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luckyPRICK Interview w/John Malm, Jr.
By Todd Millenacker
Transcribed by Todd Millenacker
Recently, our resident interviewer, Todd, got a chance to speak to ex-manager & Nothing Records label head, John Malm, Jr. John spoke to us about how he got into the business, going to Lucky Pierre shows, and the role he played in getting the 1st PRICK album released. He also gives us some insight into what he’s doing now and where he sees the music industry heading in the not so distant future. We can’t thank him enough for taking the time to speak with us.
Todd Millenacker: Hey John, thank you for taking some time to talk to me about Kevin McMahon.
John Malm: No problem. Kevin got me into the business; he was my first client.
Todd: So how did you get into the whole management world to begin with?
John: I’m a frustrated musician.
Todd: What did you play?
John: I don’t… that’s the problem. [Laughing]
Todd: You didn’t even make it as far as that.
John: But I love it! I mean music is my life and I got into it for the creative side and not so much for the business side. However, I learned very quickly that business is a major part of music and fortunately, I was able to rise with it.
Starting out, I went to Denison University in Ohio and I was the general manager of the radio station.
Todd: Is that the radio station Tom Lash worked at?
John: No, I’m pretty sure Tom was at Cleveland State. This was a small private liberal arts school and from there I graduated in 1981 and went to work for my father in a business he owned which made power distribution equipment for power plants. I don’t want to bore you with details, but basically it wasn’t my passion. My dad was cool enough to say ‘okay, take time off’ because I’d be doing stuff with Kevin and had to leave work. My dad’s always been great!
Then I started promoting shows at the Phantasy Nightclub and Theatre. As a promoter I brought in mostly UK acts: anywhere from Public Image to Oingo Boingo to Jesus and Mary Chain to Jazz Butcher to Shriekback to Peter Murphy. A lot of these bands are no more, but this was back in the early to mid 80s. I did that for about 2 years, but I became bored by it because the same thing would happen every night. For me, it wasn’t inspiring me at all. But through this job I met people which could help me later in life. I guess I had known Kevin prior to that and I had known Trent prior to that while I was managing Exotic Birds.
Todd: This was about the same time as Lucky Pierre?
John: Right. Lucky Pierre was my first act and then - you’re probably better on the chronology than I am – but I think I hooked up with Kevin in late 82 or early 83. I spent a brief time with the Exotic Birds, maybe a year or so, and that kind of folded. Well, did it fold or not? Hmmm, I know I left and Trent left…
Then Trent and I hooked up and the rest is history. When we got our own label I suggested, “Hey ya’know why don’t we sign Kevin?” Trent was obviously familiar with Kevin and he played with Kevin in Lucky Pierre. But at the time, Kevin had a manager and the manager wanted to be directly on Interscope. Kevin was more interested in working with Trent and myself. So we decided to bring Kevin to Interscope and said, “Look, Kevin can sign to you, however we’re the A & R for the project and our logo is gonna be on it.” That was an attempt to protect Kevin from a lot of the stuff that eventually wore him down to the point where…
Let me just take a minute to explaining the Nothing/Interscope situation. Trent and I ran Nothing Records. I was the day-to-day business guy and Trent was there if we needed stuff produced in the studio, ya know, the creative end. I brought Kevin in while I was running Nothing Records.
Kevin was signed to Interscope, but we A & Red it because we wanted to give him his own space to work. That was always the idea behind Nothing; it’s two artist friendly people because ya’know one’s an artist (Trent) and one’s an artist friendly manager slash label because we had a terrible experience at TVT with Trent. When we set up Nothing we said we’re gonna try to foster an environment for artists to do what they wanted - obviously, it didn’t exactly come to fruition the way we wanted it to and that was corporate mentality. We’d always say [to the artist], “If you want our opinion we’ll give it to ya, if you don’t just give us the album and the artwork and we’ll put it out.”
Todd: Very cool.
John: And that’s true for The The as well as all the artists involved with Nothing… I also signed Matt Johnson to Nothing if you want to get into that.
Todd: I’d love to! So was Matt Johnson out of his Sony deal at the time?
Todd: I interviewed Andy Kubiszewski for this site and I know he played drums for him.
John: Yup, I actually got him the gig. I got a call from his agent and he said, “The The is gonna be in town tomorrow and their drummer just quit!” So I took Andy down there, he met Matt, and they did some auditions and two or three days later Andy’s on the road with the band.
