by Alex Cosper
Ladies and gentlemen, with me today is Bruce Ravid, who has spent years in the music industry, working with top acts at Capitol Records as an A&R Executive. He helped sign The Knack, Weird Al Yankovic & others. He hosts a radio show called "Go Deep" in Los Angeles at Indie 103.1 and other stations. He's also a band manager and interviews artists for his site RavesRaves. Bruce, thanks for joining me today.
Bruce: Great to be here, Alex. I'm a fan of your site along with your past and present activities.
Alex: Thank you, Bruce. It was nice seeing you at the music biz reunion in LA last May .. I believe you, Bob Osborn, Tommy Nast and I closed that party.
Bruce: That's the way I like to roll. No matter what time I arrive I like to be one of the last ones to leave. Some of the best conversations come at the end. Knowing Bob and Tommy, not a surprise either of them were still there.
Alex: So let's start with your college radio days when you were at one of the coolest universities in America at University of Wisconsin in Madison. Is that where it all began for you in radio and music?
Bruce: Yep. I loved the Chicago Top 40 DJ's as a kid and that's what I wanted to be if I couldn't be the Cubs play by play guy on radio. I was Music Director of our station for 3 years so I really got to know the label people well. Right place at right time, Capitol offered me a promotion job upon graduation.
Alex: Pretty incredible. Weren't you a business major in college?
Bruce: I was a business major in marketing. I would say back then I was really majoring in college radio and minoring in marketing.
Alex: You have told me your Capitol gig started in 1973, the year Pink Floyd's LP Dark Side of the Moon came out. Were you involved with them?
Bruce: It came out while I was still in Madison. I passed on their local concert in order to do my show. Huge mistake as I learned later. I never dealt with them. By the time I joined Capitol in June, everyone knew they were no longer going to be on our label.
Alex: Yet they were on a Capitol subsidiary called Harvest for awhile. Tell us how Capitol put you in charge of that label.
Bruce: After five years in promotion, Capitol brought me to LA to join the A&R department. I was responsible for signing US artists and was also responsible for all of our international releases. Oversees bands were on the Harvest label. Unlike now where Harvest consists of 6 people, I was the one Harvest guy, handling A&R and product management.
Alex: And you worked in that big round Capitol tower in LA, right?
Bruce: Sure did! Quite cool for a Midwest kid in his mid-20's who'd kept hearing about "The Tower" while in the field with Capitol.
Alex: How much power did you have at Harvest? Could you have signed anyone you wanted?
Bruce: There were limitations. Artists already had to be on (parent company) EMI, so for example I couldn't sign Split Enz for their True Colors album that I badly wanted. Our A&R team collaborated on most decisions and my boss Rupert Perry did have final say. I felt I had sufficient control overall, and that terrible worldwide policy eventually did go away.
Alex: Here's The Knack's demo of "My Sharona." Tell us the story how you brought them to Capitol Records.
Bruce: I'd only been in LA a couple months. It wasn't like I discovered them because all of Hollywood was suddenly talking about them. I grabbed Rupert and the two of us went to see them at the Troubadour. We knew right away we had to have them. I went to all their shows, hung out with them well into the nights, and got people at the label involved, from our president down to many assistants. 15 labels wanted them and they chose Capitol because of that top to bottom enthusiasm.
Alex: I was in high school at the time "My Sharona" came out and by that time I was sick of disco, which had taken over the pop charts. Did you find it as unbelievable as I did that a rock record could end up being the biggest hit of 1979 in a year when disco flooded the charts?
Bruce: Hell yeah. I don't think you can ever predict that kind of success. We knew the song was special. There was never any doubt it would be a single and by the way, the band didn't write the song with radio in mind, they wrote it because they needed something to close their sets with. Radio reaction told us immediately this song was going to be huge.
Alex: I remember all the talk about The Knack being the "next Beatles" .. where did that come from?
Bruce: The Beatles obviously influenced them hugely. Some of their Beatles references were actually tongue in cheek but media took them very seriously. We weren't shy about saying in truth that this was the fastest breaking new band since The Beatles.
Alex: The Knack did a great cover of "A Hard Day's Night" .. As one thing led to another, Weird Al Yankovic came to your attention due to his parody "My Bologna" of the Knack hit. I understand The Knack liked it. Is that the reason Weird Al got his deal?
Bruce: I was in my car on a Sunday night, listening to Dr. Dememto who played "My Bologna". I had him send me a recording of the song, which I brought with me when I joined The Knack on the road the following week (in Madison, as a matter of fact). I played it for the band, telling them I wanted to offer this Al kid a singles deal if they were cool with the idea. The Knack guys were falling off their chairs laughing and, of course, gave me a huge thumbs up.
Alex: And the rest is history as I believe Weird Al is one of the most successful comedy acts in music history. He even outlasted The Knack, which is ironic. Whatever happened to The Knack? I know they had a few cool follow-up singles.
Bruce: Contrary to common belief, The Knack were far more than one-hit wonders, beginning with immediate follow-up "Good Girls Don't". There were some bad management decisions, including the choice not to do press interviews. That pretty much led to a press revolt against the band and probably hurt their long-term standing. More albums were released and they kept playing and nailing it live until singer Doug Fieger passed away from cancer in 2010.
Alex: That's too bad about Doug. The album Get The Knack was solid from start to finish. A very under-rated excellent album.
Bruce: Can't agree with you more. We wanted to go with "She's So Selfish" as a third single. In signing the band, we had to give them complete creative control and management wanted to rush the second album in order to accommodate their touring goals. One of those really unfortunate decisions that hurt so badly.
Alex: Now let's talk about a Harvest band that I consider one of the greatest acts of all time as far as both recording and live performance .. What was your relationship with Duran Duran?
