Industry Spotlight: Curran Reynolds

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Curran Reynolds is the kind of music industry professionals those just starting out aspire to one day become. He’s a hard working, driven, and incredibly successful man with a long history in numerous facets of the entertainment business. He’s perhaps best known around Haulix for his publicity efforts, and earlier this month Curran was nice enough to sit down with us for a conversation about his career up to this point.

A lot of the people we interviews are individuals that various Haulix team members have already gotten to know through their years of experience. Curran is no exception to this rule, but he is someone whose life outside of work was a bit of a mystery to us until this interview was conducted. His story is one I think many will relate to, and some may even find it inspiring. Either way, it’s definitely worth a read.

If you would like to learn more about Curran and his ongoing efforts in the music business, please take a moment and follow him on Twitter. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of this post.

H: Hello, Curran. Thank you for joining us today. How is the weather wherever you happen to be?

C: James, hi, I’m at my apartment in New York City. It’s late December and it’s raining.

H: You’ve been a customer with Haulix for a while at this point. When did you first learn of our service, and what lead you to sign up?

C: I love Haulix. It was one of those things – I started seeing some other publicists using it and the momentum built. The final straw came when I was at lunch with the editor of SPIN and he told me he personally loved Haulix.

H: I want to dig into your life and work, but while we’re on the top of Haulix we should also talk about the releases you’re currently working to promote. Care to fill our readers in on some of your current clients?

C: My most recent release is The Banner’s new album, Greying, out this month on Good Fight Music. A few years back, Good Fight was distributing Guy Kozowyk’s label, Black Market Activities, and I was doing all the press for Black Market. Now I’m working direct with Good Fight to handle press for a bunch of their new releases. Some other ongoing label clients of mine include Vitriol, Melotov, and Twelve Gauge. I’m also excited to report that I’m starting work in 2015 with Three One G Records and Aqualamb Records. Three One G is Justin Pearson’s label – The Locust, Retox, Some Girls, Swing Kids, the list goes on. I’ve been a fan for a long time and I befriended Justin in 2011 when our bands toured the UK together. Aqualamb is a totally unique label out of Brooklyn – they design and print books for each release, in lieu of traditional packaging.

H: People have probably gathered by this point that you work in publicity, but that’s not all you do. You’ve also created quite a career for yourself as a musician. It seems safe to say you’re the definition of an industry ‘lifer,’ and I’d like to learn a bit about your origins. Was music always a big part of your life?

C: Yes, I fell deep under the rock n’ roll spell at age 10. It was building for a few years before that but 10 is when I started educating myself, buying my own music, and playing drums. It was a whole new world and I dove into it. I lived with my mom and my sister at the time and they were both very supportive.

H: Do you remember your first concert? How about the first album you purchased with your own money?

C: My first concert was Tina Turner at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine, in the summer of 1987. My mom and her boyfriend took my sister and me. I think the first album I purchased was Europe’s The Final Countdown, on tape, also in 1987. My sister and I split the cost of it and shared the tape.

H: A lot of people grow up thinking about life in the entertainment industry, but far less actually try to make those visions a reality. You not only tried, but succeeded at that effort, and I’m curious when it all began. Can you pinpoint a specific experience or time in your life that sold you on working in music?

C: I was obsessed with rock music from a young age, as I said. It started building and continued to build. On a visceral level and an intellectual level, it was a realm within which I found excitement and fulfillment. But at no point did I have a long term plan. It was always more about following my heart at any given moment.

H: My research shows that you attended Sarah Lawrence College. What did you study? Is it safe to assume that you were active in music in one way or another during this time?

