Interview :: BJ Olin

BJ Olin is an artist manager with Red Light Management in L.A. 14 years ago we had a history class together at Texas Tech University. A few years after that he became one of my closest of friends and mentors in the music business. Together we ran all over Texas promoting shows for artists big and small. We managed some bands and dreamed big dreams. While his path has taken him on a round-about course, all this time later he’s still grinding it out for the artists on his roster – only on a little larger scale than we dreamed of back then.


Ryan: I know that every day, week, month is different, but for those who don’t know, what are some key things that keep you busy on a recurring basis?

BJ: Really just handling every single aspect of a client’s career whether it’s a tour and the things that happen on a tour. Ideally an artist has a tour manger that handles things that happen on the road, but things can always get changed on an instant and I can get called in by the tour manager. So, planning the tour. Planning producers, writers or the album process. And now I have two clients act as well, so those types of meetings. Like you said it, no two days are the same.

Ryan: So, what is the client list now?

BJ: Allen Stone, a hip-hop artist named Jinx who is down here in L.A. shooting the video for his single, a Swedish artist named Tingsek who has toured with Willie Nelson. He was on Universal Sweden for three albums and they just didn’t know what to do with him.

I have this girl named Jackie Tohn. She’s a female singer-songwriter and I’m not a big fan of that sort of plan or strategy but she acts, she’s funny, she’s got a great voice, killer songwriter. So we started working on this play that she wrote and so what we envisioned was sort of her having this play that was sort of funny and self-deprecating that has music engrained in it. We wanted the music to be radio-friendly in and of itself but to still work within the storyline.

Ryan: How would you define “success” (for an artist) today? Is it different for everybody? You may disagree with me, but I always felt like back in the day it was all about the record deal. Get the record deal and you’re set and the label will take over and move everything forward for you and now that’s absolutely not the case.

BJ: I don’t know that I’ve ever thought that the record deal defined success. I think even 10 years ago that it was just a crapshoot whether or not you got signed to a major label – whether getting signed based on talent or your having a massive fanbase. You never knew if the label was going to get it right – if they were going to handle you properly or if it was going to work at all.

It’s sort of safer and more healthy now just thinking that success is defined as “I’m supporting myself.” “I have a full-time job doing music” whatever that means. Actually, Allen [Stone] was the first person to say that where I was like “oh yeah, I like how he worded that” like “I just want to be able to do music full time.” And that’s breaking an artist if they can just do music full time and make a living.

Ryan: I think it’s hard because a lot of folks who had a label deal and then were let go – I think it has to be a shot to the pride (if not the bottom line) to still be supporting yourself. And I’ve heard stories of artists who had record deals who were still selling pizza when they weren’t on tour [to make ends meet].

BJ: Personally, I know a number of a close friends of mine who have been in that scenario. A former client of mine, Jon McLaughlin – he signed to Island Def Jam with a very competitive record deal at the time. And the label got it wrong. He didn’t really have a major fan base and they wanted to make him into this Disney, soccer mom, Abercrombie-type thing… way more pop-leaning. And at the time he was very edgy. Potentially the next Billy Joel – one of the most amazing piano players I’ve ever seen even to this day. Then, to his detriment, he was in a system where L.A. Reid was not going to drop him. L.A. Reid dropped Lady Gaga who went on to be the biggest artist on the planet so he wasn’t going to drop anyone else. So [Jon] was sort of trapped until L.A. Reid left and went over to Epic. All that to say, getting dropped is not always the worst thing possible.

Ryan: So, if getting dropped is not always the worst thing, then how can that play out for an artist’s benefit?

BJ: A lot of times, if your on a label for even one album, if you gain momentum on someone else’s pocketbook and then you get dropped it’s not the worst thing that could happen. That was the case with Barcelona before we parted ways. We thought: let’s roll out a plan in case they decide to drop us. Like, let’s assume they are going to drop us – which is fine – let’s just go. You know we spent 2-3 years building this on our own then a year on the label. Let’s just benefit from the resources (granted, minimal resources) and steam we picked up in that year and just keep going. You know, they ended up letting me go and then waited at least two years to put out that next record?

