"Me and Elliott Smith and Sean Croghan were at Colosso one night," says Alex Steininger of an autumn night in 1998. "I was drinking lemonade, and they got really drunk. Jr. High had just broken up, and I said to Sean, 'Dude, put out a solo album for me. I'm still a virgin, and I would rather put out a solo record for you than lose my virginity.' Elliott looks at Sean, and he's like--how can you argue with that?"

With that, In Music We Trust was born.

Steininger, then 18, came out with Sean Croghan's debut one year later (Steininger's first child appeared shortly afterwards). For his youth and his interests, it's easy (and, you can tell, increasingly annoying) to compare Steininger to the neophyte journalist from Almost Famous. But the actual critic, promoter and burgeoning label impresario behind In Music We Trust seems much more a scruffy, underfed, indie-fied Alex Keaton--steely, hyperactive gaze betraying that left-right brain tango of creative passions and remarkable ambition. He recently dug up a senior-year high-school essay concerning his imagined whereabouts five years hence, and, probably alone among his classmates, Alex was entirely correct. Now 24, he owns a successful record label.

There are 19 albums on In Music We Trust, with the label's biggest release due in May--another acoustic solo debut, this time from Matt Sharp of Weezer and the Rentals. "I did an interview with Matt last February," Alex says (IMWT is also an online music magazine). "The whole time he's talking about how he doesn't have a label anymore, and he just wants an indie to do his solo acoustic thing. I said--wow, that's cool, I have a label, why don't I put out an album for you. But he wanted Saddle Creek or Matador. A little later he calls and says, 'You want to put out a 7-inch for me?' 'Nah, I don't do 7-inches.' After a while, he called again: 'You want to do a CD single? 'Nah, I don't do singles.' A little later, 'You want to do an EP?' 'We-e-ell, send me the music.'"

After the success of the EP, Steininger was granted the full-length release that's already garnered national attention, including an Entertainment Weekly feature scheduled to appear later this month. And the label continues to expand. Upon finishing their first national tour, members of I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House (lead rockers of the IMWT stable) head to Stone Gossard's Seattle studio to record a third album with the Supersuckers' producer, with Suckers leadman Eddie Spaghetti on backing vocals. While a John Doe-Brian Berg split EP recently fell apart, Steininger was back at Dante's two weeks ago for the X concert planning a follow-up project. "I've always kept in the back of my mind, I'm going to work with John Doe one day," Steininger says, "and I hope he has, too."

He adds that "the four people I always wanted to work with were Sean Croghan, Pete Krebs, Elliott Smith and Paul Westerberg." Surely, though, one of those is off the list? "You know, now might not be a good time," Alex says, "but he's still got material. I won't crush that dream."