, this is Sohrab, just so you know I’m only speaking for myself in terms of whatever it is I’m about to write.
Having grown up in the Dischord / Touch and Go / SST era, the word “indie” wasn’t part of my vocabulary. There were records that I bought from Smash! or Yesterday & Today or one of the many other mom-and-pop shops in the DC area at that time, there were other things I mail-ordered and eagerly awaited from Systematic in San Francisco, there were cassettes I got by writing to bands I read about in MRR, and then there was whatever else was outside of that world, which I had no interest in and, therefore, might as well not have existed.
“Indie” wasn’t something I came across until the ‘90s, when some bands used the term to try to distinguish themselves from other bands that weren’t that, I guess. It seems a little silly to me now. It’s such a broad and vague way to define anything. It probably would’ve been more effective to just say, “We don’t sound like Blind Melon.”
The language for describing sensory experience is relative and bound by context. To a fan of Merzbow, Obits probably sounds like Three Dog Night. To a fan of Three Dog Night, Obits probably sounds like the guy in Merzbow tampered with his “Mama Told Me Not to Come” single.
That said, I guess people hang onto the word “indie” because it’s become shorthand for saying that something is not part of mainstream culture or that it’s quirky or some other absurd notion folks have about the need to compartmentalize music into little digestible demographic terms. So, to me, the word is now just part of the lexicon of lifestyle marketing.
If you want to get into the economics of what “indie” means or what people think it means, I think it merits a whole new thread. It’s definitely worth exploring, but would require a more experienced and sophisticated voice than mine.
I will say that the interest in only supporting things that are “indie” probably comes from a good place, but reminds me of when people are so concerned with eating organic that they overlook what it means when they buy fresh food that’s out of season.
Thats pretty fascinating. My friends and I always discuss what it means/how the word has changed. Being 16, I come from a completely different era where “indie” means everything from Neutral Milk Hotel to things not even remotely related to music, like drinking PBR outside of an Urban Outfitters while taking artsy photographs. The thing that saddens me is when kids say the listen to “Indie Rock,” but wouldn’t be able to tell you the first thing about Mike Watt, or Greg Ginn, or any sort of independent label.
Have you read “Our Band Could Be Your Life?”
The fact that you are 16 and interested in our band is heartening for more reasons than I have time to go into.
But don’t get too bummed about those kids. Everybody has a chance to hear the Minutemen for the first time once. And, with the right personality and the right timing, it just might change their life.
That is incredibly exciting to me. And far more powerful in terms of making a permanent dent in popular culture than any snarky ad exec trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator of whatever fits between two quotation marks.
Or, for that matter, the legions of embittered naysayers skulking around anonymously in the comment sections of music blogs.
They’ve got nothing on you and your pals snapping buzzed Polaroids in the parking lot, barking out the chorus to “Nervous Breakdown.” Seriously.
Okay, gotta run, but let us know when we get to a town near you because you are officially on our permanent guest list.
Until soon …