|Richards (photo: John Jupiter)|
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Gary Richards, founder and CEO of HARD Events.
With electronic dance music continuing to soar in the United States, EDM--with its multiple subgenres of house, techno, dub step, and electro—is as mainstream as it gets.
EDM has shifted from its early underground warehouse roots to the big festival main stages, and DJs have become celebrities within an increasingly lucrative scene in an otherwise declining music industry.
With Hard Events as its standard bearer, Los Angeles has become a leading EDM metropolis.
As well, Gary Richards, founder and CEO of HARD Events which has been putting on the popular HARD festivals since 2007, is a gifted scene shifter, and an inspired EDM Kingmaker.
In 2012, Richards’ event brand was sold to Live Nation Entertainment, becoming part of its Live Nation Electronic Music division. The purchase came after Live Nation had acquired the successful British promoter Cream Holdings, an acquisition that led to Live Nation also acquiring rights to the Creamfield Festivals, which have been held worldwide since 1998.
Live Nation's deal with HARD came on the heels of Robert F.X. Sillerman’s announcement of a plan to spend $1 billion in acquisitions of local and regional dance-music promoters.
Sillerman’s first acquisition after SFX's revamping was Louisiana's Disco Donnie Productions, a company that was started by legendary rave promoter Donnie Estonpinal. Sillerman later acquired the tour Life In Color as well as the Miami Marketing Group, which owns 8 nightclubs.
Richards continues booking and overseeing HARD’s events, the most prominent being its annual HARD Haunted Mansion during Halloween, the HARD Summer party at downtown’s Los Angeles State Historic Park, and the EDM cruise Holy Ship!!
This year’s HARD Summer festival was most successful edition to date, drawing an estimated 70,000 fans over two days with such acts as Justice, Dog Blood Bassnectar, 2 Chainz, Empire Of The Sun, and Knife Party.
Richards’ romance with electronic dance music began in 1990 when he was introduced to Los Angeles’ underground warehouse dance scene. He was soon drawn into DJing himself. He built his Destructo stage identity through a weekly 6:00 A.M. Sunday morning shows called the Sermon.
Richards organized his first major music event, "Magical Mickey's Holy Water Adventure," at Wild Rivers water park in Irvine, California in 1991. He followed that with "Rave America" at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park on New Year's Eve in 1993.
Among the attendees at Richards’ events was Rick Rubin, who hired him to head up A&R for the electronic music division of Def American. Richards oversaw the development of Lords of Acid, Messiah, Digital Orgasm, and God Lives Underwater, and piloted distribution pacts with XL Recordings, and Harthouse Records.
The first HARD show took place on New Year’s Eve in 2007 at Los Angeles’ VIP Warehouse with a line-up that included Justice, Peaches, Steve Aoki, Busy P and A-Trak.
Torpedoed by Richards’ inexperience and weak attendance, it was a commercial disaster.
Nevertheless, Richards learned from his missteps, and bounced back. By 2010, he was successfully hosting three major music festivals, as well as numerous club and theater shows throughout the country.
To the delight of a generation of EDM fans, the HARD festivals spotlight emerging talent, and have featured Skrillex, Bromance, Deadmau5, God Lives Underwater, Basement Jaxx, Justice, Underworld, Diplo, A-Trak, Steve Aoki, Busy P, Boys Noize, N.E.R.D., and Crystal Castles.
When you began in the early ‘90s, electronic dance music was underground in America. Many DJs didn't want outsiders to know about it. The genre has since jumped from the underground to the mainstream.
I’m cool with it. When I was 20, I used to be, “Fuck the mainstream, it’s (about being) underground.” But now I feel it can be mainstream for as long as it wants, as long as I don’t change. The sound of the music that I pick and DJ with, and promote, is what I believe to be super credible and cool. If the mainstream gravitates to it, cool. It just means more people. But I’m not changing what I do. I’m not saying, “Let’s do this mainstream stuff. We can get more numbers.” I am just doing what I do, and the numbers are growing. People are catching onto what we are doing rather than us changing what we do to get more people.
Many EDM advocates believe that the recent spate of acquisitions may overly commercialize the scene. Are you worried about the future?
Do you mean can it keep up with the demand of everybody?
Do you have a concern that the genre will get too big and implode?