John: He just did that one tour with Matt. This was before The The signed to us.
Todd: I think it was the Dusk tour, right? That’s pretty awesome. It’s funny how everybody’s connected. All of these bands I grew up worshiping and its like, “Wow, this guy knows this guy who knows this guy.”
Todd: Small world.
John: Well, Kevin and I have a unique relationship. He was my first client, but is also one of my closest friends. I guess the same is true for Trent. Trent and I stayed together for like 18 years.
Todd: With Kevin, I always got the impression that he was a little bit wiser by the time Prick hit and he didn’t seem as enthused about the whole touring thing. I know he had some younger band members and in interviews he always sort of sounded like he felt out of place.
John: Right, that’s pretty much exactly right.
Todd: Did you manage Kevin during this period?
Todd: He was still with the other manager?
John: Yes. Kevin and I were friends and at that time I really started working full-time with Trent, Kevin wasn’t doing much [with music] at this point. In fact, I believe he was out in San Francisco and we weren’t even in contact that much, but ya’know, we were still always friends. We’d talk from time to time and once we got Nothing Records I thought that this would be a great opportunity for Kevin to get his music heard and I hoped that by doing this through Nothing we could protect him from some of the interesting people that are a part of this business.
Todd: There’s more of the heavy, industrial, glam-rock feel on the first disc which doesn’t show up on his previous stuff. Was Interscope pushing the electronic direction on him? Obviously he goes through phases as a songwriter; I mean there’s even that Chili song where he sings about making food.
John: Chilly Willy?
Todd: There’s that one, but there’s also one called “Chili (Recipe of Love)”. Back in the late 80s he had an idea for a cooking show where he’d sing a song about how to make foods!
John: [Laughing] That’s my boy!
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Todd: Obviously, he worked with Trent for a couple songs, but even the Warne Livesley produced stuff. Personally, I always noticed the The The influence, I think even more than the NIN influence.
John: Well, there’s definitely Trent influences there, I mean, the guy is singing on the record! I always thought their voices worked very well together. Trent always had this “industrial” moniker, but I didn’t even want that as a manager for Trent. People need to pigeonhole artists.
I think that moniker was put on Kevin because if you listen to that first album you hear the “Reznor influence”. Like I said, I never called Trent “industrial” so I wouldn’t use that term. What I will say is you hear Reznor influences, but you also hear a lot of these influences…
Todd: Obviously, there’s Kinks, Bowie and T-Rex influences as well.
John: Exactly. You’re right on target there…
On a side-note, I remember when I graduated [college] I came back to Cleveland and I didn’t have many friends. All my friends had moved away and I started hanging out with a couple of people and within 3 months or so I discovered Lucky Pierre and nearly every weekend, we’d be like, “Okay where is Lucky Pierre playing this weekend?” We just went to every single Lucky Pierre gig at the time.
Todd: I asked the others guys about this, but do you have any idea why Lucky Pierre never went anywhere on a national level? I mean obviously Devo broke out of Cleveland.
John: I don’t know. My theory is that I don’t think at that point they had proper management (and I’m talking about the Fans & Cameras/Into My Arms time period). I mean REM was coming out at this time and Kevin kicks their ass! Basically, Lucky Pierre didn’t have anybody getting them to the right people; I can’t imagine A&R guys back then seeing a Lucky Pierre show and saying, “No, we’re not interested”. But at the same time there are a lot of ignorant A & R guys. Ya know, it’s the old “Who’s in the top ten, well give me one of those.” They are not exactly looking for something different like what Trent and I were trying to do with Nothing Records. I can just give you my opinion, but I think that the band didn’t have proper management or a lawyer that could have got them in front of the right people.
Todd: There’s one interview I like where Kevin said something along the lines of, “It’s not that I stopped writing or making music, it’s just that I assumed people stopped listening.” His goal was just to continue writing a song a month and then at the end of his life he’d have a huge catalog of songs. As a big Kevin fan, I gotta say that that’s pretty cool and admirable. Obviously, I wish he’d put out more music, but ya’know, he works at his own pace.
