This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Ros Earls, founder & owner, 140dB Management.
London-based Ros Earls must have a skip in her walk today.
Her long-time client and friend Flood (aka Mark Ellis), along with Alan Moulder, won the coveted UK producer of the year honors at the Music Producers Guild (MPG) Awards which took place on Feb. 13th (2014) at the Park Plaza Riverbank Hotel in London before a crowd of music industry VIPs, and celebrities.
The pair—which automatically win the 2014 BRIT Award for best producer-- produced Foals' album “Holy Fire” which also beat James Blake and Laura Marling to win for top album.
It was a triumphant night for Earls, founder & owner of London-based 140dB Management, who started in the British music industry at virtually its lowest rung in the ‘80s.
She was the receptionist and then manager of Sarm Studios before moving to Trident Studios where she met Flood. A conclusion that neither studios nor their equipment were what made recordings so great--that it was the production personnel behind them---led Earls to leave Trident and to decide to focus on managing producers, engineers, and mixers.
140dB Management was launched in 1987 from her coffee table at home.
Today, the firm has three full-time employees, and a top-flight production roster that includes: Flood, Dave McCracken, Gil Norton, Steve Osborne, Ben Hillier, Joe Hirst, Rob Kirwan, Johnny Dunne, Fiona Brice, Dan Austin, Andy Savours, Danton Supple, Guy Massey, Neil Comber, Dimitri Tikovoi, and Ed Buller.
Among them. the roster—with Earls’ firm hand in negotiations--has worked on projects for U2, Beyoncé, Erasure, Depeche Mode, Coldplay, Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Elbow, Doves, My Bloody Valentine, Suede, New Order, Placebo, the Saturdays, PJ Harvey, Sigur Rós and hundreds more.
Flood and Alan Moulder won UK producer honors at the Music Producers Guild Awards this week, Obviously, the two are at the top of their games as recording professionals.
I'm thrilled obviously, and proud. The Foals' album (“Holy Fire”) is an incredible album. Those two are the Dons. They've been making incredible albums both together, and apart for more than two decades, and this award was long overdue.
You actually won a total three awards that night?
Yes. In addition to best producer, we also won best album for the Foals as well as best engineer for Guy Massey for the second time.
[Now in its sixth year, the Music Producers Guild Awards recognizes the contribution made by recording professionals to the success of the UK’s music industry.]
Flood and Alan have only really done a handful of projects together.
They have done, maybe, four albums together although people imagine that they always work together, but they don’t. It’s been the Killers, Nine Inch Nails and so on. They’ve worked on the same record, but not together. The Foals is one of those rare records. They really wanted to do it. (Q Prime owner) Peter Mensch was desperate for them to do it. This is all outside of the label conversations. It was truly a passionate belief by Peter that these guys were the right guys for him. His dream team, he kept saying.
How do Flood and Alan work together?
They do a lot of experimenting (laughing). Flood did some crazy thing (on “Holy Fire”) where I caught him coming into the studio with bags of bones. “What the hell’s that.” He was like, “I had to go to the butchers to get some bones. He promised me some bones because I am sampling bones today.” I asked, “Why the fuck are you doing that?” He was like, “I just thought it was a good idea.” I was like, “Mate, you are mental.”
But Flood and Alan had the luxury (to experiment in the studio). Peter believed in the album, and it was a reasonable amount of time (for recording). You don’t make a quick album with Flood and Alan, but you do make a special one. That’s what, I think, is true of this particular little voyage of theirs down Foals’ street.
When you launched 140dB Management, you first worked from your house?
Yep, for a couple of years. I think it was four years that I worked from home. I was in West Hampstead first of all. Then I went to Camden, and then to Belsize Park. Currently, we are in the middle of Queen's Park. We are fortunate enough to be in the Q Prime Building. Not only a very lovely place to work, but there's good energetic business traffic in the area, and in the building.
You have two staff members?
Yes, Justin Pritchard, and Elinor Gray.
When you launched 140dB Management 25 years ago, Sandy Roberton's Worlds End Producer Management was around. Anybody else doing something similar?