(Producer/label owner) Rick Rubin always said, “Cream rises to the top.” I think that if we keep doing quality events then we will stay in business. If we start doing shitty events, it will go away. No matter how many people try to do it, or try to get involved, I think that if we do great things, we’ll be able to continue doing what we do.
Its critics seem to overlook the fact that electronic dance music has been around for over two decades. It’s not likely going to die quickly.
Yeah, it’s got legs for days. Music is cyclical, right? So it may not (always) be the hottest pop thing, but it’s not going anywhere. You’ve also got hip hop, and you’ve got rock. It’s a genre that is here to stay. You have a lot of people who are trying to do it, but you only have a select few that do it well, and they will be here to stay. I don’t think we have to worry about waking up tomorrow, and nobody wants to go and dance or party. People have been dancing and partying since there were people.
While the music industry has been to slow to recognize EDM in America, the kids got onboard on their own, without radio or TV support.
Yeah. I got my first label deal in 1997 with Al Cafaro at A&M (with 1500 Records). I met with Jimmy Iovine, Ted Fields, and Randy Philips. I met with all of the big guys. I remember telling them that in the year 2000 a computer and a sampler is going to change the way that we make, and hear music. They were looking at me like I was crazy. I was starting to think, “Maybe I am crazy.” But here we are today, and I think it’s because of the kids. If you are 15, and you want to be in music, first of all you are going to ask your parents for some kind of computer or turntable or sampler or keyboard rather than a Pearl drum kit.
You have built up quite a dynamic dance empire as a DJ, promoter and label head.
Yeah, I do a little bit of it all. It all works hand in hand, you know.
What staff do you have at HARD Events?
We have a handful of people. We have our core team of six or seven people. Then when we do a festival, we bring on hundreds of people. Our staff is small, and they are amazing.
The acquisition by Live Nation effectively means that you no longer need to oversee every aspect of a festival or venue setup?
My deal with Live Nation is one of the best deals that I have ever done, and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because with HARD, it outgrew me. Normally, all of the things that I have done in my career, I have been able to manage and keep up with. With this (event) thing with my team, it just got bigger than us. Running a festival in downtown L.A. for 30,000 or 40,000 people is no joke. My core being is not about being a festival guy. I don’t know how many labor hands you need to put up a stage; and that they need to go on a break for meals or you get a meal penalty. Or that you have to have this many Porta Potties. If you shut down streets, you need to go into the neighborhood, and get petitions. There are just so many elements of producing a festival that don’t come natural to me or that me and my team can figure out. But Live Nation, they are the best at it. Live Nation has helped me with all of that which has taken a huge weight off my shoulders. So I can focus on finding new talent, coming up with cool ideas for marketing and music, and different concepts. The creative stuff that I’m actually good at rather than being in another meeting with the LAPD again
The buy-out enabled you sell more tickets at HARD Summer festival last year and this year?
Kind of. Working with James (James Barton, president, Live Nation Electronic Music) has really helped me. He has a lot of festival knowledge. We were kind of scattered in the approach of what we were doing. James has gotten me focused. It’s like “Look man, you have your show in L.A., and I know you want to do stuff here, here, and there, but let’s just focus on that and get it right.”
And we did.
He has helped me focus. I am a little bit of a wild guy. I am all over the place. But he’s really has a focus on all of this. So yes, I guess you can say the success of us selling more tickets has been definitely a direct result of working with Live Nation.
You sold 70,000 tickets this year for the HARD Summer festival.
Yeah. We did 30,000 more tickets this year. Then for our (upcoming) Day of the Dead, just the first day sale was five times more than we have ever done in one day.
I also attribute it (increased sales) to the music. As much as we’ve grown as a company and as much as there’s more strategic support around us, the artists that I have been picking are also getting bigger. A year ago, Disclosure, and SBTRKT couldn’t get a visa. Nobody knew who they were. Now, they are packing out the tents and everybody is excited about it. So, after all these years, it’s finally working.
[Day Of The Dead on Nov. 2-3rd at Los Angeles State Historic Park will feature a wide range of artists, including Deadmau5, Skrillex, Boys Noize, Masters At Work, Pretty Lights, and legendary dance producer Giorgio Moroder.]
I understand that Live Nation is encouraging you to focus on more touring. Will you be doing tours across the country in the future?
Definitely with tours. We are going to announce a tour in the Fall.
Everything is on the table from tours to festivals to clubs to everything. Everything is one the table that Live Nation has to offer.
