FEATURES Remembering Stevie Pohlman By Ben Parrish · March 01, 2024

Longtime participant in the Portland DIY music scene and creative force behind the band Mope Grooves, Stevie Pohlman passed away last month. Below, friend and “independent music industry stooge” (his suggested phrasing) Ben Parrish reflects on Pohlman’s legacy and shares some thoughts on three favorite Mope Grooves releases.

In January of 2016, I was 11 years into a job at an indie record label and had taken on so many roles that I was approaching burnout and desperately needed to hire an assistant. So I made a few posts on the company’s social media accounts, posted on Craigslist, mentioned the position in the label’s weekly newsletter, asked friends to spread the word, and let the applications roll in. One of the applicants was a musician named Stevie Pohlman.

Pohlman interviewed for the assistant job, and I thought she was cool right away. We liked a lot of the same things about the Northwest music scene (her cover letter mentioned being a huge fan of the great Seattle band Wimps) and disliked a lot of the same things (apolitical garage rock, “twee” music written for ads) as well. Unfortunately, she was about to head on a month-long, self-booked tour with her band, Mope Grooves, and I needed help as soon as possible. She didn’t get the job.

Five months later, my pals in Wimps came to Portland for an all-ages punk show at American Legion Post 134, presented by the newish label See My Friends Records. I had visited Post 134 numerous times for their Friday bingo nights, where I drank many frosty pints of $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon and even won the $40 bingo blackout once—but I had never heard of anybody promoting a show there. Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Pohlman was not only working the door but was one of the creative forces behind See My Friends Records. We talked about how her band’s tour went (it was fun!), and she mentioned that the show was also a release party for Secret City Vol. 1, a compilation LP of bands from Portland’s sub-underground music scene.

It was an exceptional evening of music. Wimps excited fans with their unique brand of adult-problem punk. Honey Bucket played a hard-to-classify style of music that drew from artists like The Minutemen and King Kong. Marcy’s Band sounded like a ’90s indie mixtape that survived being left on the car dashboard for two years. And Mope Grooves—Pohlman’s band—broke my brain. Imagine if somebody ran records by The Raincoats, The Clean, Beat Happening, Tyvek, and Marine Girls through a wood chipper and glued the pieces into a new super-record. I was hooked. From that point, I started buying See My Friends and Mope Grooves releases whenever I could find them, which wasn’t cost-prohibitive due to the label’s accessible pricing (LPs were usually under $10, cassettes were around $3).

A common talking point is that the internet democratized music, but just because groups like Maher Shalal Hash Baz and MGMT are both available to stream with the click of a button doesn’t mean they exist in the same world. This “democratization of music” also normalized some questionable views: You need to hire a publicist immediately; if you spend thousands of dollars going to SXSW, you can skip building an audience organically; if you put lots of guests on your album, it helps with algorithmic discovery; making album art for your band isn’t fun, it’s unpaid labor; playlists and compilations are the same thing.

Instead of engaging with these views, Mope Grooves created something more exciting, emphasizing the DO IT part of DIY. Is an online premiere not leading to an album connecting with fans meaningfully? Sell the album cheaply on consignment at a local record shop. Is the local garage rock scene predatory? Put on your events independently and look out for each other. Is printing LP jackets expensive? Create your jackets with help from friends. Judging by how many people I know around the globe who fell in love with Mope Grooves’s music via word of mouth, it worked.

Pohlman, Mope Grooves, and See My Friends Records reaffirmed my belief in the spirit of DIY when I needed it the most, and I’ll always be grateful.

Rest easy, Stevie.


Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Making happy-sounding songs about intense subject matter is a cliché, but Mope Grooves’s debut album makes the idea sound novel. In an interview with Willamette Week about Joy, Pohlman hinted that the album almost wasn’t released, saying, “I only want to justify the creation of these platters that go into people’s rooms if they come with some kind of meaning behind them that can be used as a tool in everyday life.”


Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Pohlman took a big leap forward as a pop songwriter in the year between the release of Joy and Vanished, an album that includes some of the biggest earworms in the Mope Grooves catalog. “Vanished” and “Secret Life” have been on repeat in my head for five years. There’s also a cover of the Marine Girls’s song “In Love.” The art on this LP is extremely labor intensive for the $10 retail price: a letter-pressed jacket with a photocopied, hand-cut drawing glued on the front and a spray-glued poem on the back. This was the first Mope Grooves record to be made available on Bandcamp and at shows at a “comrade pricing” rate of $7 for low income people, the disabled, and those owed reparations in addition to the regular price of $10.


Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

The fourth and probably best-known Mope Grooves album is also their weirdest, sort of like an electronic take on The Raincoats’s Odyshape with lots of percussion and the occasional violin. This album also had Mope Grooves’s most ambitious LP packaging to date, bearing the description: “Keeping in the tradition of thrift, tedious life-consuming labor, and love of the game, these are all spray painted, the spray painted jacket is rubbed face down on the driveway real hard until it takes ink good, the jacket is screen printed, and then a photo is glued in the box (usually the one pictured). It looks great and is a giant pain in the ass.”

Read more in Punk →

Top Stories

Latest see all stories

On Bandcamp Radio see all

Listen to the latest episode of Bandcamp Radio. Listen now →