People Who Work Here would like to introduce to you the inimitable Andy Kotowicz, Vice President of Sales and Director of Marketing, as well as A&R dude and father of one. I worked with Andy for quite a long while, at least a year and a half, before I realized that Andy was really only a year older than me. It’s not like Andy acts super old or anything, but there is definitely something about him that makes him seem, I hesitate to use the word wiser here, but maybe more experienced? Paternal? I don’t know; I can’t put my finger on it. Anyhoo, Andy is a very passionate person and he ends up blowing his top a little sometimes if he gets too worked up about something. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not scary or weird—it’s more like when your dad gets really mad because you left his tools in the rain, you know? Oh let’s get on with it—let’s meet Andy!
L: Tell me how a young man from Michigan made all the way out here to the West Coast via the East Coast. Who did you work for in New York and why did they let you write the liner notes to Flamin’ Groovies reissues?
A: I lived in Nashville for a couple of years after I graduated from college. In ‘96 and ’97, I worked at a little label in Murfreesboro, TN, where I got to know a guy named Andy McLenon pretty well. He was the general manager for a time. Before that, he and his partner Jack Emerson, who sadly passed away a few years ago, ran a label/management company called Praxis. They worked with Jason & the Scorchers & Georgia Satellites. Andy knows everyone and everything about music. Anyway, after a couple years, it kinda seemed like it was time to move on and my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) and I decided to move to New York. Andy left at the same time to work for Seymour Stein, who was starting a Nashville branch of Sire. One of the last days at Spongebath, he said to me "You’ll never guess who I met last night." The answer was Jonathan. They had met through Seymour and they were both in town for a Mike Ireland show, I think. Andy knew that I was a big Sub Pop fan and one of his greatest attributes is that he will become your greatest advocate and will sing your praises to anyone who will listen. I owe the guy a great debt of gratitude. Soon after, Jocelyn and I moved to New York, where I worked for a couple of different labels, Razor & Tie being the first. They were best known for doing the ‘70s Preservation Society TV comps as well as Monsters of Rock and Cledus T Judd (No Relation). They had also done some phenomenal country and R&B reissues. I would tell the guy who put that stuff together (Mike Ragogna, who now does catalog at Universal) that he should reissue the Flamin’ Groovies’ Flamingo and Teenage Head among other things. Soon after, BMG decided to revamp the Buddha label as a catalog imprint and they hired Mike to head it up! They, of course had those two albums at their disposal and I was probably the first person that came to mind to write the liners because I was obviously into it and I would work cheap. I’d never written liner notes before and I think the reaction of the label to them was “It’s good for what it is.” I’m proud of having done those. It was a big thrill. Meanwhile, I’d started corresponding with Jonathan and Megan, thanks to Andy. We traded records and met a couple times and when the sales job came up, they offered it to me. By the way, McLenon was also the guy who turned me on to the Groovies in the first place, bringing the long-winded answer full circle. [Is he done yet? Somebody tell me when he’s done. -ed.]
L: You would probably give Iggy Pop a BJ—tell me why you like him so much and when the obsession began.
A: It’s more the Stooges than Iggy specifically. [Yes, but I don’t think you have that many mouths. -ed.] I think I first heard Raw Power in about the 8th grade. My friend Frank was a punker and he played it for me at his house after school. I went to Tappan Junior High in Ann Arbor, same as Iggy, or Jim as I like to call him. The obsession started when I heard Funhouse for the first time a few years later. It struck me as the perfect music, such a unified statement of aggression. It’s almost like a suite, rather than an album, though I may be splitting hairs. It’s almost a matter of civic pride for me. I still have not listened to The Weirdness, perhaps to maintain that sense. [Lyrics on that album include something along the lines of “My dick’s getting hard as a tree.” STAYAWAY! -ed.] Kind of the same deal with the MC5. My uncle gave me his old records when I was in 9th grade. Among them was a copy of Kick Out The Jams. When he was a kid, my uncle was in a school production of Jack and the Beanstalk. My uncle was Jack and the Giant was played by John Sinclair. [Holy fuck! Why have I not heard this story before? -ed.] My Grandma has a newspaper clipping with a photo of the two of them in their costumes somewhere.
