Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – D2

My second most asked question (right after “where does your forehead actually end”?) is who is your favourite artist to work with? It is usually followed by who was the biggest pain in the ass?

One of the biggest assets in becoming good at A&R, artist relations, publicity, management or virtually any job that puts you in direct contact with artists, is the ability to get along with them, reading their moods, and being able to make them feel at ease in almost any situation. You also need to know how to get them out of any situation without making them look like it was their idea.

Whether you work for a label, promoter or yourself it is important to remember they are the artist and ultimately without their art you would not be able to make a living. Conversely, you are trying to promote and monetize their art and a certain symbiotic relationship is formed.

Working for the majors some of the promo and publicity tours were very easy. The easiest were always “no press”. Depending on the stature of the artist, sales of the most recent record or ticket sales to the upcoming show, you might be able to convince management that a little press would go a long way in helping their careers even after the “no press” card had been played. Sometimes one show day you might be relegated to a tight schedule – one TV, one radio and one print. This is where things would get tricky. Not only do you have relationships with artists and management you often have longer term relationships with the media. You remember who was the only radio person who would find time for Dido before her album broke, and, you wanted to be able to pay that favour back in the future when a superstar interview might be available. It can be a thankless job and you usually end up pissing someone off but most media understand. The bigger the artist the bigger the repercussions when tough decisions had to be made. You constantly remember who was there for you when you needed them and tried to be there for when they needed you. Often you need to convince an artist to do something they might be leery of. A classic example of this was getting artists on with Michael Landsberg on “Off The Record”. It was not the usual type of interviews a lot of artists did but Landsberg always made them feel at ease and his show reached an audience that might not be aware of your artist.

Morning shows were always tough to convince artists to do. Number one they usually did not want to be up that early and secondly they were mostly goofy and asked the exact same questions that every other morning show across North America asked. After spending a few days doing interviews with a band I think I would be safe to say that 90% of questions are exactly the same. It gets tedious listening to them for a couple of days and I can hardly imagine what an artist thinks of them after answering them for weeks on end on an extended promo tour. Some have fun with it and twist and turn their answers around but others give the same standard answer to every question. To each their own.

After a few trips with an artist a genuine relationship was born. They would begin to trust you and know you would not put them in any uncomfortable situations. You knew their strengths and weaknesses and built your schedule accordingly. Some secretly despised some writers (although you would never know that when they were talking with them) and you tried to keep the two sides apart.

And how do we get to the D’s? Here are the Dave’s I know.

Dave Matthews

I didn’t really know the Dave Matthews Band when I started to work in artist relations at BMG. I listened to a couple of the early records, and although it was obvious they could play, I wasn’t particularly moved by the music. I did know two important facts: all the girls in the office swooned when his name was mentioned and the band was massive in America.

It was hard to get management to get Dave to Canada for gig as they were playing arenas and stadiums in America and it didn’t make economic sense to bring the tour to play much, much smaller venues in Canada. However, as any good manager knows (and Dave has one of the best) you need to break in to other markets to sustain an international career. We convinced them to bring Dave up for a couple of days of promo and he was a joy to work with. After one very long day we finished our last interview at the Hard Rock in Toronto and I asked if he wanted to go back to the hotel. Pulling out a pack of Marlie Reds he ordered a Jack on the rocks and we just chilled for an hour. My kind of rock star.

The next time Dave came up his stature had risen and we were playing Arrow Hall (a venue I never liked). We arranged for some press during the day and asked the road manager (now a very good manager as well) what time I needed to get to soundcheck and what time I could pick Dave up. With that info we set the schedule and I asked if Dave wanted a car for the day (most artists like the comfort and convenience of a limo). Dave was more than happy to be escorted around in my Nissan Quest. After the interviews we headed to the west end to the venue and as we slowly snaked our way around the 4,000 kids lined up for the show not one of them recognized that Dave was riding shotgun.