There were two other people doing something similar. There was John Reid, who now manages the Maccabees, who was doing what I did. Starting to manage producers. And, there was Barbara Jeffries, who I admire very much, that had her own company (The Smoothside Organisation which launched in 1987). She still operates. But, it wasn’t commonplace. Now everybody is running a producer management company. I don’t think I have ever met Sandy (Roberton). We have comes across each other a few times. We have called each other a few times, but never met in person.
Was Flood your first client?
Yeah, he was my first client.
You were still working at Trident Studios?
Yeah. He kept pushing me to leave. He kept saying, “C’mon, do it. Do it. Do it.” Of course, I eventually did do it. I jumped. He had said, “I will come with you.” Being Flood--because he’s such a lovely man--he didn’t have the courage to tell the bosses that he was leaving until about six months later. Everybody else did jump. I had 13 clients within a matter of weeks. Mark Stent, and Paul Corkett with some other non-Trident arrivals.
Was Steve Osborne one of those who jumped from Trident?
No. He was still training. He came later. He trained at Trident. He was one of my tea boys. He was from a band background. I remember taking him on, and saying, “Look, I’m not going to take you on if you think you are going to use down time for your own band. That really cannot happen.” Of course, behind my back, they were all doing what they wanted to do. Steve didn’t come right away. He was still training, and then he went off with (Paul) Oakenfold for a bit, and then he came back to me a couple of years later.
Dave McCracken started at Sarm Studios as you did.
He did. Yeah, he trained there. Dave was there after I left. He’s a different kettle of fish (from other producers). He wasn’t going down the engineering route. He came in as a programmer. Always as a composer of music, really.
Traditionally, the UK studio system was formulistic People would start off as tea boys or tape operators and move through the system to become producers. Is that system still in place?
No. Not really. Obviously, those people who went through that system in the ‘80s and the early ‘90s, that would have been how they came up. But these days, everybody thinks they are a producer. Now because of the accessibility of technology, people just imagine that they can produce.
Didn’t you start out as a receptionist at the Sarm Studios?
I went in as a receptionist, and I was promoted very quickly to managing the studio which was then more focused on the sale of studio time. Getting the artists in. I learned that people were the interesting thing (in the recording process).
Then I moved to Trident which is where I met Flood who was the chief engineer there. Between us we brought in one of the best studio teams of that era, including people like Mark Stent, Alan Moulder, Cenzo Townshend and Steve Osborne who all went on to have major careers in their own right.
The ‘80s period of the 4AD, Mute, and Rough Trade labels probably introduced that independent production spirit in the UK.
Yeah, that’s true. In the ’80s, we were concerned with training people. Flood and Allan Moulder were the last of their generation, really, to be trained. They take that very seriously. They are trying to cultivate a (similar) scene at Assault & Battery 2 (studios); trying to create a situation where young people are trained. But what’s happening, at the moment, is that people are paying their own money to train at music colleges to get music production degrees which doesn’t get them anywhere. My own son is 18, and he just started at a music college doing songwriting. That one I understand even though I do think also that songwriting is one of the things that you best learn in situations writing with other writers, and absorbing other writers. That experience is what gives you perspective on the writing.
For decades, UK studios were primarily located near or in London. Today many of the studios are wherever the producer is living.
That’s right. The good thing about having your own studio is that you can attract bands locally. You can be a real support for bands that are local. Also, it doesn’t have to be an expensive process (to record a new band). So if Steve Osborne is developing a band, it can be on-and-off. It can be really helpful in doing something in the early days (of a band), without spending a huge chunk of time. You can spend a week here and a week there. Additionally, we are in a position, obviously, to not charge sometimes, if we want to do something for nothing.
Since the producer is working in-house?
Yeah. We can also be flexible with the rate. It’s awful to say this, but you have to have a bit of a Robin Hood mentality these days. Where you literally steal from the rich to facilitate the poor. I quite enjoy that. We need to have a certain amount of paid work that is properly paid so we can do the things that we are doing--which is development, and supporting artists that are coming through because nobody else is doing that. The managers are not doing it. The labels are not doing it. Even the publishers aren’t doing it, often. When I do a deal, I need to bear in mind if it’s for a major label with the proper (financial) scenario because, at this moment, that is really important for the rest of our business. That’s a pressure that, perhaps, wasn’t there previously. Because 10 out of 10 projects used to be paid for.
