Nirvana, networking and creating 8Stem

  • Wed Jul 5th, 2017 1:30am
  • Life

Editor’s note: Heather Wallace is writing a series about alumni and current residents of the island community. Her goal is to help connect kids with people who have the experience and stories they need to know. To share your thoughts on the series as well as suggestions on potential interviewees, email

by Heather Wallace

Special to the Sounder

Back in the early 90s, I was a student at Orcas Island High School. I have vivid memories of sitting outside a friend’s house with Nirvana playing in the background. Credited with their influence on the “grunge” movement, Nirvana stormed the music industry and changed rock culture forever.

What you might not know is how the early rise of this Indie-rock band and a revolutionary new app are intimately connected to Orcas Island.

In 1979, Bruce Pavitt was attending Evergreen State College. He became involved with a local radio station that prioritized small label releases of independent records, which allowed him to become somewhat of an expert in that space. In 1980, with little money and a lot of passion, he started a fanzine, “Subterranean Pop,” to promote indie music; that zine then evolved into cassette tape compilations and eventually the Sub Pop record label in 1986. The label is now a global brand.

In the late 80s, he began noticing a particular “sound” coming from Seattle. Casting a net for a specific type of profile, he came across a small band out of Aberdeen, Washington, called “Nirvana.” When the group came to Seattle, Bruce and his business partner (who had passed their demo onto him) attended a concert at the Central Tavern in Pioneer Square where he said the only other people in attendance were the bartender, the bouncer and the girlfriends of the musicians. His first impressions of the group were simply that they fit the vibe of what he was looking for.

“Their genius was not that obvious at the beginning,” he says.

But Bruce also recognized their potential and recalls how “they grew artistically very quickly.” He remembers Kurt Cobain’s interesting songwriting, unique voice and his ability to express himself when he says rock had lost its way in being “authentically rebellious.”

Adam Farish grew up on Orcas Island and spent many years traveling the world, playing in bands and landing in the electronic music scene in the late 90s. While working for various labels doing mixing and production, he discovered he had a nerdy passion for music engineering. In 2001 he and his wife Sara made the decision to move back to Orcas to run the Outlook Inn.

The stars aligned in 2004 when Adam and Bruce met for the first time at a Children’s House fundraising event. They struck up a philosophical conversation about music and began developing a friendship that would eventually turn into a business partnership.

“I’ve always admired Adam’s way of thinking,” says Bruce. “He’s a pretty brilliant guy.”

Adam adds that Bruce brings a unique viewpoint to the team.

“[Bruce] lived through…basically a cultural revolution,” says Adam. “I’m in the mindset that [a cultural revolution] is going to happen again…very soon and it’s going to be technology-enabled. Bruce’s wise, cultural perspective guides us towards supporting that initiative.”

By the time they met, Adam had already formed the idea of 8Stem – a new audio format and way of experiencing music. He was simply waiting for the phone technology to catch up.

“I could see it was coming: it was obvious that there was all of this content in this format that only a handful of really highly skilled people were able to use,” Adam explains. “But music is a medium that most people in the world engage with in some way. And there’s a large number of those people that have a desire to be creative. [It’s similar to Instagram] in that there weren’t many people who considered themselves worthy of producing a photograph that you would share with your friends… now everyone’s a photographer.”

Historically, a record company would only allow you to use a song if you advanced them money. 8Stem is advancing artists and labels technology, not cash. “What we are doing is essentially turning remixing into a folk art that anybody can do on their phone,” says Bruce. “Prior to this application, if you wanted to remix a song you would have to invest, at minimum, hundreds of dollars into gear…and there’s a learning curve.”

The 8Stem technology democratizes processes that were previously reserved for larger systems (think desktop computers from 5 years ago) and were only able to be used by studio engineers and music producers. 8Stem harnesses the same technology – onto a phone.

“Aside from dating an artist, probably the closest interaction you can have with an artist is remixing their music. That’s a high level of intimacy,” says Bruce. “You’re co-creating music with the artist…”

Adam and Bruce utilized their network of friends in Seattle who allowed them to use their music on the platform while it was in the testing mode. They also credit friends and family, even if they didn’t quite understand or believe in the technology, for trusting who they were as people and investing a large amount of money in the early stages of 8Stem.

As far as advice for someone wanting to get involved in the music industry? Bruce says it’s the same now as it was 35 years ago, “Be true to yourself…ultimately being an artist is about creating your own style and trusting your instincts and having a unique voice.”

Adam suggests “Look[ing] on the fringe. All of the action is on the fringe. Everything in mainstream is kind of boring. What I found to always be exciting is what’s going on out on the fringe where the freaks hang out. Find the artistic freaky people and see what they’re up to.”

And while we’re working on that, 8Stem has a lot of exciting things in the pipeline, including partnerships with the world’s largest content owners. Adam explains that these strategic collaborations will essentially unlock huge catalogs of popular music that will become remixable media.

“I’m looking forward to mashing up Pavarotti and deadmau5 on my phone,” he says.