It’s tricky because once you start the momentum, it’s harder to recreate it and get started again rather than to keep going. If the scale is to 100 and 100 is the biggest act and you’re at 20 or 30 then you take two years off…

With Allen [Stone’s] record, we self-released it and regardless of the fact that it wasn’t going to sell hundreds of thousands of units, we wanted to have a seamless transition from this record cycle to the next. There needs to be a little bit of a break where you just let the fans breathe. Like in a baseball game where there’s this clutch double. The next batter doesn’t step immediately up to the plate. You know the crowd’s going insane and so you just sort of let the moment breathe.

Ryan: Part of it for you guys was releasing that album then, what was it 12-18 months later getting distribution?

BJ: That was not necessarily the plan. We knew when we were making it that this is not “the one”. This is the foundation we are laying and the next one is really going to knock it out of the park. So we just went ahead and self-released it sort of on a whim because Jimmy Kimmel was talking about booking him for the fall but they weren’t certain when, so we wanted to go ahead and get it out there [before that.] We ended up doing Kimmel the following March.

So we released it on iTunes and to my surprise we had the big banner on the R&B page. Then the “Unaware” video went viral which was totally unexpected. Then the album was #2 on R&B the day after we released it. So the next day I emailed my friend Molly who is the assistant to… the guy who books Conan. And I said “look, I’ve known you for years and I’ve never asked you for this favor, but I’m gonna ask for it now. I want to pitch Allen for Conan.” And I told her everything that’s going on. [She agreed and I emailed him with what’s going on.] Literally 20 minutes after I emailed him, he emailed me back and said “I have to book this…” We ended up playing Conan on Oct 26 and that was like the tipping point so to speak. And there have been a handful of those along the way.

Ryan: So with that, there are probably a handful of fans that have been with Allen for a long time who are really hungry for something new, but in a sense, you’ve been constantly relaunching would you say?

BJ: Yeah, I mean we re-released it almost a year ago at the end of July last year. So I think that when January/February rolled around last year we had a lot labels wanting to sign him and we just didn’t feel like it was the right time yet. You know it was a lot of labels wanted to basically buy the masters of this record, work this album, and then have this album working into the next one. But I thought it was very important for Allen to own these masters for his entire life. Since we believed this wasn’t going to be “the one”, I was like “any new fans we garner on the next record when you break through to radio, they’re going to go back and buy your back catalog and your going to own all that.” So it was a real long-term strategy and that’s going to be a steady stream of income for him for years to come.

And so, you know ATO [Records] felt good because they are related to Red Light [Management], they are Dave Matthews label. It was a situation where Allen owned the masters and they helped us sell the record. And to their credit they revived what was really a dead record. We were doing probably… 200 records a week… and now we’re close to tripling where we were a year ago.

Twin Forks: Tour EP vol. 1

About a week ago I was doing some research and landed on the site of a band called Augustana (a site that has since changed). There was an out-dated blurb in their news feed from April that said something to the effect of “Our old friend Chris Carrabba (of Dashboard Confessional) has a new band called Twin Forks. Check them out.” I did. And I was shocked.

I’ve long been familiar with the emo stylings of DC. And while I’ve known of it forever, I’ve only recently furthered my awareness of Chris’ original band, FSF, with whom he recently reunited. So, it probably goes without saying that neo-folk music was not what I was expecting. And, while I’ve been out of the loop, the band (Chris Carrabba, Suzie Zeldin, Jonathan Clark, and Ben Homola) have been getting their fair share of indie press in the wake of a performance at SXSW.

They’ve got an EP out and if you’ll wade through my thoughts on it, then I’ll let you know how you can get a copy of your own.

Back to You: When I first heard this, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Banjos? Mandolins? Tambourine? Definitely something different. I love the group vocals on the original recording. The harmonies in the video below leave something to be desired but – considering it was only their second “show” I’ll cut them some slack. That, plus the harmonies are so tight that if your monitors are off, then I would think it would be difficult to nail.