How do you view making a deal?
There’s not any one way to do anything. I think, particularly at the moment, it’s the Wild West out there. So the starting point is that you have to feel that when you are walking away that you haven’t driven over someone’s head five times in order to get the deal done. You still have to be there for your client. It’s really difficult to balance time spent against return. So there’s a lots of ways I will deal with that. Some of that has to do with cash. Some of it has to do with back end arrangements. Some of it is has to do with (attaining) a little bit publishing or some other factor.
The general principal has always been not to be the cheapest. Whereas many people get off in getting loads and loads of money off people, that’s not really interesting to me. It’s more about doing well. Getting a good deal. And yet, accidentally, I recently looked back on a couple of deals, and I thought, “How did I do that? That’s a ridiculous amount of money.”
But that isn’t my motivation.
It’s about being realistic; being fair; and doing the right thing for my client. There’s a lot of people that could probably get more money for their clients. I’m probably going to shoot myself in the foot with this observation. There are people probably much more hardnosed in negotiations than me, but I think that it’s really important that you do business in a way that fits well (with both parties) so you can sleep at night.
If you drive a band into the ground with demands…
That’s not interesting to me. You need to be realistic. You need to be supportive. Nothing gives us more pleasure than to be involved with, and to support an artist who is really worth it. I struggle talking about sticking it to an artist. I struggle with making an artist feel like they are going to struggle to keep on top of that (production fee).
Does your company operate in America?
We do. We work all over the place. We do a lot of American work. I’ve always done that. I started working with Nine Inch Nails back in the ‘90s. It was when Nine Inch Nails started to explode on TVT (Records), and there was a huge fallout between (TVT Records’ founder) Steve Gottlieb and Trent Reznor. A very public one. We had all of the major labels chasing after Trent. At that point, he was on that first Lollapalooza tour (in 1991) with Siouxsie & The Banshees, Ice T, and Jane’s Addiction. I was on that whole tour which was incredible. I had started working with their (Nine Inch Nails’) manager John Malm at the time. I used to run the British side of things for him. At that point, I was in America a lot, and I got to know a lot of American labels. I’ve always made a point of getting out to the States, and going out to the New Music Seminars.
You work in an industry that is trying to find a balance between offering fair compensation to artists, and adapting to new business models. The question is will there be a business model that will produce meaningful revenue that will make its way to those creating the music?
That’s one of the main things that has hit us hard over the last few years. We have been lucky enough to make albums that are both commercial, and different. Experimental is not the word--but outstandingly and creatively interesting, and commercial. So Depeche Mode sold multi-millions, Nine Inch Nails sold multi-millions as did U2, and Smashing Pumpkins I suppose, and Coldplay. But there used to be a very healthy middle market (of bands).
Hasn’t that middle market disappeared?
Completely. It’s heart-breaking really. That whole section of music is where we excelled, and we always enjoyed working with the best new bands from there. That whole thing (middle market) has gone. I can see that just from royalties but also from the kind of calls that I am getting.
Working with U2 on “The Joshua Tree” and working on Erasure’s “Circus” in 1987 was certainly pivotal to the trajectory of Flood’s career.
[Renowned producer/engineer/mixer Flood worked at such British studios as Trident, Marcus, and Battery before going freelance in the early 80s. He then worked with New Order, Cabaret Voltaire, Ministry, and Marc Almond, and was associated with Some Bizzare Records and did continuing work at Mute Records with Depeche Mode Nick Cave, Vince Clarke, and Erasure whose debut album “Wonderland,” (1986) and its follow-up “The Circus” (1987) he engineered.
Shortly after Flood’s commercial breakthrough as engineer for U2's “The Joshua Tree in 1987, he co-produced Nine Inch Nails’ debut “Pretty Hate Machine” and worked with Depeche Mode on its most commercially successful album to date, “Violator.” Flood worked again with U2 on “Achtung Baby” (1991), “Zooropa.” (1993), “Pop” (1997), and “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” (2004). He also continued to work with Nine Inch Nails as well with the Killers, Sigur Rós, Smashing Pumpkins, and PJ Harvey.]
