The I-5 towards Seattle
I’m 50 miles from the airport where my cohorts await at the curb. I’m late. The blue Dodge mini-van rental, official vehicle of the 2014 Imposition Tour, drafts with a silver BMW, a Chevy Fit, and a good ‘ole boys pick-up, hot-wired for fun. For the next 20 miles I hew to the pack and keep a sharp eye for Staties.
Olympia is a stagger of exits, one of which is Sleater-Kinney Road*—cue up some S-K on Spotify. Revisit The Woods, ponder why I let eight years slip by without a listen to “Jumpers.” Nostalgia is not enough, learn something today. I go deeper for Dig Me Out (1997). It’s the furthest I’ve gone into the oeuvre. Ironically this is the furthest north I’ve been in the Pacific Northwest. If we’re on this road trip to learn, familiarize, and discover, it must be done with sincerity. Thirty miles to the airport and Dylan, a photographer who landed the night before, informs me he’s waiting in the lobby of the dilapidated Jet Motel—a droopy banner above the outdoor stairwell suggests that we “Try The Sushi.” Sincerity has its limits.
The airport pick up is on the fly, a third lane scramble of tossing in bags and bodies piling in while the rental crawls in the third lane, keeping traffic pace comfortable. We are now four deep; founder Derek Evers and fiancée Sang Nguyen, along with Gothamist editor Chris Robbins. Dylan makes it five. Our Air BnB crash spot in Eastlake greets us with 50 collectors' edition Starbucks mugs and a view of the shrinking sun. This is Drizzle Country.
Sub Pop’s offices are downtown. It’s a large operation, possibly the largest we’ll tour with K Records and Stones Throw in our sights. A three-floor elevator ride up opens to a grandiose canvas of Sub Pop getting an aerial shout out on the Space Needle. A benchmark of makin’ it, no question. Derek the front desk minder exudes the doofy side of eccentric in his furry Russian guard cap, even though it’s 70 and sunny on this particular day in Seattle. As we’re guided oint the cubicle bullpen, where the door to the Hardly Art office lies, there’s no energies to absorb, no buzz of A&Rs ordering interns about, and shouts of ‘I don’t care if he’s comatose, he’s got a goddamn photoshoot with Terry in an hour’ from open office doors. We’re told a sunny day in February is rare, thus it’s a barren office with only the opulence of gold plaques, silver plaques, and framed memorabilia to greet us.
Hardly Art is alive and kicking though. The Sub Pop subsidiary is a modest operation tucked within the lax corporate shell of its parent. There are no plaques in the Hardly Art office, only close quarters stickered and flyered, the micro-level in which four desks multi-task the needs of bands like La Luz, Tacocat, Colleen Green, and La Sera. To my right, shipments are processed by a young lady, our presence never once distracting her diligent rhythm. Sarah Moody and Jason Baxter break from their desks to wax SxSW talk and suggest the finest Pho in Seattle on Capitol Hill. Baxter gives us an official office tour; the meditation room (first heard of thanks to Chain Letter interviews with No Age and Washed Out), the break room with a wall of fame culled by a long gone photobooth. Aziz Ansari, Michael Cera, and Elliot Smith are all spotted. The doodle wall is a 10 by 15 foot, grade school notebook page of inside jokes, yearbook-worthy well wishes, and cartoon nudity of green pubic hairs drawn by the brilliant roster, over 20 years of adolescent release. (Like Hunx drawing a bikini-clad man, similar to the Gay Singles album art, with the message “for a good time call:” and listing his former publicists’ cell.)
The warehouse has the organization of an artifacts library, neatly tagged brown boxes atop metal shelves in tight rows. I ask Jason about top sellers and a nearby warehouse staff member chimes in the half-expected “lot of Beach House, steady with the new stuff like Washed Out or Fleet Foxes, and Mudhoney, lots of Mudhoney, always Mudhoney.”
Always Mudhoney. The band lacking the household approval of Nirvana, but still largely accredited in the grunge era. Mudhoney, the workhorse of Sub Pop for 28 years. There’s a cluster of brass records from the Aughts heydey outside the meditation room, courtesy of The Postal Service and the Garden State Soundtrack. There’s a Bleach gold plaque above the urinal in the men’s room. But, when it comes to keeping the lights on in the office, Mudhoney’s discography is the understated workhorse. (Note: The Mudhoney bio on Sub Pop’s website indicates the label is aware and appreciative of its underappreciated flagship band: “Nirvana, Saint Etienne and Fleet Foxes are swell, but no other group has consistently kicked as much ass as Mudhoney, nor has anyone come close.”)
“Hello, Sasquatch, we’d like to do business”
Acquiring legal weed in the state of Washington as a non-resident requires resourcefulness, cross-checking with local intelligentsia, cell phone service, and a little faith in a dealer named after a mythical hominid.
Bummed (is there any other word?) by the news the recreational dispensaries will not open until June and purchase of the legal grass is limited to state residents, we got creative after Sang spotted an ad in Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger. The Winterlife Cooperative is a cannabis delivery service serving the greater Seattle area with the tagline “No Card Required” in bold red lettering—seven days a week, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. We cross-checked the service with Yelp reviews (many shouted out their favorite animal dealers. Panther comes highly rated, but drivers are issued at random) and a praise-filled article in The Stranger. It's legit enough, with more than reasonable rates (quarter for $60).
It took a couple hours but eventually one of us went downstairs to meet with Sasquatch, who’d been coordinating the deal through a series of furtive phone calls. Sasquatch, a pasty, stoic white dude with a wispy blonde goatee, arrived with a quarter and a chocolate bar containing 50mg of activated cannabinoids. Easy exchange. No heat. Success. No matter what the scientific community says: Sasquatch is real.
The Black Lodge w/ King Dude, Run Forever, Krill, and Murder in the Wood
The Black Lodge is a DIY space somewhat attached to the Victory Lounge on the fringe of downtown and boasts a vista of concrete arches that make up Seattle’s major thru-ways. The Black Lodge is a plywood clubhouse, built into an alley that leads to an abandoned backroom that would be a home for vagrants were it not for the some local visionary who knew a trip to Home Depot and a good sweeping was all this place needed. It’s a room fit for King Dude to request all lighting be turned off and let the illumination of six mounted candles cast shadows on the walls and on his tattered, black American flag.
Boston’s Krill is out west with Ava Luna, who found themselves playing Victory Lounge with some local rubes. Krill is this tour’s Big Ups, who played a reappearing role in our adventure last year along the Rust Belt and South of the Mason Dixon. Krill in Seattle. Krill in Olympia. Krill in the van. Krill in Austin. Krill, Krill, Krill forever, as the song goes.
*Later learned Olympia didn’t make the street change in honor of one of its finest exports, there are no keys to the city in the homes of Janet, Carrie, and Corin. Sleater-Kinney put Olympia on the rock n roll map, like Beat Happenings put on, like Bratmobile and Bikini Kill put on, like K Records put on, like The Microphones put on. Our local correspondent Melissa Saunders would tell me during our show in Washington’s capitol city that Olympia’s number one export is passive-aggression. Seems related.)
For more Seattle coverage check out Dylan Johnson's photos from the Black Lodge show here.