For us, it’s more about doing the right things than doing a ton (of shows), and doing them wrong. I have learned that when you are doing a festival, it’s a multi-million dollar event, and you are trying to get tens of thousands of people. If you make one wrong move, you can lose millions of dollars. It screws up the whole year. Everybody is so gung-ho to run, rape and pillage with this music—I’ve seen it for a long time—I want to be slow and steady. That’s my game plan, and it seems to be working.
Nothing happens from luck. It happens from hard work.
The plan is to grow it (the HARD brand). But it’s not like we have to grow it like McDonald’s. We don’t have to be everywhere all of the time, and destroy it. it’s an organic growth. So if we are going to go to Europe, maybe, we do a show in London in Heaven (nightclub) for 800 people or maybe we do a show for 20,000 people. There’s no form of what it has to be. For me, it just has to be aligned with the best music, and I’m good. So, if it’s a 200 person club or 20,000 person festival, it’s good as long as the music is quality, and it’s what our brand represents. There’s no pressure. Nobody’s saying “You have to 20 cities next year.” If we do two more or four more, and it works, cool. As long as it remains successful.
With Live Nation, HARD shows and festivals can be set up with more easily in Miami, Denver, Detroit, wherever.
Yeah, we just did Denver. They said, “Let’s go to Denver.” And they said “Red Rocks,” and I saw (in my mind) U2 and driving to elementary or high school with my brother and listening to that album ("Under a Blood Red Sky”) every day for a year. I said, “That would be unbelievable.” Then we sold it out. If my brother Steve was here to see that I sold out Red Rocks, and that I DJed there, playing techno, he’d fall out of the sky. Bono was there.
Red Rocks is a great music venue.
Amazing. That was one where they just plugged us in to their system. I told them how we did it, and boom. It was awesome. People loved it.
[Denver’s pride is the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre, where concerts take place in the summer in a magnificent open-air amphitheatre that is owned and operated by the City and County of Denver.
Red Rocks has been a favorite performance setting for artists for decades. Among those who have filmed shows there are: U2, John Denver, Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Oasis, Insane Clown Posse, the Dave Matthews Band, John Tesh, Incubus, Blues Traveler, Steve Martin, the Moody Blues, Widespread Panic, and Big Head Todd and the Monsters
The best known single performance at Red Rocks is U2 on June, 5 1983 that resulted in the release of their ground-breaking concert film, “Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky” and the companion tour EP "Under a Blood Red Sky." The band's performance of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" from the film has been cited as one of Rolling Stone's "50 Moments that Changed the History of Rock and Roll."]
So Red Rocks was a better experience than playing Las Vegas on Halloween in 2007?
Vegas is a different animal (laughing). I’m learning how to do Vegas. But Vegas is tough because what I do, and what we do at HARD is that we don’t cater to people who are going to spend $20,000 on a bottle of vodka. Those people just are not my crowd. I’m happy to say that they are not. When my people come, they come because they like music, and they are more of a general admission type crowd. They are going to come, and pay one price for a ticket, and enjoy the entire night of music. They are not going to stand around in their three-piece suit, trying to pick up chicks, drink, and trying to look cool with a bottle of vodka that costs 100 bucks (selling) for 20 Gs. That’s what they are trying to do in Vegas. I guess it works but I think eventually that shit will come to an end, and we’ll be doing what we do.
As a promoter, you stayed out of New York for some time. Then you teamed up with The Bowery Presents at first.
Yeah. In 2009. I was like, “Hey, this is working in L.A., let’s try it in New York.” I met up with them. we did (a show at) Terminal 5 (with a line-up that included Crookers, Major Lazer, Rusko, and Jack Beats). Sold it out. Did 10 or 15 shows there, and sold them all out. We did one show on Governors Island with M.I.A. (in 2010) and we did 10,000 people (with a bill also including Sleigh Bells, Theophilus London, Skream, Benga, Ninjasonik,12th Planet, Nguzunguzu, Borgore, and Destruct). Then we decided not to go back, and do a big one in New York, which I think was a mistake. We started the Ship (the EDM cruise Holy Ship!!) instead because the Bowery guys had issues on the island and they didn’t want to deal with it.
It’s hard for me when I don’t live in a market to figure out how to do the big ones (shows). The little ones, even 10,000 is becoming a little one. With Red Rocks we did 10,000 (people), and the venue is there, and it’s ready to go. But when you are doing 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000 people it’s a much bigger undertaking with the city, the police, the firemen and so on. You really need partners in those markets that can stomach it. With Live Nation we now have a great system. We have had to figure out another place to do it there (in New York).
