If any one person could be said to have developed the sound of Seattle underground rock in the late 1980s, Jack Endino is the most logical choice. The man that Sub Pop co-proprietor Bruce Pavitt refers to as their early "house producer" oversaw early, seminal records by Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, and a bunch of other Seattle bands who never quite carved their niche in the history books. In the Seattle rock documentary Hype!, he's identified as the godfather of grunge.
What do you think were the distinguishing marks of the Seattle scene, as opposed to other regional rock scenes around the country?
Nobody took themselves too seriously. You didn't have any navel-gazing sort of going on. There was a feeling that you could basically pillage any part of the past. Any of the rock and roll past was fair game for ironic commentary, tributes. It seemed that everything from punk rock to early '70s heavy metal to '60s garage was fair game, as far as the melting pot of influences went. And nobody seemed to be terribly snobbish about any of it. There's a certain thing that comes along in popular music every ten years or so where it becomes sort of hip not to be rock, where people sort of look down on rock,and sort of sniff and go, that heavy rock stuff, oh guitars, we can't have that. We like dance music and so forth. That sort of happened in the early '80s, and it's happening again now. But the pendulum basically swung the other way in the late '80s, and it became okay to have a guitar again. A lot of people started pounding at their guitars and screaming and bashing in their drums.
The thing that characterized late '80s Seattle music was basically an extension of '70s rock idiom with early '80s punk rock energy. It was all about volume and energy and enthusiasm and general craziness, and not so much about technique, flash, or professionalism, really (laughs). In other words, it was a bunch of kids having a good time.
What characterized grunge in particular?
Really bad guitar sounds. Not due to me! (laughs) Cheap amps, cheap guitars, multiple distortion boxes, and a general sort of rowdy approach. Screaming thrashing guitars, loud bashing drums, wailing screaming singers, a general loud intent, and nobody was too concerned with being terribly pop, if you will. At least, not at first. The intent was to be loud and aggressive, and still have a sense of humor about it, not to be all pompous and ponderous. 'Cause nobody wanted to be like heavy metal studs in leather and be all scary and stuff. Rock and roll has been around so long that it's hard for anyone to...at least here, it was hard for anyone to take it seriously the way it was taken seriously in the previous decade. So there was always a certain sort of good-natured sense of self-parody to it. At the same time, there was sincerity as well. Beneath the jocular, sort of ironic posturing, there was still a lot of sincere rock music being made.
And what characterized the records you were involved with producing?
It's ludicrous to call yourself a producer when you're making an album in four days or something like that. There's times when it's appropriate, when you know that your role is more involved, than other times when perhaps you're really just functioning as a...in a sense, I didn't really know if I was a producer until people starting calling me one, and I realized that...once people expected me to be a producer, I realized that what they were looking for was exactly what I'd been doing all along. So partly it's that I just didn't have the nerve to call myself a producer, because that was a very...because that would have been considered sort of conceited in those days. We were all very do-it-yourself, very indie rock underground punk rock sort of people. Like I said, the idea of there being a producer when you're doing a record in a week--it seemed kind of pretentious, really.
On the other hand, the records have a sound which was due to my work. So make of what you will really. It does seem kind of pretentious to call yourself a producer when you're making a record, when some of them...[Nirvana's] Bleach was made in three days. Three days...actually, it was divided up into various little bits here and there, but I mean, the total was 30 hours. It could have been three days. Most of it was in three days. It just seems more reasonable, really. I didn't particularly insist on being called a producer at any point, not until now. Now I'm sort of expected to do a certain job, and have certain responsibilities. I get a more reasonable amount of time to do records, and it's sort of accepted okay, you're going to produce our record.
But in those days, it was sort of more of a lark. You can only afford three days? Okay, let's see if we can make a record in three days. And we would do it. And it's easier to say "recorded by" than to say "produced, engineered and mixed by." Sort of sums it up--I made the record, the band played it, I recorded it. What else do you need to know?
At that time you were in Skin Yard. How did producing end up as your focus?
At the time I considered the band my main priority, and then as that slowly fell by the wayside, it became clear that there was more demand for me as a producer than there was as a guitarist in a rock band. A lot of guitar players there. Guitar players are a dime a dozen. But if you're halfway decent in the studio, the world will beat a path to your door.
Do you know what the story was with the early version of the Nevermind album with Nirvana?
They did it with Butch Vig. Butch was sort of at the same stage I was. I'm not sure if he was entirely comfortable calling himself a producer, but he did record it and mix it. It was a lot of the same songs, there was a couple that actually didn't end up on Nevermindand got released later as B-sides. But for the most part, it was the songs on Nevermindminus a couple that got written a little later and added to Nevermindlater on. I think they did seven or eight songs. I don't know if it was a complete album or not. I never heard more than, I think, seven songs.