Bruce: I was their original US A&R guy. Getting the Capitol label excited was a challenge and it took some real doing to break them in the US. After several failed singles on two albums, I'd taken Simon and Nick to dinner and told them only a miracle would save "Rio". Nick said, "We'll break in America if it's the last thing we ever do." That miracle came in the form of MTV who finally broke them through with the 'Hungry Like the Wolf" video.
Alex: Then it was hit after hit after hit. Some of Duran Duran's music reminded me of the Beatles. "Is There Something I Should Know" has a guitar riff that's similar to "I Feel Fine" except it's slowed down. Were they consciously doing a sound like the Beatles?
Bruce: Aside from the Beatles as somewhat of an influence, I say there wasn't a great overlap. They had a great sense of melody (and still do). Given their teen appeal, they were another band that for a long time weren't given enough credit for very talented creativity and musicianship.
Alex: You were also involved with Little River Band, Thomas Dolby, Sweet, Kraftwerk, The Motels, Iron Maiden and Missing Persons. Did you work closely with each of those acts?
Bruce Ravid with Missing Persons
Bruce: Every one of them but less with Kraftwerk because they were very independent. I did spend quality time with them in Germany, and what an honor to have worked with guys who became the "godfathers" of electronic music.
Alex: It seems to me every A&R gig is different, depending on the label. How would you describe your job activities as an A&R exec for Capitol and Harvest?
Bruce: In those days, we had product management duties for all of the artists we were responsible for. That was a plus in many ways. We had a positive culture at Capitol but that said, it wasn't automatic that the key departments would be passionate about all of our roster. Signing the band and getting the record made was only the beginning.
Alex: You eventually went on to start your own indie projects, which include your radio show and website where you do interviews with up and coming bands. First of all, tell us about the band you are managing right now called Trapdoor Social.
Bruce: I was never going to manage but this band's talent and personalities convinced me to get involved and I'm glad I did. I call the band artful alternative with depth. Their song "Away" nearly broke all the way through. Early reaction to a new song "Fine On My Own" is very encouraging for this track that was recorded with a marching band.
Alex: Since your last name Ravid rhymes with David, is "Rave" your nickname and is that how your site RavesRaves got its name?
Bruce: The first two bands I signed, The Knack and The Durocs spontaneously started calling me "Rave-Up". Next thing I knew, "Rave-Up" was on my office door at Capitol. People mess up the name Ravid all the time and when it comes to being on the air, "Rave" is so much more festive!
Alex: What can you tell us about your radio show "Go Deep"?
Bruce: It's about discovery and the love of turning people on to great new music. The sound of the show is upbeat and melodic alternative that skews indie rather than mainstream. I'm a second-stage filter, taking that huge list of available music starting to see light of day and culling it down to songs that most deserve a much wider audience.
Alex: How do you decide what to play on your show?
Bruce: I have stations, shows, press and charts that I follow plus as an FMQB and KKBB reporter, I get tons of music from promo people. The most appealing tracks are "promoted" to my iPod for listening during my workouts. In a given week, there are typically 90-100 tracks I want to play of which less than half actually get on the air.
Alex: The show airs in Los Angeles on Indie 103.1 and KX93.5 FM, as well as on your college station in Madison, WSUM. Any chance it will get on more stations in the future?
Bruce: I'd love for it to become nationally syndicated. My plate is really full with my various activities but it's something I definitely want to address in the near future. Thanks for asking.
Alex: I know that airplay on Santa Monica College station KCRW can lead to significant sales. What's your view on the importance of college radio?
Bruce: There are a handful of college like KCRW and KEXP in Seattle that are highly influential but they are mostly staffed by seasoned pros. As a whole, college radio is important as an aggregate. For example, a high chart position on the CMJ 200 might catch the attention of music supervisors. It's a nice stepping stone for baby bands but they need more to succeed on a high level.
Alex: As far as the video interviews you do with indie bands on your site RavesRaves, what do you look for? Here's a photo of you with Drawn From Bees.
Bruce: I have to be extremely passionate about a band and I need to be a minimum of several tracks deep in airplay. Most bands are already on the indie radar as you can see on my interviews page. I have to feel like my listeners are going to want to hear the segment. http://www.godeepmusic.net/interviews.html
Alex: As someone who has been on both sides of the music biz - major and indie - what is your analysis of what's happening with music in the 21st century? Will the majors get bigger or smaller and does indie music have a bright future?
Bruce: I think the majors will find a way to survive as they have up to this point, although maybe not becoming larger. They still pretty much control radio airplay so those kinds of artists probably need to be signed. There will always be a bright path for indie music. The foreseeable future tells me it will continue to be the "wild wild west" with change coming rapidly and in surprising ways.
Alex: Bruce, this has been an extremely fascinating conversation about your A&R career and the music industry. We'll have to do a video interview next time and talk more about artists you've worked with such as the Beach Boys. Here you are with Carl Wilson at WMMS in Cleveland. Any closing thoughts?
Bruce: Loved hanging with Carl that night and the WMMS people made my time living in Cleveland more fun than I could have ever expected. I'm a lucky guy who's very proud of my past but focuses more on the present and future. I just want our industry's key execs to be making decisions for the right reasons rather than for personal agendas or for the stockholders, and I hope the pace of change is making that more and more of a necessity.
Alex: Bruce, thank you so much for this insightful interview. I'm looking forward to visiting you in LA .. This interview appears on this page for the world to share .. http://www.playlistresearch.com/interviews/bruceravid.htm
Bruce: Thanks, Alex! Enjoyed it and looking forward to seeing you here in LA.
Read more Playlist Research Interviews here
© Playlist Research. All rights reserved.