L: How was growing up near/in Detroit? It seems depressing. How did your nice Polish family wind up there?
A: Ann Arbor was a great place to grow up. It’s about 40 miles southwest of Detroit and is really sort of like an oasis [That might be going just a little too far, right? Oasis? Really? -ed.] in Southern Michigan because of the University, which I took great advantage of. My great grandparents immigrated from Poland in the late 1800s. My grandfather was born in Yonkers (same as Stuart!) in 1901 (same as Stuart!). His family moved to Detroit and later, Flint because of the auto industry. [Also a cheery place! -ed.] My Grandfather started in the Buick plant as a messenger when he was 16. They squatted on land just outside the plant in Flint, where they eventually built a tar-paper shack, on to which they kept building. That became the house that my Dad grew up in. [The American dream! -ed.] He moved to Ann Arbor to go to Dental School in the early ‘60s. I spent more time in Flint than Detroit. I was pretty unaware of Detroit’s plight until later. As a kid I’d pretty much just go there to the Zoo or Greenfield Village or Tigers games with my Grandpa. I guess Tiger Stadium would have been my first exposure to downtown Detroit.
L: You just recently had your first child—tell me about it. Is it hard? Weird? Do you wake up sometimes and go “there’s a stranger in my house!”?
A: It’s the best! There’s nothing I’d rather do than be with Anna. It can be hard with the cryin’ and the crappin’ and the general lifestyle re-alignment, but I assume that will pale in comparison to actual parenting! The difficulty so far is completely outweighed by the good stuff though. The first couple of days are incredible. You’re just consumed by this feeling of cosmic love and hope for humanity. It’s gotta be close to the feeling that people supposedly get from TM. Just this feeling of being one with the Universe. That gradually recedes and anxiety, terror and panic take over.
L: You like to use words like “davenport” and other strange old-timey phrases. Where did you pick that up?
A: I guess that would be a tribute to my Grandma Fran. I also like to say “Warshington” and pronounce the days of the week “Mondee through Fridee.”
L: I am curious about you as a kid. When did you start getting into music and stuff? Did you go through a theater phase or anything?
A: No, I was never in Theater and frankly, I’m offended by the question. [It’s the glasses… -ed.] I guess I started getting into music when I was about 10 and my friend’s older brother got a Walkman, which I thought was really cool. I went on lots of car trips with my family, so the Walkman was pretty essential. My first favorites were Billy Joel and Men at Work. I started listening to Top 40 radio in 1982 or so. A couple years later, the Electrifying Mojo started doing night shifts on that same station, WHYT. He would play a ton of Prince and Electro R&B/hip hop stuff like “Planet Rock,” “Egyptian Lover” and “White Lines,” but he’d mix it up with Kraftwerk and New Order and Detroit Techno. Plus there were all those great AOR stations out of Detroit. R.E.M. was pretty huge in Ann Arbor and I got obsessed with those guys. They’d name drop all kinds of other bands in their interviews like the Velvets and Television and I’d go search out those records. Also, because they name dropped Lester Bangs in “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” I asked my parents for Psychotic Reactions and Carborateur Dung for Christmas one year, which they got me. I had no idea what his significance was at the time. [I can’t believe that a good ol’ boy from Flint would misspell “carburetor.” I like that you fancied it all up, though, for sure. -ed.] I also started listening to WCBN, the college station. They were playing a lot of Mission of Burma and Sonic Youth and Dinosaur. That was probably the point of no return, obsession-wise. Downtown Ann Arbor was pretty safe, so my folks never really had a problem allowing me to go hang out at record stores. Schoolkids Records eventually asked if I wanted to check bags during Christmas and I also worked there a bit during the summer. Then I got an after school job at Play It Again Records who had an Ann Arbor store for about two years. Both stores are unfortunately gone now. [It’s not your fault, Andy. You try every day for these guys. -ed.]
