Interviewed by Michael Laskow
Edited by Doug Minnick

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Japan. I lived there until I was nine. Then I lived in England until I was 14 or 15. Then I went back to Japan, and stayed there until '73 or '74. Then I went back to England again until the end of 1987, which was when I came to America.

How did you get in to the music business?

In a way, it was almost accidental. In the sixties there weren't many other Japanese people living in England. No Japanese schools. Not even many Japanese restaurants. One of my parents suggested that I take up playing soccer or music as a way to make friends. Remember, this was pre-Beatles. Going from Japan to England was almost like going to space or something for me. Everything was so new and fascinating to me-it was a real cultural shock.

I remember seeing a bunch of girls lined up, screaming outside the cinema to see a film called the 'Young Ones' with Cliff Richard and The Shadows. That was probably the first record I bought.

Were you hooked at that point?

Yes. Like everyone else, we formed a band.

What was your first job in the music industry?

My first job was as a journalist for a Japanese magazine when I was still a student in England.

Was it a music magazine?

Yeah, it was a Japanese magazine called Music Life. That's how I got to know a band called Queen. I ended up being very good friends with them, and they eventually asked me to act as sort of a tour coordinator. I have remained involved with them till present. I went back to England for Freddie's (Mercury) tribute concert.

When Watanabe Music opened an office in London, I got a job with them through my connection with Queen and other bands that I got to know through them. Not too long after that, I went independent.

Was your official title 'Independent Promoter?'

Well I figured I was almost like an international promotion coordinator or something.

Kind of a unique job.

Yeah, it was very useful to have someone based in England who was familiar with the Far East market. I was always the person who seemed to be in the middle of the bands, the publishers, the record companies, and working as sort of a co-producer with the Japanese artists who wanted to work with musicians from the U.K.

There couldn't have been too many people who spoke both languages and were well connected in the industry in both countries.

Yeah, if you're doing something kind of unique like that, then you get to know the artists and managers really well.

How did you make the transition from being an international liaison to becoming a publisher?

I was involved in Guam and China when I was approached by Richard Griffiths from Virgin who said, "Look Kaz, being a manager/coordinator must be the worst job in the world. I'm starting a new label/publishing company called Virgin Ten" (Virgin's tenth birthday), and he asked me to come on board. It was kind of a boutique publishing company with some of the acts that Richard knew from Virgin.

How old were you at the time?

About 31.

How did you go from Virgin Ten to Virgin Music Publishing?

Virgin wanted to start up a publishing company in the U.S., which was just a year after they opened the record company in America. They sent Richard and I over to the U.S. to start things up. I think Richard eventually left to go to Sony or Epic. Then I took over as the President.

Was it by accident or design that a lot of your signings were more band related than songwriters?

I think it was always our intention that it would be nice to signs bands. We liked to find them early in the game, and sign them. I don't think too many other people were doing that at the time.

That was visionary.

At that time it was very rare for someone to put money into a band in the very early stages. I think that was the only way to compete at the time. Now a lot of publishing companies sign bands before they have record deals. We used to have a saying that went something like, 'Bands need lunches, writers need covers." I mean that in a good way. We used to give bands quite a bit of career counseling and advice.

You signed Nirvana to a publishing deal very early on, right?

I was President of the company at that time. After we heard Nirvana's tape, I sent Susan Collins to Seattle to hear them. She came back and was very excited about the group. Susan worked hard on that deal, and ultimately I think the credit should go to her. After all, when you hire people to do a job, you should try not to second-guess them.

What was it about the band that attracted you and Susan?

The best thing about Nirvana apart from the band members, would be the songs. There were always underlying pop elements in their music. No matter what the presentation was, the songs were always great. It's similar to the Clash. People call them a punk band, but it really all comes down to the songs. Strummer and Jones (Clash) are some of the best songwriters I've heard.

Did you sign Nirvana to their publishing deal before they signed with Geffen?

We were already in discussions with them, but yes, we ultimately signed them before they signed their record deal.

When you had the opportunity to move from Virgin Music to Virgin Records, did you have to think about it long?

Yeah, I did have to think about it a lot. Because I really liked what I was doing in publishing. My time at Virgin Music was fun because we had bands to look after, not a catalog of a half a million songs. But ultimately, I wanted to learn more about American record companies from the inside, and if you're going to work at a record company, it might as well be with people you like.

Is there a different set of elements that you look for being Kaz the A&R person versus Kaz the publisher? Or is it pretty much the same stuff?

I think what you look for is probably the same thing. The only major difference is that there is a limited number of artists you can promote properly, look after properly, at a label. As a publisher you don't have to worry about making videos, marketing, the international thing, and so on. Even though a publisher has some creative input, you don't get as involved in the day-to-day affairs.

Have you ever signed an artist whose success surprised you—that was a hit right out of the box?

Every time you sign something, you always hope it's going to be a hit or be a success, to whatever level. I mean you go in with the same kind of passion. But let me use Warrant as an example. In the UK, there were no 'hair' bands, right? And suddenly, when we came here it was all hair bands. We decided we needed one. I remember Richard Griffiths and I went to the Country Club (southern California rock club) to see them. And we were amused at all the kids singing along with this song called "Heaven" which was never even out on record! It was a bit like Queen in the old days. I really liked the band, so we offered them a publishing deal. They eventually signed their record deal with Columbia, and they took off immediately from the "Down Boys" single. That surprised us, 'cause you just never know... So that was a good surprise.

Actually, some of the first signings to the publishing company were Warrant, Winger, and Jane's Addiction, who were all nice surprises because we made a point of going out and finding bands without record deals, as opposed to signing artists who are already on the charts.

Where do the tapes come from that you make sure you find the time to listen to?

Mostly from managers or publishers or bands that are signed to us or other labels...credible industry people and sometimes just through meeting and talking to people over dinner or a drink.

If you were counseling a band from a tiny little town like Pie Lake, Minnesota, what steps would you suggest they take to be heard by somebody of your stature—at this or any other label?

Probably the quickest way is to get heard by the regional sales or promo reps. Some labels even have regional A&R reps. I'd like to listen to every tape but the problem is, there are only twenty-four hours in a day. I mean, you just can't do it. That's why your service (TAXI) can be quite good.

I love that quote!

Well it is. I think it is quite good that you are sort of counseling and giving responses.

If you could pass along one piece of advice for tens of thousands of industry hopefuls, what would that be?

I think that would have to be that the songs have to be there. I think that good songwriting is the key to success, whatever the style of music.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow an A&R career path?

I think to be an A&R person it always helps to have broad experience in the industry. You can actually learn a lot by being a road manager or a coordinator. It's also about being able to find talent and develop that talent. You know, it's a lot like raising your kids to a certain extent. If you're just confined to a straight and narrow point of view, then that could work against you.

The A&R people who I like have broader tastes in music, and are the kind of people who you might want to go out and have a drink with...even if you're in business with them. I think you should say that it's important that they have a nice personality.

Okay Kaz. Consider it said.


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