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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

But Field's and Iovine's love of music brought them together at a time when both were restless for new challenges.

Field, who mangled his left hand during a racing car accident in the '70s, spent most of the '80s increasing his fortune "dabbling" in real estate, takeovers and stocks. The only thing that gave him satisfaction, he says, was his film production company, whose credits include the hits "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" and "Three Men and a Baby."

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.

While watching his favorite band, the Rolling Stones, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1989, Field realized that he could get the same thrill from the music business.

He still looks back fondly on his early love of rock, the days he played drums in a garage band and couldn't wait to get the latest Stones or Beatles record.

"When I look back, I can see that my political consciousness was completely raised and formed by the music that I loved," says Field, who still plays drums on a trap set in his 20,000-square foot Beverly Hills mansion. "I totally identified with all the rebelliousness of the '60s. I mean, the more political the music was, the better I liked it. That's why I love and am willing to record the farthest-out protest gangsta rap at our company. I love that stuff."

Iovine--who produced or engineered hit albums for such artists as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Patti Smith, Stevie Nicks, the Pretenders and U2--sensed by the late '80s that a new generation of young, cutting-edge bands and producers was on the horizon and he felt the best way for him to remain current was as head of a label.

"I wasn't going to be vital anymore as a producer and I knew it," he says. "I just felt it in my stomach. I said to myself, 'I'm not going to be 55 years old producing records.' Do you know what I mean? I wanted a label that reflects the times . . . a center for artists who want to express themselves. That's what makes Interscope unique. It's about freedom."

*

Interscope's allegiance to creative freedom was tested in the fall of 1992 when the label and Time Warner were sued by the widow of a slain Texas state trooper who claimed that violent music on an Interscope album by Tupac Amaru Shakur figured prominently in the shooting of her husband.

That didn't prevent the company from moving forward in hard-core rap, signing former N.W.A. member Dr. Dre, even though the gangsta rapper's music had been rejected as too controversial by BMG and Sony.

Dr. Dre's debut solo album, "The Chronic," hit the stores last December on the same day the rapper was scheduled to appear in court for assault--one of four run-ins with the law in the past two years. His Death Row Records partner Suge Knight was also recently charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

But by far the most controversial rapper on Interscope these days is Snoop Doggy Dogg, who pleaded not guilty to murder charges in West Los Angeles Municipal Court. He has been released on $1-million bail. Preliminary hearings on the charges begin Wednesday.

"We've had to endure a little bit of heat because of the Tupac situation and the Death Row situation," Field says. "But I believe in all these guys. I think they are great artists and they should have the right to say what they want."

The exception involves last year's "cop killing" controversy, which prompted the company to institute a policy restricting the release of music containing lyrics that could be misunderstood to promote the killing of police or public figures. Interscope's stance was swiftly embraced by the rest of the industry, causing a wholesale exit of controversial rappers from major labels.

"Even though I believe in freedom of expression, I totally support police organizations and am a law-abiding citizen," says Field, a longstanding board member of DARE, the ACLU and People for the American Way. "There are some things we won't do here and releasing lyrics that could be misunderstood to promote cop killing is one of them."

*

On a recent Sunday afternoon, a dozen or so friends are gathered at Iovine's sprawling Malibu estate for an intense touch football game. Dre's manager, Suge Knight, is tossing a football to John McClain on an immaculately groomed lawn that is half the size of a regulation football field. The every-other-Sunday gatherings are one of the few ways Iovine has found to unwind from his hectic pace.

Inside, Iovine pops a cassette of the new Snoop Doggy Dogg video into the VCR. The song is called "What's My Name?" and the video, directed by Fab 5 Freddy, shows the rapper transformed into a dog that is chased by dog catchers.

"Isn't this video great?" asks Iovine eagerly. "This is proof why the real power in the record business should be left in the hands of the artist. Not the marketing department or the accountants or the lawyers. What record executive could possibly come up with a better video idea to represent their music than Snoop and Dre?"

Field usually joins them on Sundays, reading scripts while the game's on. But he's in Florida for the weekend.

"Ted and I talk every day," Iovine says, walking in the sunshine. "In fact, all of us in the company are in constant contact. I really feel like what we're creating here at Interscope is a culture. I always dreamed of making something vital like (A&M's) Jerry Moss, Chris Blackwell and David Geffen did."

Iovine pauses before rushing off to join the game.

"For me, faith in the artist goes back to working all those years with (U2's) Bono and Lennon and Springsteen. These guys know so much more than anyone at any record company could possibly know about what they're trying to do. If you follow the lead of the artists, they will take you places that you could never go on your own."

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