L: Tell me one thing you love about each of the bands that you A&R. Which one is your favorite?
A: A Frames —No one ever parlayed paranoia into such hooky, punk songs. Such a great band. Baptist Generals —Chris Flemmons takes the old show-biz addage “always leave ’em wanting more” to new extremes. The guy’s got a really unique point of view and an amazing yowl. Comets on Fire —Though they are on hiatus, I’ll just say this: They are the complete package. Fruit Bats —Eric Johnson is the single most talented guy that I work with, as a singer, songwriter and a musician. His next album is going to be unbelievable. [And he’s got a killer butt! -ed.] Mudhoney —If you had told me when I was the kid in the previous question that some day I’d work with Mudhoney I would have lost it. Pissed Jeans —It is rare that a band so perfectly balances volatility and humor. I don’t believe this has happened since the late ‘80s Golden Age of Sub Pop, Touch & Go and Am Rep. Wolf Eyes —Jesus. It’s hard to say what I love about Wolf Eyes. Would you let your daughter marry a Wolf Eye? They’re like the Kiss of noise! They’re incomparable! [I bet that they are all very tender deep down. -ed.]
L: I notice that you do a lot of your work here on the phone as opposed to email, which is exactly the opposite of how I do my job. Why, Andy, why?
A: Sales is a discipline of nuance, Lacey. How am I supposed to grind our distributor over e-mail? If I said in an e-mail to Orleans, “We should have upstreamed the Shins to WEA.” he might think I was kidding!
[I don’t even know what this means! -ed.]
L: Remember that time that we were driving around in your car and you were playing that Norm McDonald comedy CD? Do you still stand by that being funny?
A: Good Lord no. I like Norm MacDonald and I think I was just hopeful that it would actually get funny, but it was pretty much just plain bad. You laughed too if I remember correctly! [That was uncomfortable laughter, Andy. -ed.]
L: Are you excited to see the new Wes Anderson movie or do you not care at all? (I know you didn’t think Superbad was very funny..)
A: I do want to go see it! I liked Zissou. Nothing better than Bill Murray with nothing to lose (except Broken Flowers). Plus that “Search and Destroy” chase scene? I loved the beginning of Superbad. That big kid being abusive was hilarious to me, and Michael Cera is good in everything. I hated that cop story line though. It was unnecessary and really dumb. [Agreed, and The Darjeeling Limited is awesome. -ed.]
L: What is the best thing to happen to you this year? The worst?
A: Best? Easy. Anna. The worst is easy too. I sincerely hope I never have to fire anyone ever again.
L: And finally, tell me a word you hate.
A: My sister has a problem with “nutmeat.” I’d have to go with her on that one. Also, though not a word, there’s a trend in food service to ask “How is everything tasting?” I hate the syntax of that AND “Excuse my reach.” [“Excuse my reach” is THEWORST, but you’re clearly eating at nicer places than I am. -ed.]
L: Hey, Andy, I’d like you to make up a question for yourself. Andy on Andy, so to speak. Go!
A: Bonus question: Andy where do you see yourself in 10 years?
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.]
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!
People Who Work Here would like to apologize for the extreme delay between interviews, but this week’s guest was dragging his feet like mad because, apparently, he does not want “to be made fun of” and therefore said guest took an unprecedented amount of time to complete his interview. Again, I apologize, but now I’d like to introduce you to Chris Jacobs, General Manager of Sub Pop Records! Chris has two kids, one of whom has the best name ever: Owen Blackjack Jacobs, and a lovely wife, and a golden retriever named Gabe. Chris enjoys playing soccer, playing cards with his buds, and skateboarding. Chris does not like mayonnaise or beans of any kind. I often times go to Chris for advice or when I am feeling blue and he cheers me up by reminding me that he is older than me and therefore worse off. He is a sensitive and hilarious guy and I have learned a lot from him over the years and am proud to call him friend as well as boss. (He makes me call him boss.) Let’s meet Chris!