You dipped your toes overseas by going to Australia with the Stereosonic Festival there. Are you planning to take the HARD Festival to Australia in the future?
That’s the plan. They booked me to DJ the first year, and I was in the wrong area. I was like, “Guys, if you want me to do this, co-ordinate a whole area.” So we did it and it worked out really well. So they want to do a standalone (event). The same thing down there as here. The crowd in Australia, they are up for it. They like to party, and they have been doing it for a long time.
Were you surprised when you presented the first HARD event on New Year’s Eve in 2007 that it attracted a lot of college kids you didn’t think would be into the music.
Well, I had no idea of what I was doing. I was completely surprised by everything. We closed down city streets. We were supposed to have 60 security guards, we had 6. I didn’t know how to produce an event. We just went balls-out. It was supposed to cost $100,000, and it cost $400,000. It was crazy. We had something special, but I got a little ahead of myself. I guess it was good that I did it, but it could have been run a lot smoother. I didn’t get the amount of people that I got. I thought there was going to be a lot more people there.
How many people showed up?
It was close to 5,000. I thought that I was going to get 10,000.
You lost your shirt?
It was a six figure loss. My dad was the one who started the whole thing. He was saying, “You’re the rave king. You need to do a big show.” I’m like, “Dad, I’m not into rave. I will try and produce a concert.” So his thing was that he would help me put the money up. I didn’t even have a job or anything. I didn’t really have the money to do it. After it got to be so much, he was like, “Well, I’m out of here.” He just bailed, and said, “Hey, it’s on you.” I had to try and figure out how to fuel the whole thing on my own.
How long did it take to pay back the debt incurred?
I never paid it back because it lost money. We lost money. He’s been trying to get me to pay it back though. But we lost. It was a loser.
Los Angeles is now being hailed as the “Mecca of electronic dance music.”
There are a lot of reasons. but it goes back to when I first started. I first started in ’90, and it (electronic dance music) was already going here. It constantly has been here. It’s never gone away.
[Los Angeles dance status continues to grow with the Hard Summer festival and clubs like Create, Lure, Avalon, Greystone Manor, Sound, and Lure along with a rash of new, EDM-focused nightclubs, including the 1,700-capacity Exchange Los Angeles night club; as well as countless weekly warehouse parties.]
Electronic-based dance and trance music has long been a commercial force in music and despite breakthroughs by Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers in the ‘90s, it didn’t break into the mainstream in America until more recently.
Well, I got into this music into ’90 or ’91. I thought why it works everywhere is because there’s not a language barrier. But I think America never caught on because we were always blocked by the radio and TV.
Music is ghettoized or segmented on radio, and even in record stores.
Yeah, but also if you really wanted to get something going here (in America) in the ‘90s, you had to be on radio or on MTV. I worked at record labels, and I had techno labels. I’d always bring my electronic techno shit to KROQ saying, “Please play it.” And they’d be like “Sorry.” They were playing Nirvana. That’s the reason why it didn’t happen here. But now in 2013, everybody uses Facebook and Twitter and all of that. Kids still listen to radio, but you can get something started without radio. I can start a band’s career or a DJ ‘s career with an email. We have such an extensive network that we don’t rely on the radio and MTV to get the word out on these acts. It (the internet) has really enabled us to do something unique and different;.
In the early ‘90s, Canadians danced to electronic dance music pioneers Ritchie Hawtin and John Acquaviva who launched their Plus 8 Records from Windsor, Ontario.
One of the first records that I bought on vinyl was “Techarchy” (by Cybersonik in 1990 on Plus 8 Records. Written and produced by Daniel Bell, Richie Hawtin, John Acquaviva). It’s a awesome record that I still play sometimes. Whenever I go to Canada, it’s amazing. Whenever I DJ in Toronto, the people there know what’s up. It’s so refreshing. I feel that Toronto is number three for electronic music. it’s L.A., New York and Toronto. People in Canada, they like to party. They go crazy.
Was it more a rave scene in L.A. back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s?
Well, when I started it wasn’t even called rave. It was underground. It was warehouses. We’d break into a warehouse, and the music would always be techno. At the time, the people that were going were Robert Downy Jr., and Madonna. Like it was the after party for “Depeche Mode 101” after the Rose Bowl (the final show of the band’s “Music for the Masses Tour” in 1989 at the Pasadena Rose Bowl). Then they came to the warehouse afterwards.