John: Well, I’ll tell you this; Kevin’s the REAL DEAL. He’s a true artist. Just the way he lived his life, not like he passed away or anything. He didn't care if he had two dimes he could scrape together as long as he could get that track finished. I was reading Tom Lash’s interview and the quote, “I’ve never seen fame or fortune make someone a better person” and I couldn’t agree more with that. And that goes back to what Kevin really is; the REAL DEAL.
Todd: Yeah, an artist.
John: Matt Johnson; REAL DEAL. David Bowie; REAL DEAL. Ray Davies; REAL DEAL. There are so many bands that just try to imitate.
Todd: As a hardcore music fan, I always sort of feel like you can tell the real thing apart. True music lovers aren’t just consumers and won’t simply take what’s put in front of them. I guess as a Kevin fan that’s what makes it so cool, like “This is my band and they are unbelievable!”
Todd: After the Bowie/NIN tour, were there plans at Nothing/Interscope to follow-up Prick’s debut?
John: There were plans for a follow-up and what had happened was that during this period Seagram bought Universal.
Todd: Is that where the The The situation came about with the whole THE THE vs THE CORPORATE MONSTER ESSAY?
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John: Yup, with the little toys. The only one I was bummed about was the Nothing toy in there. I’m like, “Come on man, I’m the only one who fought for ya!”
I think that was at the Vivendi point, Seagram sold it and Vivendi got it. I’m not totally sure, I think with Kevin it was Seagram and with Matt Johnson it was Vivendi. Either way, it clipped Nothing’s wings and somewhat neutered us. We could still provide that environment, but then you had to separately go to Interscope and then you had to go to their radio people and their marketing people. Unfortunately, between all the different branches, sometimes they just didn’t get it. I’m a little uncomfortable talking about that…
Todd: No problem. At the time there was talk about a record called Numb, I don’t know how official that was, but I remember something about it at the time. Was anything actually recorded for this? I’m assuming “Into My Arms” and “Tomorrow” from the Wreckard?
John: I don’t remember the name Numb, but Kevin always was one for having multiple names.
Todd: Like that way he’d say in interviews “Prick” could be the album title or it could be the band.
John: Right, no that’s Kevin. Extremely intelligent, you can tell by his lyrics. Live, he was a phenomenal performer. Ya know how when you go see David Bowie that’s who you’re watching; you’re not really looking at the bass player. It’s the same way with Kevin, except Kevin had a great band with Tom Lash, Dave Zima and Dennis Devito as well!
Todd: Kevin disappeared throughout the late-90s and reemerged in 2002 with the Wreckard. Being how Kevin had the whole major label deal going, what did you think of Kevin opting for the indie route? Do you think it halted what he was going for?
John: Well, ya know I could have an opinion, but I’m not the artist. It’s my job to facilitate what the artist wants to do. Unless it’s just crazy and then I’ll say, “Wait a minute!”, but I didn’t ever have that problem with Kevin. I never had that problem with Trent; actually I never had that with any of the artists I’ve worked with; I’ve never had to say, “That’s a dumb idea!” I have been very fortunate.
Kevin knows what he wants and I think that he didn’t take well to the major label situation. Personally, I know I didn’t either. Trent really didn’t, but Trent was in a different league. I don’t mean Trent was more talented, I just mean his career was way further down the road and he could pretty much do whatever he wanted.
Todd: Do you keep in contact with Kevin these days?
John: I do.
Todd: Is he planning on reemerging? Andy mentioned to LuckyPRICK.net that he was recording some drum tracks with Kevin this past fall.
John: Kevin’s always working on stuff and he’s pretty secretive, even to the people he works with. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just the way he is. Coming from a management background I always try and defend the artist.
Todd: Is that the way Kevin was even back when you met him in 82 or so?
John: Some artists try to create a mystique; Kevin is a mystique. I mean that in a really good way. Like I said earlier, he’s extremely intelligent and - I don’t know if he’d want me saying this - but has a great sense of humor. I think it’s obvious in some of his lyrics.
Todd: Definitely. Moving on, you’ve been managing multiple acts since then, would you mind sharing a little bit about what you’ve been up to?
John: Recently, I moved back to Cleveland full-time. I had an office in Cleveland and New York and I was commuting, but I made the decision to move back to Cleveland and I started working with some acts. I worked for about 2 years with Spiritualized. I’m no longer working with them. Currently, I’m working with the band Alabama 3, which in America they are known as A3, and they’re…. I don’t know if you’re familiar with them at all?
