WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO BEING LABELED THE CLIVE DAVIS OF AUSTIN?
Clive is hits. We’ve had hits, but I’d prefer to be more in the vein of discovering talent and nurturing careers instead of nurturing hit songs. Clive did have a lot of great artists but it was mostly about driving hit songs. Ours is more managing artists and career, but of course I would have no problem being locked in to that.
YOUR MOST PROMINENT ARTISTS ARE LOS LONELY BOYS AND BEN KWELLER, and…?
Yes, we have Los Lonely Boys, Ben Kweller, Speak, who have been touring and have a new record coming up – Amy Cook is out with Alejandro Escovedo right now, Sahara Smith, we put her first CD out, she’s been recording under the name Girl Pilot, East Cameron Folkcore.
Someone who really moves us – and we think we can sell. Is there a place for this? Can I pitch it to the bookers of the Letterman and Tonight show, can I pitch it effectively to radio. Can I get it in Rolling Stone or Paste Magazine?
YOU TRY TO IDENTIFY SOMEONE WHO CAN COMMAND A LARGER SHARE OF THE MARKET? A MEDIUM MARKET? A MARKET?
ANY market. To get above the fray that’s out there, and why it’s called “Playing In Traffic” is that there IS so much out there. When we see a band that maybe has a story, or there’s something unique about their look, or their sound – that’s what we’re looking for. How can you describe something very quickly so people either get it or they want to know more about it?
DO YOU HAVE AN ELEVATOR PITCH TO YOUR CONTACTS FOR EACH ARTIST THAT YOU HAVE ?
It’s either a pitch or a visual. I was meeting with the CEO of Capitol Music Group. He was the president of EPIC when I had Los Lonely Boys there and we were selling millions of records. Now he’s the CEO of Capitol Music Group over Capital Virgin, Harvest, Caroline, and he basically says “we discover bands by videos.” More people discover music through youtube, so it’s about an image – are they charismatic on film along with the music? It’s a whole new world order out there.
THIS INDUSTRY CHANGES SO QUICKLY. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY THE DIFFERENCE IS … LET’S GO BACK… 5 OR 10 YEARS?
I think it’s changing daily. Lightspeed. It’s different every two weeks compared to what it was 10 years ago. You have to be moving forward or you’re not going to be moving at all. It used to be the gatekeepers were radio. Radio is still very important but it depends on the act. You can use social media to move things forward.but you have to have something to say that stands out. You have to have great music. Back to what we are looking for? Great. We are looking for Great. There is so much out there that is mediocre. The Great stuff stands out.
YOU KNOW IT WHEN YOU HEAR IT.
Yes. and everyone else knows it too. When you a hear a Great artist you respond.
I knew Ben had moved to town, and we were managing Amy Cook. Amy had co-written a song with with Ben for her last record. We set up a meeting and we just clicked. He was self-managing and had his own record label “The Noise Company.” He was looking for help.
It’s really hard to do all of it as one person. We already had a staff and we took on the moniker of management for Ben Kweller and we run the label for “The Noise Company.” We have Playing in Traffic through RED, which is the Sony distribution arm, and “The Noise Company” through ADA, which is the Warner system.
Ben had just put out “The Wild Child” recordings, so we signed it to put it out on “The Noise Company.”
IT’S HARD TO GET MUSIC OUT THERE, BUT YOU CAN. YOU HAVE THE ADVANTAGE OF HAVING YEARS OF CONTACTS IN THE INDUSTRY, AND YOU ARE ABLE TO GO THROUGH DOORS.
Yes, it’s about having contacts and being nimble. We are like a basketball team. One minute it’s offense, the next is defense, and the way it’s moving, you have to be running up and down the court.
IN THAT WAY IT HASN’T CHANGED MUCH, WASN’T THE MUSIC INDUSTRY ALWAYS LIKE THAT? BUT YOU’RE SAYING THAT THE ADVENT OF SOCIAL MEDIA HAS CHANGED THE GAME BY SPEEDING THINGS UP.
Social media has changed the ability to get videos out, AND make recordings cheaply. You have to be creative – but quickly and artistically.
DON’T YOU THINK THAT SOME OF THOSE VIDEOS ARE ONE SHOT WONDERS? FLASH IN THE PANS? LIKE GANGNAM STYLE, FOR EXAMPLE. IT WAS BIG FLASH, BUT…
Yes, but if you hit as big as Gangnam style, you try to follow it up with creative art. But look, you know, (laughs) We’ll take that – and hope we can follow it up. It really is about being creative.