The International Departments of major companies will often set-up international press weeks with major artists. The artist will be in one location for a week or so and all of the international departments of the label will fly their press to that location. These were always great trips in that you could offer a perk to your local media and you would get to meet some of the major journalists from around the world as well as catch up with your international label mates from around the world. On Saturday April 21, 2001 the Dave Matthews Band were slated to play Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville was Dave’s adopted American home at the time and home of his management company, clothing company and various other business holdings. The stadium was a typical U.S. college football stadium and had a capacity of over 60,000. Opening the show would be Neil Young & Crazy Horse. We packed a couple Canadian media on a plane and headed down for a couple of days. Various media rooms were set up at both the venue and the hotel and Dave and the band were shuttled between the two and basically spoke with the rock media of the world. In between sessions we were treated to dinner at one of their restaurants and also taken on a tour of his growing merchandising business. I was roaming the halls of the stadium one afternoon making sure I knew where our interviews were taking place and Dave saw me while he was in conversation with a man. He waved me over to say hello and introduce me to his friend, author John Grisham. Pretty cool.

Dave was one of those guys who understood the game and was willing to play. He made every interviewer feel special and I’m sure he made every record company person who had the pleasure of working with him feel special too. After seeing a wealth of shows, I soon became a fan of the music as well.

Dave Grohl

Dave Grohl is always my first answer to the “best artist to work with” question. And this goes out to the entire Foo Fighters team from management, to the road crew to Taylor, Nate and Chris. What you see with Dave is what you get. He is equal parts charming, witty and funny and works his ass off on stage and off. I had the pleasure of touring the country with the band and they charmed every radio station, TV station and journalist they encountered. There was always a sense of family working with The Foos and some of the team at the time went back with Dave to the Nirvana days. You could see that on tour as well as the Foos dressing room was often inhabited by most other bands on the bill.

We did have a moment on the Summersault Tour in 2000. We were on the second last stop of the tour in Ottawa and the Foos had jetted out for a one nighter in Las Vegas between the Canadian shows. Dave had agreed to do one radio interview and we were pretty well out in the public when we did it. A few other journalists saw the interview taking place and rushed over to try to grab a quote or two as we exited the makeshift station. Dave ended standing there doing about six more interviews as he is far too polite to walk away. As I had Eve 6 and Treble Charger also on the tour I went off on my merry way to take care of a bunch more interviews and ultimately headed back to the Foos trailer for a refreshing beer. I was sitting in the back with Chris when I heard Dave come in and go off about me and how many interviews he had to do to his road manager. He couldn’t see me in the back and when he stopped I walked up to the front, quickly apologized and slunk out. On the tour the band allowed about 50 of their fans and friends on the side of the stage to watch the show. I coordinated the posse and gathered them by the steps to the stage. I had no intention of joining them that evening and got them settled in their places and waited for any stragglers. As the band was making their way on stage Dave looked at me and said “get your ass up there”. Apology accepted. It had rained the night before at the outdoor venue and there was large clumps of dirt and mud on the field. About two songs in someone pitched a chunk and hit Dave square in the chest. He ripped off his shirt and told everyone to get it out of their systems and was soon covered in mud. He definitely played the rest of the set that way and gave one of the best performances I have ever seen. A true rocker.

Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

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The Shanghai Cowgirl (538 Queen Street West) still remains my fave rock‘n‘roll hang in Toronto. There is nothing better than sitting on the back deck in the sunshine, or, when the weather does not permit, the front table where you can watch the world go by. It’s the kind of place I have no qualms about walking in to alone as there is always someone there that I know. Can’t beat the chicken fried steak and on my visit last week noticed a few new menu items. Love it.

Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

One Response to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – D2”

  1. Cam,
    Was it you that helped us get Godovitz on Landsberg’s show? Greg was way out of his league and tried, desperately, to participate….but not being a sports fan the situation turned from uncomfortable to comic as GG figured out that if you can’t beat ’em…make fun of them 🙂

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