What was the scene like?
It was a real cool scene. It wasn’t young kids. It wasn’t ravers. It was underground. Then what happened was that all of these kids found out that they could go to these things and not get carded and drink beer. It turned into a free-for-all. It turned into what rave is now. That’s when I got out of it. For me, it started as something cool and special, but then it started getting cheesy and commercialized.
You ban such rave trappings as pacifiers and kandi bracelets from your HARD events because they are a distraction from the music.
Yeah, the pacifiers and the boots, and all of that nonsense. For me, I decided back then that it was a lot easier to make a record than put people in a warehouse and hope that nothing goes wrong. Rick Rubin was coming to my events, and he hired me and I stopped doing the events.
Rick Rubin hired you at Def American in 1993. He used to call you Techno Boy.
Yeah Techno Boy. Def American with Mark Didia and Marc Geiger and all of those people. When I stopped (doing DJ events), that’s when Pasquale (Pasquale Rotella of Insomniac) really started. So Pasquale’s doing it in L.A., and you always had Jason Bentley on the radio (at KCRW) playing techno. Coachella has always booked a lot of cool electronic music throughout the years.
It has always been good.
I think that part of it too for Los Angeles, the more I think about it, is the weather. It’s really difficult to do these things in New York or the rest of the country because they don’t have the kind of weather that we have. We are really fortunate that we can almost go year round, and pretty much get away with it and it’s not going to get wiped out. It’s been pretty consistent throughout the years. It has had its ups-and-downs but I feel like the groundwork has been laid in L.A.
I went to high school here. So I have been going to clubs since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Then when I started HARD and since I live here why not do it here?” I think that we have really built it up. Those people, Pasquale Rotella and myself, Jason Bentley, Raymond Roker, Paul Tollet, all of us have had our hand in it but it has never gone away.
In New York, the rave scene back then was like (techno and house music disc jockey) Frankie Bones, and then it went away.
The New York scene is different. It's more sophisticated bars and clubs. People in Manhattan are used to going out go out after work.
Yeah. So L.A. has been great. I love L.A. I am really proud to represent L.A. That is my thing. I have a song called “L.A. Funky.” I am working on a new track where I am talking about the West Coast. Whenever I go somewhere, I always feel like I’m bringing a little piece of L.A. to that city. Bring our scene of what we created here.
Like the Beach Boys.
A little different than that (laughing). I do like to surf, and I do like going to Malibu. They (Beach Boys) brought the California lifestyle to the world. The other thing that you have too here is too is all these producers that make this music. A lot of them, from the UK, Amsterdam and Germany, they are all moving here. Everybody’s moved here. Everybody lives here. They all want to live here because of the weather, and because everything is here. It might not be the place where you get paid the most money to play, but there’s the most saturation of (dance music) people in this area.
For bands and DJs, it has always been difficult on the club circuit in L.A.
The problem with the L.A. club scene is that what has always made a “good” club was, “Did Lindsay Lohan show up? Did Paris Hilton show? My God, Rob Lowe was there.” It was always celebs. I was always like, “Who cares? Why don’t you just do a club that’s got good music, and a good sound system?” And they never did that. Now they are starting to figure it out. L.A. has always been about, “Are there hot chicks there?” Nobody cares about if the music is good. It’s about, “Can we get laid?” It’s always been about where the hot models are. That’s what it’s been about here.
HARD events emphasize music and acts whereas raves and many EDM events push the overall experience. Even with your labels, you keep promoting that the music is good.
Yeah. I probably learned that from my dad, and from being at labels. I never worked at a label and created a pop group and had someone write songs. I don’t understand that whole thing. I find a band, a bunch of crazy kids in a band that make songs. They got lucky and something happened, and that’s cool; but I believed in the music that we made. I have that sort of roots (background) about music. This (EDM) music too. It shouldn’t be about “Well, the mainstream is here, let’s bring in anything. Let’s get the hottest EDM producer with the hot top line writer and put someone’s face on it.” That's just like manufacturing pop crap.
I feel way more deep rooted in real music, and there’s a lot of real music in this scene. It is not necessarily the ones that get pushed all of the time. So through HARD I am trying to promote quality producers in this music without having it be the most commercial, and I have an avenue to do that. Somehow, it all came together. I have the best of both worlds. I still consider myself an A&R guy and I still try to break talent all day long, and tell people about new artists.
