When Sub Pop announced on Monday that they had signed the band Mister Heavenly, we admit to being caught somewhat off guard. The players are familiar: Nick Diamonds has played with Islands and Unicorns; Joe Plummer with Modest Mouse, and Honus Honus is a member Man Man. But to be honest, we'd never heard of their band. As it turns out, they'd never even played a show. In fact, Sub Pop believes the band's first-ever gig was last night at the illustrious Moore Theater opening for Passion Pit (stay tuned for a review).
It's not the first time a band had made their way onto the Sub Pop roster before playing a single show. Mat Brooke's post-Band of Horses project, Grand Archives, for example, landed a deal with the label (which also released the first two BOH records) after releasing a handful of demos and playing a single show at Neumos in 2007. Still, it's something of a surprise to see bands land with one of the country's most high-profile indie labels before ever playing a gig, while hundreds -- if not thousands -- of bands will play shows for years without a substantive record deal.
"There are actually a number of bands over the years that we signed without having seen a live show," Sub Pop's head A&R man, Tony Kiewel. "The Postal Service and CSS are probably two of the higher profile bands that fall into that category but they definitely aren't the only ones."
Kiewel says Plummer contacted the label several months ago on the advice of John Atkins (Seattle's The Can't See). They liked what they heard, and that was good enough.
"I'm a huge fan of live music and while it's a crucial part of being able to successfully market a record, when push comes to shove, I'm ultimately more concerned with the songs," Kiewel says. "In this particular instance where we're talking about Joe, Nick and Honus, there's a shit ton of evidence that they are not only competent performers but among the best around."