Interviewed by Doug Minnick

Where did you grow up?

Wilmington, Delaware. East Coast.

What was your first job in the music business?

I had worked for a music publishing company for three years. I did that from '82 to '85 while trying to get into A&M for almost all three years.

Why did you have your heart set on A&M?

I knew from the time I was 14 or 15 that I wanted to be in the music business. I just noticed one day that I happened to have a lot of A&M records. There was something about the music and the quality of them. I just had a feeling, an attraction, to the music that was coming out. I just got the feeling that A&M was the place. I would read about them. I'd see their table at the Ritz (the famous N.Y. nightclub—ed.) or wherever, and I'd recognize names and faces and go up and introduce myself. I used to sit and watch the booths during showcases to see who'd show up. I'd stand by the A&M table. It's really true. I figured I was on my own. I had to make it somehow. I ended up out in California through a series of moves in the promotion department—from Philadelphia to San Francisco, and then from San Francisco here to do A&R, which is what I always wanted to do.

How long have you been doing A&R now?

Since June of 1989.

How have your duties changed over the years?

When I first came in I was scared. I wanted to do this, but it was overwhelming to think about things like: What would my original vision be? How would I deal with politics? What would I hear that would become important to the company? It was just something in the timing and in my nature, and in what I thought I could do, and what I was afraid I couldn't do that led me to spend a lot of time working with David Anderle (A&M Sr. V.P.) on certain artists that were already signed—Amy Grant and Sting, for example. Janet Jackson was the first thing. In a way, I was an apprentice working with the superstars, learning and contributing to their careers. The focus for the first four years wasn't about me signing artists. It was about me making records. It was about me being a tool to make and assist making records with the people who were already the "money in the bank."

Do you lean more towards groups that are ready to be signed than groups that need more development?

I think it just happened that way. There is a band I saw recently that is not ready, but I heard something in it. I said to them, "This is different for me because before I hadn't heard anything that was not ready that had a spark. You're the first ones that do, that's why I'm here." So if I hear some element that is substantial, it's so hard to find great talent that I'll want to investigate it and see.

What steps do you take then, because you can't put out a record if they're not ready?

No, I went to their rehearsal. I listened to them play for an hour. We sat around for about two hours afterwards and talked about what I felt, without telling them to be something that they weren't. It's like anything in life, if you're fortunate to have a mentor or good father to guide you in your life, you want to give some direction. You don't want to lay out the map. I'm not there to write the songs for them or sing them. They're not at that level yet (to be signed). They understood intellectually that whether they can deliver will be a test of their talent.

Did you do a development deal with them or do you just stay in touch?

Just stay in touch. If some of this isn't about good faith, then I'm running the other way. I've always felt maybe my strongest skill was how I develop a relationship. I haven't been involved with anybody that I didn't really like. Therefore, I'm able to be my fully passionate self with them and argue for the good of the record and for their development and my own. But that's a lot of work.

If you're working with an artist that really has depth, then there is so much more they can always give. There is always this growing process. It's a lot of work to be passionate. It really is. When you're a passionate person it's exhausting. Most of the artists I work with are very passionate people. They're not passive and I'm not passive.

Where do you get the tapes you hear ?

From managers, lawyers, guys on the street, people who own studios and have people in on spec. Everybody.

Tell me the Dishwalla story. How did you find them?

It came to me via their manager and their attorney at the time. It really was brought to me through the relationship of working with Janet Jackson. This particular lawyer worked in the firm that represented her, and I dealt with him day to day on all the remixes on the Rhythm Nation stuff. At the end of the project, when she was leaving to go to Virgin, he called me and said he really enjoyed working with me. We kept up our relationship, then one day, it was December of '93, he called me and said "when you get back from Christmas, I'm going to give you your first big act. It's almost done." The tape showed up in January. I listened to it right away and called him and said, "I have to have it."

How long did it take to sign them?

I think the paperwork was done in about three months. They signed a deal memo pretty quickly, but there was a band member that was already on his way out, and they had to do publishing splits and stuff like that. There was some delay, but it was always friendly and amicable, thank God. By May of '94 it was done.

Did you just hear demos?

I heard a four-song demo which I probably still have in the cabinet out there.

Were they big in Santa Barbara (their home town)?