Scraping Up the Pieces: I love this track because it sounds like an Irish bar song. In a landscape overrun with the neo-folk revivalists (i.e. Lumineers, Mumford), Carrabbas vocals are a welcomed change. The driving drumbeat propels the track and the chant-along vocals make for a real “communal” experience.

And She Was: This is a Talking Heads cover, but to my knowledge I’ve never heard it. That said, it has a haunting familiarity. The chord structure has a very late-50s-early-60s feel to it. It is the most like what we’ve heard from Carrabba’s previous work, but still wholly different.

Hard Times: A Gillian Welch cover? Ok, we can be friends. Not the best G. Welch cover I’ve ever heard (we’ll give that to The New Frontiers’ rendition of Miss Ohio”), but a fine offering nonetheless. It is so sparse and showcases the classic Carrabba vulnerability that we love.

So here’s the best part: You can get this EP for free just by sending an email to – so get on it.

Interview :: Henry Rollins

The work of Henry Rollins has left an indelible mark on my life from my first reading of his book, Solipsist, back in college. For a long time I’ve wished for the opportunity to interview him and I finally have the stage and the questions to do so. It is a true honor to share this with you.

If you don’t know Rollins by name or on sight, look him up on IMDB or YouTube – listen at your own discretion.


Ryan: You are a veritable encyclopedia of music knowledge, but now that albums are being released at record pace, how are you wading through it all? Are you looking for new music? Are you finding any?

Henry: I know some about music. There is, of course, a lot to know. Many years ago, I stopped trying to know it all and instead [try to] be open to listening and enjoying. Perhaps my favorite frustration is that there is so much good music being made, that has been made and that will be made, I will not get to nearly a small fraction of it. I wonder if I will get to all the music I have currently. I try to listen to five records a day. Most of the time, it’s more like one to three. I am talking about music that is new to my ears. Tonight, I listened to Ben Reynolds, Vapaa, Evenomist and Hive Mind. I don’t think I will get to any more. So, yes, I am finding too much. A lot of the musicians that I listen to are insanely prolific, like dozens of records, sometimes a dozen a year. So, it’s a different kind of listening. A lot of these records I will probably only get to once.

Ryan: Do you feel like the lowered barrier to entry into the music business is good or bad for the art? the artists? the fans? the business?

Henry: I think that it cuts at least two ways. I am finding that there is a lot of great music happening because you can record cheaply and make it sound good, so people are taking chances and exploring their potential. I think this is great. With a lot of wheat comes a lot of chaff. I like the idea of young people making music. It doesn’t have to come out or even be heard by many people. I just think it’s a good thing for someone young to do.

Ryan: You once referred to being a “rock n roll ninja” [meaning that you do a whole lot of work, but it’s mostly under the radar and the vast majority of people don’t know about it]. Do you see those ranks growing as established artists leave long term record deals and carry their smaller (but far more loyal) fans down the independent pathway?

Henry: I think a lot of bands and artists realized they were on a cotton farm and that they could get a farm of their own. This is great. I am happy to see these huge labels lose to things like a real love of music, integrity, etc. Let them bleed out.

Ryan: With the rise of the so-called “Millenial Generation”, ease of entry, rash of reality programming, and social media have you noticed a growing entitlement mindset amongst up and coming artists?

Henry: Honestly, I go out of my way to not meet artists, actors, and the like. If I am working with them, that’s fine but I am not looking to meet a band. I’ll pay for a ticket and buy the albums but don’t need to hang out. So, I don’t know what a lot of young musicians are like these days. Shows I see are great, so I have been having good luck with all that. Saw J Mascis rip it instrumental last week and the Stooges the week before and they were good as well.

Ryan: Is there less of a drive [for new artists] to “grind it out” night after night, living out of the back of a van than there once was? Is that even realistic anymore?

Henry: As far as the tours that take months and months, some bands do them. I did 190 shows / 19 countries last year. Not many people tour like that perhaps. I always have, that’s how I make it real, I just don’t do anything else. It goes from being a tour to being your life. I don’t think there has to be any one way of doing anything. If someone wants to play three shows a year, why not?