Todd: I’ll look ’em up.
John: To give you an idea of what they sound like; they are the opening sequence to the Sopranos. Their album comes out in February in the states. In America they are signed to an indie label and their record is called MOR. It’s getting some great reviews in the UK and Europe.
Todd: You’ve been in management since the early 80s. From the management end, have things changed?
John: I’ll tell you this; everything has changed. To be totally cynical I’d say within 3 or 4 years the majors are gonna be catalog holders, but that’s just my opinion. This is because major labels refused to recognize the internet and were arrogant enough to think that they could squash it. And they got called out on that.
Todd: So where does that leave the artist? Obviously people are gonna still want new music.
John: Without a doubt, I believe the internet is the future. I think it’s gonna be all internet radio, satellite radio will go the way of the dodo.
Todd: For instance with Alabama 3, do you try and hook them up with an indie label for marketing? Obviously, you still need something other than a MySpace page to break on a large scale, don’t ya?
John: You do. For two years in a row, the Guardian (which is like the USA Today of England) voted A3 “Best Live Band”. They’re incredible…
Todd: So you’re just trying to crack America at this point?
John: The only way they are gonna crack is by touring, because you have to see it to get it. Basically it’s a show and I’d put it up there with Marilyn Manson. Ya know how Manson puts on a full blown rock show ever night - I don’t know if you’ve ever seen his show?
Todd: Oh yeah, quite a few times.
John: They are the same way. They try to speak in American accents like they are from Alabama. The two front guys are the Reverend D. Wayne Love who preaches to the audience and Larry Love who is basically the lead singer. Everyone in the band has fictitious names.
Todd: Like the Ramones.
John: Exactly. A lot of it’s tongue-in-cheek, but the music is there.
Todd: Yeah, otherwise it turns into Weird Al or something along those lines.
John: There are also a couple local artist I’m working with here, one’s a band called Uptight Sugar and if you’re looking for a sound it would be Beatlesque meets Oasis meets Spiritualized meets Roxy Music.
There’s also a band out San Diego, basically one guy, his name is Sex Electric.
Todd: So you have quite a few artists you keep tabs on. Is this all part of Conservative Management?
John: Yup, that’s my company.
Todd: Have you been doing this as Conservative since you came back to Cleveland or was that always your company name?
John: It was Conservative with Nine Inch Nails as well.
Todd: Did you found Object Merchandise?
John: Yes. Trent and I did.
Todd: I remember reading an interview from a while ago and doesn’t Object basically do the T-shirts and merchandising for nearly every rock band these days?
John: [Laughing] I wish!
Todd: How did that come about?
John: Just like with Nothing Records, Object was another example of Trent and I deciding not take the standard route. Like the record company, it was Trent’s idea and I thought it was a good idea, so I went a long with it.
Todd: You’re the “make things happen guy basically.”
John: Yeah, kind of. Basically, the way Object started was Trent would go to concerts and he’d be like, “You could blow straws through these shirts after you wash them twice!” And so our whole thing was about quality, ya know, we were one of the first artists to embroider. On the first Lollapalooza we had a NIN shirt that was embroidered and nobody else was doing that. This was back then, now everybody does it. I remember merch guys going, “You’re gonna be losing your ass on it!” And then every night we were outselling Jane’s Addiction. Which was somewhat embarrassing… I guess not embarrassing, but just uncomfortable.
Todd: A “cool” embarrassing I’d imagine.
John: Yes, it just sorta made it uncomfortable since they were the headliners.
Todd: So did you have mentors who showed you the way or was it just like, “Alright we’re doing a merchandising company let’s make it happen!”
John: I can honestly say that everything I know I learned myself and I’m proud of that. I try to help young musicians because I always kind of said that if I make it I want to help other people skip some of the mistakes I’ve made. As far as the merchandising company, I originally hooked up with a guy who had a merchandising background. We’d go to him and say this is what we want to do and he’d figure out how to do it. Through trial and error, we went through several of those guys.
My whole business philosophy is to surround yourself with people that know more than you do and if they don’t, then do it yourself.
Todd: Good advice.
John: I’ve got to say I’ve been blessed to be able to work with Kevin McMahon, Marilyn Manson, Matt Johnson, Trent Reznor and Clint Mansell of PWEI… ya know, the list goes on.
