Small independent record labels aren't supposed to last a decade. Perhaps if funded by the deep pockets of Daddy or some sort of vast trust fund—but a small label with uncompromising taste, a firm commitment to aesthetics, and an unwillingness to hop aboard fleeting trends? Those are the record labels that go under. Quickly. Yet, after 10 years, Hush Records is still going strong. Eighty-two releases deep, the label that was started by Chad Crouch "without a business plan and maybe 50 bucks," has grown into one of independent culture's landmark examples of how to run a successful business without compromise.
The label's mostly local roster is centered around a notable "Hush sound" (think mid-tempo, intelligent lyrics, and rich, textured production), a "Hush look" (clean layout, impressive packaging), and the fascinating way the label operates as one collective family, where performers hop between bands, everyone is close, and the line between musician and artist is deliberately blurred.
And while their pinnacle of sales might be from the mighty early catalog of the Decemberists, the label is also forward thinking enough to have released the first recordings of jazz phenom Esperanza Spalding (who at the time was the 17-year-old leader for avant-jazz-pop band Noise for Pretend), as well as the current stylistic dance rock of Seattle's Velella Velella. In lieu of turning attention to Crouch himself, we decided to seek out a few of the current and past Hush artists and have them talk about their favorite releases in the label's storied catalog.
(Loch Lomond, Norfolk & Western, hired gun, etc.)
I have a pretty funny pick for my favorite Hush album, it's Dusk in Cold Parlours by Norfolk & Western. Now, before I go any further with this, it must be stated that when I first heard this album, I had yet to meet Adam [Selzer], Rachel [Blumberg], or Chad [Crouch], and I certainly wasn't affiliated with the band in any way. I had only lived in Portland for a few months at the time, and I remember picking up Dusk and the Decemberists' Castaways and Cutouts used at the downtown Everyday Music, and the two together—Dusk especially—provided a concise introduction to the then-beginnings of the Portland alt/folk/whatever revival that we're all currently enjoying. Adam's voice—most of the time barely above a whisper, yet so warm and inviting—is what initially coaxed repeated listens out of me. But then the rest of what I now recognize as the "Type Foundry Sound" (pedal steel, brushed drums, trumpets, a warm wash of natural reverb over everything) sealed the deal. One of my favorite albums by anyone ever, it's almost a blueprint for many lovely records that have been recorded at Type Foundry since, and I count myself as a fan for life.
Reclinerland's The Ideal Home Music Library. I think it's a great idea brilliantly executed, and all of the songs are so funny and well written. I'm still pretty floored by Mike's [Johnson] ability to write something like "Oh James," as good a faux-Rodgers and Hammerstein song as I've ever heard. I still maintain that Mike should've sung "The Lady from Reims," not me (he sang it so well), but other than that, it's a pretty flawless concept, and a lovely record.
My favorite Hush album is Blanket Music's Move. About five years ago, I was painting houses in Portland during the summer. I idolized Hush Records and hoped I could someday be a part of such a cool family. I would listen to this CD all summer on a Discman that I awkwardly had in my pants pocket. When I listen to these songs now, I still feel like I'm lying down on a hot roof, scraping paint off a wall, with all the paint flakes covering my arms.
(Norfolk & Western)
This is a very hard choice to make because I have had the good fortune to work in the studio with many of the Hush releases and have enjoyed them all immensely. But Col. Summers Park by Jeff London is one record that I have a lot of nostalgia for. Jeff, being the neurotic individual he is, was very passionate about the record and is the funniest person I know. We had a lot of fun producing the songs and I met a lot of great musicians that he had come in to play on the record. The songs were beautifully written and I feel like Jeff fully realized the vision he had for the record, even if he felt like he was stabbing in the dark.
(The Decemberists, Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble)
I have a three-way tie.
1. Kaitlyn ni Donovan's Songs for Three Days. The first summer I moved to Portland I listened to this record nonstop in rotation with Sunset Valley. Her voice is totally mind blowing, the sounds and arrangements are top-notch. I consider it a Portland classic.
2. The Places' Call it Sleep. One day I caught a glimpse of this girl on a broken-down 10-speed weaving through traffic with this huge lime green stuffed animal under one arm, which turned out to be a huge lime green stuffed foot (no, not a real one). I thought she looked so beautiful and it was so weird. It was Amy [Annelle]. We toured with her later, and I remember driving in her van for a day, which was covered in '70s shag and other thrift store oddities, just thinking that this girl was amazing. She was freak folk while Devendra Banhart was still in junior high, and I don't think she even knew it.
3. Toothfairy's Formative. This is one of Chad Crouch's bands/projects. It was here and gone before you even knew it. Pretty cool that you can buy a record and see what the El Presidente de Hush Records looks like. Or throw darts at it if you didn't get your royalty check. Just kidding, Chad is among the few who are kind and straight up in this industry.
My favorite record is Move by Blanket Music. First off, any record that comes with a physical gift (i.e., a cocktail umbrella) has my attention. It was like opening a pack of baseball cards and getting a stick of gum. When I first heard this record, Portland—and Portland music—was all very new to me. I think I put the song "Hips" and "Walk the Dog" on every mixtape that I made for about four years.
(Kind of Like Spitting)
As far as a favorite, I have to go with Corrina Repp's The Other Side Is Mud EP. At the time Hush was just getting its legs and we really felt like a family. When that EP dropped it set a new standard for all of us. It's dark, sparse, and honest; Corrina is a no bullshit musician and that album still gets me. Please let Portland know that Chad [Crouch] has been down for real art by real people since day one. He let me make the records I wanted to make the way I wanted to make them and you just don't find that nowadays. I love that man.