C: I was at Sarah Lawrence from 1994-1999. It’s a school that gives its students freedom to study a wide variety of things. There are almost no requirements. I studied writing, literature, art, film, history, and economics. I continued my musical education on my own time. I played drums and went to a lot of shows. The school is a few miles north of New York City and I got to see some amazing shows during that time. Off the top of my head, some of the bands I saw during my college years include Fugazi, Quicksand, Today Is The Day, Unsane, Modest Mouse, The Make-Up, Sleater-Kinney, Kiss It Goodbye, Shai Hulud, Indecision, Candiria, Will Haven, and Soilent Green. Junior year of college, I got an internship in the publicity department at Matador Records – I think that experience helped steer me toward music as an actual career.

H: Looking back now, was college worth the cost? The one question we are asked most frequently by readers is whether or not they should pursue higher education when hoping to one day work in music. Do you have any thoughts to share on that?

Sarah Lawrence is currently ranked as the most expensive school in the country. I can’t believe I went there. Some of my classmates were the kids of rock stars and big Hollywood producers. I had won a $20,000 scholarship which helped a little bit. That, financial aid, and my parents’ extreme sacrifice and generosity. I was very young when making the decision to go there. I had skipped a grade so I was 16 right up until my high school graduation. Sarah Lawrence appealed to me because of its academic freedom, its emphasis on the arts, and its proximity to New York City. As to whether it was worth the cost, it’s tough to quantify experiences like that. I did not go to college with the intention of training for a specific career. It was more a time of growth and exploration for me. But in hindsight, I can say that my college years paved the way for everything that came after. A few specifics:

1) Sarah Lawrence strengthened my writing, a core part of everything I do now.
2) It placed me in the New York City area, giving me access to so much great music and opportunities like the internship at Matador.
3) It’s a school full of independent, creative people doing cool things (both students and faculty) so there was a lot to be inspired by. Coming out of a setting like that, you’re instilled with a certain amount of bravery to go out and do your own independent, creative thing, at whatever cost.

H: You graduated in 1999, and not long after took a job with the legendary Earache Records. Were you a big fan of the label prior to joining the company? Any insight you can provide into the application and interview process would be greatly appreciated.

C: I’d been aware of Earache Records since freshman year of high school when my friend turned me on to Napalm Death. The way I got the job there is like out of an old movie. It was about a year after graduating from college, I was in my kitchen in Brooklyn, looking through the Village Voice, and I just happened to see a want-ad that read: “independent metal label seeks publicist.” It seemed too good to be true – a perfect fit. I applied, had one interview, and got the job. I mean, what are the chances? From the moment I stumbled on that ad, it felt like it was meant to be. When I got the phone call saying I was hired, I knew it was a turning point in my life. If the Matador internship was the thing that steered me in the direction of a music career, the Earache job is the thing that sealed the deal. I stayed at Earache five years, 2000-2005.

H: I’ve found that a lot of people who make publicity a career have one or two mentors in life that show them the ropes of the business. Was that the case for you? If so, please tell us about the people who helped you learn the music industry.

C: Al Dawson was my boss at Earache. Al was a punk rocker in Australia in the ’70s. He was pen pals with Digby Pearson, the founder of Earache, going back to the very beginning of the label, then he moved to England to work there. He came over to New York to run the US office just a few months before he hired me. He is one of the sharpest guys I know. He really has a mind for PR and for business in general. Nowadays, as a freelancer, I get to work with many labels and pick up different things along the way. It’s symbiotic, I learn from them, they learn from me.

H: While you’re at Earache you’re performing in various bands. Were you touring during this time? How did you balance the requirements of the label with your desire to perform?

C: I started a band called Wetnurse about a year after starting work at Earache. That band got more and more serious over the next few years. We started leaving town for weekends and short tours. Al Dawson was supportive of it but eventually I wanted more freedom. I left Earache in 2005, partly because I wanted to be free to tour more. Wetnurse’s first major tour, a six-week US tour I booked myself, happened a week or two after I left the label.

H: While we’re talking about your other projects we might as well mention writing. When did you first begin writing about music outside of PR, and who were the first publications to run your work?

