Sub Pop Founder Bruce Pavitt Talks Northwest Rock and DJing ahead of Saturday set in Spokane

The noted tastemaker will DJ at the Bad Seed on June 4

click to enlarge Bruce Pavitt - COURTESY PHOTO
Courtesy photo
Bruce Pavitt

Bruce Pavitt was front and center for the Northwest rock boom of the early '90s. As the founder of Sub Pop Records, he not only saw the rise of grunge groups like Nirvana and Soundgarden firsthand, but he also was a beacon for pushing those progressive sounds that sprouted out of remote Northwest towns.

While Pavitt left Sub Pop in 1996, music hasn't left his life. He's written two books (Sub Pop USA and Experiencing Nirvana), acts as a musical historian via speaking engagements, and dusts off his impressive stack of records to DJ.

This weekend, Pavitt treks over to Spokane for a DJ set at the new Hillyard Tex-Mex joint The Bad Seed. The two-hour set of Northwest indie music will begin at 10 pm and there's no cover charge.

In anticipation of his visit to Spokane, we chatted with Pavitt about his DJ philosophy, the grassroots nature of the '90s grunge boom, and his ideal music support system.

What is your general approach when putting together a DJ set?

I do a variety sets, but specifically what I'm going to be doing in Spokane is a Pacific Northwest indie rock set I've been working on, playing primarily music from the late-'80s, '90s, early-'00s. Kind of the golden age there. And the way I think about it is I try and play music by different cities from the region. For example, I'll definitely be playing like Mudhoney, Nirvana and Soundgarden from Seattle, Built to Spill from Boise, Screaming Trees from Ellensburg, Elliott Smith from Portland, Bikini Kill from Olympia, that kind of thing. And it's just more or less an opportunity for me to reconnect with music that really influenced my life. And it's also a way to kind of help honor that culture and keep the interest in it alive. I like to think of it as a cross between entertainment and education.

What’s your view of Spokane as part of the Northwest music scene?

Well, I don't have any music from Spokane in [the set]. Although, coincidentally, yesterday, I got turned on to the fact that the infamous country-western track “Hot Rod Lincoln,” was written by a gentleman from Spokane (Charlie Ryan).

I have a core philosophy that revolutions begin at home. It's very important to support local music. You never know where the next genius talent is going to come from. So I've always invested in that philosophy, and certainly with Sub Pop Records was very involved in promoting a lot of regional music. I just have a core belief that if you support your local scene, something's gonna break out of that.

Ellensburg, I think, might be a perfect example. You know, sure, people expect Seattle, but the Screaming Trees came out of Ellensburg. And Mark Lanegan, rest in peace, certainly became a global figure in alternative music. And that happened in part, because my friend Steve Fisk - who is somebody I met at Evergreen State College in Olympia, we both worked at KAOS radio - moved to Ellensburg and started a studio. He was sending me tapes of the Screaming Trees. He had connections with SST, they wound up putting out records on SST. And I was promoting the group in my column in The Rocket (the old biweekly Pacific Northwest music newspaper). I was writing a Sub Pop column for them for five years. And a lot of kids throughout the state were reading that and reading about what else was going on in the region.

And to put a personal spin on all this, one of my all-time best friends, Bob Whittaker, who was the road manager for Mudhoney back in the day, invited me to come out to visit him (in Spokane). So to be perfectly honest, this seemed like a good excuse for a road trip.

What are your listening habits like these days? Are there specific things that grab you when listening to new music?

Well, I'd like to say yes… [laughs]... I don't listen to as much new music as I did when I was in my twenties and thirties, when I was very aggressively digging in the crates, as they say. Frankly, that was a lot of work. And it became my job to help scout up this stuff and promote it. At my age (I just turned 63) I'm more likely to look in the rearview mirror and reflect on music that I really appreciate. But certainly, as somebody who's been a lifelong music listener, I have a kind of a green light that goes on whenever I hear something that I find compelling.

What projects are you working on outside of DJing?

In the not-so-distant past, I published two books: Experiencing Nirvana and Sub Pop USA. And I have been doing some public speaking based on those books. I do tend to get invited to international conferences and lecture opportunities and stuff, and I use those books as kind of a basis of my talks. I will not be traveling with any books, but I'd be happy to sign any [for those who want to bring their copy to the Bad Seed].

I just finished reading a new book called Stomp and Shout: R&B and the Origins of Northwest Rock and Roll by Peter Blecha, the foremost Northwest rock and roll historian. And what's fascinating in this book is he goes into great detail about all the different regional scenes in Washington state. But one of the things he brought up was that one of the biggest bands in the mid-'60s was Paul Revere and the Raiders. They're originally from Boise, and they moved to Portland. And when you read this book, you realize back then there was a network of teen dances and TV shows. Like even Yakima had a live teen dance TV show, as did Portland, as did Seattle. So if you were a local band in Washington state, you could really sell a lot of records because there was a lot of radio support and there was television support. In my fantasy world, that’s always been how the music industry should operate. And it certainly operated that way in the late-'50s and early-'60s. There's kind of a golden era with "Louie Louie" and the Sonics and everything. And I think in the '90s, there was a resurgence of that. And I'd like to see that come back.

I just see [the DJ set] as kind of a cool opportunity for folks to bond over some great music and maybe have an opportunity to ask a few questions. Bob and I are available to just chat about that time.

Bruce Pavitt: DJ set • Sat, June 4 at 10 pm • Free • All ages • The Bad Seed • 2936 E Olympic Ave. • • 509-822-7439
click to enlarge Pavitt DJing back in 1986.
Pavitt DJing back in 1986.

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About The Author

Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...