Celebrating Independence with… K Records

In honor of Independence Day, KEXP is saluting some of our favorite indie record labels whose DIY-spirit helped revolutionize the music industry. As an independent radio station ourselves, KEXP is thrilled to give a 13-gun salute to these pioneers with a series of label spotlights through the Fourth of July.

I never knew I would someday move to Seattle and be within driving distance of Olympia, WA, headquarters to the influential indie label, K Records. If I could go back into time and tell my pre-teen self she’d someday be taking Exit 105 off I-5 into the heart of K’s hometown, she’d probably faint and accidentally break one of her Lois 7″ singles, so hmmm, yeah, I’m glad she didn’t know.

I love how the K story starts with corporate-free radio as label founder Calvin Johnson volunteered for Olympia’s independent radio station KAOS at the age of 15. Calvin went on to attend Evergreen State College, where he started his first band, and wrote for zines, like Bruce Pavitt’s Subterranean Pop. He started K in 1982, and has released music from his own band Beat Happening, Lois (one of my personal heroes), Beck (yep!), Modest Mouse, Tiger Trap, Lake, Karl Blau, The Softies, and so much more.

I won’t even try to get into the history of K, but you can tune in to Audioasis this Saturday, July 7th as DJ Sharlese interviews someone who did: Mark Baumgarten, author of Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music. I just wanted to touch on those things to illustrate how K is truly the icon of indie spirit: community radio, zines, starting a label. I have so much love and admiration for this label and their DIY-spirit, that dang, maybe I’ll even get the K logo tattooed on my arm, like Kurt Cobain did.

Label founder Calvin Johnson kindly answered some questions for me over e-mail:

What initially inspired you to start an independent label?
So many amazing freleases artists, labels, fanzines and wild screaming punk rock shows all made it obvious that there is room for one more. There is always room for one more.

What is your favorite part of running an indie label?
Working with creative people and watching their expressive ideas unfold before one’s eyes.

What is YOUR favorite independent label, besides your own?
There are so many fab organizations out there right now: Captured Tracks, Gnar Tapes, In the Red, Perennial, Talking Helps

Tune in to KEXP’s Audioasis this Saturday, July 7th as DJ Sharlese chats with Mark Baumgarten, author of the book Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music, at 7:00 PM PT.

Live on TCTV, “The Saturday Very Late Afternoon Show,” Olympia WA March 1988.

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One Comment

  1. Buck Ormsby
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    My partners Kent Morrill, Rockin’ Robin Roberts, and myself started the first independent label in the northwest in 1961 in Tacoma, WA. It was Etiquette Records. Our first release a single ’45 was “Louie Louie” by Rockin’ Robin with the Wailers. Up against major labels, we went on through the ’60’s recording the Wailers, the Sonics, and several other independent NW groups and artists, and got airtime. I think we opened the door for several independent labels that followed.

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