In 1985, independent labels were not that common, and where they did occur, they were invariably defined by their geographical relevance, meaning that the music coming from an indie label was usually an accurate snapshot of the local music bubbling up in a particular local scene. This happened in 1985 in Seattle, when Chris Hanzsek and his then-girlfriend Tina Casale had the crazy notion of putting out a limited edition record compiling some very young Seattle bands whose sound was a departure from most of the other music going on at the time. Little did they know, that they were about to make history.
The fruit of that effort was the now legendary, Deep Six LP, which captured the earliest recordings of the pro-genitor bands of a scene that later became to be known as ‘grunge.’ Deep Six is a chronicle of the earliest recordings from Soundgarden, Melvins, Green River, Skin Yard and Malfunkshun. U-Men were the other band on the compilation who had already released music prior to Deep Six, and not surprisingly, are the one band that stands apart from all the others on the record. All the bands on Deep Six were gritty and unrestrained, dark and heavy. Collectively and stylistically, it was an unfamiliar aesthetic for Seattle, melding the styles of bands like the Stooges, Aerosmith, the Birthday Party, and punk…but it was distinctly Seattle. Deep Six sales were decent in and around Seattle, where the bands each had their small followings, but nationally, the record was a disappointment. After about 18 months, Chris & Tina realized that running a record label was not a career they wanted to pursue.
Daniel House, founder and bass player for Skin Yard—one of the bands on Deep Six—was in the midst of putting together that band’s debut full length, and wanting to insure that Deep Six would continue to trickle out into the world, worked out a deal with Chris to take over the operation and ownership of C/Z records.
Initially, C/Z was a hobby for House, but the label quickly became an outlet for many young Seattle bands that House felt were making great music. Restaurant tips funded many of the early releases until the records started to break even, and it seemed like the label might be growing legs of its own.
By this time, House was working as Director of sales and distribution for the then-fledgling Sub Pop, and touring intermittently with Skin Yard. After leaving Sub Pop in 1990, he rented a closet-sized office, and inside of a few months, had Barbara Dollarhide by his side, equally as passionate and willing to commit several years towards growing C/Z into a label of viable stature.
Inside of just a few short years, the staff grew to thirteen people, and the ascent of C/Z on both a local and national scale was notable. By the time that Nevermind broke in 1991, C/Z had already put out several releases by 7 Year Bitch, Hammerbox, Coffin Break and Treepeople. There was plenty more to come over the next several years, with new signings and releases from Built to Spill, the Gits, Monks of Doom, My Name, Silkworm, and the Presidents of the United States of America among many more.
During this same period was the remarkable Teriyaki Asthma 7” series which featured tracks from dozens of bands including Nirvana, L7, Babes in Toyland, Helios Creed, Unrest, Love Battery, Gas Huffer, Poster Children, Hammerbox, Crackerbash, Thinking Fellers Local #282 and Ween.
In 1993, C/Z entered into a production and distribution deal with Sony-owned RED distribution. The deal quickly went sour and RED—refusing to let C/Z out of the deal—bled the label dry in less than a year.
1994 saw the death of Kurt Cobain and no-thanks to RED almost saw the death of C/Z as well. House was forced to downsize and re-organize, moving the entire operation into the basement of his house. It would be over a year before any new releases would see the light of day.
1996 presented a new chapter for C/Z. BMG-owned Zoo Entertainment (Tool, Matthew Sweet, Green Jellÿ, Killing Joke) offered House the chance for a new life. He would enter into a deal whereby a modest operating and recording budget would be provided, and Zoo would be there to assist in the development of new C/Z artists. After about a year, things were back in full stride, but the gods were not in C/Z’s favor: Zoo would be purchased by Volcano entertainment, and all third party ventures were evaporated.
It was clear to House that the writing was on the wall, and so he decided that it was time to return C/Z back to a labor of love, and would no longer seek to run the label as a full-service operation. Instead he would release occasional records on an infrequent basis. The whole trip had gone full-circle. In 2002, the label truly came back to its humble beginnings: C/Z released the odds-n-sods collection of unreleased and unavailable Skin Yard material, entitled Start at the Top as a limited hand-numbered CD. That would be the last physical release on the label. In the years that have followed, there have been a small handful of digital-only releases.
The garage is still stacked with quantities of inventory of records that have fallen from public interest, but the music from the label is still very much alive in the digital world with much of it available to download and stream.