Tag Archives: Seattle

Sub Pop Imprint Hardly Art Celebrates 10 Years as a Tastemaker All Its Own

Hardly Art

Sometime over tea at a donut shop in downtown Seattle, it occurs to Sarah Moody, general manager of Sub Pop Records’ imprint Hardly Art, that her label officially celebrated a milestone just days before.

“Just last week was our technical 10-year anniversary of the announcement of the label,” she says, taking a moment to reflect. “That was on March 9th, 2007.” To celebrate, the label is releasing a compilation of “bedroom recordings, demos, rarities, unreleased, and widely ignored material.”

Moody has been with Hardly Art since the beginning and Sub Pop before that. At 22, she was handpicked by Sub Pop CEO Megan Jasper, co-founder Jonathan Poneman, and Head of A&R Tony Kiewel to lead the nascent imprint.

At the time, Sub Pop was going on 20 and entering a stage of growth few indie labels survive long enough to see. The label quip, “Going out of business since 1988,” didn’t hold up. Sub Pop was thriving, having folded in successful comedy acts like Eugene Mirman, Flight of the Conchords, and Patton Oswalt into its ranks, along with crossover bands like Fleet Foxes and Iron & Wine.

The label had more ideas than it had resources to execute them. “One of the dangers of being successful and growing larger as a record label is that you can become victim to your own inertia,” Kiewel says. “You get bigger, it gets harder to change directions or to stop going in whatever direction you’re already aimed.”

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The Macefield Music Festival Honors the Patron Saint of Fighting Developers in Seattle

Macefield Music Fest team
The Macefield Music Fest team.

The once-sleepy Seattle neighborhood of Ballard, just northwest of Lake Union, was for decades a gritty, dive-bar dotted fisherman’s village.

Neko Case worked in one of those dives, in the kitchen of a local hangout called Hattie’s Hat. (Around the same time, during a secret Whiskeytown show, an over sauced Ryan Adams took a famous tumble from one of its barstools.) Folklore has it there once was an ordinance requiring “a bar for every church.” It’s a part of the city rife with salty stories and hometown heroes.

One of the best examples is Edith Macefield, the widely-celebrated real estate holdout who refused to sell the small cottage where she lived for over fifty years to developers, who offered her nearly a million dollars for the place. After she refused multiple deals, a large retail complex that now houses an L.A. Fitness, Ross Dress for Less, and Trader Joes was built, much to the builder’s chagrin, awkwardly around her small cottage.

In 2008, Macefield died in that house, as her mother had, over twenty years before. But her small act of defiance—swirled with rumors and the mystery of her own life—did not go unnoticed. Publicists from the Pixar movie Up tied balloons around the property, promoting the film while putting Macefield in the spotlight. A handful of area residents had “the house” tattooed on their bodies. In the city and beyond, countless stories were written about the little old lady who refused to sell.

After she passed away, Macefield, who played the saxophone and claimed Benny Goodman was her cousin, became the inspiration for the Macefield Music Festival.

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Album of the Day: VATS, “Green Glass Room”

With their ice-cold, razor-edged guitars and blank-verse writing style, Seattle, Washington trio VATS mirror the stone-faced, no-bullshit/no-emotion/no-fucks-given M.O. of post-punk forebears like Wire and The Fall. Like those bands’ best records, most of Green Glass Room scans like a pocket guide to enacting a very serious revolution, one where victory is celebrated with a nod and a firm handshake. Most of the songs play out like marching orders. On “Drag,” over a rusted-Slinky guitar line and rigor-mortis percussion, vocalists Sarah, JJ, and Gabe (no last names, please) bellow lyrics that are part insurgent’s instruction manual, part college syllabus on the Situationist movement: “Power in numbers is the failure of lovers/ Make yourself stronger/ disrupt the order.” If all of this makes Green Glass Room sound pretty humorless, that’s because it is—but that’s also the point. There’s something deeply unsettling about the dutiful, expressionless way VATS go about the business of fomenting social change; in their songs, cultural revolution comes because the band has quietly eliminated every other option.

To this end, Green Glass Room is disconcertingly effective. “Impenetrable Urge”—the title of which tellingly twists Devo’s “Uncontrollable Urge” into something more opaque—is carved to ribbons by taut slashes of guitar. Its lyrics depict a world where pleasure comes through routine, and its machinelike cadence mirrors that message: “We have no interest in helping with pent-up frustration,” Sarah sternly sings, “We do not owe you counsel.” Their cover of Malaria!’s “Your Turn to Run” is gloomier and feels hollower than the original, crossing it with Wire’s “Being Sucked In Again” and making its lyrics—”There will come a time when I’m your only one”—feel less like a love letter and more like a dictator’s idea of pillow talk. This is Green Glass Room’s great trick: at a time when young punk bands are railing against systemic injustices with power and force, VATS are pulling a Kraftwerkian bait-and-switch, adopting the ice-cold personalities of authoritarian demagogues as a way to expose their dark, sinister power. By cannily layering messages of revolt in small doses, they feel less like a band, and more like embedded mutineers, sneaking out battle plans by slipping well-placed trigger words into State Addresses. “You deny autonomy/ and I control myself,” Gabe announces on “Half Night.” That VATS plays both sides of that equation so perfectly is what makes Green Glass Room so difficult to shake.

J. Edward Keyes