We like to imagine before clipping. agreed to a deal with Sub Pop they added a stipulation in the contract that once they finalized their John Hancocks on the dotted lines, Sub Pop founder Jonathan Poneman had to give a loud and hearty, "it's clipping., bitch!"
It's still happening. You can break all the rules with your music, combine noise with rap in a manner far more ear-pummeling than Death Grips, and sign with one of the most progressive indie labels in music. You can have a "name your price" record placed on a streaming platform, hire a friend in the band Foot Village to do PR, and Sub-freakin-Pop will invite you to the headquarters in Seattle. Obviously, it takes far more than these attributes to gain the attention of the guy who signed Nirvana, but on the surface that's the story of clipping. turning a self-released album into a Sub Pop deal in under five months.
Released in February, their debut midcity has garnered significant attention, but I don't think anyone anticipated clipping. joining the likes of THEESatisfaction and Shabazz Palaces on Sub Pop, although now that it happened - duh. We tossed correspondence back and forth with Jonathan Snipes, Daveed Diggs, and William Hutson to learn more about being courted by Sub Pop and why they signed on to the indie that invented grunge.
clipping.'s midcity debut is streaming at its Bandcamp. Their sophomore record/Sub Pop debut is slated for 2014.
How did the Sub Pop signing come together? What individuals played roles in getting on their radar?
Jonathan Snipes: As far as I know, Garrett Kelly, who works in IT (I believe) at Sub Pop, played midcity for Tony Kiewel, who does A&R there. He sent us a really nice email telling us how much he liked the record. We kept in touch, he came to a show of ours in LA, and eventually he asked if we'd want to work together.
William Hutson: Yeah. Tony dropped us an email a couple weeks after our project came out telling us he dug it. He also asked us if we wanted him to send us any records on Sub Pop. It took a lot of restraint not to immediately write back: “We’ll each take first edition Bleach LPs — the ones on white vinyl, with the posters. Thanks!” We really didn’t think anything would come of it, though. But when we went to Seattle to play a show, Tony invited us to hang out at the offices and then a bunch of Sub Pop people came to our show that night. Even Jonathan Poneman, the label’s founder, came out to see us play, which really blew us away. I mean, that’s the dude that signed Nirvana.
That's pretty rad that an IT guy was able to pitch to an A&R. Says a lot about the company. Did you know Garrett before this? Or did he reach out to you before taking it to Tony?
JS: Garrett knows our friend Brian from Foot Village, who's been doing our PR. None of us had met him before - Tony was the first person from Sub Pop to write us.
WH: Garrett is in this band called WaMü, I think. The dude from Noggin is in it, too, which is really cool. We played with them in Seattle.
As talks began with Sub Pop what was it about their interest/offer that enticed you?
JS: What's great about the deal is how hands-off it is. clipping. has been a very DIY project up to this point, and really this deal won't change that at all. All Sub Pop is doing is putting money & resources at our disposal if we want them. But we're still doing everything ourselves and have 100 percent control over every aspect. Pretty rare for a record company of this size to have that much faith in their artists.
Daveed Diggs: We were in talks with a few different labels in the last few months and the thing that really stood out to me about Sub Pop was that they were always really responsive to questions and also never made us feel like they were trying to sell us something. A lot of folks we talked to seemed like used car salesmen in a way. They kept throwing in things to sweeten the deal, telling us what they could do for us and who they were connected with, but whenever we asked very simple and direct question about contract terms there was all of a sudden a break down in communication. Sub Pop just seemed like they were being honest.
Obviously Sub Pop is making a name as a progressive hip hop label (with Shabazz Palaces and THEEsatisfaction), but when it came to familiarity with your music, what did Sub Pop have to say about Clipping?
WH: Sub Pop has always taken interesting risks. If you go back through their catalogue, they didn’t only “invent” grunge. At the same time they had weird groups like Six Finger Satellite and Earth and a ton of shit everyone forgot they put out, like the first three Reverend Horton Heat records. One of the reasons Sub Pop likes clipping., I think, is because we don’t sound like anything else out there, really. I’m not trying to brag, ‘cause that could be good or bad, depending on whether of not you like our stuff. But it seems to me like we’re the kind of thing they’ve gone out on a limb for before.