The phones started ringing for Flood following “The Joshua Tree” and “Circus” in 1987?
Definitely. The U2 thing happened as I was leaving Trident. That’s one of the things that made me want to leave. Flood was getting called because (of being) Flood. The desk (at Trident) was the SSL that everybody else had. The tape machine was the tape machine. Flood was an in-house engineer, and people were calling me to see whether they could employ his services. The studio wasn’t really interested in (him) so much as making sure the studio business continued. That was a point where producers for the most part, particularly the younger ones, were just part of the studio. They were just another add-on to the studio.
There are producers that became superstars though that’s the wrong phrase if you think of Flood because he’s so far from ever being in showbiz. People didn’t even know what he looked like until recently. He used to hide from any kind of publicity of any kind. I loved that. I admired that about him.
Of course, Flood was building a significant reputation while at Trident.
There were two groups of people who really noticed it. One was Daniel Miller at Mute (Records), and the other was U2. Those two groups of people could see what he had. That he had something magical, and it wasn’t about Trident. For awhile, the whole Mute relationship with Trident continued, and Flood did most of his work for them there. I don’t know how U2 found out about him. The rumor mill, I expect. It wasn’t about the room. It was about him. He went to work with the team (producer Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Those are really pivotal moments.
Whereas “The Joshua Tree” was a collaborative effort between the production team and U2 members, Flood’s presence is more evident on Erasure’s “Circus.”
Yeah. They were quite different things.
Although “Circus” failed to catch on in America, it was very a very pivotal recording for Flood.
Very true. He really dislikes that you can hear him on the record, and he would deny it until the cows come home, but I think we all know where he’s been. In Flood’s mind, he takes it very seriously that a producer doesn’t flaunt his ego above the ego of the band. He’s a collaborative person. Yes, U2 was different, it was more collaborative. When he worked with (Brian) Eno, he was more collaborative. He is collaborative but (as his career evolved) he started to spread his wings, and grow himself. Those (two albums) were the first signs of what he was capable of and that’s one of the reasons why I left Trident. I could see what a career that he was going to have, and I didn’t want to be worried about booking a room with the same desk as everybody else’s. I couldn’t see the point.
A decade ago, recording budgets were slashed, and a lot of production work shifted from professional rooms to home studios. Many artists now go downstairs to their basement studio, and work with Pro Tools.
Yeah. Well that’s it. My son has had Pro Tools since he was 13. There’s also GarageBand. I like the accessibility of technology. The fact that it opens up the creative process to a lot of people. That’s kind of a punk thing, if you like. It means more people have access. It shouldn’t be a closed shop.
Are you a gear head?
I have never been very interested in the technology—I have had to know what it mean and what it does—but I’m not interested. Seriously I’m not interested. It’s not useful to me. There are other people who do that better than me who can talk about it. It’s a waste of my time, and everybody else’s’ time expecting to talk to me about it because I have no interest.
The process of recording in a studio with a producer is also a filtering process. Artists, producers and engineers all prepare for the date. A filter has been lost in the use of home studios. It used to be a band got their material together, and found a good producer who would help them create their music. Going down to your basement on your own isn’t the same.
No. It’s not the same thing. The recording process, it isn’t the same thing as production. Production is often about the perspective that you have, and that perspective about a piece of music is not just….It’s something like an “X factor” type of thing which is an overused concept. I hate (calling it) the “X” factor” but it is the indefinable magical kind of talent that you can’t learn. That’s what Flood has, for instance. That’s what Steve Osborne has. A lot of my clients have that. That’s the kind of people that I want to work with. People who have a special something.
Production is about perspective, and that is something that quite often you learn through years of watching other people make music; of being involved in the process of making records. That’s why the training system is good, as you say, because it filters. It allows you to have the time to understand how records are made. And being a real producer is not just about the technical thing. It’s not just a service you are providing in technical terms. It’s also about understanding how to place music in the marketplace. And I don’t mean that in a horrible kind of salesmanship kind of way. A producer is someone who is a catalyst working with a band to help them make more of themselves than they would be able to do on their own.
