Interview with JEFF HANSON (part 2), artist manager and head of Silent Majority Group label - Sep 20, 2010
“OK, she’s young and probably doesn't have a complete sense of direction but let's listen to what she wants, it will probably work out for the best.”
For the second part of our interview with Silent Majority Group head honcho, Jeff Hanson, the focus moves to the early behind the scenes story of former management clients Paramore (USA & UK No.1), and the band’s crucial first steps at Atlantic Records. As the SMG mastermind highlights, Paramore’s success came as a result of the label listening to the artist, a heartening stance echoed in Hanson’s other charges Creed and Virgos Merlot’s Brett Hestla. The Orlando-based manager and label head also reveals his own lesser known contribution to the Paramore legacy and how his hand in the creation of the first new artist 360° deal may have helped bring about its premature end.
You said that Paramore weren’t even a band when you signed them to your management - so how did that process begin at Atlantic Records with Hayley Williams and the band - did they undertake a lot of development?”
They did an enormous amount of development.
When we first talked to Atlantic Records the vision of some of the people at Atlantic was to make Hayley Williams a 14-year-old pop singer - make a record, take it to Top 40 radio and that's it.
To some extent I agreed it was a good potential career path, but when we talked to the artist Hayley said, “I'm 14, I don't want to be a pop artist, I don't want to be out without a band. I'm more into alternative music. I don't see myself being the next Madonna.”
That was a big creative difference with the label but I agreed with it. So we met with Julie Greenwald and the staff at the label, discussed Hayley's concerns and they said, “OK, she’s young and probably doesn’t know exactly what she wants yet but we have time to sort that out, let's listen to what she wants, it will probably work out for the best.”
So we got her on the Taste of Chaos and the Warped Tour and she formed her own band with some younger and like minded kids.
Those first decisions can be crucial. In this case the artist was way more in tune with what she wanted to do than anyone else was.
Why was it that Paramore came out on Fueled By Ramen rather than Atlantic - was that Hayley’s influence?
[Their music] was supposed to come out on Atlantic Records but instead we took it to Fueled by Ramen. It was the marketing department at Atlantic that decided not to put their name on the record, therefore not associating a huge label with the record. We all knew Fueled by Ramen was something special and had a “niche” market so it worked. Oddly though, In the end it was the concern of the artist that caused it to ultimately be represented like that.
It was same thing with Creed. Our mantra was we would never do something that Metallica would't do. Metallica didn't have the big radio success story but they had a big touring success story with their fans. We sat down with the group and decided how we were going to move forward. How are we going to agree and disagree with what we are going to do with the label? That decision was modelled on what Metallica would do. The only artists that Creed ever supported were Van Halen and Metallica.
The successes I’ve had were a direct result of listening to what the artist wanted to do. I had many bands that said, “We don't want to do this and that and don't want to represented like this.” And guess what, they weren't necessarily successful because of it. Brett Hestla's (HQ interview) band Virgos Merlot was probably proof of that.
In what way?
They had a look and an image they were dead-set on putting out to the world. That image didn't necessarily resonate with people, but hey, they are still one of my favourite bands. If they don't have big commercial success, does that bother me? No. Brett Hestla always has done things on his own terms and is now a successful producer.
When he was writing the majority of his bands’ songs he liked to take a lot of left turns in his songwriting. I told him, “When the listener thinks you’re going to take a right into something with pop sensibility, you always take a left!” He said, “ Yeah, but it's my record and that's what I want to do and I have to live with it for the rest of my life.” And I said, “We may not sell a lot of records but at least you are happy and it may turn into something else!”
And it did turn into something else. He ended up being the bass player for Creed and is having a successful career as a producer.
How did you exactly first come across Paramore?
I found the band through Dave Steunebrink. He was partners with Richard Williams - was running Spongebath Records at the time - and together they discovered Hayley in the very first place. They had a production deal with her when she was 14. Hayley had been writing pop songs with some top songwriters in Nashville.
Dave asked me to manage Hayley. He wanted to be part of the team, so we cut him in. Mark Mercado was doing day to day management in my office so I also brought him in to be part of the team. Myself, Mark Mercado, and Dave Steunebrink were the original management team. When I got fired, Dave and Mark became the co-managers. [Paramore] are now managed by Mark.
So how were they then signed to Atlantic?
Because Richard had a production deal with Hayley nobody could sign her without him. Tom Storms was the original A&R guy that took the project into Atlantic based on his relationship with Richard’s attorneys Jim Zumwalt and Kent Marcus.
Richard ended up doing a deal with Jason Flom (HQ interview) at Atlantic and as Hayley’s manager I asked that Steve Robertson (HQ interview) be part of the deal since he was here in Orlando, which was where Hayley's base camp was at the time.
In the grand scheme of things Richard and Tom were actually the people that discovered her from a label perspective. Ironically you never hear anything about that. Since then Tom Storms, Jason Flom, Jim Zumwalt, Kent Marcus, and I have all been fired and you don’t hear much about us as it relates to Paramore either.
There are a lot of people taking credit now because it's been a huge success. I’ll tell you this much, had the band not been so successful all those same people would have been claiming not to have had anything to do with it. People in this business love to “bury the dead”.
When did your involvement end?
