The Seattle Music Scene Post-Grunge

By Michael Powell

Seattle resident Michael Powell presents his take on what's been going on in Seattle over the last few years...

Seattle, Washington's spot on the global music scene was defined on April 4, 1994. On that day, a shotgun shot to the head blew away the life of Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the grunge band Nirvana. Films and books chronicling the life and death of Cobain continue to sell tickets and copies, and Cobain's mark on Seattle's history is permanent.

Since the death of Cobain, a plethora of musicians from the Great Northwest have made it big however, receiving airtime on radio, magazine and television coverage and successful record sales. 

In 2004, Modest Mouse, an indie rock band from the Seattle suburb of Issaquah, scored a major hit with their song Float On. Sung over an upbeat guitar riff, Float On has a laid-back chorus of And we'll all float on ok, and we'll all float on any way well. When viewed in the context of being produced from the home of grunge, Float On rejected the depression and rage of Nirvana. Modest Mouse went platinum with that album, selling 1.5 million records in the US and getting nominated for a Grammy.

From the another part of Washington, in this instance the small city of Bellingham, came another slap in the face to grunge in the form of Ben Gibbard, a guitarist who in 1997 formed the band Death Cab for Cutie and in 2001 formed the electro pop band The Postal Service.

The Postal Service released a very successful album entitled Give Up in 2003. With an upbeat tone and clever lyrics that are a result of the mix of Gibbard's soft vocals and producer Jimmy Tamborello's sleek production, The Postal Service has been heard at countless parties and used in numerous advertisements. Their hit single, Such Great Heights was used by the TV shows Grey's Anatomy and Laguna Beach as well as an advertising campaign by the United Parcel Service (a package delivery company founded in Seattle).

A factor in the success of northwest bands may be a new generation. If you're in your late teens/early 20s now, then you're probably too young to remember the grunge era said Geo Geologic Quibuyen of the Seattle hip-hop group Blue Scholars. 

That new generation is arguably the hip-hop generation, with rappers often playing roles not only in music, but also in everything from beverage sponsorship to acting. Blue Scholars have become part of a new wave of hip-hop, getting signed to Rawkus, the record label that once held Talib Kweli and Mos Def.

'We started getting the attention of handful of labels based on the following we were starting to develop in the region' said Geologic. 'We were already in contact with people from Sony/Columbia (which Rawkus is distributed by). The timing was right because Rawkus was looking to go in a new direction with newer, up and coming independent hip-hop artists from around the country and we hit their radar'

The northwest music community is one of cooperative creativity. 'People in the [Seattle] scene are really supportive of each other and there isn't much competition, which is great' Chris Martin of the psychedelic rock band Kinski said, 'Things are really laid back and are pretty easy'

Getting a hold of a local musician is not difficult, and crossing over between bands and genres is common. The gothic hip-hop group Grayskul recently collaborated with Andrea Zollo of the rock band Pretty Girls Make Graves, mixing genres and breaking past musical segregation in a way that is very rare in mainstream music.

Despite the diversity and creativity, it still remains more difficult for acts of all genres to make it than it is if you're in a well-known city like Los Angeles or New York. Speaking of the low-key role that Seattle has played in the American music scene, Geologic of Blue Scholars said, 'That same isolation has made it difficult for acts to break out of the region. People from outside are generally skeptical, until they really give the music a chance'

Seattle has given the world a lot, from Microsoft to Starbucks to Boeing. Just as the world has discovered that Seattle carries with it a major bud of engineering talent, they may soon realize that there is a major supply of musical talent as well.