C: In my first year or two at Earache, I got to know a lot of magazine editors and I began getting offers to write. My first gig was for Rockpile, a Philly magazine that’s defunct now. I took whatever assignments the editors gave me, which wound up being interviews with The Icarus Line, The Faint, and Nic Endo from Atari Teenage Riot, and reviews of albums like Zeni Geva’s 10,000 Light Years and American Nightmare’s Background Music. I quickly learned something about myself from that experience: I have no interest in giving anyone a negative review. I am not a critic. I am a maker of things and a champion of things I like. Writing, like PR, is an opportunity to champion things I like. So I stopped writing for Rockpile and started writing for VICE. VICE gave me the freedom to review whatever music I wanted. Given that freedom, I chose all my personal favorite new releases and gave them all 10/10 ratings, no exceptions – this was 2002 so it was stuff like Premonitions of War’s self-titled demo, Lansing-Dreiden’s The Incomplete Triangle, and Khanate’s self-titled debut. Also, instead of standard reviews, I wrote poems. This lasted for a few issues until a new editor took over and tried to rein me in. I respectfully refused to change my ways and that’s where it ended. After that I didn’t pursue writing again, feeling I had pretty much hit the peak of music journalism – I mean, what could top handing out 10/10 reviews to my favorite bands while simultaneously seeing my poetry get published in a magazine that was, at that time, thought to be the pinnacle of cool?! The next great opportunity came up in 2006. My friend Alanna Gabin was working with the skateboarder Mark Gonzalez and she’d gotten Mark a gig as guest editor for an issue of The Journal, this art magazine based here in New York. Alanna and Mark gave me 16 pages in the issue to do with whatever I wanted so I gave them my tour diary and photos from Wetnurse’s first big tour – the tour I left Earache for. I’m still proud of that piece. I did not pursue writing again until just this year. Thanks to my friend Polly Watson, I wrote a feature for High Times about the rapper Lil Debbie. I followed that up with a feature for Mass Appeal about Justin Pearson of Three One G Records, The Locust, Retox, and countless other bands. Lil Debbie and Justin Pearson are two people I am in awe of in different ways and it was a pleasure to interview them and share it with the world.

H: You’ve continued to balance publicity and performances, as well as freelance music writing, for over a decade at this point. Do you have any advice to offer on the topic of time management?

C: There are two forces driving me. One is the financial necessity of food and shelter. I am self-employed, out on a limb with no security, and if I screw up, I’m done. The other force is the need to create, to leave a mark, to do something cool with my time on earth. These two forces keep me on track. All I do every day and night is work, whether it’s my business or my own creative stuff or some overlap of the two. I love what I do so it mostly doesn’t feel like work. I am always wishing for more hours so I could get more done, as opposed to that other scenario of the guy at work, watching the clock and counting down until the day is over. That scenario looks suicidal to me. You are literally wishing your life away. In terms of how I specifically organize my time, it’s pretty natural, according to what’s going on that particular day. You prioritize and act as needed.

H: Who was your first client as a solo publicist, and how did you initially contact them?

C: My first client as a solo publicist was Black Box Recordings, the label owned by Mike Hill who now fronts the band Tombs. Mike was already a friend of mine. Wetnurse had done shows with his band, Anodyne, and he had recorded one of our demos. I really respected his DIY approach and liked him as a person. Specifically, the first release I worked for him was an EP by the band The Heuristic, members of which are now in Mutilation Rites.

H: How did the decision to step out on your own impact your ability to tour and perform? Was it easier because you were essentially your own boss, or did the additional work required to be your own boss make it harder to stay active?

C: It was easier in the sense that I could do what I want, when I wanted. After becoming my own boss, I did many tours with Wetnurse, then later joined one of my favorite bands, Today Is The Day. I did four US tours and one European tour with Today Is The Day. I probably wouldn’t have felt capable of joining that band had I been tied down with a normal job.

