10 Best Seattle Bands
Coffee, computers, jets and grunge: Those are a few of Seattle’s favorite things. While Sub Pop never reached the corporate heights of fellow Seattle-based powerhouses like Starbucks, Microsoft and Boeing, the local indie record label has become one of several major exporters of the region’s biggest cultural resource: alternative rock, which has roots in the area going back to the ’60s, reached its apex in the ’90s with grunge and continues on to this day. Given the city’s rich rock history, limiting our list of the best Seattle bands to 10 wasn’t easy, but here’s what we came up with.
Nearly 25 years after forming in Seattle, Pearl Jam are still alive and thriving. While most other greats of the Emerald City’s ’90s grunge explosion have either burned out or faded away, Eddie Vedder and the boys have evolved into bona fide arena rock stars, churning out (count ’em) 10 albums over the years and mounting sold-out tours that pack in both nostalgia-seeking Gen Xers and a whole new generation of fresh-faced fans.
Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson stuck a dagger in Seattle’s testosterone-driven rock ‘n’ roll boys club with Heart, a hard-hitting outfit that could rock out with the best of them. Heart first hit the charts in 1976 with ‘Magic Man,’ and went on to score hits in four straight decades, slinging more than 30 million records in the process — and finding their way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
We’d almost rather put the likeminded Band of Horses on this list, but that Seattle-bred band packed up and moved to South Carolina awhile ago. Which isn’t to disparage Fleet Foxes, whose own take on folk-tinged Americana fits right in with the indie-folk revival that’s been a touchstone in recent years for everyone from Ryan Adams and Wilco to the Lumineers and Mumford & Sons.
Formed back in ’79, the long-lived Fastbacks put a definitively Northwestern slant on punk rock, dropping a half-dozen albums (and a boatload of seven-inch singles) of melody-driven tunes before finally calling it quits in 2001. A one-off reunion show in 2011 proved these local legends could still deliver the goods.
Suburban Seattle rockers Modest Mouse (they’re from nearby Issaquah, Wash.) have spent the last 20 years churning out their own brand of quirky, insanely infectious indie rock, developing a sound so distinct that you know almost immediately that it’s Modest Mouse when you hear it. Albums like 1997’s ‘The Lonesome Crowded West’ put them on the indie rock map before 2004’s ‘Good News for People Who Love Bad News’ brought the group wider recognition, thanks in no small part to crossover hit ‘Float On,’ which became the feel-good, alt-rock anthem of the new millennium.
Dylan Carlson is probably most infamous for being the man that bought the shotgun Kurt Cobain used to end his life. Less known is his band Earth, a pioneering outfit that has made a sizable contribution to the obscure drone-metal genre with touchstone albums like ‘Earth 2: Special Low-Frequency Version.’ Drone-metal masters like Sunn O))), Om and Boris definitely still bow to the altar of Earth.
“Everybody loves our town,” Mudhoney‘s Mark Arm sang on ‘Overblown,’ the local grunge heroes’ contribution to the soundtrack for the Seattle-centric 1992 flick, ‘Singles.’ Arm was totally right, of course — the city was the center of the rock universe at the time — but little of that overblown love ever filtered down to Mudhoney, who instead of hitting the hype machine jackpot have maintained a comfortable level of modest success over nine albums and several decades. Slow and steady wins the race.
Sunny Day Real Estate were supposed to be huge. Instead, the band managed to push out just three albums on Sub Pop before it disintegrated around Jeremy Enigk, with rumors ripe that the singer’s conversion to born-again Christianity played a major role in the break up. Still, the band’s 1994 disc ‘Diary’ had a massive influence on the sonic blueprint of emo rock — and bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith went on to join Dave Grohl in a little band you may have heard of: the Foo Fighters.
The Sonics sounded a lot like garage-rock contemporaries the Kingsmen and Paul Revere & the Raiders — but with a decidedly northern Pacific coast edge. They took common ’60s rock tropes like sun, surfing, girls and guitars and snuck in tunes about Satanism, witches, psychopaths and, of course, drinking strychnine for the fun of it. Bottoms up!
What, did you really think we’d leave them off this list? Sure, Nirvana were formed in Aberdeen, Wash., and spent some formative years in nearby Olympia, but no other band is more associated with Seattle than Kurt Cobain’s band. Nirvana nostalgia returned big time last year with the 20th anniversary edition of ‘In Utero,’ and this year it no doubt continues as they enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.