Tonight at the Smell: The Godfather of Indie, K Records' Calvin Johnson

Among Calvin Johnson's many accomplishments over the course of his illustrious career: He was part of the petri dish that morphed into Sub Pop Records in the early 1980s. He founded K Records in 1982, a label that has gone on to release some of the first and best recordings by Beck, Bikini Kill, Beat Happening (Johnson's influential first band), Mecca Normal, The Halo Benders (Johnson's duo with Built to Spill's Doug Martsch), Modest Mouse, Pansy Division, Kimya Dawson, Karp, Love as Laughter. He is, in essence, the Ahmet Ertegon of indie rock. Except that Johnson has remained defiantly, steadfastly grassroots in his musical DIY philosophy.

(Luna doing Beat Happening's "Indian Summer" at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in 1992.)

His own work's distinguishing characteristic is his voice, which is basically an accept-it-or-hate-it proposition. It's very flat and defiantly unpretty, delivering honest love songs and weird-ass ditties in a tone paved with wobbly asphalt. But it's possible to love that voice because of its honesty, and its desire to transcend its natural constraints. Johnson's music has been covered by Yo La Tengo, Spectrum and Luna (see above, at the Whiskey), and his K Records logo was tattooed on Kurt Cobain's arm.

Johnson plays tonight at the Smell with Sharon Cheslow, with Devon Williams and writer and former Born Against member Sam McPheeters. Should be a good show.


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