The HARD festivals are renowned for being launching pads for emerging talent.
That’s the key to being a DJ in dance music. When you are a DJ, you want to be the guy who rolls into the club on Saturday night and plays the newest song. You don’t want to be the guy playing old shit. It turns over quickly in dance music. So as a DJ, you want to be up with the new shit. Those two things help me as a promoter and a DJ. I book the festival on what I am playing in my DJ sets.
Is the story true that you started DJing at the weekly Sermon shows because you needed a DJ. That you figured you could do it?
When I was in high school, I had turntables but not the good ones. I had the shitty ones that I would try to scratch hip hop, and I used to break dance. I was kind of into the DJ culture but I wouldn’t have considered myself a DJ. When the Sermon came around, I had a bunch of the music, and I didn’t have anyone to do it so I thought “I’ll do it.” Interestingly enough, I think that one the first one (event) I blew up the mixer. There was a guy there named Eli Starr who said, “I will go back to my house and get another mixer if you let me DJ here next week.” He tried to teach me how to DJ. I would go to his house and make a racket. Back then it wasn’t that easy to be a DJ. It took me years to learn how to beat match, and play vinyl. Really learn how to do it.
C’mon, all you are doing is running two records together (laughing).
It’s easy, and it’s not (laughing).
It sure has come a long way from that.
Yeah. I can roll is with my USB drive, little thumb drive, and that I all I need to carry. I used to take milk crates of records. It used to be a pain in the ass to bring the music with me.
You built up your Destructo stage persona through those 6:00 AM Sunday morning after hours shows at the Sermon.
When I was at the Sermon, I was Destructo. If you look at the flyer, it says DJ Destructo. I’ve had always had that name.
I’ve read different accounts of how you got the name. What’s the true story?
I think my friends used to call me Destructo because we used to break stuff. At 20 we were wild kids going around the neighborhood just terrorizing. Just being young and stupid.
Over the years, you worked at several labels in L.A.
My first job was at RCA. I was the west coast director of dance for about three months in ’92. Then in ’93, I was at Def American. For ’95 and ’96, I worked at Giant/East/West as head of alternative radio promotion. Then I got my own label in ’97 with A&M called1200 Records, and I worked on the (A&M) Lot. Then I moved to Interscope, and then I went independent. Then I quit to help my brother Steve, who had his label No-Name Music.
[The 1200 Record label, a joint venture between partners Gary Richards and Philip Blaine with A&M Records in 1997, aimed at integrating the electronic underground with the mainstream music industry. The label debuted with “Let’s Get Killed,” the first U.S. release by Belfast electronica DJ and producer David Holmes. The label also released recordings by Kill The Noise, Whitey, Uberzone, Dub Pistols, Ugly Duckling, and the Depeche Mode tribute album “For the Masses.” The label was named after a turntable model popular with DJs. ]
Before 1200 Records, didn’t you also have Nitrus Records?
Yeah. I still have that going.
You waited until 2012 to release your own music with the EP “Technology?” Why didn’t you release your own music before?
In 1991, I released a track called “Rain Dance” on my own (Destructo) label. It got a lot of airplay in the underground. But from then, I would go into the studio with the artist on my label or artists that I managed, and they would always tell me, “We’re the musicians. We know what we are doing. Let us make the sound that we want to do.”
I would always give them my advice, and they would never listen.
During that time, I was working with these artists that would always fight me. It was a constant battle. There was this one band, American Head Charge (a Minneapolis metal band), that I managed and the singer, Cameron Heacock, is probably one of the best singers ever in life. I would say, “Cameron, you can do whatever you want to do. Make ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,’ I don’t care. Just give me two songs where you sing without screaming.
And he would scream more.
Anything I would tell that artists that I worked with they would do the opposite.
I wasn’t like my brother Steve. My brother was, “It’s my way or the highway.” I was like, “You are the artist. Okay, it’s your record. Do whatever you want. I will make a suggestion. If you don’t take it, fine.”
I figured I was out of making music. Then I got connected to these two guys Vaughn Oliver and Oliver Goldstein who were like, “You gotta go into the studio. You gotta go into the studio.” I was like, “I don’t want to go into the studio because it never works. I am always sitting there staring at the guy’s back. Nothing happens.”