Ryan: In a previous interview with a producer who works in Christian music we discussed how “Christian” artists are often able to step away from their art gracefully (or at least take more time between releases) because their work has a bigger “purpose/vision”. Whereas, artists who just make music have to keep getting out there and making more product because they don’t know what else to do, even if the product isn’t good anymore. Of course the former extends beyond religion and I would look at this as perhaps Bono vs. Mick Jagger. You’ve talked of your need to be on the stage, but you clearly have found purpose in what you do whether it is raising awareness for hunger or encouraging listeners to take action (voting, reading, seeing a broader view of the world). Does this idea resonate with you?

Henry: I think a lot of those people don’t have a plan b. They have the Rock or whatever and that’s them. I think it’s boring. You really want to sing Satisfaction for the rest of your life? What, can’t figure out how to play it? I think there comes a point where some people stop daring themselves. I have never reached that point. I have gone the other way and it’s great. The idea of sitting with a bunch of bandmates, about to go out and do 30 year old music, that which has already been summitted, it’s nothing I want to do. I would rather take my chances on the Sea of Consequence. To each their own.

Ryan: Do you see a lot of people hanging on to fairly dead careers because they have nothing else?

Henry: Perhaps. It’s not for me to judge what others are doing. I must deal with myself. That’s the bitch of the thing, as Hemingway would say. I have no competition besides myself. That’s the most frustrating adversary I have ever found. I seek to push myself and see where things break. This is why I do solo shows now. It’s just me. There’s no back up, no camaraderie, none of that. There’s just one man, one microphone, one shot. I live alone and spend a great deal of time on my own. I am not against people, quite the opposite but I just do most things alone. Perhaps I do all these different things and travel all over because it is I who have nothing else.

Ryan: Do you speak out because you feel a responsibility to your audience, or just because you’re passionate about the topics?

Henry: I owe my audience the truth as best as I can put it out there. I feel a responsibility to try to meet them at their level of integrity. They deserve nothing less. I speak out about things because I am genuinely angry about things. It’s not out of responsibility, you would be able to see that I was phoning it in from a mile away. No, I have to be into it and when I am, I can floor it.

Ryan: Do you feel that all artists have this responsibility?

Henry: My opinion is that these artists must make these decisions for themselves. There’s no rule book, no code to be followed. If Poison wants to go onstage and sing about girls and having a good time for two hours, I say why not? There’s plenty of room. I have a code and a set of rules for myself but they don’t extend past me.

Ryan: Do you see anyone around you handling it exceptionally well?

Henry: Handling what? The present? Political stuff? Tom Morello, Ben Harper, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Chrissie Hynde, Natalie Maines, Patti Smith, Ian MacKaye, Chuck D. People like that are standing up for a lot of good things.


I can’t overstate how awesome it is to have had this opportunity and I have to thank Henry’s publicity team for making it happen.

If you’re unfamiliar with Rollins’ work, please take the time to get to know him. His latest book release is called Before the Chop. It is a collection of articles that he wrote for LA Weekly– check it out.

Jay-Z: Magna Carta Holy Grail

Release Date: July 9, 2013

In any game, there are at least 3 ways to play:

  1. Fear of Losing – Play it safe, don’t rustle any feathers, just survive.
  2. Fear of Never Winning – Put it all on the line, take strategic risks, if it fails then it’s all over.
  3. No Fear of Ever Losing – Freedom to take creative artistic risks, but maybe lose that drive that propelled the former models.

There are very few who are immune to eventually arriving at model #3, given significant success at stage #2.

I began listening to Jay-Z at that stage 2 breakthrough moment on his near-flawless The Blueprintalbum. He’d had some success to that point within the genre, but The Blueprint propelled him into pop culture and marked the beginning of his rise to “mogul” status. That was an all-or-nothing, go big or go home, leave it all on the court effort. It pushed the limits of the genre and had cross-over appeal but still had a street relevance and relied on Jay doing what he does best – spitting the best flow in the game.

I simply can’t hate on that transition to the No Fear model. I’m proud for artists to achieve that status where they have creative artistic freedom. But for Jay, “rapper” has become one of many hyphenates in his title. Gone are the days of relying on the success of the album. If the album fails, he has nothing to worry about other than some bad press. In my opinion, it is that desperate dependence that fuels an artist and propels them to greatness. When that is gone, sometimes the heart leaves the process.