H: I know it’s not something you do now, but not long after stepping out on your own you also founded a live music series in NYC called Precious Metal. We receive a lot of inquiries about how people can launch similar events in their areas, and I’d love to know about your motivations behind that project.

C: I founded Precious Metal in 2006 and continued it until 2013. It was a weekly series of shows, every Monday night at Lit, a bar in the East Village in Manhattan. By the end of the series I had booked and promoted over 300 shows. I was inspired by the DIY efforts of other people I’d seen. I think the do-it-yourself approach has always appealed to me, since I was a kid, and it was especially exciting to me to try and help build a community for cool music in New York City. I’d actually been booking shows around the city since 2001. The first show I ever put together in New York consisted of the hip hop group Cannibal Ox and the Hydrahead Records band Cattlepress, featuring Harley Flanagan from the Cro-Mags on drums! I was really psyched in 2006 when Lit offered me a weekly series because it meant I’d have a home base from which to do stuff on a regular basis. The scene in the city changed a lot during Precious Metal’s reign. When I started there didn’t seem to be a cohesive scene at all and by the end it was booming. I think Precious Metal was one of many factors that helped this change happen. Social media was another. Nowadays you have venues like Saint Vitus and The Acheron that have taken the Precious Metal vibe to a higher level, seven nights a week. Those venues are doing great work and I attend both of them often, as a fan.

H: Without going too in-depth, please walk us a through a typical work day:

C: Currently my time goes toward my PR work, my new musical project Body Stuff, and some freelance writing. Each day consists of a combination of those things, with the PR work taking up the majority. My drug of choice is coffee with coconut oil.

H: What would you say is the most difficult aspect of being a music publicist today?

C: The number of bands and publicists, and the volume of overall chatter, is greater than ever. There’s a lot of noise out there, the pace is faster than ever, and as a publicist you have to penetrate that. Editors and writers are defensive, they filter out a lot, because they have to. In the early ’00s I had many more in-depth conversations, where now no one has time. So it’s a game of how to continue to reach these people and be heard, without harassing them and adding to the noise they are trying to navigate through. In my case, I think it has been to my benefit that I am more than a publicist, I am someone who has worked within the industry on more than one front, and my relationships are often more dynamic than a simple publicist-press relationship. I think this has helped me become someone whose voice gets listened to.

H: If you could offer one piece of advice to people reading this who may be considering their own pursuit of a career in music, what would you tell them?

C: The only way I know how to live is to follow my heart and worry about the rest afterward. I don’t know if this is the most responsible advice so hey, kids, take it or leave it. But we only live once, we might as well make it as cool as possible.

H: Looking ahead, what goals do you have for the immediate future?

C: On the PR front, I have a ton of cool work lined up for the first part of 2015 – the labels I mentioned earlier, like Three One G, Aqualamb, Good Fight, Vitriol, Melotov, and Twelve Gauge. I’m excited to kick ass for all my clients and continue building what I do. On the music-making front, it’s all about Body Stuff right now. Body Stuff is my solo project where I’m writing songs and singing. I put out my first EP in 2013 and I am now halfway done tracking the second EP. I aim to finish the second EP this winter and I also put together a live band which consists of my some of my closest friends. There will be shows soon. On the journalism front, I have more stuff in the works with Mass Appeal – incidentally, the editor over there, Noah Rubin, was once my intern and has become a good friend. Not only is Noah killing it as editor of Mass Appeal but he’s running Mass Appeal Records where his first signing was Run The Jewels.

H: Let’s step a bit farther out. Where is Curran Reynolds in five years?

C: Great question. I have no idea. I feel like something big is coming up. I want to continue doing bigger and cooler things. Continuing to team up with people I respect is part of it. No idea yet what form it will take.

H: That’s all I have today, Curran. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Do you have any closing thoughts or comments you would like to share?

C: Thank you so much, James! It’s been fun sharing some stories with you. I’ll close by saying, be kind to each other out there.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.