L: Tell me about your history at Sub Pop and how you moved through the ranks to become the general manager of such a fine establishment. Be sure to tell me a little about your duties at each stop along the way.
C: I started here in April of ’97, shortly after the attempted coup, as tour publicist. Duties there included lots of phone time with newspaper journalists who sometimes also wrote cooking or home improvement columns. “Yes, that’s right, we put out the first Nirvana record. No, right now, I’m hoping you’ll write something about Elevator to Hell, actually.” Later, in addition to that, I bought ads for the label, and wrote quite a few of those that were mostly misunderstood, when paid any attention at all. Highlights include our failed pseudo-revolutionary “campaign” (“Sub Pop: By Any Means Currently Available”), our high-larious and way before its time LP3 ad, the ZZ Mower ad we stole from Matador, and oh, so many more that likely no one but me and Jeff Kleinsmith care at all about. After the departure of my old boss Cece, I took over as Publicity Director, and oh man, did I ever get this label a lot of coverage in Pulse! Magazine. A few years after that, I was elected Marketing Director in a landslide, which job involved (among a great many other, high-level responsibilities) making stickers and buttons and helping to put together this. [Seriously, will you just let this thing die? Yes, ha ha. We get it. –ed.] After being relieved of those duties, I was Editor-in-Chief and then Sr. Director of Special Projects, and the main duties involved in both of those jobs seemed to be explaining what they were and also combating the derision of my co-workers. Recently, I was inexplicably promoted to General Manager and I’m still not altogether clear on what that means.
L: Comics—you love them. Why? Which ones are your favorites? Do you only like the dirty alternative comics or have you collected them since you were a kid?
C: I do love comics! Sadly, I have paid less attention to them recently than I once did. I mostly only like the dirty alternative comics [Who can resist a skillfully shaded boob on paper? –ed.] and then sometimes also the not-so-dirty alternative comics and am a great fan of many of the folks currently published through the Fantagraphics imprint – Dan Clowes, Pete Bagge, Jim Woodring, Chris Ware, Charles Burns, Richard Sala, Ivan Brunetti, Johnny Ryan, Al Columbia. I also really like Adrian Tomine. This is the same list from ten years ago though… I never really collected comics. I read ‘em as a kid, but only sporadically. I liked Ghost Rider a lot, Dr. Strange. I’m starting to bore even me here…
L: Tell me exactly how having a baby changes a person. Is the second one just gravy or do you have to go through all of it again with each new little dude?
C: Man, I think having a baby changes people in all sorts of different ways! Though I am very free with my complaints on the subject (little babies are big pains in the ass)[You should hear the way he talks about the new one! –ed.], I’ve also found that it’s made me just get over myself in what I hope are good ways. It’s good for you to care/worry about someone else more than you do yourself. I also have a heightened appreciation for sleep and, relatedly, far less motivation to leave the house at night. You do have to go through it all again with the second one, for sure, and there are complications in how you split your time between the two (the older one wants to play Power Rangers or whatever and the younger one just wants your full attention right goddamned now all the time), but the second one was easier because I think we were less uptight. We felt somewhat confident that we’d be able to keep the second one alive in those first few weeks/months. We were very worried about that with the first one.
L: You and your eldest son Owen just went on a father son roadtrip to Montana. What did you guys talk about? Would you consider hiring yourself out to people who might not have gotten to do this as children?
C: We did just go on a little trip to Western Montana, Owen and I! And, it was one of the best things I’ve done in recent memory. We didn’t really talk about anything super important or deep. [Yeah, he’s 4 so I didn’t think you would’ve. –ed.] We mostly talked about how he really likes Lunchables and how sleeping bags are pretty cool, stuff like that. And, no I wouldn’t consider hiring myself out for this kind of thing. I’m not at all convinced that I’m any good at it [See above for Chris’s technique. –ed.], I’m just all my kids have got (in the dad dept. – they have an excellent, highly-qualified mom), so I have to give it a shot.