They did the record, and they didn't finish the entire album. I don't think they finished enough songs for an album, but it was a good solid tape, it was a good half an hour's worth. Then they decided to get rid of their drummer, Chad, and they wanted to re-record it with a new drummer and...I don't think they told Sub Pop this at the time, but with a new record label as well. And one thing led to another, and basically that recording wound up being their demo tape, which they used to shop around to get the deal with Geffen. A lot of us heard it, actually, they passed out copies. I had a copy of it, I don't know where it is anymore. It's basically, the drum parts are similar, it's not quite as produced-sounding, it's a little rougher, the lyrics are different, a couple of the song titles are different. But the music is the same.
Was there a sense by this point that Nirvana had a chance to become bigger than other indie bands?
As I've said in the movie, Jonathan sensed it early on. He figured they were going to be huge. But it's always a matter of luck when a band gets signed to a major label, if their record is going to be the one that sticks to the wall or not, or if it's just going to be another one of those didn't make it. It didn't really become apparent to everybody until you first heard that song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the radio. It sort of became pretty obvious at that point. I think probably anybody who heard the rough versions, the early version of Nevermind, the one that they did with the old drummer, probably had a pretty good idea in their heads that maybe this could amount to something big. I didn't think that at the time, though. I remember thinking, oh, this is okay. It wasn't until I heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" really that it became obvious that something was going to happen. I think it took a lot of people by surprise, frankly. It wasn't until we heard that stuff on the radio that it sort of clicked. Jonathan knew it, he had a hunch, but I don't know, the rest of us...we knew they were a good band, but how good? That good? Wow!
What are your favorites among the records you've been involved with?
Pretty hard to say really because you know, I just can't really remember. There's like 120 of them, and at this point I can't really remember them that well. I still enjoy the first Mark Lanegan record, The Winding Sheet, very much. That was one of my favorite records, actually. I did a thrash/metal record for the Accused which is called Grinning Like An Undertaker, which...it's probably the only thrash/metal record I've done in my career, and I had a really good time (laughs). It was really fun. I thought they were completely amazing. But I think they were sort of in the wrong city. It was on some weird indie here that no longer exists, and didn't really do much with it. There was a Screaming Trees record I did for SST called Buzz Factory, that was fun. Heck, my own band's records, I suppose. Skin Yard albums. We did okay, though.
What are you up to now (May 1997)?
I just finished mixing a record for the Mono Men. I most likely will be doing...I've got like any of three different projects that are sort of trying to jell now for the summer, and one of them is going to solidify. I don't know which one is going to solidify first, so I'm not going to say. I did a record for a Mexican band called Guillotina, which is on Warner Mexico. Did a record for Bruce Dickinson, former singer of Iron Maiden, in England. Couldn't turn that one down, that was really fun. Went to Australia and did a record for Blue Bottle Kiss, who are very very much in the indie rock sort of vein, even though they're on a major label in Australia. They sound like they've been listening to a lot of alternative rock, so it was a pretty easy record for me to do. I was just in Holland doing some demos for a band. I'm working with a band called the Nitwits, who are an old Dutch punk rock band from like the late '70s who recently got back together.
How has the Seattle rock scene changed since grunge peaked in the early 1990s?
Just a generational change, really. Generational shift. Two things, really. One is that Sub Pop stopped signing local bands, basically lost interest in the local scene entirely. That's fine, they felt like they'd gotten as much mileage as they could out of it, and wanted to reinvent themselves. I certainly can't blame them for that. But there was no other local label really big enough to move into the vacuum. So as far as the outside world was concerned, the Seattle music scene had sort of ended, 'cause nobody was here sort of exploiting it anymore, pushing it to the outside world. There's a lot of great bands, but nobody's really paying attention to them anymore.
A lot of clubs opened and then closed. I think we're back down to three or four clubs now, where we had about ten a couple years ago. The best change is that people are playing in bands again, not as a career option, but for the fun of it. I know a lot of people who've sort of come back to just playing in bands for the enjoyment of it rather than okay this, we're gonna get signed and make a million bucks kind of thing. People I know who used to be in big bands, for instance, who've sort of come back to Seattle and now they sort of have normal lives now, and now they have a hobby band or whatever. And everybody plays with each other. It's kind of the way things were originally, which was that, everybody was in for the fun of it. Suddenly it became this big deal. Now it's not a big deal anymore, so things have relaxed again a little bit.
Anything else you want to add about grunge or Seattle rock?
We were sort of isolated from the rock
press, and isolated from the record industry out here in Seattle.
That was fairly important in letting things develop and form an
regional sound that wasn't just an imitation New York or imitation L.A.
sort of thing. I think that needs to be mentioned. It continued
up until '94. I think '94 was when the bottom started to fall
The original thing here peaked in '89, which was well before
Things here were going really strong in '89, and then things were
on the way down. And then Nirvana hit, and Pearl Jam hit, and
suddenly become big, and the whole thing started up again in like
Things went nuts all over again when those three-four bands. That
was when the major label thing happened. But before '91, the
labels had not really discovered the Seattle thing. But the rest
of the world had. That's something that needs to be said.
had already become a very hip place in terms of the underground and
rock scene around the country and around the world, everybody knew
it. But no money was being made, and there weren't that many
being sold. But there was a lot of buzz. But once the major
labels got in on it and started putting out those records about '91-92,
that's when the real world suddenly took notice of it. And then
journalists all came to town.
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