There’s no denying 2009 been a great year for Seattle music. It’s the year The Crocodile was resurrected, Pearl Jam pushed itself its back way rock relevance, and hip hop hit hard. But when the local music history books are written, the final year of this decade might be remembered best for Michael Jaworski and his record label Mt. Fuji Records.
Jaworski, who fronts Mt. Fuji band Virgin Islands, moved to Seattle from Omaha 13 years ago. He founded Mt. Fuji Records in 2003, and the label’s six 2009 releases have sent Mt. Fuji well on its way to becoming a mountainous force in the local music scene. “I always had aspirations to start my own label via the Merge or Dischord model, where you’re a musician but you can release your own records or release records by friends and other musicians. I wanted a label where you can build a community that’s a cool platform for releasing interesting music,” Jaworski said.
Most of Mt. Fuji’s releases are in the rock vein and all can be considered interesting. On one end of the spectrum there’s the pop-inspired rock of Black Whales and the classic country of nine-piece The Maldives. On the other end you’ve got the punk rock of The Whore Moans and the straight-ahead garage sound of Virgin Islands. Mt. Fuji’s roster of local talent rivals that of just about any Northwest indie label and all of its releases seem to spotlight the depth and diversity of the city’s rock scene.
That depth will be on display this weekend during two Mt. Fuji showcases in Ballard. The first show, which is tonight (9 p.m.; $10) at the Tractor Tavern, features The Maldives, and Point Juncture, WA. The label continues to spread its sound in Ballard Saturday night at the Sunset Tavern (9 p.m.; $8) with a lineup that includes The Whore Moans, Black Whales, and Virgin Islands.
So what does it take to get signed to this label on the rise?
“Part of the equation when I work with a band is that I want to work bands I like as people. Obviously I really have to strongly believe in their music and I absolutely do believe in every one of the records I’ve put out,” said Jaworski, who also tends bar at Al’s in Wallingford and is the booker for The Sunset Tavern. “I like feeling like Mt Fuji is also building some sort of a community of artists who can support each other and hopefully it brings something good that the rest of the world can appreciate as well.”
Another aspect he looks at when scouting talent is a band’s live show. Anyone who has seen The Maldives’ powerful harmonizing live or witnessed the explosiveness of a Whore Moans set can attest to strength of a Mt. Fuji band’s live show.
“It would be hard for me to take on a bedroom type of project where it is more about the recording, because as a music fan the live performance is such a big part of the equation for me,” Jaworski said.
Along with seeing countless bands live thanks to his booking duties at the Sunset, Jaworski also knows about the highs and lows of being in a band. Prior to starting Virgin Islands, which released its debut EP Tuesday, Jaworski was the singer for local garage-punks The Cops. His former band decided to call it quits last year, but during their run The Cops released a couple of albums, toured extensively and performed at major festivals including Sasquatch! in 2008.
“I make sure that every band I work with knows Mt Fuji is a label run by a musician. … Part of what I bring to the table is the encouragement and wisdom that comes from the experience of being in a band. I know it takes a lot of effort to see any sort of success and I know that putting in all that hard work can be very personally and financially taxing on every member of a band,” he said.
Next year looks to be another big year for Mt. Fuji. The label will release a split seven-inch single featuring The Long Winters and Spiral Stairs, the guitarist for influential indie-rock group Pavement, early next year. Both are favorites of the indie-rock crowd and the album, which is also being made available digitally, will be the label’s highest profile release on a national level.
“It will definitely be a good profile builder for the label on a national label,” Jaworski said. “Who knows, maybe Pitchfork will finally give Mt. Fuji some attention.”
While he hopes national recognition is in the cards somewhere down the road, Jaworski is content with helping artists he enjoys make records.
“I hope all the bands become famous and we all get super rich, but that hasn’t happened yet and it has never really been a priority. It would be a blessing if it ever did, but in the meantime I’m going to do whatever I can to put out music by people I like and believe in and who I think are really talented,” he said.
Mt. Fuji Records has released some of the best Northwest records of the year. Here’s what label head Mike Jaworski, who is also a member of the band Virgin Islands, had to say about some of the bands on Mt. Fuji’s roster.
The Maldives: “Everybody in that band plays together extremely well. The instrumentation is amazing and the harmonies they do are just mind-blowing. They appeal to such a wide range of people from someone who likes old-school country to kids who enjoy the Fleet Foxes.”
The Whore Moans: “They are like this generation’s The Replacements. … I hope people don’t dismiss them because they are loud and a little screamy at times because they are a really talented band.”
Black Whales: “I love Alex Robert’s voice. He has a very strong and unique voice. They combine great songwriting with cool arrangements.”
Virgin Islands: “I don’t feel like there is much out there that is similar to what we’re doing … a raw, honest approach to rock music.”
Point Juncture, WA: “They’re like a total head trip. They always surprise me. The music they make moves me like nothing else I’ve ever heard.”
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