Label Focus: Suicide Squeeze Records
Born out of the longing for purpose familiar to most, David Dickenson and Suicide Squeeze Records have persisted for more than twenty years. This longevity is rooted in the careful attention and investment into each release by the label, as well as David’s ability to be both decision maker and comrade to his talented roster of musicians.
Supported by consistently acclaimed records by the Coathangers, Minus the Bear and This Will Destroy You, Suicide Squeeze remains a purveyor of quality tunes in the musical hotbed of the Pacific Northwest. David talked to TIDAL about where it all started.
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How did you get into the music business? What motivated you?
I was young and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had just recently moved to Seattle and got involved in the music community from a fan’s perspective. My wife was in a band at the time called 764-HERO and they were touring and doing a lot of shows. I knew I was passionate about music, but didn’t play myself. I thought starting a label was a good way to get further involved.
I didn’t put a ton of thought into it, but I was lucky enough to have mentors, like Chris Takino who was the founder of Up Records, who helped me get my footing and put me in touch with many manufacturers, the kinds of things you need to get a business started. The first few years it was a release here and there from friends I had made and bands 764-HERO played with. It wasn’t until our first exclusive distribution deal, which offered production and distribution, that we were able to build out a release schedule and build the label from there.
A lot of the early releases were 7″, singles and EPs. What was the first experience with a release that made you believe Suicide Squeeze had longevity?
I was really proud of those early releases. Things like the few Elliott Smith 7″ are work I’m really proud of. As far as albums, it wasn’t really until our seventeenth release that I thought of releasing records, but that was Minus the Bear. We felt comfortable financially to really take the next step. As far as longevity, I just know I am passionate about this and I will do whatever it takes to make it work. Whether it was spending some extra money here and there, I never had any doubt that I would do this for as long as humanly possible.
You mentioned Minus the Bear. Their music is scattered throughout Suicide Squeeze’s catalog. What has it been like to have them as an anchor in the label’s discography?
For the first few years, I worked for Fantagraphics, a comic publisher in Seattle. I had a Mailboxes, Etc. type place set up a mailbox to get shipments safely because of my day jobs. As it turns out, the drummer of Minus the Bear at the time, Erin Tate, worked at this place and he gave me a demo of songs in passing saying, ‘Maybe this is something you’d enjoy.’ I was a big fan of all the bands the members of the band had been playing in around then, like Botch and Sharks Keep Moving. Erin had been in Kill Sadie and once he said Jake (Snider) was going to join the band and sing, that put it over the top for me. We eventually agreed to put out an EP together. From there, we grew hand in hand for the first few years and hit a lot of milestones together. Whether it was making the Billboard Top 200 or late night TV, I was always very thankful for that.
Has there been a time when you’ve been able to appreciate all the work you’ve put into the label? Operating an independent business is never an easy task.
I’ve always been ‘on to the next’ and thinking ahead. We’ve always tried to keep it moving. Last August was the twentieth anniversary of the label and it was one of the first times I took the time to think about where we started. I do think about it and it was great to think about all these relationships we’ve built. The relationships with these artists are very important to me; they mean the world to me and it’s always said ‘it’s just business,’ but not for me.
How have you been able to maneuver Suicide Squeeze, personally and financially, through the height of the CD era, the recession and the current landscape of the music industry?
I definitely think being conservative and mindful of the money going out and our releases. We do a handful of releases a year; we don’t throw a bunch of things against the wall and see what sticks. We are really passionate about every release. We’ve been lucky with the distribution partners, most recently with Secretly Distribution; they’ve put us in a place to succeed, especially in the current marketplace and overseas. Streaming income has also helped us.
Have there been any releases where the story behind the release have stuck with you?
I think some of the Modest Mouse singles we put out and the few Elliott Smith releases we did, the last of which was his last record alive, bring about happiness and, ultimately, sadness. People like the Coathangers I signed at a time where a lot of my relationships were really business heavy on my side. I wanted to get back to the reason I started the label: out of my love of music. I wanted to work with people who were passionate, going to bust their ass and not make it all about business. Just to see them learn how to play their instruments to where they are now is a beautiful thing to see. It means a lot to me to see them grow. Working with Michael Nau and Whitney McGraw; I’ve seen them grow together as high school sweethearts, get married and have kids.
How do you determine what is next?
We have our 7″ series to fill in the gaps. We just released Ty Segall’s Sentimental Goblin EP and This Will Destroy You’s The Puritan (Julianna Barwick Remix). It’s been great to have that as a part of our business. As far as a formal release schedule, we like to let the artists take in their spotlight and wait until they are ready. It has always worked out and we are always willing to work with the artists. If they have an album ready and we have a release date, we get to work on it. It truly comes down to the sound and what we all like.
The Pacific Northwest is teeming with successful labels that tend to contribute to and inspire the success of other labels and bands in the region. Was that the case with Suicide Squeeze and understanding the business models of our labels?
Definitely, Up Records and Kill Rock Stars. They released my favorite records of all time. Sub Pop is of course a huge deal. I consider multiple people at all those labels close friends. K distributed for us in a non-exclusive capacity. I’ll always remember that and pay it forward to labels starting up now.
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