L: You play(ed?) the drums. Did you ever have dreams of making it as a “professional musician”? Why or why not? If you could play drums for any band living or dead who would it be? Also, please tell me about your very first band.
C: I am indeed a mediocre drummer! I don’t play all that much anymore though. Before Owen was born I used to play once a week or so, with some friends. And, yep, in high school I had some dreams of “making it” in a band. Why? Just for the usual reasons, I think, it seemed to be an incomparably fun way to make a handsome living. Also, it held the promise of meeting and possibly impressing girls. I guess I probably would have liked to play drums for Kiss in the ‘70s. That was probably a pretty good time and I’m at least as good a drummer as Peter Criss now. [Wasn’t he impersonated by a hobo some years back? –ed.] I’d have a different answer to the question of who I’d most like to be able to play drums like (Rey Washam or Mac McNeilly, or the guy from RFTC, probably). My very first band was called The Floorshow (I came up with the name – based on my affection for The Sisters of Mercy in ’85 or so) and we played a handful of cover songs. The first song we learned together was AC/DC’s “Walk All Over You.” [Ah, that explains the AC/DC explosion coming from your cubicle last week while you were, presumably, answering these questions. –ed.]
L: You are Kinski’s A+R guy and you recently went down to Oklahoma and Texas to see them play in some big ass stadiums when they were opening for Tool. Tell me a good story about one of these shows.
C: Those Tool shows were really fun! And, those Tool guys and all their crew were incredibly good to Kinski. The singer from Tool has some sort of customized police car that he tows behind his bus and drives around in the different cities they play. [Yawn. This is not at all the kind of story I was looking for here. –ed.]
L: What was your first job? What was your last before Sub Pop? What did you imagine yourself doing when you were a kid?
C: I had paper routes as a kid, but my very first real job was as an usher at The Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach. It’s this thing where people pose as works of art. They did a bit on it in Arrested Development. It was just for the summer – a couple summers in a row, actually. The guy who narrated it (Thurl Ravenscroft) was the voice of Tony the Tiger from TV commercials, and OJ Simpson came to at least one of the performances I worked [Was he wearing gloves? –ed.]. That was a really great job… Before Sub Pop I worked at Fantagraphics Books (the comic book [boob –ed.] publisher I mentioned above), doing marketing and promotions. When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, or a professional soccer player, or skateboarder, or play drums in a band – that kind of thing. [Wow! You do almost all of those things, minus the space one! Congratulations! –ed.]
L: You are known around the office as “Rad Dad” because you still go skate boarding and stuff. Were you a bad teenager? Did you give your parents a hard time? Will you be disappointed if skate boarding and rock music is totally boring to your kids?
C: I was a pretty bad teenager, yeah. Or, rather, I was trying really hard to be bad when I was a teenager. All of that stuff embarrasses me pretty badly now. It was all really stupid stuff. And, I was for sure hard on my parents. They seem to have come through it okay, but there were a number of years there where we were battling fairly hard. Nah, I won’t be disappointed if Owen and Will don’t care about skateboarding and rock music. I kind of expect them to dislike that stuff since it’s what their dad is into. I mean, I’m going to try to share that stuff with them, but I think the impulse to differentiate yourself from your parents is good/healthy. Plus, I’m karmic-ly due some father/son friction, I think. [It’ll be okay—just remind them how much older you are and I’m sure they’ll fall right in line. –ed.]
L: Do you take dumps at the office? Are you afraid of germs or food from restaurants or anything like that?
C: Sure I do! [Please email me for a complete list of people who will NOT take dumps in the office. –ed.] Nope, I’m not really afraid of germs. Getting touched by strangers, like on the bus, is really uncomfortable for me, but that doesn’t have anything to do with germs.
L: When did you first make out with a girl? Was it totally weird? Tell me about your high school girlfriend.