On Magna Carta… Holy Grail, Hov stretches his legs in terms of artistic creativity while still doing what he does best, better than most everyone out there. Sonically, the album feels like a blend of The Black Album and The Blueprint 3– both of which had their high points and definitely surpassed the lackluster albums that came between them. Jay’s delivery is on point. The failure, to me, is in content – and it isn’t even fair to call that a failure. He’s being true to himself, it’s just that his self has become so distanced from where he once was.

The lead track, “Holy Grail” features Justin Timberlake beautifully oozing heartache. Some folks want to harangue artists for whining about the difficulties that come with celebrity – “I got haters in the paper / photo-shoots from paparazzi / can’t even take my daughter for a walk”. Strangely, I have some sympathy for this. Did they ask for success? Sure. Are they hoping for fame? Yes. But celebrities are people, too, and they do deserve the freedom to live real lives. I think that the track wins, not for shining a light on the plight of the artist in the spotlight, but for calling out the public for being here today, gone tomorrow.

To me, none of the other tracks are really stand-out, break through tracks. The production lacks the familiarity of The Blueprint (i.e. the old samples that Kanye West brought to it). I don’t know what to expect from track to track, which keeps me on edge and keeps me from just enjoying it. When Jay references the past or pays homage to his early work, it just feels like he is clowning himself. When he tells me I “can’t knock the hustle”, I just think “you haven’t had to hustle in the last 10 years.”

What made those early records great (and much of rap music for that matter) was/is its aspirational quality. It was all about a vision of success and a yearning, striving, never-say-die attitude to achieving that dream. It was the music of the everyman. Now, to hear the music that comes once that dream has been fulfilled is, in a way, very alienating. We’ve gone from saying “I want a bad ass car/house/champagne” to name checking brands and designers that are so expensive even rich people haven’t heard of them.

Like I said earlier, he’s being true to himself and that’s great. But I have to think that to hear him go out and play “Hard Knock Life” today would almost feel like karaoke – and that’s a bit sad to me. So I have to go back to the JT duet and (in a way) sympathize, because I have to believe that it really is lonely at the top.

Artist of the Month :: Chris Thile

Chris Thile (pronounced “thee-lee”). If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s not because you’re out of the loop. Nor is it because he’s completely obscure. Widely regarded as one of the best at his craft (mandolin), Thile just happens to reside within one of the lesser-visited sub-genres: Bluegrass. But even to paint him into that corner is not quite fair, for what he does stretches far beyond the banjo and washboard routine.

While you may not know him by name, you’ve probably heard at least something from one of his bands – Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers, Goat Rodeo Sessions… but you’re more likely to have heard it in Starbucks rather than on the radio. All in all, Thile has released 18 albums in the last 20 years (not bad for a guy who is only 32) and is readying his latest release (Bach: Sonatas and Partitas) for August 6.

Thile began playing mandolin at age five and at twelve won the national mandolin championship and released his first album with Sean and Sara Watkins as Nickel Creek. The next year he released his first solo effort, Leading Off. Two more albums were released in the late ’90s, one solo and one group effort.

At the dawn of the 2000’s, Nickel Creek offered their breakthrough, self-titled, major label debut. Thile followed this with his own, Not All Who Wander Are Lost. The band’s releases would prove to be more mainstream, radio-ready fare. Thus, their work – in particular, 2002’s This Side – would garner more attention than Chris’ solo work. In fact, This Side peaked at #2 on the Billboard Country Music Chart. This was my first introduction to Thile’s work as we played it in heavy rotation at Starbucks during my early days there.

This Side is a nearly flawless record and I will review it in depth at a later date. For now, go out and listen to “Spit on a Stranger“, “Hanging by a Thread“, and “House Carpenter“. While each track is individually great, I would hope that they would help to dissuade you of any misgivings you may possess regarding the genre as a whole.