Todd: As an old Pop Will Eat Itself fan, is the reunion done? I know they got back together for awhile, but haven’t been keeping track.
John: Well, I don’t know if Clint was a part of that, because Clint moved out to LA and he’s doing a lot of movie soundtrack work. I’m sure you see his name in the credits all the time. So does Charlie Clouser from Nine Inch Nail, he’s doing the same sort of thing.
Todd: Yeah, Andy Kubiszewski mentioned he’s doing music for the Discovery channel and things like that. It’s funny, because it seems like a large portion the Nothing collective has moved into soundtrack work.
John: Yeah, it’s funny because there were a few LA guys in there to start with. Like Charlie we met when we were recording the Downward Spiral in the Tate House. He eventually became the keyboard player for Nine Inch Nails, but he’s doing those shows Numb3rs and Las Vegas now.
Todd: I know he did some of the SAW movies too.
John: Right, right… Clint has the same deal, but 99% of what he does is in film.
Todd: So is it the old adage, “It’s who ya know”? Obviously these guys are extremely talented, but once they’ve got their foot in the door is it pretty easy to move around in this industry?
John: Well, yeah… A lot of it is connections, but ya know, you asked me earlier about how things have changed and a lot of those connections are gone. Because at record companies it is like a blood bath, they are just letting people go by the dozens and I think everybody is trying to figure out exactly what the new machine is gonna be. It’s kinda like the Wild West right now. Nobody really knows, Steve Jobs was first with the iPod, but ya know there are going to be advances from that.
Todd: Yeah, I already know Microsoft has the Zune and I’m sure next year it’ll be something else.
John: I definitely believe that’s where we’re headed, but I don’t know exactly how it’s gonna be set up. I don’t think the president of any major label could tell you either.
Todd: From more of an optimistic point of view, don’t you think that if you keep making good music the fans will be there?
John: You do and when I grew up I was the kid that always went to the independent record store and searched for something new or different. I was listening to Roxy Music back then, this was back before anybody knew who Roxy Music was. Actually we were blessed with a radio station here in Cleveland called WMMS. They played a lot of that stuff, they played T-Rex, and they played Roxy, Bowie…
Todd: Are The Kinks in your background too?
John: Yeah, but not as much as Kevin. Actually Kevin and Ray are friends.
John: Well, I’ve been with Kevin a couple of times where he and Ray just hung out.
Todd: That’s got to be pretty awesome; Kevin loving the music of Ray Davies and then to become friends with him!
John: For me it was Bowie and Brian Ferry. It’s pretty cool to be able to work and talk with them. I remember the first night on the Outside tour Bowie sat down with me for an hour. He wanted my opinion and, at the time, my opinion wasn’t great, but I think he respected me and that I wasn’t just a ‘yes man’. [Ed note: John is referring to Bowie refusing to play any old material on the Outside tour a month before the album was even released]. If I were in a room with him today, he’d make a point of saying, “Hi John, how ya doing?” I mean, he’s just a gentleman. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and work with a lot of people who have had a huge influence on my life. Like with David Bowie, I’m not a groupie, but it’s pretty cool to realize he’s an incredibly nice guy and pretty cool. As oppose to the guys where you meet them and its like, “Ah, what an asshole!”
Todd: I don’t think enough people realize how much music shapes your life. It’s pretty awesome to be able to meet in person the people who have shaped your life. One thing I’ve found from doing interviews for this site is that at the end of the day people are just people.
John: Absolutely, like with Matt Johnson. I was a huge The The fan and remember how I was a little bit nervous at our first meeting , but with time we became friends and like you said people are just people. But Kevin’s in that league! I put him up in that league with the Kinks; I put him up in that league with Bowie. He just took a different path.
Todd: He’s a hero to indie guys like me.
John: And it’s great that people like you are giving him some of the recognition that he well deserves. I believe you could put out that first Prick album today and it still holds up and stands on its own! I never thought it got a shot.
Todd: I still pop it in every couple weeks and every time I listen there’s always a couple of those “a-ha” moments where you just think to yourself, “This is brilliant!”
John: That is a brilliant record! I can say this because I had nothing to do with it other than help get it released once it was finished.
Todd: I think that’s the “Great Mystery of Kevin McMahon”. He makes unbelievable music and releases brilliant records, but he sort of chooses to stay under the radar.
