Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Empty Records

This photo is of Blake Wright and Meghan Smith of Empty Records from back in the late-'90s when the label operated out of the attic of Blake's Ballard house. It's funny, when most people think of Seattle record labels, Sub Pop is the first that comes to mind. And while I think in the first half of the '90s Sub Pop was clearly the most important Seattle music label, by halfway through that decade Empty Records took over. Sub Pop kick started the grunge movement by releasing so many local records and grabbing international headlines. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Tad, the who's who of Seattle's grunge scene were all on Sub Pop. But by 1993, their biggest bands had all left for major labels, their popular Single's Club had petered out, and the label dropped their Northwest focus and were signing more out-of-state bands than locals. In 1995 they signed away 49% of company to Warner Bros and the following year co-founder Bruce Pavitt left the label.

Enter Empty Records. Blake and two of his friends had been running the label since the '80s. Since Blake was the only one located in Seattle, he began putting out local bands. His early releases on the label included The Accused, The Fartz, The Derelicts, The Fumes and TFL. By the '90s things began to take off with a slew of Northwest singles and LPs from bands like like The Gits, Sicko, Gas Huffer, The Catheters, The Sinister Six, Zipgun, The Supersuckers, Cracker Bash, Steel Wool, Girl Trouble, The Putters, The Statics, Satan's Pilgrims, Dead Moon, Murder City Devils, and The Fireballs of Freedom. Bands that later signed to majors, Sub Pop or C/Z Records often had their first releases and promotion through Empty Records (The Gits, Murder City Devils and Catheters, for example). The Empty sound wasn't as definable as Sub Pop's, but the bulk of music coming out of the label by the mid to late '90s was either energetic garage punk or pop punk, and most of the label's fans loved both! During it's hey day from 1992-1994, Empty had an office, a couple staff members (Tammy Watson of Kill Sybil, Annee, and I also remember Ean from Sicko packing records when I'd stop by the Empty office), and was putting out a new release almost every month. Not bad for a totally independent local record label.

In the later '90s as interest in Seattle's music scene winded down and some of his biggest bands had broken up of left for bigger labels, Blake went back to work full time and ran the label on a slightly slower gear out of his attic, with lots of help from his friend Meghan Smith. He branched out to releasing bands he loved from outside the Northwest, like The Motards, Reatards, Drags and Scared of Chaka - all fantastic bands. He eventually faced a lawsuit from is ex-label partner Joe Raimond in Germany over the name of the label, which resulted in a slight name change to Empty Records USA. Blake relocated to Portland a few years ago and still is releasing records, in past few years he's put out albums by King Louie & the Loose Diamonds, Snitches Get Stitches, Bamboo Kids, Pure Country Gold, Lover!, Dark Skies, The New York Rifles, Dark Skies, Tokyo Electron and more, check out emptyrecords.com for more details.

Meghan Smith is now a kick-ass Rat City Rollergirls competitor for The Derby Liberation Front and does a cool yardsale blog you can find a link to over on the right.

The thing that has always made Empty Records a great label, although not a financial success, is Blake takes the time to get to know and befriend every band he releases. He's a stand up guy with lots of loyal fans and friends and his mark on Northwest music during the '90s was enormous.


Anonymous said...

Volker was not the one who brought the law suit it was the other partner who's name escapes me at the moment. Volker gave up interest in the label back in the early/mid 90's when he moved to Baltimore.

Dan 10Things said...

Good catch, updated! Joe Raimond was the guy from Musical Tragedies. Volker was pretty cool, I knew him from the national punklist, he did Penultimate Records with put out The Derelicts Bullet for Fifi 7", Love Machine LP, and a single by Cat Butt.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the flashback. Ten Years is a long time to work at a label...
Gads, my hair looks G-R-E-A-T (har)

Anonymous said...

Glory days, well they'll pass you by
Glory days, in the wink of a young girl's eye
Glory days, glory days

Dan 10Things said...

"Glory days, well they'll pass you by"

Ha ha. Ironically, my glory days include working for the Bruce Springsteen magazine Backstreets run out of The Rocket mailroom.

Unknown said...

Funny thing is that Blake always hated old Bruce. I can only guess at the sarcasm in that quip. In 1983 Blake once hurled a lovely LP (twas the time) of "Born to Run" off a third-story balcony, much to the chagrin of its owner and myself.

As for Joe Raimond, va fangulo.