Thile and Nickel Creek each released another album (Deceiver and Why Should the Fire Die?, respectively) before the band called it quits in 2006. In writing this, I discovered that the Watkins siblings went on to play in a group called Works Progress Administration, that will require further investigation. Sara Watkinshas released two solo records to date. Sean released several solo works over the years, but has found his most wide recognition partnering with Jon Foreman of Switchfoot as the duo Fiction Family.

In 2006, Chris Thile released his own breakthrough solo album, How to Grow a Woman from the Ground, filled with his characteristic wit, charm, and broken-heartedness. While this is technically a solo record, the live touring of it gave birth to a group of musicians who originally referred to themselves as the “How to Grow a Woman Band.” In 2008, the collective (fronted by Thile) would release their debut record under the moniker Punch Brothers, an aptly titled record – Punch.

Over the years since, Punch Brothers (Thile, Gabe Witcher, Noam Pikelny, Chris Eldridge, and Paul Kowert) have released two more records. While their instrumentation is decidedly bluegrass, their song structures have taken on a classical sensibility in form and structure.

Not satisfied with one successful band, in 2011 Thile teamed up with (arguably) the best stringed instrument players in the world – Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Edgar Meyer (upright bass), and Stuart Duncan (fiddle) – to release the album Goat Rodeo Sessions. The album won the 2013 Grammy for Best Folk Album.

Thile’s next album may prove to be a complete departure from anything we’ve heard before… or it may be the obvious next step on the road he’s been going down. Fully bridging the gap between bluegrass and classical, his upcoming August release will be selection of Bach, on mandolin. Here’s a preview.

Hillsong Worship: Glorious Ruins

Release Date: July 2, 2013

One of the perks of being a music journalist is that sometimes I’m given a record that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own that really surprises me. This is one of those cases.

Like everyone else, I’m aware of Hillsong—although I don’t know much about all the different iterations such as Live, United, etc. (However, if you haven’t listened to Hillsong Kiev, you’re missing out on something really interesting.) All that to say, I like what they do, but I’ve never really sought them out.

I’ve started lumping worship leaders/records into one of two camps: “Cheerleaders” and “Tour Guides.” Cheerleaders quickly and easily invite participation from their listeners. Their songs are built on simple chord structures; lyrics are memorable and straight-forward. Tour Guides are more apt to lead their audience on a journey that may be less participatory and more “let me show you and remind you of what God is doing.” Their songs may be a bit more moody or musically advanced. Neither one is better than the other (though cheerleader songs may be more transferrable to any given church environment), really they both serve a great purpose depending on where the audience is at spiritually and emotionally.

This is most definitely a cheerleader record, and I love it for that. Throughout the entire album there is a significant use of syth and keys which gives the whole collection a bit of an 80’s vibe in places—not that that is a bad thing in any way. Of course there are plenty of guitar-led songs.

The album opens with the foot on the gas pedal, driving drums, and crowd singing along on “Always Will.” And, while there are a few scaled-back songs, the sonic impact never really lets up. Nearly every song is stadium, anthem rock-ready for a crowd of 20,000+. What’s great is that each of them can easily be scaled back to a room of 20. (And if that is your crowd, may I suggest the Hillsong Chapel series.)

If there’s a misstep at all, it is on the title track which—to me—feels a little wordy. Other songs that start slow, eventually make the turn to memorable. Part of that could be the fact that there’s a crowd full of engaged folks singing along.

Three songs really stand out from the others. “Closer” is a great kickstart of a song. For a more mellow approach, check out “Where the Spirit of the Lord is.” It’s structure and instrumentation is reminiscent of early Delirious?.

“Christ is Enough” instantly catapulted into the upper echelon of worship songs for me (alongside Vicky Beeching’s “Deliverer” and Phil Wickham’s “You’re Beautiful”). Structurally, it reminds me of Passion’s rendition of “Jesus Paid It All.” Passion augmented a familiar hymn with a new, inspiring bridge, whereas Hillsong accents their original song with a re-invention of “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”

The standard album contains 12 tracks. There is, however, a “Deluxe Version” with a total of 15 songs and a 30 minute message which I didn’t get to hear.  They have also released a companion DVD that mirrors the songs and sermon from the Deluxe Version.

Here is the incredibly well-produced trailer for the album/DVD.