John: But who are we to say.
John: And that’s where I said earlier, he’s the REAL DEAL. He’s about the music.
By the way, did we cover the Phantasy? It’s a family owned nightclub, but Michele DeFrafia is the manager there. She’s been supportive of Kevin since day one. They facilitated where she’d let them rehearse for free, so I think she’s worth a mention in Lucky Pierre history. I think Tom talks about them too in his interview.
Todd: Is the Phantasy gone?
John: No, actually it’s still around. That’s where Trent came out of too. That’s where I was promoting shows. There’s the Phantasy Theatre, Phantasy Nightclub and a couple more. It’s like a half of a city block and three of four venues. But yeah, she’s still doing the alternative stuff there. Unfortunately, the music scene wasn’t what it was.
Todd: Yeah, my band played in Cleveland last year at the Grog Shop. I had never been to Cleveland and thought it was weird the way the whole downtown was set-up; there are some nice neighborhoods and then there’s a junky part of town with no rhyme or reason for anything.
John: Yeah, come 5PM everyone is doing their best to get out of downtown. My offices are in an area called “The Warehouse District” which is becoming developed now. The music scene is not what it was when I was planning to see where Lucky Pierre was gonna play every weekend. Which is unfortunate, but I think it goes hand-in-hand with what’s happening in the industry itself; there are not a lot of standouts right now. A lot of stuff to me is just homogenized and, maybe as I’m getting older I’m getting a little more cynical, but the excitement of discovering a Lucky Pierre isn’t there.
I was talking to somebody who has children and wondering if their kids listen to music and it seems like they listened to what was being spoon fed to them but they are not actively seeking new things out. And I asked if they play video games and they said, “Oh yeah!” I think that video games are taking a chunk out of that market too. There are only so many dollars and if you look at the grosses that come out from touring and who’s making the money its Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Bob Dylan, U2… ya know, the old established acts. My theory on that is that those are the artists that had artist development. Now the idea is to shove out a single and when it burns out it’s time to plug in the next band. You saw it with the Britney and all those other little girls that came out. Now you’ve got this Hannah Montana stuff which, ya know, is big money and the record companies are focusing on it because it’s that whole Disney phenomenon.
Todd: But isn’t Hannah Montana and stuff like that less of a threat because it’s so targeted at teeny boppers?
John: I think I know what you’re saying and it’s less of a threat in that respect, but at the same time, it’s taking A & R guy’s eyeballs off of…
Todd: Grooming talent?
John: There just is no artist development anymore; it doesn’t exist. This is what happened when corporations started buying up the record companies. I mean they put bean counters in at the heads of the companies. Originally you had people like Chris Blackwell running Island Records. Chris is a genuine music fan and a hero of mine. He’s also a friend which is very cool! Those people don’t exist anymore and you’ve just got bean counters. The idea behind it is, “What are we gonna do for the quarter and how is it gonna look for the share holders.” I realize it’s a business and some of that is fine, but it’s also killed the artist development side of things. That’s one thing about the internet, in some ways it gives people the same shot as the next guy. Obviously like you said, you just can’t have a MySpace account and expect to be touring arenas in a month.
Todd: Like Panic at the Disco and the way they built their following strictly through MySpace? I still have yet to get an iPod, but I noticed that there’s already a generational gap there and I’m only 29. Personally, I still like the physical disc.
John: Yeah, but there’s advantages to an iPod. I’ve got 500 disc loaded into my iPod and it’s in my pocket and I’ve got my whole record collection right there. It’s technology and its record companies not rising to the occasion, it’s them turning their backs on their artists and you see it now. I think Universal was down about 36% last quarter.
Todd: There was a Wired article with David Byrne where he was saying in 2 years 50% of music will be digital distribution and I know that even places like Best Buy are slowly shrinking down their CD section.
John: I don’t know if you’ve ever been to L.A., but on Sunset Drive there was Tower Records and that was like an institution; it’s closed. In one way it’s sad and in another way maybe a different doorway is opening.
Todd: Even with video games, you figure people are always going to be listening to music. I like reading everyone’s predictions and perspectives on the future of the industry. I thought the whole Radiohead or Saul Williams/NIN experiments were interesting. Still isn’t the big money made through playing live - at least for the bigger bands? What about the Pitchfork-level bands?
