John Feldmann is tired of doing it for other people
Many years ago, we here at AP made a present for Big Noise label founder John Feldmann. The leader of pop-punk perennials Goldfinger (who opened the Sex Pistols’ reunion tour) became an in-demand producer for many bands who once graced the cover of our print mag. So we had an ornate plaque made of all those cover stars to give to him. And we’ll tell you, that thing weighed a ton.
Just like Feldmann’s career. Responsible for foisting acts such as the Used, 5 Seconds Of Summer and FEVER 333 into the world, he’s had an instinct for what means something to new-gen listeners. So imagine how we felt when we learned he started a label—Big Noise—and didn’t tell us about it. It was like the softest opening of a new locale for your fave restaurant.
We caught Feldmann in the best way possible: Trapped in metro L.A. traffic. His rapid-fire conversational speed only further ramped up his enthusiasm for Big Noise and the artists he’s working with. Especially the Used, the band who really put him on the map as a mover and shaker. He spoke with Jason Pettigrew about the industry as we know it and where he wants the label to go next.
You have a house filled plenty of Gold and Platinum records that you’ve worked on. You’ve worked for labels both major and independent and know the protocol to determine how to get things done. So why are you just now starting a label?
JOHN FELDMANN: If I signed my first band in 1997, I’ve certainly had a tremendous amount of experience A&R-ing so many projects. It’s like, “Why wouldn’t I?” I’m 52. I have the experience. My partner Jon Cohen started Vagrant Records at BMG for four years. I’ve got someone I trust implicitly on the business end, and I just do what I do: which is to discover young talent. I just see something that’s lightning in a bottle—the Used, 5 Seconds Of Summer—and just go after it as hard as I can. I don’t need the paycheck when I can be doing it myself. With labels owning the [master recordings], why wouldn’t I own the masters with the artist? If I’m funding the whole process, why wouldn’t we split it 50/50 with the artist?
People sign with major labels, and I guess it would be hard for a pop artist to compete with Harry Styles who has millions of dollars in marketing available to him. But that’s not really what I do.
Yes. You’re still flying the flag for guitars.
[Laughs.] I do! I love guitars! There’s more guitars on the radio lately than I’ve heard in a long time. I think this whole movement of Post Malone and Lil Peep and XXX[Tentacion] who, despite having passed away, made music that was driven by reverbed-out guitar riffs. Which is awesome.
You’re looking forward, but you’re also working with your proteges, the Used.
Look, without the Used, I don’t think we’d be talking. The Used were definitely the catalyst that started my career as a producer. Goldfinger had a pretty good run, but we never did become Green Day. Ultimately, the Used are the one band that I knew I could help as a songwriter and as someone who can both arrange music and record music, I knew I could help them. So it is awesome to have come around full circle. There were years that went by where I thought, “Why wouldn’t I have done a label when I first discovered the Used?” [all] those years ago instead of signing them to Warner [Records]. Everything happens for a reason: I don’t look back and think, “Goddamn it, what I should’ve done was...” I always look forward. What’s next?
When I worked for Tom Whalley at Warner [Records], this guy would never talk about the losses. The only focus was on the wins at the label. And it taught me so much about life in general: What do I want to focus on? Because I can focus on how much money my wife spends or how brutal it can be some days being married. Or I can focus [on] how amazing she is with our kids or how completely awesome she is. What do I want to focus on: the resentment or the gratitude? I learned that from Tom.
What’s interesting is that Big Noise has actually been in operation for a year-and-a-half, but you haven’t really talked about it publicly. I find it crazy that if John Feldmann started a record label, people should be on top of that immediately. Were you purposely trying not to go after column inches or hosannas saying “Feldmann’s gonna take over...”?
[Laughs.] If I’m being honest, I’m negligent [to the self-promotion game]. I’m more concerned with how we are growing this thing organically. Our first signing was Ashley Tisdale, which is a bit left of center for me, but she’s been a close friend for so long. We wanted to make a soft start on [the label]. I didn’t know we were going to be signing the Used and New Politics and the Wrecks so quickly. I probably should pay more attention to marketing and promotion! Everything is going really, really great: I don’t want to rock the boat! I want the publicity to be the music coming out of the speakers.
But is starting a label a significant gamble now? There’s at least two generations who grew up never buying a record or a CD. And it seems like no one really cares about the album as a cohesive whole. Hence, bands putting out singles intermittently.
I still believe that a great song is important. Coming up with an amazing lyric that will turn your head and say, “Wait, who’s singing that? Why are they singing that? Do I feel that in my life?” Songs will always be the most important thing.
But now, you can’t get away with filler. No matter how much I can say Let It Be by the Replacements is my favorite album of all time, there are still five fucking terrible songs on that record, at least. You can’t do that anymore. [The Replacements song] “Gary’s Got A Boner” wouldn’t exist these days, for the most part. Legacy acts—like blink-182—[have] fans [who] listen to each album from start to finish because they are such an important band historically. I’m excited to listen to the new Halsey record, with all the interludes and all these guests that she has on the album. But if you’re a new artist, it’s very much track-driven than album-driven these days. It is what it is: It’s not right or wrong. It’s just like people release a certain amount of tracks [digitally], and that becomes half the album.
People still want to go to shows because they want to hear a collection of songs. Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding has broken so many records. And he is something people want to see live. That stuff still matters.
So Big Noise is taking over 2020.
Speaking of stuff that matters, you’re working with the Used again. What’s your plan for them?
There was something missing off their last album. The band’s management felt that there was something we could [do] for them, not just collaborating musically, but in a business sense. We are going to bring this band back into the forefront of modern music—whether it is Spotify or KROQ.
Last question. What stops you from being jaded?
Oooh… There are a lot of people who want me to answer that question by saying, “Too late.” I have a really diligent morning routine I do every day. There are days I want to give up, sure. But I wake up, say “I love you” to my wife. I take a cold shower because I wake up exhausted. I go either running or boxing every day because it puts me in the mindset of what’s the next artist I can sign or what is the next great song I can write. How can I record a drum set differently than I have been for the last few years?
You’ve referred to yourself as “dad,” but I think you’re making sure you don’t keep yourself under a rock.
I’ve always wondered, “How do I keep looking forward?” How many times have we heard “the music business is over,” especially when people were just ripping MP3s off CDs? We were told Napster was going to destroy everything, and now record companies are making more money than they have in 20, 30 years. Who am I to say something that is so hopeless and over really seems so exciting and new?