Antony is Director of A&R at American
Recordings, the joint venture between Columbia Records and
producer Rick Rubin ( Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, Johnny
Cash, Slayer, Beastie Boys, Run DMC, many more).
Where did you grow up?
I'm from a little farming town called Dunston in Northern
England, as far away from anything as you can imagine. There
is nothing there, not even a shop in the village anymore.
It's got one pub which is sort of the center of life of the
village. It's sad going back now because all of the buildings
have satellite TV dishes. The village is about a thousand
What brought you to Los Angeles?
I worked for Chrysalis Music Publishing in England. I got
transferred over here in 1991, and I was at Chrysalis in Los
Angeles for about nine years. We were working on this project
that American had signed called Vitro. We had a meeting with
the general manager about what we could do to collaborate
and make it work. It didn't happen, but they called a couple
of weeks later and said, "We're interviewing for A&R
people. Are you interested?" I said, "Damn yeah."
It took about nine months to get all of the visas and paperwork
sorted out, and I eventually came in. I've been here about
nine months now.
Are you a musician?
I was in a band in high school. We were like the little local
band. The only band in the town. We had a great following,
but we would never have made it outside of our town. I leave
that to the experts now.
How does the roster here reflect Rick Rubin's
Working with him is great. It's very inspiring to work for
a guy who is not a businessman. He's very musical. From the
get go, I was a big fan of Rick's and George Drakoulias. George
produced the first Black Crowe's record, so I think I was
even more excited to meet him, in some respects. Rick is really
intriguing to work with because he is very, very calm and
driven by what is really great. He's very hard to please,
and I think that has taught us all to really, really believe
in something before we try to sign it. Having someone like
that who is so musical and has such a history of working with
great artists kind of makes you want to bring something in
that's fantastic, and not just mediocre.
Rick is going to have the final say as to what comes on the
label. If he's not passionate about something, it's probably
not the greatest place for the band to be. I think his influence
and his ability to direct the projects through the big Columbia
system is paramount. I don't think there is anything that
has been signed that he personally dislikes. I just don't
think it will happen. He's pretty harsh when it comes to things
we bring to him. I've walked in with things that I really
thought had merit, and to his credit, he'll give it a listen
and say no, it's not there. I can't say he's been wrong about
anything I've brought in. The things that I've brought in
needed time and development, but realistically he was right.
It's one thing to bring something in and say, okay, six months
or a year from now, this could be perfect; as opposed to saying,
this is going to take three or four records to get somewhere.
Who is on the label?
Johnny Cash, System Of A Down, Slayer, The Jayhawks, Palo
Alto. Palo Alto is a band from Los Angeles. They're head and
shoulders above a lot of stuff that plays around town. We
have a band called Loudermilka very young, heavy-ish, early
sort of Smashing Pumpkins-type of sound. Two bands are at
work right now in the studioone called Unida, who are a
very heavy Queens of the Stone Age, desert rock type of thing.
Big guys, scary to look at. And this other band called American
Head Charge. They're very heavy. Also Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
and his nephew Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. That's another world
altogether. You can get so lost in it. It's Qawwali spiritual
music. Some of the songs date back 600 700 years. Half of
the songs are written by ancient Sufis. It's amazing to listen
to. They perform for three or four hours. They consume an
enormous amount of food, because when they play for that long,
it's an incredible workout.
We have a lot of very heavy and very rock things coming out
this year. I think I came in to be the "wuss rock"
guy, (laughs) to find a Coldplay or a Radiohead or a Travis.
It seems from your roster that you guys
don't think much about radio when you sign something. Is that
I know that with System Of A Down, the label did what really
is the ideal. They had them out on the road for a long time
but kept holding back the record (from radio). They finally
went with "Sugar" to radio which did really well.
It really blew up. A lot of the bands we've signed in the
last year or two definitely seem to be touring acts ñ
lifestyle acts. Some of these bands play to a thousand people
a night, yet you've never heard them on the radio.
Can you define "lifestyle" acts?
The easiest thing with some of these new metal/sports metal
bands is that you've got the built-in touring base. You've
got the Family Values Tour, the Ozzfest, and the Warped Tour
which are built-in places to stick all of these bands.
When you've got modern rock bands that are a little more on
the light side there is no place to put them with all of these
major tours. There is no package going out with modern rock
bands. I can't believe everyone is into Limp Bizkit or Korn
or Incubus. Those bands all have merit, but it's a lot harder
to break a modern rock band unless you've got one absolute
smash defining single.
How important is it that a band you're
looking at already has some kind of following or base in their
It's great. It's lovely if they've got a base, but I don't
think it's necessarily the most important thing. One guy I'm
looking at right now has never really played out in this current
lineup. But I heard his music, and I think he's fantastic.