C: I think my first real make-out was with Maura McHenry at a very typically booze-y OC high school party at some kid’s house whose parents were out of town. It was pretty weird and embarrassing, but at the time seemed to be about the best thing in the world. I kind of “dated” a few different people, but I didn’t really have a girlfriend until the very end of high school, right around when I graduated. And then I wrecked that by taking her to Disneyland with another couple and getting thrown into the Disneyland jail (it’s a long story and one that my long-suffering co-workers have heard ad nauseam). She was a year younger than me and was on the soccer team [Uh, Chris, I think that means she was a lesbian. Oh wait, is that softball? –ed.] . Neither of these old flames can hold a candle to my excellent, super-foxy wife Stephanie! [Indeed! –ed.]
L: And finally, tell me three TV shows and five records that you are really into right now.
C: Easy! TV: Top Chef, Entourage, Flight of the Conchords… You know? I’m actually sort of more waiting for stuff I’m really crazy about on TV to come back. I can’t wait for more of The Wire, The Office, 30 Rock, and Battlestar Galactica. Records (not nec. new, but stuff I’ve been listening to lately): Parts and Labor – Mapmaker; The National – Boxer; that Wipers box set; Welcome – Sirs; and the Coconut Coolouts – Party Time Machine! [So, if everyone here likes the goddamn Coconut Coolouts so much how come we don’t have a record deal?! -ed.]
This week’s People Who Work Here is proud to introduce Susan Busch, Director of Radio Promotion and one of two female members of the A&R staff—she’s the lady who brought Oxford Collapse and The Go! Team to Sub Pop Records! Sue is from Texas and we both lived in Austin at the same time but we didn’t meet until we both started working here. When we became friends we would go out after work and get totally wasted and then drunk drive all over Seattle while cruising for dudes before passing out in each other’s vomit just before the sun came up. We’ve both settled down quite a bit since then, but Sue still enjoys punching babies and a nice glass of wine in the evenings. Fun Sue facts—she hates mayonnaise, she used to play volleyball, and she was once featured in Jane Magazine. Let’s meet Sue!
L: How did you get into the radio business? What did you study in college?
S: I decided to volunteer at the college radio station KVRX mostly because I realized I hated the idea of joining a club but still wanted to be involved in something other than being a student. [So basically college radio is like a fraternity for nerds? -ed.] Plus, I heard that you got into shows for free and got to hear records before they came out which seemed super cool. I went from having a show that was online only to eventually being the music director at the station. I studied magazine journalism. When I told my professors that I wanted to be a music journalist they usually made some sort of disapproving face and gave up on trying to actually improve my skills as a writer. [Little did they know that “blogging” was just around the corner and that it requires no skill, taste, or brains. –ed.] I decided to scrap the journalism thing and started interning at record labels. Clearly a wise move on my part.
L: Austin or Seattle, why? What’s your favorite thing about Seattle? Least favorite?
S: No offense to Seattle but I’m going to have to go with Austin. I like sunshine and Mexican food a whole lot and they are both pretty absent in this town.[Maybe if you got a hankering for Canadian food you’d be a lot happier…. –ed.] Austin also has fantastic BBQ, Emo’s, Mexican Martinis @ Trudy’s, Casino El Camino, Barton Springs, lots of super well maintained public swimming pools, dance parties, Waterloo Records, Mi Madres and you can still afford to buy a nice house in a nice neighborhood for less than 500K. My favorite thing about Seattle is how pretty it is during the three weeks of summer. There are also tons of great restaurants here too which is huge plus. My least favorite is the 9 months of rain and darkness. That shit messes with your constitution.
L: What’s your favorite thing about doing A+R? Could you do it for the rest of your life?
S: My favorite thing about doing A&R is finding bands that I’m super excited about and turning other people on to their music. There are so many parts of jobs, even “cool” jobs, that are a total drag but you can’t really beat the feeling of finding something new and getting totally stoked on it. It’s even better when things work out and you’re able to watch bands/people realize their potential. I could totally do A&R for the rest of my career. As long as I’m still able to go out at night and see new bands I’ll hopefully be doing this. [I’ll set you up with my coke dealer. –ed.]