Musicians wouldn’t consider you having a role in the studio since you aren’t a musician yourself?
Yeah. I wasn’t in the club. What do I know? I’m the business dude. My thing is, “I don’t know how to play the piano, but I have ideas too, and I have an ear.” I may not be able to play it, but I can hear it.” Rick Rubin used to tell me, “Dude, there’s a million guys out there who can play guitar and can play ‘Eruption’ just like Eddie Van Halen played it, but it’s the idea of what you are going to play that really matters.”
So basically, I gave up on it (music production). Then I met these guys on a chance, and I went into the (Pulse) studio with them and we bonded musically. They took my input and we collaborated. Within one night, we made “Technology.” Then I left (the studio), and I played it when I DJed, and I was like, Holy shit. This is like the record of the night.”
They said that we needed to keep working. So I have just kept going in once a week. We have built up this thing. I have a couple of good people to work with. I’m not going to sit there and try to learn how to run Logic (Logic Pro). There’s no way that I am going to be able to run Logic better than engineers who have spent 20 years working on it. I know how to work Ableton but I can’t get those sounds that they can get. But we can kill it because I have ideas for days. A lot of those (production) guys they are in the studio all day. They can’t see the forest from the trees. They need somebody to collaborate with.
You have another EP coming?
Vaughn hooked me up with this guy Matisse, another amazing studio guy. We worked in the studio, and we did three songs in two hours.
How much of what you are today goes back to your family? Your father is the legendary radio DJ and PD Barry Richards, and your brother Steve managed Slipknot and Mudvayne.
It all kind of goes back to my dad. When my brother and I were little kids, he took us to see bands. I saw Led Zeppelin at the Cap Centre (Capital Centre in Washington, D.C.) when I was 6. I saw Black Sabbath, and Van Halen was the opening act on their first album. I saw Rush, Cheap Trick, and Alice Cooper. Alice and Ted Nugent used to hang out at our house. They were buddies of my dad. So we just kind of grew up around it (the music industry). Music was the really the only (career) choice. Not in a bad way but it was like nothing else. I went to the college of rock and roll through my dad. It’s in our blood.
Due to your dad’s work in radio, your family moved frequently before settling in L.A.
When we first moved here, my dad lived out near the Beverly Center. I went to Fairfax High School, and Uni High (University High School). I skated boarded and I used to go to the beach. When I went to college, dad didn’t take me to check out 10 schools. I applied to one school, Cal State Northridge where I took political science.
You got kicked out of a college fraternity for running parties.
I got kicked out of college fraternity at Cal State Northridge in 1989 in my second or third year. I thought I was going to college for the big college experience. I got to the school and it was a commuter school. Nobody lives on campus. So I joined a fraternity.
You thought it’d be like “Animal House?”
Yeah, that’s what I thought I was getting. My dad didn’t guide me on any of the schools. I just applied to one school and that’s where I went. I joined a fraternity and I became a social chairman. That’s when I started honing my skills throwing parties. I spent all their money on huge parties. The school's president didn't like that. So they kicked me out of the fraternity.
What did you then do?
I moved in with one of the guys I used to go to junior high in D.C. with in an apartment in Mar Vista in Venice. Him and another guy. The second night I was there, my friend came back from this late-night electronic party called Nectar, and he was just on fire. He was like, “Man, wait until you hear this stuff.” We started going (to warehouse parties) all the time.
Weren’t you briefly on the radio in Fresno, California along with your brother? Why not pursue a career in radio?
Yep, a little bit of radio with my brother. My dad was always in radio, and my brother went that route. They wanted me to go into radio. I wasn’t into radio. I saw what it did to my dad. As much as I love radio, and respect his career—he comes from an era of being a Boss Jock, when personalities meant something on the radio—I just saw him having to move, and getting fired. People in radio don’t always get paid. It’s a thankless job, almost unless you are one of the big ones in L.A. or New York. I was like “I’m going to go to college and, maybe, I will be a doctor or a lawyer or something else.” But I got sucked into this whole electronic music, and I sort of found my niche of what I love.
Many kids of famous DJs feel the same way about the radio industry.
It’s like a necessary evil. I just feel bad because I know so many people throughout the years (in radio) because I did radio promotion at labels; and it’s in my family’s blood, and I know radio gets things going. But all of these guys in radio they are kind of miserable because it’s like a Catch-22 situation. They have all of this power; they control the airways; they can break careers; but then they don’t get paid. Then they get screwed. It’s sad. It’s sad that ‘s how the radio side of things works.
