The Seattle scene goes in waves. The early 1980s brought the punks and the wavers. Then the metal hordes swept in from the suburbs, ready to kill the punks in the name of rock 'n' roll. Grunge came, and it was bigger than god, louder than love, and then it was gone. Through all of this, Fallout has held fast to its tiny, well-worn spot on Capitol Hill's Olive Way.
Despite all the trends, longtime owners Russ and Janet Battaglia haven't compromised much over the past 15 years. In September, however, these defenders of all things punk, underground, and independent in Seattle, will make a dramatic change: They're selling the store. Taking over will be Tim Hayes, who has worked off and on at Fallout since 1986.
"Tim was pretty much instrumental in the early success of our business, and he's definitely family," Russ Battaglia says. "So if anybody can do it, he can."
Fallout began in the heads of Russ Battaglia and Bruce Pavitt when the two worked together at Bombshelter Records in the early 1980s. After that store abruptly closed, they decided to go into business for themselves, and, with the help of a silent partner, they opened Fallout Records and Skateboards in July 1984. From the beginning, Pavitt and Battaglia had a strong vision for Fallout. "The original idea, which is still the idea, was to provide an outlet for independently produced culture, such as underground music, comics, fanzines, and other publications," Battaglia says. This ethic was ambitious, especially in mid-1980s Seattle, when the majority of music consumers weren't interested in underground culture and instead flocked to the malls for their entertainment needs.
Eventually, elements of the underground would break through to the mainstream, but Fallout was ahead of the curve. The store began selling skateboards before the craze hit, and it proved a financial boon; Fallout became the place to transform your sorry ass into the ultimate thrasher.
Russ Battaglia focused on selling skateboards and the ever-popular comics, and when Pavitt left in 1985 to commit to his fanzine and record label Sub Pop, Russ brought in Janet to take charge of the record buying. Under their guidance, Fallout became the hub for underground music in Seattle and a source for anti- mall culture from across the country. The store hosted in-store performances by rising national acts Sonic Youth, White Zombie, and Agent Orange, and sponsored local shows of bands such as Jodie Foster's Army, Big Black, Dead Moon, DOA, and Gas Huffer.
In 1987, the owners started a record imprint of their own, Black Label Records, with help from Larry Reid, who managed the label's first act, the U-Men. Before it went on permanent hiatus at the end of the '80s, Black Label went on to release a U-Men full-length; releases from Portland's Hell Cows (featuring Sean Croghan of Crackerbash/Jr. High fame) and Christ on a Crutch; and a video from Big Black's last-ever show, held at the old Georgetown Steamplant.
The Battaglias also took themselves out of the skateboard business, though this move was born from the mainstreaming of the culture. In the early '90s, the skateboard industry responded to its newfound success with unbridled greed. "Pretty soon we found we were dealing with $60 pieces of wood that were very easily breakable, with tiny wheels that were unskateable, and packs of skaters that didn't even skate," Russ recalls. Several break-ins at the store cemented the decision.
Fallout reverted to selling its core products: records, underground comics, and local and national 'zines. Since the early '90s, Russ, Janet, and a host of local music aficionados have stayed the course, continuing to host in-store shows with underground bands and comic book signings with artists such as Peter Bagge (Hate), Daniel Clowes (Eightball), and many others.
Now, with less than a month before the changeover, Russ and Janet seem simultaneously excited and reluctant to give up the store. Russ plans on mastering the art of bread making, and Janet is going back to school. New owner Hayes, who has played in bands such as the Kings of Rock, Sugar Sugar, and, most recently, Helldorado, will expand the music selection, he says.
"You can't listen to only punk rock all your life," he suggests. He'll add to Fallout's vinyl and used sections, and widen the scope to include old soul, blues, surf, cutting-edge jazz, reissues, and vintage soundtracks—anything with attitude. "It'll be Coltrane next to the Howlin' Wolf next to the soundtrack to Satan in High Heels," Hayes says.
Fallout's reopening festivities begin Friday, September 17, with several days' worth of in-store performances to kick off the new regime. Although the Battaglias will be sorely missed, Hayes will make sure that this underground Seattle landmark survives.