• About: Suicide Squeeze Records

    When David Dickenson went to Seattle, he didn’t think he’d stay. Two decades later, the record label he founded there is celebrating a milestone year. What began as a road trip to Portland from Arizona, resulted in a pit stop in Seattle to see Dinosaur Jr. at the Paramount. He never left. 

    “I just had the clothes that I brought with me and 25 bucks,” David says.

    Through a mutual friend, he got a job at a local pizza shop where a young musician named Isaac Brock would frequent. He’d come into the restaurant explaining how anyone could dial a phone number and hear one of his band’s songs played back over the receiver. 

    By 1998, David would release a 12” split between Isaac’s band, Modest Mouse, and 764-HERO (in which his wife Polly, who he married shortly after moving to Seattle, played drums) on his own record label, Suicide Squeeze

    Two years earlier, Suicide Squeeze was founded as a way to meld David’s love of music and the contacts he made through it. After befriending John Atkins from Seattle’s Hush Harbor, who eventually started a band with Polly as 764-HERO, David began hitting the road with the indie outfit. 

    “I was going on tours and meeting all these folks,” he recalls. “I wasn’t gifted enough musically to play on my own, but I knew it was something that I was super interested in. I just felt like what can I do to be involved? We’ve got such a good music community here.”

    Suicide Squeeze’s first release was a 7” single from 764-HERO in 1996 and has since grown to include singles and EPs from Modest Mouse, Elliott Smith and Minus The Bear. Now into their 20th year, they’re unleashing 20 works, whether they be reissues, 7” or a debut.

    Fresh off of two anniversary shows featuring The Coathangers, Childbirth, Minus The Bear and more, David sits down with us to talk about the legacy of the label.
    Photos by Kelly O

    Take us back to the beginning. What were you doing before that prompted you to start your own record label?
    It was such an exciting time, music-wise in Seattle in the early ‘90s. I found myself going to more shows than I ever had in my life. There were so many opportunities. I wasn’t even 21 at the time, but I did have a fake ID so I was going out to shows constantly. I would look in the Stranger, the alternative weekly here, and be looking to go out every night if I could. Most of the people that I worked with at the time were playing music. One of those people was John Atkins and he was in a band called Hush Harbor that was on Up Records here in Seattle. I was really into what he was doing and made a point to go to as many of his shows as possible. 

    Was there a time that you had to remind yourself why you got into the business?
    When I started the label, my wife and I lived in an apartment and I basically had a walk-in closet and we would joke that’s my office. I worked for Fantagraphics, the comic book publishing company, and then I did that and Suicide Squeeze from the time I got off work until I went to bed. At those points, it was never “This is really rough, I don’t know that I want to do it.” It was always “What can I do? What do I need to do to make Suicide Squeeze my job?” Always these little goals pushing me to make it happen.

    You guys have a lot of really cool re-releases coming up this year. Why were these so important to get back into the world?
    For our 20th, we wanted to do 20 releases. Our normal releases, we usually keep it about 12 just because of the size of the label. We figured we’d ramp things up and do a 20 for 20. As far as the reissues, the Modest Mouse/764-HERO split that we originally released on vinyl only and then ended up releasing it on the CD format a few years after the fact, it had been out of print for all those years. That was a big one for me because it’s two bands that we worked with. I was on that tour when they started playing that song together. It was a song 764-HERO had written to play on KEXP because they had been asked to play for 60 minutes and they didn’t have enough material so they started jamming out on this one song. I’m just a massive fan of Elliot Smith so when I was thinking of these releases, I got out all my Elliott Smith 7” and one of the first ones I grabbed was the Elliott Smith and Pete Krebs split which came out in 1994 in a super limited run. I was thinking that would be really special because we had the opportunity to release a couple of singles for Elliott in the past. And for me, being a huge fan, it’s almost like a birthday present for the label because of how important that music is to me. I talked to his dad and his mom and they were kind enough to allow us to get those tracks remixed and remastered. 

    What is it like for you to see the progression of these bands, past and present?
    I want to do whatever we possibly can as a label to make these artists as successful as we can. Of course, it’s not always a situation where bands get to a level that I would like to see them at, but my hope is that we can get bands to the point where they’re not working and they’re doing this as their main focus. I remember the first time we had someone on late night TV. It was Eugene Mirman, he’s a standup comedian, and he’s on Sub Pop now. The publicity company that we hired got him on Conan O’Brien was like “Are you going to come out for the taping?” and I’m like “Nah, this is going to happen all the time.” Then you realize, as you get further into the business, there are those little milestones that you should appreciate more as they happen. I’ve made it a point to do that, to step back and say “This is really cool, let’s soak this in for a second before we move onto the next.” 

    So many people think, “What can we do next?” 
    That was the first ten years. It went by in a split second. I didn’t feel nearly as comfortable as I do at 20. I felt like I have been able to really take things in for the last ten years. Just being there and realizing this is what we worked so hard for. Why would we not want to take this in, these special moments and memories that we can hold onto?

    What is it about acts like Minus The Bear, The Coathangers, and Modest Mouse that helped shape the label?
    Modest Mouse, they’d release This Is A Long Drive on Up Records by the time I put out that 7” for them, but they were and are an insanely hardworking band and I definitely take zero credit for their success, but I do appreciate that they’re an early part of the label and that we were lucky enough to do releases with them. Minus The Bear and The Coathangers, they’re all really professional and put in a lot of time into honing their craft. They’re easy to work with and willing to do whatever it takes to push their bands further and further. As a label, that makes your job that much easier. From Minus The Bear, their very first release was on Suicide Squeeze and their first show was their record release show for the Gigantic EP, which was their first release on Suicide Squeeze. They were one of the first bands that wanted to stay on tour constantly. The first band we ever had on the Billboard Top 200 was Minus The Bear and Menos el Oso and Planet of Ice are still the biggest selling records in our catalog. 

    It sounds like that chance move to Seattle changed everything. 
    I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and luckily I got into something that, to this day, I’m so thrilled to be a part of. I love Suicide Squeeze, not the label, just being involved with all these great people, the artists that we work with. Some of my closest friends have come from doing this label. I’m constantly reading about music and listening to music. On the weekends I’m like, “I can’t wait until Monday, I can’t wait to get back to work.” It’s not like I’ve become rich from doing this label or anything like that but what I get out of it means more than any money. 

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