YOU ARE INVOLVED IN RECRUITING AND MANAGING, BUT WHAT HAPPENS AFTER YOU HAVE SIGNED AN ARTIST?
We are involved in every aspect. As management, you are the business side of the brain. For example, if it’s a young artist that doesn’t have booking, we are trying to help them find venues to play – or talking to them about their look, or their songs, or their set list. How long to play, how little to play, how to not show weaknesses. We try to package them with other artists that have the right look and feel and vibe.
While we are doing that, we are trying to bring the booking agents, concert promoters and venue people, to come and see them. If the artist isn’t producing themselves, then it’s producers who can and will produce the record.
If we are the label, we are finding the producers, funding the record, working with the band on art – do you put the title of the band on the album cover? What is a video concept, how do you make it and how do you roll it out.
HOW DID YOUR PROCESS WORK WHEN YOU FOUND LOS LONELY BOYS?
Most of the bands that have come to me have been because someone has approached me and said “You have got to see this band.” I knew a producer named Rob Fraboni. He had produced the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton. For a while he was the Vice President A&R at Island Records.
He and I have similar instincts. We’ve gone through several SXSW’s where we would run through and jump in every club, jump out and discuss it, jump back in for a couple of songs. Then we’d break, go have pasta and do it again.
He called one day and said he and Keith Richards were starting a record label, and would I meet them in Nashville to see these three Hispanic brothers that they wanted to sign to this new label. They thought of me to manage them.
I went to Nashville, and of course Keith and Rob did not start a label, but I ended up with three Hispanic sons, Henry JoJo and Ringo. They sat in this room and we worked on songs. Structure, lyrics, and also how to move forward in their career. They really didn’t have much gear. They had a drum kit, but no guitar amps at the time. They didn’t have any bookings and they didn’t have any money.
We had to start where they were. They were incredible live – great sense of melody, cool songs – but we had to flesh out the rest. They were playing a lot of cover songs just to get through three hours in a night to make enough money to have enough to eat.
I remember we put them in front of Omar and the Howlers at the Saxon Pub for a hundred dollars, Jimmy Vaughan at Antone’s. I put them at a festival in Ft. Smith, Arkansas that I had another act at. They were the first act at noon. They got a standing ovation – at noon. The festival promoter called me and said “These guys are amazing.” I put them in Rockefellers in Houston, I put them in front of Bob Schneider. Just anything to put them in front of people.
What they didn’t have though, was recording chops. They knew how to play in front of an audience because they’d been playing with their father’s band since they were kids. Now they were 17, 18, and 19 but they had 10 years of experience playing live. They didn’t know how to record without an audience there, so it was kind of flat. I needed unlimited studio time, so I went to the Willie Nelson camp, because he had Pedernales Records along with Freddie Fletcher. They were running Arlyn and Pedernales at the time.
I brought Freddie to see them at the Saxon Pub, and he loved them. I brought Willie to see them at Momo’s, and he loved them. We basically camped out at Pedernales so they could feel at home, and we started making new recordings. We shopped it to every label, and every booking agent, and all of them passed. Nobody wanted three Hispanic boys – none. None.
Willie and Freddie and I had talked about just putting it out on Pedernales Records, but finally I got this A&R guy named Michael Caplan, who was leaving EPIC records. He liked the recordings, and came down to see them, and started OR Records. OR Records was very similar to what “Playing In Traffic” is now, a couple of people through the RED distribution. So we signed them to OR, re-recorded, and put it out through the RED channels.
It exploded on radio. When we got to about 200,000 in sales we made a joint deal with EPIC and went on to sell 2.5 million on their first one. We kept making records through EPIC, and when that deal was over, we decided to start the “Playing In Traffic” label to put the releases out.
That gave us a home, because with our clout and sales from Los Lonely Boys through Sony’s RED , it allowed our other artists to have distribution through RED too.
For us, it’s about nurturing artists. It’s about East Cameron Folkcore, Ben Kweller, Amy Cook. Everyone we’ve got, from Los Lonely Boys to a band called The Dunwells from England, and young artists like Hunter Sharpe and William Graham with Painted Redstarts, and Dame out of Los Angeles.