I'll work with him to get him to the point where we can sign
That's not something I hear from a lot
of A&R people at other labels. Right now, everyone seems
to only want bands that are doing well in their regional markets.
I think a lot of the problem, especially with younger A&R
people with a little less experience, is a lot of it is about
being cool. It's not about: Is this a great song? I'd rather
listen to the Backstreet Boys than half of the stuff I hear
on KROQ (LA's Alternative station) sometimes. At least they
have songs. I love songs. If I hear something that is just
fantastic, I appreciate that there has to be a good live show.
There has to be something there to follow it up. These days,
it's so much about that one spot at radio. It's so hard to
get on there. If you find a truly great pop song, I think
you can get it out there and then focus on getting the live
Is it more expensive to break a pop song
at radio than a rock song at radio?
There are different levels. You go through college radio,
which is quite expensive. Then there are all of your different
formats, like Triple-A and modern rock. And then the sort
of holy grail is Top-40 radio. I wouldn't even want to think
about the money that is spent to break some of these records.
But at the end of the day, if it's a great pop song, [it might
have a chance]. For example, right now, Columbia has Crazy
Town who have an undeniable single. It's one of those cases
where you have to hold back [radio promotion] until the band
has built up a following. They did it the right way. You've
got the band out for a year selling 2,000 albums a week touring
and building a bit of a base, and then at the right time,
you can explode it. I think it did like 80,000 last week.
It's blowing up.
And then there is someone like David Gray
whose single kind of took off on its own.
It's amazing. It's fantastic that something like that could
happen. He's not young, he's not super cute. He's been around
a long time in Ireland. I think it takes quite a while for
people to develop the ability to write a song, unless you're
born with it. Indie bands that develop through their mid and
late 20's start to get a little bit more interested in making
things sound nice or catchier. There is a little bit more
melody. You get out of your angry, "we're going to be
completely different and the most uncommercial band you can
ever imagine" phase. Slowly you grow up and you appreciate
songs a bit more.
Are you guys ever going to sign any true
Pure pop? Like the Backstreet Boys? I'd love to do one of
those records. Like Britney Spears. That would be so much
fun to just go out and find great pop songs.
I'd like to hear a Rick Rubin-produced
Britney Spears record! But what about doing more mainstream,
pop alternative artists?
One guy I'm looking at right now is like a cross between
Elton John, Prince, and Ben Folds Five. It's very piano driven.
Very beautiful melodies. He's one of the best songwriters
I've heard in years. I hope we get to sign him. I think that
fits in perfectly. The roster needs to be focused, and obviously
there are a lot of rock bands on the roster. That's just a
reflection of what Rick loves. Even so, when you break down
the rock bands, they are very different from one another.
How much time do you spend listening to
unsigned demos on average?
I try not to listen too much at work. It's a little bit too
sterile, and the phone is always ringing. But my commute here
and back is probably an hour and a half a day, so I get a
lot of time to listen in the car. I usually spend that time
listening. With various stuff that has come in through the
mail, I'll put in maybe two or three hours a week, usually
at the end of the day when it's a bit more calm.
What do you look for? What are your criteria
to get you interested in a band?
If I'm listening to songs here in the office, it's often
on in the background. For example, with this kid that I love,
I stuck it on and was working away, and all of a sudden three
songs in I thought "This is great!". I usually like
anything that's got a beautiful melody. I grew up on pop music
watching Top of the Pops. We didn't have a lot of alternative
outlets where I came from .We had one hour of American heavy
metal every Friday night on TV.
When I go to see a band, I think it's all about going to see
magic. I still love being a fan. Seeing the guy on stage and
thinking that guy is not like you or me. He's different. He's
magical. I really believe that most of the great people are
born with it. You can learn songwriting to some degree. If
it's coming from the heart, from a dark place or a happy place,
wherever it's coming from, it seems real. It's when somebody
is passionate and they literally could not say "I'm going
to quit. I'm going to go get a job." It's somebody who
is driven to perform and to write. It's star quality. Magic.
It's impossible to describe. You know it when you see it.
Where do you get the demos that you listen
A lot of it comes from organizations like TAXI and ASCAP
and the people there. A lot of stuff comes in from friends
around the country and people who are in bands. I love the
fact that bands support each other. I'll be talking to one
band, and maybe it's never going to happen, but they'll constantly
send me stuff. "Hey you've got to check this band out."
"We played with this band." "We talked to these
guys." A lot of it is word of mouth. We get stuff from
attorneys and managers and publishing companies just like
everybody else does.
If it's from a friend who is not in the music industry, then
it means even more. Maybe someone has been down to see a show
and they call me up and say, "You've got to come see
this band. They're great. The singer is great." Maybe
we're not going to sign it, but at least someone out there
who isn't being paid to think like that loves something. That's
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