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Excerpts from The Baffler interview with Dave Shouse of The Grifters

April 29, 1993

Grifters: We did the CMJ last fall, in order to meet some people to help us, like a booking agent, which we found, and we are happy with that, it’s low-key. But you inevitably run into those people, those label people, and we were taken out, and given the $150 breakfast. You know, there’s this incredible amount of money that these people throw down from nowhere. Well, it seems to be from nowhere, but you know that there’s some band that got signed six months ago that’s paying for your breakfast, and that’s creepy.

Ten years ago, college radio used to pretty much have a sure hand in guiding bands. Now it’s publicists. And I’ve never seen the shit like I see now … we were in the office of [one label] listening to somebody say, “OK, we’ll buy a half-page ad if you make it [the review] forty-five hundred words.” So much of it is that kind of trade-off.

Baffler: I wonder if what’s going to happen is going to be something like what happened in 1977, major label bought themselves a punk band, and a year later they dropped them all.

Grifters: I think the residuals are not going to be pleasant. I think there are going to be a lot of people that slowly get dropped, probably from initial signing. There’s the big joke about Paw, a band from Lawrence. When all this stuff with Paw was going down, they did a show in Lawrence, and you could not get a plane ticket through a certain airline to fly there the day or night before this thing was going on. We talked to people at Island, Capitol, and Caroline, and they were all joking, because you couldn’t get a ticket. It was a show of about 800 people and there must have been 500 people working with some kind of label or distribution thing. Because at this point it was like a fervor, a frenzy to sign “indie” bands. If you go into it thinking, “Hey, these people are signing indie bands, we’ll be an indie band, and we’ll get signed,” if you go into it like that, you’ll be fucked, there’s no hope.

Within the last couple of years, I’m sure they had a big meeting and they said, “We’ve got to get somebody in here, I don’t care whether they were a college jock, or worked in a record store, or whatever, we’ve got to get somebody in here who’s sympathetic to this level.” So they hire these people. And I don’t say that I’m not going to drink a beer with so-and-so because she works for Varsical [a chemical plant] and they make bad chemicals, because she’s a really nice girl, and this is just her job. It’s the same thing with these A&R people. They get these people who sit there and go, “Look, it’s really going to be OK, because I understand what’s going on.” But the problem is that the “I” who “understands” is on the low end and VETO is up top, making the decisions. I’ve only talked to one major label where the guy who was at the top of the A&R thing made me feel like he was smart and had been around.

The labels hire people that they hope can relate to the bands that they want to go after. And a lot of times they don’t know anything. We talked to one band who were laughing about this girl that came to talk to them. She was with A&M or Atlantic or something like that, and they asked her about what she’d been doing the last couple of years and she started talking about partying with Bon Jovi and things like that. And they’re thinking, “They sent this girl down here and she doesn’t have a clue.” And things like that are the lighter moments of it all, but then you realize just how desperate these labels are for new blood.