John: Pitchfork-level bands are struggling; it would somewhat difficult to mount a US tour, but some can do it.
Todd: I like how the Flaming Lips license out one song per record for a car or computer commercial. Wayne Coyne says that that one song covers the cost of touring.
John: Well, if it pays for something else you want to do, honestly why not?
Todd: “You can eat integrity.” Although actually I don’t even think it’s a question of integrity.
John: No it’s not, not anymore.
Todd: I’m thinking late-80s/early-90s Steve Albini thing here…
John: Exactly. Well, like Bono and U2. I remember reading an old interview where he was like, “Oh god we’d never do that” and now he’s like the biggest sellout on the planet! [Laughing]
Todd: A year or two ago I heard The Cure’s “Picture of You” in a Kodak commercial and it was like “Oh No!” Luckily Roberts’s a good talker and since I love The Cure I can’t fault them, but still it’s not quite the same attitude Robert use to have.
John: Well, in defense of all those people that have done it (and also coming from the management and label side) you really can’t fault those people because they just want to keep doing what they are doing. The old ride has been shut down, so you’ve got to take another ride. There are still cynical people who will say they’re “sellouts” and those are usually people that don’t understand the business side of things or that it costs money to record and to tour. How are struggling artists just starting out supposed to pay for it?
Personally, I think there’s nothing wrong with it because of where we are today. If things were the way they were back when I first met Kevin I’d say, “No, you don’t want to do that.”
Todd: I like the story of how Daniel Miller founded Mute Records from a record he made in his parent’s house that ended up selling 100,000 copies [This was the Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” single]. I mean, who could do that at this point?
John: Nobody…. yet.
Todd: I’ve exchanged emails with Simon Reynolds who wrote “Rip It Up and Start Again” which is about the 78-84 post-punk movement and it’s pretty interesting to hear his perspective on how things have changed. Then again, life moves on, but still it’s pretty cool to hear these stories!
John: And that’s what I call, “Real Rock’n’Roll”. Corporations have ruined a lot of it and that’s why I’m a proponent of the internet because it puts people on somewhat of an even playing field.
Todd: I’m always a little bit overwhelmed when I look for new music on the internet just because there are so many bands out there, I don’t know where to begin. It’s sort of a shrinking effect; it’s almost like by having more choices you have fewer just because of the information overload.
John: And that’s why I always ask people who have kids, “Do they listen?” Because my fear is that they don’t give a shit anymore. My fear is it’s gonna be more video games and kids aren’t gonna search out new music. I think MTV did a lot to destroy the effort to go seek new music. When MTV originally started it was great then it just became more and more formatted. And the same with radio, Clear Channel basically own the country. So you’ve got five idiots deciding what 25 songs are gonna be repeated over and over again in every city.
Todd: So when you’re pushing the acts you manage do you have any particular game plan?
John: The way I work in management is that I tailor an approach to what each artists needs. For instance, Sex Electric has got a huge internet marketing background because that’s his day job, so we’re kinda one step ahead there. But he owns the company so it’s not like he’s got time to work on music whenever he wants.
With the Alabama 3 and Uptight Sugar they are just starting to realize the power of the internet.
Todd: You’re not managing Kevin at this point?
John: No. It’s just more of a friendly relationship and that’s how we started out so it’s come full circle.
Todd: I think the best thing about the wait between these Kevin records is that I’ve taken the time to go back and find his influence. For instance, this past month I’ve been absorbing The Village Green Preservation Society and I’m thinking, “My God this is brilliant!”
John: Classic album.
Todd: And if music kept coming out I don’t think you’d take as much time to go back and discover all these gems.
John: Right, right… I do the same thing. If I find an artist and I don’t know the acts that influenced them I’ll go back and check it out.
Todd: That’s what’s cool about music. It’s this eternal timeline and I’m guessing by the time I’m 60 or so I will have listened to every CD that has ever existed. And by then it should be okay because CDs will have stopped being made so there’s a cut off point!
John: [Laughing] Exactly!
Todd: Thank you very much to take the time to talk to me.
John: No problem. I’m always happy to talk about Kevin; he gave me my start.
Todd: I hope he appreciates it. I just don’t want him to be weirded out by us uber fans who know too much about him.
John: Well I hope I haven’t given too much away.
Todd: I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a 2008 release.
John: I’ll do my best to push him! Thanks for your support of Kevin!