It’s not a recording process.
And a real producer has the perspective that you can only acquire with the experience of making records over long periods of time--the ability to see where a band sits in the market place, to be able to assess a band-- whether it's doing something exceptional or not, and to help them realize their dreams. A real producer is somebody who really wants to do something different, but also understands, in the making of a record, where it fits in the climate of today’s music industry or today’s music-buying communities.
The role of a producer has changed. At one time a producer for the most part was someone the label hired to get a chart hit or a quality record. With downloads and streaming, it’s not necessarily about getting a hit record anymore.
I’m not sure what a hit record is now.
Nobody does. The majority of our producer activity is supporting and developing bands. Bands have been out of fashion for a couple of years, and they are starting to come back now; but because record sales are so down, labels aren’t career building, and many artists aren’t touring unless they already have traction and a reasonable reach.
Everybody wants someone else to do the development of a band. You do oversee development though as well?
We do all of the development, yeah. Do all of that. Basically sourcing the bands, talent spotting, and nurturing. All of my guys have got their own studios. So it’s about helping them (bands) get the songs ready, and helping them to create a platform.
All of the things that label A&R and managers used to do.
We are working often in the absence of managers or working with people who think that they are managers who don’t have very much experience. Everybody who didn’t use to work at a label in A&R think now that they are a manager, and there are very different skills (involved). Being self-employed and making things happen is becoming harder and harder. I haven’t had anything different, really, since I left Trident all those years ago, 25 years ago. I have obligations clearly to my staff, whom are amazing, and to my clients. I have to remember that.
Is it difficult to convince a new act that it needs a producer?
It’s not really. That’s not the area you have to convince people. We have 25 requests a day from bands wanting to work with one of our producers. It’s not about convincing them. it’s about working out which ones are the worth taking on. It’s all very well making a great album, but if it’s never going to see the light of day because the manager is stupid or because it’s placed in the wrong market, and people aren’t going to buy it, what’s the point? People aren’t paying for music as we know.
Are bands coming to you seeking a producer or coming to you looking for both a producer as well as your industry connections?
It’s exactly that. Yes and yes. And it’s really, really hard (to take on an act). I won’t get involved with a band that I think is a great investment for my producer unless we have an involvement going forward now. We have done a lot of development in the last few years, but the things that really work are the things that we maintain an involvement in. I don’t mean that financially. I mean in terms of getting it where it (a project) needs to be. That means putting the right team around it.
We are involved in a project right now with (British singer) Nadine Shah who Erika (Tooker) our press officer is working with us on. We put that together because Ben Hillier produced her, and we developed this artist. We got to the end of the album and it was amazing. Ben Hillier had written the music with her, and basically became part of the project. We are managing her because we put together so much of the next steps for her that we really couldn’t no. It’s been really enjoyable.
It’s been hard work but my feeling is if you are doing an investment project—which is what they are, a production deal—just to send it over to a bunch of people who don’t know what they are doing with it; or, if it’s out of your hands, it’s really difficult to give it that much devotion, investment--as well as picking the right songs, writing the right songs, recording the songs, mixing the songs, getting it to a pluggers, bringing tastemakers onboard--and then go and let someone fuck it up. I don’t think that it doesn’t make sense.
How many artists are you managing?
We have only one act that we are fully managing, but we are doing production deals for probably half a dozen other projects and there’s a lot of projects that we are starting to work with, and we will just see how they go.
Is Nadine Shah the first act you’ve managed?
No I was involved with Nine Inch Nails way back. I also managed Wolfgang Press for awhile along with some other acts. I was also involved with Little Annie, Adrian Sherwood, and worked with On-U Sound System.
You have encouraged your producers to write for projects in recognition that, at the end of the day, an artist and a song connecting is still the most important factor in a recording.