L: Where do you see yourself at 35?
S: I try not to think that far in advance. Plans are for suckers. Hopefully I’ll be working on a family by then though. [Families are for suckers. –ed.]
L: What’s the best show you’ve seen this year?
S: This isn’t really a specific show but the ATP festival in Minehead, England was the best musical experience I had. Those Brits really know how to pull off a festival. It was like being at indie rock camp or something. Some of the highlights where the Notwist, Les Savy Fav and The Go! Team. There was plenty of debauchery going on but nothing got out of control. People just wanted to go see amazing shows, meet new people and have a great time. I can’t see anything like that happening in the states without someone doing something really stupid and ruining everyone’s good time.
L: Who’s your favorite local band? Would you sign them to Sub Pop if it were all up to you?
S: Right now I really like the Coconut Coolouts [I swear I don’t tell people to say this—it’s just that we’re really good. –ed.] and Fleet Foxes. Two totally different bands but both, I think, doing cool stuff. I’d sign a lot of stuff it was all up to me but I’ve got some folks to answer to so….
L: Do you believe in God? Why or why not?
S: I believe in A God but not necessarily THE God. [You do believe he’s black though, right? –ed.] I’d like to believe it all happens for a reason but I don’t necessarily buy into any one specific school of thought.
L: Who do you like better, your mom or your dad?
S: If you knew my parents you’d know that they are probably reading this so I am totally not choosing one over the other. They’re both rad in their own special ways. I will say that my mom did far less embarrassing things to me as a child though. [Cop out! Who bought you your first box of maxi pads? That’s who you should like the best! -ed.]
L: Who is your favorite coworker?
S: I have known all of you on the marketing staff for way too long to play favorites so I’m gonna say our lawyer Eric Brown. Eric is secretly hilarious [That’s right, Eric—no one actually knows you’re funny! –ed.] and was by far the safest driver when we went to NZ. Plus he said chilly bin like nine thousand times and laughed every single time he said it. He’s also the only dude here who can help you out of any serious trouble you get into. [He was no help when I flushed my deodorant down the toilet at my old apartment…. –ed.]
L: What do you do after work generally?
S: I go to the gym, take the dog for a walk and cook dinner. I KNOW! Pretty crazy right?!
L: Do you like “Everybody Loves Raymond”?
S: I am assuming you asked me this only because you’ve heard me say how much I hate this show. There is nothing funny about that show. Not Ray. Not his annoying wife. Not his wacky parents. I’d rather watch King of Queens. [I actually asked because I hate that show, too. I don’t like King of Queens either, though, but you should still buy Patton Oswalt’s new record, out now on Sub Pop Records. –ed.]
L: If you had to be one age for the rest of your life what would it be and why?
S: 22 was a good year. I was living in Austin, going to school, working, seeing a ton of bands and going out almost every night but still taking care of business. It was just a really fun time.
L: Tell me a good slumber party story from when you were a kid.
S: When I was maybe 7 or 8 a friend of mind had a slumber party and we decided it would be fun to sleep outside on her giant trampoline. I’m from El Paso, TX and she lived on the side of the mountain so the backyard didn’t face other houses but a really dark ravine that led up to the mountain. Now, I don’t know if you people are familiar with the Chupacabra but it was like a Mexican version of the boogie man. It literally means goat sucker. Anyway, her mom gathered us all around and started to tell us ghost stories which eventually led to a Chupacabra story. We were all huddled together hanging on her every word when something started howling in the distance. Then there was a rustling in the bushes. Then her older brother, dressed up in a wolf man suit/the Chupacabra, jumped over the wall and scared the shit out of all of us. I jumped about 10 ft in the air, ran into their house bawling and locked myself in the bathroom. People are dicks. [Well, at least it wasn’t one of those super scary illegal immigrants that I’ve been hearing so much about—one of ‘em could’ve stolen your job! –ed]
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!