Ten years ago, a painter named Chad Crouch bought a CD burner for $600. And though he humbly describes that era as "the beginning of the digital revolution," it was the beginning of much more. It was the beginning of a very "Portland" sound that would emanate from Crouch's label, Hush Records.
Now celebrating its 10-year anniversary, Hush has been home to releases by the Decemberists, electro-crooner Bobby Birdman, prolific Portland angst-peddler Ben Barnett (of Kind of Like Spitting), Amy Annelle (the female voice on Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy) and five top-10 placers on WW's poll-based Best New Band lists: Dat'r, Loch Lomond, Nick Jaina, Laura Gibson and Norfolk & Western.
Those last few in particular signify a growing and quite incestuous pocket of Portland's music community, what Crouch calls our "orchestral indie-folk" scene. "You see waves," he says, "with any hobby or pastime or sport—like skateboarding—they call things the third death, the fourth death, then it resurrects. To some extent, you see that with the local music community. There's something of a, it's kind of corny, but a renaissance bubbling up."
Back when Portland-born Crouch started Hush, things were a bit more, well, quiet on Portland's musical front. He met the label's earliest artists—its first release was a three-way split featuring Kind of Like Spitting, Jeff London and Reclinerland—by simply offering to record them. "I've never had trouble thinking something's possible," Crouch says of Hush's genesis. "I didn't have a visualization, like a prophet or a visionary would have. I've just been showing up and going along for the ride and responding as best I can."
Pausing between considerate replies, the soft-spoken 34-year-old explains that much of that responding has to do with embracing new technologies: "It's always been interesting to me the way technology has changed communicating and absorbing music. I'm trying to take every opportunity to leverage that fun stuff." As such, Hush has experimented with free downloads, podcasting and YouTube. "We're not big enough [that] it'd be easy to get [our music] illegitimately," he says, noting that the digital revolution has only made Hush releases more widely accessible.
It makes sense, then, that Crouch splurged on that burner a decade ago. I was "making bank as a fine artist," he says earnestly. "I had a series [of paintings] where I did a bunch of faceless people, pretty much glorified stick figures, and people just loved them. It's because they can kind of move into those with their own lives. 'Oh, that's me, that's our kid and that's the time we went to the beach.'" His description could just as easily explain the appeal of Hush's characteristically simple sound (once coined "anti-rock," which Crouch now cringes at). Super XX Man's Ali Wesley describes it as "music that leaves a little space, so the listener has to add a part of themselves." (Read more from Hush artists: "In The Artists' Words".)
Crouch—who's released music with his on-hiatus band Blanket Music, under the name Toothfairy and, most recently, as anonymous-until-last-week electronic artist Podington Bear—agrees: "It's all really accessible pop music. If you just trapped someone and made them listen to it, they'd say, 'Oh, yeah, I like this.' I wish we could figure out how to do that [laughs], set out music traps in the world. [People would] have to slow down and listen to a Hush recording, and they'd probably get out of that booth or trap and feel a little bit rejuvenated. We're all just animals, you know. Our responses are pretty predictable. Scientifically, you could say these releases are easy to enjoy to most carbon-based life forms."
Though he supplements his income as a landlord and by managing the Decemberists' online store, Crouch's main gig is running Hush. And he bursts with a parental-type love when talking about it: "I believe everything [Hush releases] is worthy of people's attention." But he's also aware of—and thankful for—its small-potato status. "It's our lot in life to be an underground label," he says. So is he surprised Hush has made it this far? "No, it's not surprising, because I was there for the whole thing."
Laura Gibson, Loch Lomond and Nick Jaina play Hush's 10-Year Anniversary show Saturday, July 12, at the Aladdin. 9 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. All ages.