Nope. They had been together about three years and they had won some local contest. I don't even remember what it was but that's not how I heard of them. They had made this tape that I signed them off of. They were going around shopping. They had been turned down... I don't remember if it was everyone. I never paid attention. I just knew I wanted it. I didn't look at it like that. I just heard it and didn't care who had turned them down. I didn't care who else was interested. I just don't think that way. They came in and met me and it took about two or three weeks to meet everybody here. Then once A&M was interested, MCA and Geffen were suddenly calling them. But they had integrity and they were authentic and genuine people. They had a sense of this company and me. They sat in this office and said "We want to be with you."

You never asked to hear more songs? You signed them off of a four-song demo?

Yeah basically. I saw a show, but I told them I wanted to sign them when I heard the tape. I said "I want to sign you. Let me see you live, and let me see what you're going to deliver. If that's there, we'll make the move." They did a show and afterwards I said, "You're signed, as long as you put your name on the line." They didn't believe it. It was a big deal.

I knew in the opening notes of the current single, "Charlie Brown's Parents," when I heard that arpeggiated guitar part and then heard his voice... I could tell.

When did the record finally come out?

It came out August 21st or so of 1995. We didn't really start to promote it until this year.

Why not?

It was originally supposed to come out in April of last year. Then Blues Traveler broke and I was out already with the Caufields who were doing really well. Al felt that he didn't want me out with two big acts of mine at the same time. That was compassionate and very smart. Then the company's attention turned so wholly towards breaking Blues Traveler and continuing other things like Sheryl Crow and the Gin Blossoms that it just seemed that time wasn't going to be there going into the fourth quarter (of the year).

We made a conscious decision to put the record out in August knowing that we weren't going to really actively promote any particular track but have it out there to start building the base and let them tour around it and sell it at the shows.

Wasn't the band just chomping at the bit and going crazy?

Well no, because they were on the road since March of last year believing that the record was going to come in April. Then suddenly there was this meeting that was not very pleasant where I had to tell them the release had been moved from April to August. That was tough. But because they were already committed to touring and the kind of touring they were doing didn't require them to have a big record, it worked out.

When did you begin to actively promote them this year?

In January with the promotion effort at rock radio.

And it still took them several months before it really took off?

It started to take off right away at rock radio and then alternative came. But yeah, it takes time to get any record to cross over.

A&M has an excellent track record of sticking with artists—Gin Blossoms, Blues Traveler, Sheryl Crow, Dishwalla. What makes you decide to keep working a record rather than move on to the next one?

You have people get passionate about what could happen in the future. If it was just about one hit record, forget it. It's about having careers. That's just the kind of company it is. It's the foundation of the label.

What else impressed you about Dishwalla?

There is a whole organization that existed behind Dishwalla when they walked in here. They even had a roadie. They weren't road-worthy, but they had that essential element of passionate people committing to their cause, who never were sure they were going to break. They just loved them as people and their music. I remember going to Santa Barbara the first time and seeing the show and saying "My God, they have their own little Dishwalla world."

I remember years ago when the legendary Charlie Prevost said to me, "You know, one of the signs that an artist or a band has it together is when you look around the corner and you see the kind of support system they have at home." I will never forget that. It's so true.

Is there one piece of advice you'd like to pass along to our readers?

When I'm in the studio, occasionally, there have been times when the artist themselves, but usually the producer, have wanted to bury the vocal because it's all about the band and the music and the guitars. I would just never buy that. You've got to be able to hear the vocal and you've got to be able to feel satisfied.

Several years ago I asked Jerry Moss at a dinner during one of the A&M conventions, "What is the wisdom of the ages, having run this company for so long?" He said, "It's all about the vocals." For me over the years, what made a great producer—and the only thing that made him a great producer—was how well he produced, recorded and mixed the vocals. I have repeated that year after year after year.

When alternative music became the mainstream, everyone thought the vocals needed to be buried to be cool. I sort of had this argument with Dishwalla, not with the lead singer, but with the producer and a couple of the band members. They weren't making the right record. I remember getting the album home, and listening to "Counting Blue Cars" and thinking it was wrong because the vocal was too low and too small. Too small because of the delay that was or wasn't used, and too low because it just wasn't loud enough. Thank God we got it changed, because every time I hear that record on the radio, the vocals are great, and the bass is loud and the drums are kicking. He's got such a great voice, who doesn't want to hear it? When I hear those things, that's when I think that I've done my job.


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