Your father was one of the first to do free-form music programming on FM.
He would always tell me that FM stood for “”Find me” because everyone was on AM. I keep saying now that FM is going to stand for “Find me again” because of the computer.
It’s funny because now my dad is way more into Top 40 and whatever is popular. When I was first doing what I’m doing, I was trying to explain to him that, “Remember like in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when you were playing Led Zeppelin on the radio, and you were doing all of this cool shit, and everybody told you that you were nuts? Well, that’s what I’m doing, but with this electronic (music).” He was like, “Yeah, but that was a different time. You need to get with the program. You need to play some shit that people know.”
I’m like, “Dad, I’m just doing what I am doing. Let me do it.”
Now, it’s come all around and he’s like, “Shit. You were right. But for awhile him, my brother Steve with everybody else, it was like, “Why do you why mess with this music? Nobody buys it. There’s no lyrics. It’s not a real format. They don’t play it on the radio. You are wasting your time.”
Can I talk about a darker place in your life? In 2000, your brother Steve was diagnosed with having a brain tumor. He passed away four years later. Obviously a tough period of time for you.
Yeah, it was the most difficult thing that I ever had to deal with in my life. The saddest, but it really brought us together.
He was your older brother?
Yeah, he was older. He’s three 1/2 years to the day older. He was born June 15th; I was born Dec. 31st. We were always in competition. He loved Bruce Springsteen, and Pink Floyd. Real artists and real songs. I was the techno dude. It was like, “What are you doing? Your music sucks.” Anything I liked, he hated and anything he liked I hated. We were brothers competing all of the time.
Meanwhile, Steve worked at Epic Records, and managed Slipknot and Mudvayne.
Slipknot actually sent their demo to me at A&M, and Steve had just started working at Epic. My label (1500) was all electronics. It wasn’t like I didn’t love that music-- I had tried to sign to Korn to Def American, but I was like, “What am I going to do with this?” He looked at it, and said, “What is this?” I told him it was some crazy metal thing from Iowa. He said, “I’m going to check it out.”
He flew there and called me from Clown’s basement (Shawn "Clown" Crahan) and told me that they were going to be the biggest band in the world. I said, “Whatever. I’ve heard that one before.”
Six months later, as the story goes, he tried to sign them to Epic. Epic said, “These guys suck. You can’t sign.” So he said, “You sign them to A&M, and I will manage them.” I tried to sign them to A&M, but Al Cafaro said we can’t sign anything because of the merger with Edgar Bronfman and Universal. He got the rug pulled out of him.
So Stephen couldn’t sign them, and I couldn’t sign them.
Slipknot ended up signing to Roadrunner but they really liked Steve and asked him to manage them. So Steve was managing them while doing A&R at Epic. (Sony Music Entertainment head) Tommy Mottola found out, and said, “You can’t manage this band while here.” So my brother was going to quit. They flew him to New York ,and they gave him his own label, No-Name, and he signed Mudvayne.
So he had Slipknot and Mudvayne exploding, and I was doing all of this techno shit, just going to hell. But Steve was complaining about his walking, and his speech. He went to the doctor and was told he had brainstem glioma (a cancerous glioma tumor in the brainstem). It really can’t be fixed.
I decided what I was doing wasn’t all that important, and I just quit everything that I was doing and I moved in with him. This was to help him try to beat his illness. Then I got sucked into the whole metal world because my brother, brain tumor or not, he was still working. He was like, “Who’s got time for this stuff? I have to break Slipknot. I have to fight with Sharon Osbourne. I have to make sure that Hatebreed has a better slot.” I just thought I’d jump into his company, we could hang, and I could help him.
Steve talked you into going to Ozzfest in 2001.
Being at Ozzfest is definitely not as fun as being at HARD Fest. The mentality of the people…they are mad. They are angry. They are pissed off. They are fighting. There’s no reason for that. “C’mon, you guys make cool music. There’s no reason to beat each other up. That’s not fun.”
Steve also put me on the 2001 “Pledge of Allegiance” tour with Slipknot and System of a Down. I was the DJ. So I was mixing Aphex Twin, Black Sabbath and weird shit in between the grooves. I like metal. I have always tried to mix it up. Now I play more disco and house to keep it a fun party. But in the beginning, I was a heavy techno DJ.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
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