Interview with Andy Curran – A&R at SRO/Anthem

What Canadian rock trio has sold 40 million albums while consistently selling out arenas for nearly 30 years? Hint: They’re also getting ready to release their 19th full-length album later this year. There can only be one answer…the mighty RUSH, of course! Andy Curran works as the “A&R guy” for SRO/Anthem in Toronto and RUSH is hands-down the biggest act he works with. I met Andy about a decade ago at a Tea Party concert…another fantastic Canadian rock trio! When asked if he would be interested in answering a few questions for One Louder Magazine, Andy did not hesitate. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule, Andy!

One Louder Magazine: What are some of your earliest musical memories?

Andy Curran:  I have two very vivid ones. My dad used to play acoustic guitar and sing songs with us just before bedtime. They were usually old, British, pub-type songs with lots of laughing…just really silly, funny stuff.

Also, my older sisters were very big fans of The Beatles and The Monkees. They had a portable record player with built-in speakers and they’d crank the same songs endlessly in their bedroom. We had a very big family – six kids – so my brothers and I would “play” tennis racquets as guitars and the girls had go-go boots on and would dance on their beds…it was a blast! We had a band and dancers way before the Partridge family! We would also listen to AM hit radio on tiny little transistor radios in the backyard while lying on towels soaking up the sun and running through sprinklers. Really wholesome fun and those songs and memories are engraved in my head now.

OLM: So what happened during your adolescent years, between your childhood musical memories and your current gig at SRO/Anthem? What was the desire to continue in the music/entertainment industry?

AC: I got a Hofner Beatles bass for my 17th birthday and was obsessed with music and read Cream, Rolling Stone and Circus Magazine religiously. I wanted to learn any and all bass lines out of sheer sport! The more concerts I saw, the more I wanted to be up on stage. The Edgar Winter Group/Bad Company concert was the clincher for me. Years later, when I made it to the Maple Leaf Gardens stage in Toronto, I was on cloud nine! I was pretty much self-taught, all by ear and with the help of my bass teacher, Scott McCloud. Sadly, to this day, I can’t read music. I know my fret board, but put a piece of paper in front of me and I’m lost.

OLM: You’ve worked at SRO/Anthem since 2004 as an A&R guy. What does that mean? Were you hired at SRO/Anthem specifically for A&R or did you work your way up? Tell us your history.

AC: The president of the company – Ray Danniels – and I have been friends since 1982. He managed my first band, Coney Hatch, and signed us to Anthem Records, so I’m back where I started!! We spoke about working together off and on for decades after the Hatch broke up. I had several bands after that and a few U.S. record deals that eventually led me into producing and mixing other projects.

Pegi Cecconi, the Vice President of Anthem, is also a longtime friend and was instrumental in my working at Anthem. My job was to not only help bring in new clients, but to assist at Anthem Records with current clients, work with RUSH and develop new talent with the label, as well. I was fortunate enough to be offered the full-time A&R position…no making coffee or answering phones! It was my first “real” job outside of 20-plus years being a full-time musician/songwriter/producer.

OLM: What does your day-to-day operation entail?

AC: I wear two hats minimum on the best of days. One is management and the other is label.  As far as my day-to-day goes, a lot of it is instinctual and second nature from being in the business for years. Ray and Pegi have been instrumental in walking me through the early years on the other side of the desk. Their experience is incredible and I’ve learned so much from them. I hope that maybe some of my experience might rub off on some of the younger artists I work with, as well. I have high expectations for myself and I think that quality can be infectious.

With the management hat on, I just need to shake the cup and a different set of challenges face me each and every day. This could be anything from booking a tour with our various RAs or agents, working with road crews, working with other labels, approving photos, budgets, video treatments, merchandise, websites and more…you name it, we deal with it. Of course, dealing, meeting and/or touring with the artists and bands directly takes up a huge portion of my job.

On the label side, that’s pretty much RUSH 90% of the time. Anthem also signed Steven Page [ex-founding member of the Barenaked Ladies] recently. We have a few more releases coming up, as well. I deal with bands’ studio bookings, producer selection and liaison, engineers, mixing, mastering and approvals, etc. Most of the issues that are creative usually snake their way to my desk. Currently that team for RUSH is Nick Raskulinecz and Rich Chycki. For Steven Page it was John Fields.

