Flush with the success of Pearl Jam’s 1991 debut Ten, the band’s co-founder and guitarist Stone Gossard could have easily spent his hard-earned cash on any number of creature comforts. Instead, he teamed with longtime Seattle rock scene cohort Regan Hagar and in 1994 started Loosegroove Records as an imprint through Sony. Gossard utilized his good fortune to amplify friends and fellow artists pushing past the grunge-era sounds of the Queen City, like the saxophone-driven avant-rock of Critters Buggin, the hip-hop and funk-inflected Weapon of Choice and the rough-and-tumble Devilhead.
“We knew so many people who were playing music, and I was meeting so many musicians that I was inspired by and excited by,” Gossard tells SPIN over Zoom. “Having had all this experience for 10 years in terms of getting a band going and functioning, it just seemed like a very natural thing for me to use some of that for my friends and for bands I was excited about. It was ambitious, and also about Regan and I wanting to build more community.”
Loosegroove assembled the first-of-its-kind Seattle hip-hop compilation 14 Fathoms Deep in 1997, signed Queens of the Stone Age to its first record deal in 1998 and later that year released the Josh Hamme-fronted band’s self-titled debut, an enduring stoner rock classic that led shortly thereafter to a long-term contract with Interscope. Also in ’98, the label issued the soundtrack to the film Chicago Cab, featuring the first authorized release of the holy grail Pearl Jam outtake “Hard To Imagine.”
Worn down by the day-to-day realities of running a label as well as Pearl Jam’s ever-busy touring and recording schedule, Gossard and Hagar retired Loosegroove in 2000. But in 2020, they revived the company once more, fueled by their decades-long passion for sharing under-the-radar music with adventurous listeners. Loosegroove is now distributed by The Orchard, whose Billie Jean Sarullo is also a partner in the new endeavor. “I get to call Regan up and giggle about whatever it is that we’re working on, get excited about a song or argue about a mix,” Gossard says. “It’s at the heart of what I’m doing, and it’s the heart of what I do in Pearl Jam too.
Gossard walked SPIN through some of the highlights from Loosegroove’s upcoming release schedule, including his new side band Painted Shield, whose latest single, “Life in Rewind,” arrived today in tandem with a live performance video filmed at Pearl Jam’s Seattle warehouse
A non-binary, blind-since-birth musician/producer originally from Kansas City, Davis will release their debut EP for Loosegroove, I Choose to Live, on March 18 and recently taped a performance for NPR’s “Tiny Desk” series. Davis is also a member of Painted Shield, for which they play keyboard and, on “Life in Rewind,” handle lead vocals for the first time. “Britt’s going to be central to Loosegroove, I hope — playing on other people’s records, playing in their own group and in Painted Shield,” says Gossard, who was introduced to Davis a few years ago by fellow Seattle musician/activist Om Johari. “They’re just a phenomenal musician and a charming and energizing human being. They’re an incredible engineer, write the most bad-ass beats and can jam like a complete crazy person. They can fit in on any song and find a spot and be so powerful.”
A supergroup of sorts featuring Gossard, one-time Pearl Jam drummer Matt Chamberlain and singer/songwriter Mason Jennings, Painted Shield will release its second album, Painted Shield 2, on April 22. Gossard says the group is already halfway through a third album and plans to play its first live shows later this year, including a stop at Eddie Vedder’s annual Ohana festival in September in Southern California. Gossard and Hagar also produced Jennings’ new Loosegroove solo album, Real Heart. “It’s funny — I wrote a bunch of songs on the first Painted Shield record, and then on this one, Britt’s writing, Matt Chamberlain started writing and Mason’s writing. I’m surrounded by really good musicians,” Gossard says of his bandmates. “I can just strum, strum, strum in the background and have fun listening to that. For the most part, I’m still a kid in the sandbox going, what else? What’s next? What can we do now?”
Gossard is hoping this young U.K. rock trio can do for Loosegroove circa 2022 what Queens Of The Stone Age did for the label back in the late ‘90s, and hopes to put out their new music by the end of this year or early 2023. “[Frontman] Jamie Hall is an insane riff-master and can sing beautiful melodies over them,” Gossard enthuses. “There are very few super good rock guitarists who can do both of those things at the same time. I legitimately think this band is for real, for real. They can play and they can write. We’re so lucky to have them.” Tigercub kicks off a North American tour March 14 in Nashville.
Although never originally signed to Loosegroove, Brad — a softer-rocking Pearl Jam detour for Gossard featuring Hagar on drums and beloved vocalist Shawn Smith up front — helped inspire Gossard and Hagar to start the label in the first place. The group released five albums for a variety of labels before Smith passed away suddenly on April 3, 2019, at age 53. Smith left behind vocals for several new Brad songs, and Gossard, Hagar and longtime bassist Keith Lowe have since put the finishing touches on those tracks and hope to release them on a new album by late 2022. “As we got closer to feeling like it was getting done, there was a lot of renewed enthusiasm about the fact that it has a rawness to it that has always been part of Brad, and really suits us,” Gossard says. “I think if anything, our records had become a little bit more polished and a little bit more calculated. This one has some beautiful, beautiful Shawn performances. I’m confident that if you’re a Brad fan, you’re going to like the record.
In 2021, Loosegroove unearthed the previously unreleased album The Living: 1982 by Seattle punk band The Living, which featured a teenage Duff McKagan on guitar years before he hit the bigtime with Guns ’N Roses, as well as drummer Greg Gilmore, who went on to play with Gossard in Seattle’s influential, pre-Pearl Jam group Mother Love Bone. “When I heard it for the first time, I was like, wow. Duff wrote all these songs, and you can hear elements of songs like ‘It’s So Easy’ — the tougher and more punk side of Guns ’N Roses,” Gossard says. “You realize he had that in him the whole time, and he made this record that would have been everyone’s favorite if it had actually ever come out in Seattle in the ‘80s. To be able to put it out now acknowledges Duff and Greg’s impact on all of the Seattle scene and how it ended up being such a fruitful place. That’s the blueprint for everything that came after it. We were just trying to emulate them, or catch some of that magic that they were creating in The Living in all of our bands.”
“If Regan and I are just putting out our old buddies’ records, it’s still okay, but we’re really excited about the new Loosegroove stuff,” he continues, shouting out the newly signed Welsh rock group James And The Cold Gun. “With all of our connections to these things and why we’re intrigued by them, there’s no science involved. This is circumstance. Happenstance. We believe in a process in terms of what’s right in front of you, what excites you and what feels right in the moment, and we hope music fans feel the same.”