Megan Jasper is a true success story. This is funny because she works for the (legendary) record label, Sub Pop, which often bills itself as “Going out of business since 1988.” Clever marketing aside, Jasper is a beacon in the industry. From starting at the label as an intern to become its CEO, Jasper oversees quite a bit of music history and future-making from her Seattle-based office.
In the conversation below, American Songwriter asked Jasper about her first days on the job (make sure you check the Kurt Cobain story ). Jasper is also gracious enough to give insight into what a label looks for when potentially signing a new band, how the label looks to honor its local and global music communities and what she loves most about music.
American Songwriter: How did you first fall in love with music?
Megan Jasper: I don’t remember a moment of falling in love with music but I do remember it always playing a really important role in my life. My parents always had the radio on so I grew up listening to a lot of top 40 hits and oldies. I also fell down The Beatles rabbit hole and felt fairly obsessed with every album. But when I discovered punk rock as a teenager, my life truly changed.
AS: How did you find yourself at Sub Pop?
MJ: In 1989 I was on tour with Dinosaur Jr., selling merch and working as a roadie. I fell in love with Seattle when we stopped there for a show at the Central Tavern (with Tad and The Screaming Trees opening). The city was beautiful, the music scene was so vibrant and it felt like it could be a fun and inexpensive place to live.
I met Bruce and Jonathan, Sub Pop’s co-founders, at the show and I was asking them a lot of questions about living in Seattle. They told me to pop into the office if I decided to make the move. A few months later, I found myself in Seattle with a suitcase and a backpack. I went straight to the Sub Pop offices that next morning and was given an internship.
AS: What were your initial responsibilities and how did you grow into the position you’re in today?
MJ: I spent the first day of my internship mailing Cat Butt records to college radio stations and I was hired later that day to be the label’s receptionist. I was as thrilled as a pig in shit. When I worked at that front desk there was no such thing as “the internet” and we had one computer for the entire company to use (I mean, it was the 1900s…).
Along with directing phone traffic and supporting much of the communication within the company, I also wrote a monthly newsletter that was mailed out to bands and contacts. I vividly remember Kurt Cobain being upset because he wasn’t receiving them. Kurt thought that I had lost his address (the truth is that he had moved twice in a short time period) and so he wrote his name and address on the wall next to my desk. We have that chunk of the wall hanging in our offices today.
Over time, I continued doing whatever jobs needed to be done and I eventually went into sales and did payroll on the side. After being laid off in 1991 and after years of music distribution experience (I was able to keep selling Sub Pop records), I came back to Sub Pop to run their marketing and sales departments. I was fortunate to receive continued promotions and a few years ago was given the CEO title.
AS: What role does the label play in both Seattle music and global music?
MJ: I like to hope that Sub Pop is a good neighbor in both the Seattle and global music communities. Our peer labels are friends and so many of the bands are friends, no matter who releases their records. Ultimately, though, I think our true role is to document the work of great artists and to make sure that their music reaches as many people as possible.
Oftentimes in releasing these, we are also documenting a place and time. I think that’s what’s so cool about Sub Pop’s earliest recordings; those records take the listener back to a time that changed the world.
AS: What do you look for in a new band when thinking about bringing them into the label?
MJ: We consider so many things when we talk about signing an artist. The first thing that we talk about is the music. Is it so fucking great that we can’t imagine the world without it? Or can we imagine not being a home for this particular artist? Does it stand out and would it stand out on our roster?
The next thing that we consider is whether we’d work well with the artist. We like to learn what the artist’s goals are and we ask ourselves if we’d be able to assist them in reaching those goals. If we think that’s possible and we know that we all get along super well, we see if we can create an agreement that works for both the artist and Sub Pop.
But mostly we’re just looking for really great music made by really great people.
AS: How do you ensure you honor the past of the label while also looking to the future?
MJ: I love this question because it’s so important to do both of these things and hopefully do them really well. We honor our past in a number of different ways. We honor the label’s history by continuing to re-release certain records that continue to feel important and relevant. We also spotlight numerous releases on their anniversaries in hopes of turning new people on to those records or just reminding people of a specific record’s importance.
And, of course, we often find ourselves storytelling. There are so many fun stories to share and hopefully, those stories will continue to be passed along to other curious music lovers. We look to the future by signing new and exciting artists whose music leads the way for all of us. And the past, present, and future all seem to collide when we have the opportunity to release a new Mudhoney record.
AS: What are you most looking forward to regarding the future of the label?
MJ: I always look forward to the new records that will smack me in my face with their greatness.
AS: What do you love most about music?
MJ: I love that music can instantly change my mood or my day. I love that I can blast some music while I go running and I feel so completely present in that moment; I don’t find myself thinking about the day or the evening, I’m just running and loving the music that I’m listening to.
I love that music is my medicine. Porridge Radio, SAULT, Fiona Apple, and Lael Neale carried me through the early days of the pandemic. Weyes Blood carried me through the shock of the 2016 presidential election. Music has changed my life and directed my life and I love that too.
Photo courtesy Megan Jasper