Rockband, Guitar Hero, Apple, the RUSH iPhone App, ring tones, and www.rush.com have all been under my umbrella. I’ve had to educate myself to stay ahead of the curve with some of these things, yet other areas seem like extensions of how I was handling these issues in my own bands. I’ve also become the point person for most of the companies that have endorsement deals with our artists, such as Gibson guitars, DW Drums, Tech 21, Traynor Amplifiers  and Sennheiser to name a few. In a strange twist, my job has kind of morphed into being front-and-center in maintaining corporate partnerships with a lot of these brands and products, as well.

Oh, and I’m Vice President of Hockey Operations!!

OLM: How did you get involved with RUSH? Were you a fan of the band before coming on board?

AC: I’ve been friends with Geddy for years. We played tennis together which led to meeting guitarist Alex Lifeson. Eventually my solo band opened for RUSH on the Roll the Bones Tour. It was a very easy transition with them as we were friends first. However, I do pinch myself all the time when I’m with the guys, as I was a really big fan of the band growing up; I even bought a Rickenbacker bass because of Geddy!!!

However, with RUSH I don’t really think the true definition of A&R exists with them. They know what they want. I offer suggestions, but those guys are in cruise control and know exactly what they want. I try to administer their wishes by assembling a great team of producers, engineers and studios. As a fellow musician, I instinctively have their backs, so I’m on guard 24/7 to make sure that anything that comes across my desk for them is first class. They deserve that. In fact, all of our acts deserve that.

OLM: Another leg of RUSH’s Time Machine tour just kicked off. What goes into prepping for these huge tours? What do you do leading up to the tour kick-off?

AC: I worked on some great partnerships with Gibson and DW Drums for some radio promos. I also worked day-to-day with the webmasters of www.rush.com to launch a new site for the tour and a few other projects based around the tour that I can’t announce…you know, top secret stuff!!

OLM: RUSH live are ridiculously precise. Have they ever “messed up” or had to start a song over? Ever?!

AC: I’ve never seen them have to start a song over, but I did witness a gear meltdown in Boston last year that forced the band to improvise (more than usual) until Alex had his guitar signal back. They are insanely consistent, super-human…like an elite athlete. That level of musicianship is amazing to watch up close.

OLM: RUSH have sold approximately 40 million records and been selling out arenas for approximately 30 years. Their 19th full-length album, Clockwork Angels, is scheduled for release sometime in 2011. What is your role with a band’s new release? With the proven history and staying power that RUSH has, what can you still provide them?

AC: As a label we are staunchly loyal, so they know we have their backs in whatever direction they decide to go in. Whatever they throw at me, I try to make it happen. Even after seven years at the company, I’m still the new guy. Because of this, I believe I can offer a fresh perspective, possibly a slightly younger skew on things. I pride myself on keeping my eye on anything (or anyone) new that can add something to an already great band.

OLM: RUSH is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame even though they have been eligible since 1998. Why?

AC: My take on it is this: they’ve never compromised themselves in any way…they’ve done everything their way since day one. And perhaps that may have rubbed some people the wrong way. I love it because it’s come full circle all these years later and it’s hip to like RUSH now. They’re still in the driver’s seat and (with all due respect) I don’t think it’s ever been high on their list to be in the Hall of Fame. From where I sit, it’s been about music, friendship and their fans.

OLM: You’ve heard many of RUSH’s songs multiple times. Are there any songs that you would be happy to never hear again? Are there any songs that “do it” for you every time you hear them, even after hearing them a bunch of times?

AC: Before I started at Anthem, I think I’d seen RUSH more than any other band. Like I said, I was a real die-hard fan, dating back to their debut record. I was at Massey Hall for the All the World’s a Stage recording. I love anything from 2112. Caravan and BU2B from the upcoming Clockwork Angels release kick like the old days and Camera Eye [from Moving Pictures] blew my mind nightly. I really like Caress of Steel, too. Oh, and I also love the Cheech & Chong song [Earache My Eye] they tack on the encore!!

OLM: So what would you consider your favorite RUSH song and album?

AC: My favorite RUSH song is Anthem…not because I work there, though. My favorite RUSH album is a toss-up between A Farewell to Kings and 2112.

OLM: Do you have some favorite Rush stories to share?

AC: I once received a cold call from the Foo Fighters camp inviting Neil, Geddy and Alex to play with them at the ACC in Toronto. Watching Ged and Al play YYZ with Taylor is one for sure!