That’s true. There are two ways that can work. In a climate where records aren’t being sold as much, and we are setting aside months and months of investment work with a band publishing has become part of the deal. That’s because a producer not getting paid anything at all (in an advance) needs to get more than a sales-related return. There are certain producers that don’t have the baggage that we did in the ‘80s and ‘90s where a producer of Flood’s caliber would do whatever it took to make record — including contributing songwriting ideas--and would be paid solely as a producer. That’s one area that has changed. People are less worried in asking for publishing but the problems is that when you have never asked for it, and you are suddenly asking for it, people are going “Well hang on. how come you are asking for it, and you never used to, and what you are doing is the same as you used to do?” The kind of producer/writer model has become very much more what you are buying into now.
Joe Hirst is certainly a producer known for also being a gifted songwriter.
He’s a great example of the new breed coming through. He’s a very talented boy. We signed a big publishing deal for him a couple years back with Sony (Sony/ATV Music Publishing UK). He’s been doing a lot of amazing development work. He has a couple of girls right now. An Irish singer, Elly O'Keefe, and young girl from up north, a young Stoke-based singer calling herself Shae. Both are really exceptional. He currently is doing a lot of work with Howie B as well. Writing and producing with him. He’s someone who is enjoying the writing more than the development world.
Seeking the music publishing in a production agreement comes down to whether it is a cash grab or an integral part of the creative process between the producer and the artist.
My view on that has always been very rigid until very recently. If it’s just a land grab I don’t feel comfortable with that as a concept. All my clients are driven by the idea of fair play in this regard, and not just grabbing publishing income regardless of their involvement. But where a producer is working on a project where no money changes hands and he alone makes the project live and breathe, then I think he should benefit from ancillary income, including publishing.
Still in any negotiation you must represent the interests of your client.
Sometimes I have to be a bit firmer than they would like me to be but, in principal, everyone has to feel comfortable with the deal that we come up with. Flood never has felt comfortable with me talking about his contribution to the creative process if it was publishing. But when you see other people with no more than what he’s done claiming publishing in a climate where record sales are in a downward trend, it’s something that we have to think about. But I would never do anything that didn’t have any grounds at all. I hate the idea of the land grab. It sets my teeth on edge. I hate the idea of an artist being taken advantage of.
Producers have seen a considerable reduction in their fees in recent years. The pie is smaller than it used to be. Producers now have to step up to the table, and be involved in different activities in a project as well now, including songwriting.
I agree with that. There’s a more positive openness among bands now which I’m enjoying. That I am encouraged by. There are various bands which have famously collaborated with writers including the Kings of Leon, a rock band who opened their hearts to co-writing with others. There’s been very few British rock bands that have opened themselves to that until recently. But I think that with albums being less important at the moment, there’s more focus on actual tracks and songs are becoming more important than ever in terms of your language with labels; and your leverage with labels. So I think that there’s been an opening towards that (collaborative songwriting) The ego doesn’t prevent bands being open to collaboration in that way anymore. I think that is really healthy.
Miami-based producer/artist Salaam Remi and I recently discussed how there’s plenty of talent around today, but few great songs. Without that key song, bands aren’t going to be successful nor are they likely going to be signed.
I am currently working a lot with Dave McCracken and bands that are lacking that last song or who had a great song on their last record but haven’t had something as good on this record. There is a need, and an ever mounting pressure to find that absolute song that crosses over. It’s exactly as you say. And I have people that can do that without trumping their own talents.
There are horrible collaborative writers who constantly brag about their influence even if they are there (working with the artist) for two seconds. They are there for five minutes and tell that artist what they should be singing, and then they fuck off, and then tell everybody that they wrote that song.
The world of collaborative songwriting is filled with people like that. That’s not my interest. That’s not interesting to me. The producers I manage that write are there for the good of the project and will be collaborative. They will step up, and step down. Step up where necessary without telling them (the band) what to do, but will be catalysts for people to stretch themselves, to experiment, and to reach further than they could within the context of their creative situation. That’s the bit that interests me.
With music shifting to mobile for listeners, there’s the argument that artists don’t need as great production.
I think that you do more than ever. People think that you don’t. I think you do more than ever because when you download that one track it needs to be fucking amazing otherwise people are just going to say, “The quality is going down.” It doesn’t help us to dilute our standards.
