When local rockers Green River – which included future members of Pearl Jam and Mudhoney – chose to record their Dry As A Bone EP for Sub Pop, Pavitt struggled to underwrite its release. With the EP’s subsequent appearance almost a year later, in the summer of 1987, the band and Sub Pop had planted the flag for ‘grunge’ as a hard rock genre that would be identified around the globe with Seattle and Sub Pop. Pavitt took on a partner in Jonathan Poneman, who provided funding for the debut single by future world-beaters Soundgarden, who followed it up with their groundbreaking Screaming Life EP later that year. Sub Pop was off and running, if not without a few struggles and obstacles along the way, with Pavitt handling the label’s A&R efforts and Poneman handling Sub Pop’s business dealings.
Gillian G. Gaar’s World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story
As time passed, changes in the industry pretty much forced the label to partner with major label Warner Bros, which bought a 49% ownership of the company in 1995. Pavitt retired to spend time with his family after an acrimonious split with Poneman, who continues to head a dedicated staff of music-lovers at Sub Pop to this day. Along the way, when ‘grunge’ as a commercial force fizzled out, the label expanded its focus and, whether by accident or on purpose, would release important and influential albums by a diverse roster of innovative and exciting artists, including Sleater-Kinney, Sebadoh, the Afghan Whigs, King Tuff, Father John Misty, and even comedians like David Cross and Patton Oswalt. The label has enjoyed its share of commercial success – Nirvana’s Bleach LP and the Postal Service’s Give Up both achieved Platinum™ Record status for over one million in sales, while releases by the Shins, Fleet Foxes, and Band of Horses have all sold better than half-million copies – overall the label occupies a modestly-successful alt-rock niche.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
Gaar does a wonderful job with World Domination in condensing the label’s lengthy history into an easily-digestible and quick read without omitting any important or crucial facets of the story. Her writing is colorful, yet succinct, and you get a feel for the people and personalities that made the label special and innovative. Although Gaar is obviously a cheerleader for her local scene, she pulls no punches in the pages, outlining Sub Pop’s stumbles and mistakes as well as the label’s triumphs. As such, World Domination is much more than the story of a single scrappy indie label but also a primer for like-minded music lovers who may dream of one day launching their own record label. As, arguably, the most successful rock ‘n’ roll indie of the last quarter-century, the Sub Pop story is an important one, and Gaar nails it perfectly with this informative and entertaining tome. Grade: A (RPM Series/BMG Books, published November 20, 2018)