Opening up for RUSH on the Roll the Bones tour, too! They had a bottle of champagne in our dressing room with a note wishing us luck…very classy. That’s how they are today, even after all these years.

Another favorite memory was being in the studio with RUSH, watching them bang through some covers for the Feedback record; being a fly on the wall was pretty special. It was the first time I realized, “wow, I think these guys might just like me!”

OLM: What was the biggest nightmare you’ve had to deal with in your professional career? How did you overcome it?

AC: Dealing with Ian Thornley’s ex-record label head. When you have someone at a label that has a bigger ego than the artist, it’s a recipe for disaster. I’ve encountered this before, but NEVER at this level. If I could have dealt with the individual who signed him exclusively, that deal would still be in place today. I’m positive about that. I overcame it by doing everything in my power to get him away from a toxic relationship and offered him some new opportunities to try and extend his career.

My parents taught me that if you have nothing good to say about something or someone, then don’t say anything at all. I’ll stop here.

OLM: What is the biggest challenge for you on a day-to-day basis?

AC: Managing personalities and keeping a calm, level head. Letting an act go or accepting failure are also challenging. I’ve had a long career prior to working here and it was due to persistence. Saying it’s over doesn’t come easy to me. Neither does giving up on something. Finding new ways to keep artists alive in an ever-shrinking music business is also difficult.

OLM: What do you like most about working in the music industry? What is your least favorite aspect of working in the music industry?

AC: I’m still a big fan of music, so I love discovering something new and watching it grow. We have a new band called THE REASON that just went #3 on rock radio in Canada; it’s fun watching that climb. The creative parts keep me connected.

As stated earlier, my least favorite part of working in the music industry is dealing with certain personalities. I can’t really tell people to go fuck themselves. It’s not how I do biz and it’s not good for politics or long-term relationships. Most importantly, it’s not good for the artist(s) we represent. But there are many days when I want to!!! Patience is my middle name now.

OLM: What are your post-Rush plans?

AC: I have loads of work between Steven Page, Ian Thornley, The Reason, Brody Dalle and Dearly Beloved. I have lots to keep me hopping.

OLM: What other bands have you worked with?

AC: The Tea Party was a big one for me. I really enjoyed most of my time with that band. The band breaking up was a tough chapter. I’ve lost track of how many bands I personally formed, played in, produced, etc…just a blur.

OLM: I love The Tea Party!! There have been rumors of them getting back together. Do you think there is any chance of that happening? Why or why not?

AC: As lead vocalist/guitarist, Jeff Martin says, “never say never”. I think it’ll happen one day. [According to The Tea Party’s official facebook page, the band has several Summer shows already booked and possibly more on the way!]

OLM: Are there any bands out there that you would like to work with? Who and why? Do you only work with Canadian bands?

 AC: I’d love to put Mika together with the remaining members of Queen. I think that would be a killer lineup. I’d love to assemble a new team for Shania Twain that doesn’t include her ex-husband and get her back up to the top again. I think if Eddie Van Halen did an all-instrumental guitar album, he could stand the world on its head. I really dig Peaches, Deadmau5 and Rammstein, too. SRO/Anthem has worked with (and still works with) international bands; we have no borders in our office!!

Oh, and I’d personally love to do a record with Robin Zander of Cheap Trick. I have a bunch of songs I wrote, many with 12-string bass. I’m waiting ….patiently!! It will happen one day. We’d make a great team.

OLM: What are some of your hobbies? What do you like to do outside of the office on your ‘play time’?

AC: I’m a massive fan of hockey! I skate two times a week when not traveling and the Chicago Blackhawks are an obsession. Tennis and hanging with my wife and two daughters are what keeps me sane and grounded. My girls love music, so I get to listen to a lot of artists I’d never normally …uhhhh…listen to…

OLM: The desert island question: if you could take the collected works of five artists, who would the five be?

AC: Tom Petty, AC/DC, Bob Marley, ZZ Top and something really mellow and trippy like Thievery Corporation or Mark Isham.

OLM: Who is your guilty listening pleasure?

AC: We No Speak Americano performed by Yolanda Be Cool and DCUP…the production is killer!

OLM: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Andy…last question! How can people find out more information about you, your line of work, Rush and/or other bands you work with?

AC: www.anthementertainmentgroup.com

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