Somewhere along the road I got in a really bad auto accident, couldn’t remember much on a daily basis for six months, had back surgery, and was paralysed down my right side for almost a year, and obviously couldn't travel.
I took a lot of shit for that, by people I thought were my friends, I guess they thought I was just stupid, drunk, or on drugs, so they represented it to people that way and in my opinion I got screwed out of something I had a huge part in creating. I was actually the person who fought the band to make the first 360° deal happen, which I think is the biggest reason the band is where they are today. How else would a label have been patient enough to put the band on three straight Warped tours and down-streamed the band to Fuel By Ramen all while losing millions of dollars?
Interestingly enough, it was Jim [Zumwalt], Kent [Marcus], Jim's partner Orville, and myself that created the first ever new artist 360° deal. We actually wrote the deal and submitted it to Atlantic, not the other way around. It took six months of back and forth. I know I was resented for pushing that 360° deal and I think Kent and Jim were too. That, and in my case the car accident, are probably why we all got fired.
It's all water under the bridge now. I made my contributions, some unfortunate stuff happened, and I got fired. The only thing that gets under my skin now is the egotistical bullshit you read in other articles about how this person did this, this person did that, all the while rewriting history and ignoring people like Richard, Jason, Jim, Kent, and Tom.
When we spoke with Steve Robertson last year he said he found the band through the Kings of Leon manager Kent Marcus?
Jim Zumwalt was Kent Marcus's boss [as part of Music Row entertainment firm Zumwalt Almon & Hayes]. Kent was Hayley's attorney within Jim's operation.
I’m sure Kent sent Stevo the CD and Stevo has done a great job of A&R but I explained how it all happened. Richard found the band, gave it Jim and Kent, they sent it to Tom, Tom took it to Jason Flom, Flom signed the band, Stevo got assigned the band, Tom got fired, and Stevo’s been doing a great job making the records ever since. I’m not going to try to rewrite history just to be politically correct.
I’ve read articles where current managers and label people talk about how they developed the touring strategy and did this and that and there is no mention of me in it. It doesn't matter at the end of the day. You’re giving me the chance to say what happened. And I appreciate it. I guess I need another hit so I can do more interviews right?
So how is the relationship now with Mark Mercado?
We have a good relationship. I still get my plaques and an occasional cheque and I’m thankful for that. We went separate ways when he took on the full responsibility for Paramore and I took two years off because of my car accident. That's when I decided to start a label and finally fell right back into the management side [laughs]. So hopefully Framing Hanley will blow up now!
How do you get that Framing Hanley song on the radio - I’ve heard that radio is totally ruled by Clearchannel in America where they have national playlists?
It's incredibly difficult compared to what it used to be. There are people in roles now and all they do is manage and cut the playlist. It's in the radio stations best interest to play recurrent things as opposed to current things. There are only 10 rock stations in America that play new rock music so you gotta get started there and hopefully you’re successful on one of these starter stations. Luckily they are all run by kick ass rock dudes.
How inventive can you get with the sound of a band in the very formatted radio surrounding?
You can't. These days you are a descendant of Disturbed, Limp Bizkit, Creed, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, or Alice In Chains at the rock formats. and they are really all descendants of something pretty damn close. The last bands I can remember having their own sound recently were System Of A Down and Stone Sour. If you're not a very close cousin to someone on that list, you have very little chance.
What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?
Trying to make some small dent in this big ass battleship that can’t turn itself around very quickly. My new company phonegreetings.com is sending online phone greetings, from artists, directly to people's voicemails, with your choice of 6,000 names spoken or sang by the actual artists, and personalised to the recipient. The artist can just send a greeting or attach a new song. You also get a .wav or .mp3 file of the personalised song from the artist to your email as well. It’s crazy, imagine getting a database of 200 million cell numbers and being able to send your song to them with an intro from the actual artist, personalised to you.
The phone receives a 15 bit file that is very close to CD quality and the whole deal is $2-$3 There is no piracy involved since the recording is to you.
It's free in beta mode right now. We did a trial run last year with the Toys for Tots charity and thousands of people had Santa send their kids a personalised voice message at Christmas and it was an enormous success with simply a link on the Toys for Tots site.
Since then I’ve worked hard at applying the technology to music. We have already white labelled the technology to some of the top ten artists in the US right now. You’ll see it popping up on their Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter accounts later in the year. I’m certain that this technology will change the musical landscape. Artists are lined up by the hundreds to participate now as they are making 90 cents a transaction, twice as much as they make from an iTunes download.
I also just did a rock compilation of brand new artists. One of the top music retailers wants to tie it into all their stores to help promote their new band gear sections. It’s a huge opportunity for Silent Majority Group to circumvent the same old sign a band, take it to radio, beg to get it in store, then watch the retailers send most of what you shipped back as a return model. Going direct to the retailer with a solution to help them sell musical instruments and cool new bands being promoted to the public in return, that’s a new idea right? Maybe there's still a place for new music after all, besides the ESPN highlight reels.
Interviewed by Jan Blumentrath
Next week: Icelandic rock band Deep Jimi and the Zep Creams reveal their Artist Diary
Read On ...
* In the first part Jeff Hanson talks about band deals with SMG and developing Creed
* Paramore A&R Steve Robertson on developing the band
* Interview with then Atlantic CEO, Jason Flom, who signed Hayley Williams