Indie Folk: New Art from the Pacific Northwest

Listen: Play List by Mississippi Records

The genre "Northwest Indie Folk" could mean a lot of different things to different people. Our region is home to a lot of folk cultures that have adapted their traditional folk music to the modern world. This playlist could have been filled with innovative Native American music or new school shape note singers or Black church Gospel bands, and the term "Indie Folk" would apply.  

The outside world tends to see the Northwest as a bit of a "soft" music scene, and they are not far off. The vibe here is exceptionally gentle. Even the punk and avant-garde music of the NW seems to have softer edges than the comparative scenes in other parts of the USA.  The skies are grey, the trees are green, and the music is minor chord and sweet.

All of the artists on this list worked day jobs while still producing music. They are all firmly working class. Fred and Toody Cole from Dead Moon built their own Western Ghost town, ran a dollar store called Buckaroo, and did construction and laundry work. Folk singer Shelley Short worked as a school teacher and ice cream scooper. Sun Foot's members worked as a librarian, a printer, and a house painter. Michael Hurley was an 8-track repair man and a parsnip farmer. Ural Thomas still works construction jobs at the age of 80. This is all real working class folk music. Yes,this music is gentle.  But, it is also hard won, honest and fiercely independent. It makes me proud to be from the Northwest. 

—Eric Isaacson at Mississippi Records, Portland, OR. April 28, 2020 

Eric Isaacson is the founder of the Mississippi Records label and retail shop in Portland, Oregon. Since 2003, the Mississippi Records label has released over 260 records, including many by Pacific Northwest-based artists.

Michael Hurley: In the Garden. 

The Northwest’s OG "Indie folk" artist. He’s been at it since the early 1960s and is still making homemade albums.

Dragging an Ox Through Water: True and False Comforts.

Uses homemade light sensitive electronics that respond to a candles random flicker to determine a lot of the sounds in his songs.

Ural Thomas: Smile. 

Since the late 1950s, Ural has been playing music in North Portland. He recorded this home folk recording with a ten-year-old drummer and produced just 300 copies of the single.

Sun Foot: House Party. Features Chris Johanson.

Art rock / folk band.

Marisa Anderson: Into the Light.

Portland guitar wizard. Always reinventing the idea of the folk guitar.

Ted Lucas: Baby Where You Are.

Southern Oregon singer-songwriter who recorded only one album in 1975. True indie pioneer of the sound.

Shelley Short: Death.

Born and raised in Portland from deep bohemian roots.

Lori Goldston: Serenade.

Cellist with many big names like Nirvana and David Byrne. Solo work is very earthy and avant-garde take on simple folk music.

Dead Moon: Unknown Passage. 

The DNA of the Northwest sound. Rootsy as it gets.