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They Sure Figured Something Out : Jimmy Iovine and Ted Field have broken all the rules at Interscope Records and it's paid off--they're the hottest act in the business. : What's their secret? Don't be afraid of the two "Cs"--creativity and controversy

October 24, 1993|ROBERT HILBURN and CHUCK PHILIPS | Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic. Chuck Philips writes about pop music for Calendar

The company failed, however, in its biggest--and most secretive--rock bid: an attempt in June to woo U2 away from PolyGram-owned Island Records. In the end, the rock quartet stuck with Island founder Chris Blackwell and re-signed with Poly Gram for an estimated $60 million, a figure that sources say Interscope nearly matched.

Iovine isn't defensive about the money issue. He feels other companies could have easily outbid them if they didn't spread their resources thin by signing so many marginal acts.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 21, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Page 99 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Nine Inch Nails is signed to TVT-Interscope, a joint venture between Interscope and TVT Records, a New York-based record company. An Oct. 24 story gave incomplete information about the group's contractual ties.

"I was getting phone calls from people saying you're paying too much and I started wondering if they were right," Iovine says. "I went to Ted and said, 'Are we paying too much for this band?' Ted says, 'Will you stop listening to people? Do we love this band or not? If so, let's sign them.'

"He said, 'So, we pay $50,000 more per album for a band than someone else--which was Helmet's case--what does it matter in the long run?' "

Field echoes Iovine's assessment.

"We're very aggressive in going after what we want. I never worry or think about what other companies do," Field says. "The last thing I would ever pretend to be is Mr. Frugality."

But it took more than money to land Dr. Dre and Nine Inch Nails, because both groups were signed to other independent labels. The Dre deal was so convoluted that at least three other major labels simply gave up on it. Negotiations with Nine Inch Nails and TVT Records were so complex that it took Iovine almost a year to satisfy both parties.

Managers for both Dr. Dre and Nine Inch Nails say their acts were most impressed by the creative climate at Interscope and responded, in the end, to the music men.

"A lot of companies talk about creative control, but Interscope puts their money where their mouth is," says Nine Inch Nails manager John Malm. "They let (bandleader) Trent (Reznor) and I do it all--from the artwork to the video to the ad layout. No interference. When we're done, we just deliver it and Interscope puts the album out."

Suge Knight, CEO of Dr. Dre's Death Row Records, agrees.

"Ted and Jimmy understand rap and freedom of speech and culture the way it is," he says. "When you play them a great record, you don't have to explain anything. They get it. They understand what a great bass line is. They don't have big egos. They trust your judgment."

The focus on the artist carries over into Interscope's staff meetings. In building an executive team, Field and Iovine have recruited people with strong backgrounds in discovering and nurturing talent, and have given them responsibility for overseeing the promotion and marketing of the records.

The firm's artist and repertoire team is already drawing comparisons with the legendary Geffen lineup of the '80s. John McClain championed Dr. Dre, Tom Whalley got the ball rolling for Nine Inch Nails and 4 Non-Blondes and Anna Statman brought Helmet and Rocket From the Crypt.

Interscope's staff shows a bulldog tenacity for results. Field and Iovine conduct weekly brainstorming sessions in an effort to come up with unconventional ways to get a record on the Billboard charts. Indeed, it took almost six months for the company to get radio stations to play the first single from 4 Non-Blondes' "Bigger, Better, Faster, More!"--which eventually went on to sell almost 3 million copies internationally.

"I don't think our management style could be found in any official management books," Field says. "We know it takes time to build an act."

One of the most striking accomplishments in the label's brief history may have been its ability to make Dr. Dre's "Nuthin' But a G Thang" a Top 40 single this year.

Even members of Interscope's own team doubted that a "gangsta rap" single could get enough airplay to make it worth the time and money it would cost to promote it.

But Iovine disagreed.

"John, Ted and I knew 'G Thang' was a hit right from the get-go," says Iovine about the Dr. Dre single, which eventually went on to rank No. 2 on the pop singles chart. "To us, it was just as catchy a single as the Rolling Stones' 'Satisfaction.' But there was resistance at radio and MTV to giving a gangsta rap song a shot. Nothing like that had ever happened before. But thanks to Ted, that's what we do every day here at Interscope. We break all the rules."

*

Iovine and Field may work well together, but their lifestyles are as different as their backgrounds.

Divorced three times and the father of six daughters, ages two months to 15 years old, Field has a reputation for dating young beautiful women. An avid filmgoer and reader who rarely watches TV, Field thrives on personal challenges, playing chess against masters and spending hours each day taking Thai kick-boxing lessons.

Iovine, married to former attorney and Playboy model Vicki McCarty, is a devoted husband and father of three preschool children. The couple leads a fairly sedate lifestyle, spending most free evenings and weekends at home.

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