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COMPANY TOWN : Q & A : Vocal Session : Interscope's Iovine Reflects on Time Warner Split

September 29, 1995|ROBERT HILBURN and CHUCK PHILIPS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

It's 9:15 the morning after media giant Time Warner Inc. severed ties with controversial Interscope Records, but Jimmy Iovine, co-head of Interscope, has already gotten his second wind.

The phone has been ringing since he entered his Westwood office--and he takes a few calls, including one from partner Ted Field, the film producer and heir to the Marshall Field fortune who is on the way to the airport in New York after finalizing the split from Time Warner.

"It's a great day for Interscope," Iovine says. "I'm excited and I'm scared. I believe we can take our original goals for Interscope and apply it to a much broader scheme."

With an initial investment of $15 million from Time Warner in 1990, Field, 43, and Iovine, 42, have built an estimated $30-million company that is the talk of the industry.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 30, 1995 Home Edition Business Part D Page 2 Financial Desk 2 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Interscope Records--Suge Knight and Dr. Dre are co-owners of Death Row Records, a rap and rhythm and blues label distributed by Interscope Records. Interscope is valued at an estimated $300 million. The Times on Friday incorrectly reported the value and the company's relationship with Knight and Dre.

By offering creative control to acclaimed "cutting edge" artists such as gangsta rap producer Dr. Dre and hard rock hero Trent Reznor, Interscope has put together a roster that is the envy of the record business. If everything had proceeded according to plan, Time Warner was due to exercise an option in 1997 to pay Iovine and Field about $200 million for the remaining 50% interest in the company.

But the plan was derailed in May when U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and others accused Interscope--and, in turn, Time Warner--of releasing music that glorified violence and degraded women. On Wednesday, Time Warner announced it would disassociate itself from Interscope by selling its half-interest in the company to Field and Iovine for $115 million.

Iovine lives in Malibu with his wife and four children, ages 1 to 7. Sitting in his Westwood office lined with two dozen pictures of his family, Iovine, a former record producer, talked Thursday about the Time Warner relationship, the impact of music on the youth culture and his ideas for the future of his company.

Question: What caused the rupture with Time Warner?

Answer: I feel we were in a situation that really didn't work for us or for Time Warner. And because of that, Interscope was on the verge of being damaged. What were we going to do if Time Warner refused to put out one of our records? We would have had to get into a legal battle. Nobody wanted that. It would have hurt everybody on our label. It would have been terrible for the company.

In fairness to [Warner Music Group Chairman] Michael Fuchs, he acknowledged that Interscope didn't do anything that we hadn't been doing all along. He said that it was Time Warner's situation that changed after the controversy broke out in May. The problem for Time Warner was they had no control over what records we put out and when you are a company as big at that, you need a certain stability. We could come in there and do anything we wanted and Time Warner couldn't be in business with a company like that.

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Q: As a family man, how do you look at hard-core rap and rock that many adults feel is harmful to young people?

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A: As I parent, I have a responsibility in terms of what my children listen to, but I want to make that choice. I don't believe that the answer to controversial lyrics is to silence the artist.

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Q: Do you monitor what your children hear and see?

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A: Absolutely. I watch them very closely, but it isn't any of my business what a company puts out. My business at home is to monitor my own family. That's what a parent should do.

Look, I listened to the Beatles and the Stones, who preached drugs, and I didn't end up a drug addict. The Rolling Stones made a movie about Altamont that had a killing in it, but it didn't affect my behavior. I don't believe that music causes problems, its just a symptom of the problems that exist.

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Q: But do you see how some parents would not want their kids to hear some of the music distributed by your company?

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A: I can understand that, but opinions about what is art changes all the time. People didn't think the Rolling Stones or the Beatles were great artists when they came out either. But I am speaking as someone with first-hand experience. I was an engineer for John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen. I produced music for U2 and Tom Petty. I'm telling you that Dr. Dre and Trent Reznor are as talented as any of those artists. They are overflowing with pure, natural talent.

Dre and [his partner at Death Row Records] Suge Knight are guys who work as hard as anybody in the business and they have something to say. I think they need to be heard. If it makes people uncomfortable to hear what is really going on in our cities, I don't have a problem with that.

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Q: Why do you think there was so much more criticism of Dr. Dre and gangsta rap than Trent Reznor, even though Reznor's music may be more provocative than Dre's? Do you think racism is at work here?

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