JS: I think they're trying to branch out/stay relevant. We were a little hesitant at first because Sub Pop seemed like a pretty strange place for a rap project. But, really, Sub Pop doesn't have a sound - they're just a pool of resources for musicians to do whatever they want. There are a lot of really different sounding records on the label, and they're totally not interested in making anyone sound like "Sub Pop" because that sound doesn't exist. The record we're making for them we could have made by ourselves with no label. It'll just sound better because we can afford better mastering, recording locations, etc.
Were there other offers on the table for clipping. to take its music to a higher level?
JS: Yeah, a couple — it's probably not fair to talk about other labels — Sub Pop made us the best offer, though a lot of people have approached us. Ideally we'd do records for everyone, but we only have so much time.
WH: Sub Pop proved they wanted us more than any of the other guys. So until Cash Money Records comes calling, we’re pretty happy with our decision.
Did you make them court you a bit? Get any perks or good meals before agreeing to the deal. I mean, isn't that part of the fun?
JS: Yeah, we're doing fine. Bill and Daveed got Sub Pop shoes. They didn't have any that fit me.
WH: Well we are a rap group. We kinda expected iced out Sub Pop chains. But I guess that wasn't an option. We'll probably have to get our own made.
A new record is slated for 2014. Is that record completed? Did you guys come to Sub Pop with an album to release or was the signing based on strength of your midcity record?
JS: We're making that new album now. We didn't want to do a re-release of midcity since it's already out there and really feels like a free digital thing to us — if Sub Pop put that out now, it'd feel like they were late to the party, rather than ahead of the curve. That shit's done, time for new shit.
DD: We are hard at work on the 2014 project and have had some great sessions with some really cool collaborators. It's nice to be able to start to weave other artists into this world we have been working in for the last couple of years.
What's going to change for clipping., now that you're backed by Sub Pop? Are there plans to collaborate with their roster or work in a hi-fi studio or with an engineer or producer?
JS: Well, my studio is already pretty hi-fi — I've been collecting nice gear for awhile, which I've been able to do because of my film music work. I chuckle at all the reviews of midcity that use the word "lofi" to describe the music. We've got an incredibly clean recording setup. But, yes — we've been working with an incredible recording/mixing engineer on this record — Steve Kaplan, who I know from film work. He mixes Bear McCreary's scores & mostly does orchestral work. We wanted someone who was more interested in fidelity & keeping everything as pristine as possible — we can't really make music like this unless we're super precise and everything is recorded as well as possible. You can always make a recording sound worse — we're still self-producing, though.
WH: Seriously. midcity already sounded more hi-fi than most rap records out there. But to answer your question, our budget is going towards some collaborations — not necessarily with other Sub Pop artists, but other rappers and noise artists we admire and want to work with.
In going under contract, what creative freedoms did you make sure you maintained with your music?
JS: We didn't have to specify anything — they gave us complete freedom from draft one of the contract.
Sub Pop works quick, you're already booked for the Silver Jubilee, celebrating the 25th anniversary. Who from the label are you excited to share the stage with? What's a Sub Pop release that's always been a go-to record?
WH: I really like a lot of Sub Pop artists. I want to see METZ. Seeing Shabazz Palaces will be cool. The first live concert I ever went to in my life was Digable Planets. Stoked that J. Mascis is playing; same for Mudhoney.
DD: I've been pretty into THEESatisfaction for a while now. Excited to see them.
JS: Pretty excited for Tad — also to see Shabazz Palaces and I've been getting really into that METZ record. Honestly, I'm the most excited about the comedy show the night before. I'm a total comedy nerd and we got to meet Eugene Mirman briefly when we were in the office signing our contract, which was super exciting. I'm a really big fan.
Any words of wisdom Mirman offered as a Sub Pop artist?
JS: He said, "welcome to the family" or some such. He made fun of Tony's attempt to take a picture on a polaroid camera, saying something like, "this is what happens when you buy your camera at Urban Outfitters" - so we used my iPhone.
Posted on June 17, 2013. More on: clipping, theesastifaction, shabazz palaces, sub pop, eugene mirman, nirvana, six finger satellite, earth, reverend horton heat, cash money records, steve kaplan, silver jubilee, metz, digable planets