Mobile phones are like transistor radios from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Or like a car radio.
That’s how I still listen to music. Through my car speakers. That’s a bit of a security blanket.
I can recall producers mixing tracks for a car radio. In the studio everything sounds great on those big speakers.
You can set it (the music) up to sound great. You still need to take it out to be in touch with how people listen to music. Our problem, as producers, is that we don’t want to give people any further reasons to doubt the efficacy and the importance of production in terms of how music actually sounds. We want people to be excited by music. We want them to be encouraged by music. Not less encouraged by music.
But the recording budgets are so low now.
But we can’t scrimp on our methods even though technology is very accessible, affordable, and everywhere. The (production) method is still really important. The wisdom and the perspective of being a producer is more important than ever. It’s just that people don’t want to pay for it. You don’t get paid for five months recording. Making an album with Flood or Gil Norton is not a process that takes a week or two or three weeks. These people are trying to make really special recordings. That’s why we want to work with them. That’s why they were approached by Bono, Danny Lanois, Danny Miller, Polly Harvey, Smashing Pumpkins and by Trent Reznor. It’s because those people make a difference. They are special. They’ve got the “X factor.” It’s really important in this climate that we don’t give up on those standards. The problem is how to make it work with the money that we are getting in income.
What part of Wales are you from?
I (was born and) lived in Cardiff, but I left when I was 3. I went to school in London. My parents were teachers. My father moved out of sales into one of the business schools. and my mother was a head of modern languages.
You attended college?
I went to Warwick University, and I did English literature. A drinker’s degree in English literature. A naughty girl’s drinking degree. I was too busy having fun. Being in bands. Directing productions and so on.
You are a classically trained musician.
Trained in piano. I studied piano to grade 8. All of my teachers thought I was going to study music but I hated all of the little squares. The girls who did music at my school were just awful. Wearing little flowery dresses and outfits. I was smoking and dying my hair black. I didn’t feel like anyone.
Were you a punk?
Yeah. Definitely. I’ve got pictures to prove it. I was in love with that whole scene. The first gig I went to at 13 was Slade, but that doesn’t count. The real first gig I went to was when I was 15. I saw Penetration play at The Brunel Rooms which was incredible. From that point on, I was really into punk. Siouxsie and the Banshees, always. Then it was more XTC, and all of that Andy Partridge stuff. I was just got really grabbed by it all. It was just really exciting. I went to a really posh girls school, South Hampstead High School, and I didn’t feel like I fitted in anywhere.
How did you get involved with the studio business?
Well, I came back to London after university. Having a brilliant mid-education, and a brilliant musical education, I had felt that I’d do English literature because I felt that I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t know how I was going to be a writer. What I would do. But I would be a writer. I came out of university, and I said to my parents, “I’m going to be a writer.” They said, “Well, that’s nice darling.” Nobody said to me, “How are you going to do that? You have to get a job in the meantime.”
Did you get a job in the meantime?
I went off to do a typing course which annoyed me because my brother didn’t have to do a typing course. Men didn’t have to in those days. I did a typing course, and I was rubbish at that. I went for a couple of interviews, and the second interview I went to was at Sarm Studios. I had just had a haircut the day before. On King’s Road in London, they have these people that give you a leaflet, “C’mon and have your hair done” for two pounds or whatever. I had it done for two pounds, and it was absolutely dreadful. So my brother came back with me and made them cut it really short. I went into this interview with Jill Sinclair and Trevor Horn (at Sarm Studios) with basically a skinhead haircut. It was probably the thing that got me into the music business because I looked like I had loads of attitude. I don’t know if I did or not. I was quite well-spoken, and quite intellectual, but I looked like an absolute nutter.
Also you aren’t exactly a shy person.
I am a shy person actually. I am quite shy, but I like attitude. I like the attitude of that whole (punk) era. Shaving off my hair, I didn’t mean to. I’m not that brave. I didn’t go, “I’m going to shave my head like Sinéad O'Connor.” It just sort of happened by mistake. I had no choice. Then I just thought, “Oh, it will grow. I will just wear a hat.”
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.
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.”
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 is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.
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