Interviewing Producer Steve Fisk

Posted: September 20, 2011 in Interviewing the Elliott Bay Panelists

Fifth and final installment of how I came to interview panelists who will appear at the musician/producer Q&A at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Company (Wednesday, October 19, 7 pm.)  These blog entries appear here as follows: (Update: unfortunately, Steve had to cancel his panel appearance.)

Jack Endino: Friday, September 16

Rob Morgan: Saturday, September 17

Tom Price: Sunday, September 18

John Leighton Beezer: Monday September 19

Steve Fisk: Today

Each person on the Elliott Bay panel provides a different perspective, which is obviously what I was going for.  Jack Endino is the “grunge producer,” having recorded Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, etc.  He was also an integral actor in the music scene with his band Skin Yard.  Rob Morgan brings the old school Seattle punk ethic to the table, along with a view from outside that grunge circle.  Tom Price played in the U-Men, a hugely influential band, and was a participant in the pre-grunge all-ages punk scene.  John Leighton Beezer’s Thrown Ups symbolized the grunge aesthetic.

And then there’s Steve Fisk.  Like Jack, Steve enjoys prominence as a producer.  And, like Jack, he recorded Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Screaming Trees.  Steve, however, observed the music community from without…he was not a “scenester.”  He was a self-admitted “worker bee.”  Steve also brings a perspective none of the other panelists have: Olympia’s Evergreen State College.  Before he made his name in Seattle, Steve collaborated with such Evergreen notables as Bruce Pavitt, Calvin Johnson, and John Foster as part of Op magazine, a publication that connected Olympia to underground music scenes throughout the country.

I interviewed him twice, in November of 2006, and then again about a year later.  Our dialogue did not follow the typical interview format, that is, I completely ditched the script.  Basically, Steve ran the interview.  I found myself ruffling through my list of questions trying to figure out if I’d asked them or not.

In addition to production credits, Steve has played with Pell Mell, Pigeonhed, and as a solo act.  He also co-wrote the soundtrack for 2007’s About A Son, a Kurt Cobain documentary.  He has resided in Los Angeles, Olympia, Ellensburg (WA), and Seattle.

Before our first interview, I had read an article in Backlash, a grunge era fanzine, which traced Steve’s roots to Louisiana.  “Somebody was transcribing an interview,” he says, “…and I said I was from LA—and that turned into Louisiana.  I’m actually a corndog from Lakewood [California], which is sort of in the armpit of Long Beach.  It would be much cooler to be from Louisiana.”

After that, we bounced around various subjects, talking about his influences, his time in Olympia, producing Screaming Trees and Nirvana.  My favorite Steve quote relates to the latter band: “When Nirvana played Ellensburg, I walked out on them.  I thought they sucked….Different people would walk away from the same show going, ‘I thought they were great.  They destroyed everything!’ [or] ‘Yeah, it really sucked.  They destroyed everything!’”

I called Steve up about a year later, to get more detail about the Olympia scene, as part of my second chapter, “KAOS in Olympia.”  Steve walked me through his experience working with Bruce Pavitt, who had started a little fanzine called Sub/Pop.  Three of the fanzines were accompanied by music compilations, and Steve dubbed them onto cassette.  Bruce would later turn his fanzine into a full-time record label that would provide platforms for Nirvana and Soundgarden’s success.

So, there you have it…a little background on the Fab Five panelists.  I hope you can make it to the reading.  If you can’t, we’re going to film the event and hopefully I’ll get some clips up on the blog.

  1. This is PS O’Neill and steve Fisk never dubbed any sub pop cassettes. he and Phil Hertz assembled the first master and I assembled the next two.Then I dubbed all the cassettes until the neo boys people took that over. I got paid .90 cents per tape. so with five cassette decks that worked out to $4.50 cents per 90 MINUTES. I did those. I was the first employee at the original sub pop. I will send pictures soon. this is getting stupid. I was also the original booking agent at the rainbow new music tuesday nights. I gave jonathan ponemon the job after he interviewed me on his show at kcmu ( now kexp ). he had seen my bands Tse Tse Force, Chains of Hell Orchestra,Aftershaft, and Supershaft among others, play at the rainbow and the metropolis and the other clubs around town and interviewed drummer Tim Brock and I live on the air. I was sick of dealing with bands calling me at two in the morning and leaving demos on my phone machine. then the blackbirds played one night and started destroying the lights and the monitors and I had to tackle the lead singer and throw him out the backdoor. all of this was documented in the rocket magazine… go to these two sites and do some research please.
    youtube stimcointernational
    youtube 74elcaminohef
    and you can see and hear my work there…people need to work on memory skills. I also directed the first MTV Grunge Music Video which was Tad’s Woodgoblins. I also directed the first MTV Music Video starring a one eyed dwarf called Ever So Clear which went to Number ONE on Yo MTV Raps. I was also the first to write produce and distribute the cassette Cairo’s Ride which is where Bruce Pavitt heard and later published as the second song side one the cassette zine Sub Pop Five…….My band Supershaft was on Sub Pop Seven with the theme from Supershaft featuring a drum track performed on vinyl by an LA Session Musician… MORE TO FOLLOW a lot of stuff is being published that is wrong….
    PS (Shawn) O’Neill

    • Stephen Tow says:

      Hey Shawn:

      Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your making sure I get the facts right. I would like to point out, before I go any further, that I did in fact do a ton of research including 120 interviews, going through stacks of newspapers and fanzines including the Rocket, Op, Sub/Pop, Backfire, Backlash, Backfire (II), Chatterbox, etc, some of which included multiple visits to U-Dub and Evergreen to view. So, I’m not exactly pulling stuff out of my ass. That being said, I am a human being, and somewhere along the line, I can make a mistake. I do my best to avoid them, but in the end through massive fact checking on my part and others, my hope is that any such errors are immaterial to the book’s overall message. Okay, with that…here’s what the book actually says about the subject:

      For his fifth issue, Pavitt’s fanzine took the form of a cassette compilation. Sub Pop 5 included twenty-one independent rock songs from the likes of Seattle’s Beakers and Visible Targets, San Francisco’s Pell Mell, and Steve Fisk. Fisk had migrated to Evergreen from Los Angeles by the way of Ellensburg, Washington. “We all lived in this house on the west side of [Olympia],” Fisk remembers. “Bruce lived downtown, and so he would go to the [Op] PO Box and find whatever had come in and would march up the hill to our place where we had tape machines and proper monitoring systems. And we’d listen to the people [who] were submitting things for Sub/Pop. That was always kind of interesting, kind of fun.”

      And here’s what Steve said about it. Note that this quote didn’t actually make the book:

      “And the Sub/Pop cassettes were actually duped and assembled in my living room. We had some tape decks…we would edit the stuff together and mass produce the Sub/Pop cassettes in the living room sometimes. Just hook up a bunch of cassette decks and run copies.”

      So, I’m thinking maybe I should have said “duped” rather than “dubbed?” So if I did make a mistake in this blog post, I’m thinking it wasn’t all that material to the book’s overall message. Do you agree?


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