How To Make It In The Music Industry
MAKING WAVES IN MUSIC
WRITTEN BY: ERIK HALE
PHOTOGRAPHY: ADAM GENTRY
INTERVIEW BY: KRISTAL DOCTER
NAME: Jason Bentley COMPANY: KCRW TITLE: Music Director
PHOTO LOCATION: KCRW Studio, Santa Monica College
Even though there are billions upon billions of stars in the night sky, very few shine brightly enough to be detected by the naked eye. The brightest stars- whether by proximity or size-hide, overshadow and disguise the beauty of stars nearby that deserve the same attention. In a large city the size of Los Angeles, this same phenomenon happens with people. There are people you should know more about. These people shine very brightly in their own space and time. We found five such people. And, not just people-dudes. I don’t mean dudes in the vernacular of Sean Penn (Spicoli) in “Fast Time at Ridgemont High or Ashton Kutcher (Jesse Montgomery lll) in “Dude, Where’s My Car, ” but rather the way it was first intended in the late 1800s. It was considered a compliments, referring to how one dressed (or rather appeared); to be pulled together; to have the appearance of having “it” together. Our focus in this interview, which taps entrepreneurs, a disc jockey/music director and a former television personality, it to shine a light on personalities that we fell should be gravitating into your consciousness and are deserving of our collective attention. We hope you enjoy this first installment of our spotlight series as we get “all duded up”.
Tell us about your extensive background in music. How did you decide to make music your career?
Jason Bentley: I grew up in Santa Monica and always had a natural inclination towards culture, music and art. I wasn’t really a jock or one of “the cool people” in the quad. I was always the alternative. At the same time, I really had a fascination for radio as a medium. Even at a young age, I loved radio for some reason. I had a mock radio station that I made in my room when I was 12 or 13. I would record songs off the radio and record my voice. So, I felt like it was an inevitability for me. In high school, I was the guy who read the daily bulletin on the PA system. I really was always drawn to it. Those currents eventually culminated through college and into my professional career into what I’m doing now.
Q: Tell us about some of the bands that sparked your initial interest in the world of radio.
JB: Growing up, it was a pretty straight ahead classic rock upbringing, with bands like The Who and Led Zeppelin. The Who is an all-time favorite. They were doing things differently with their mod style in the 60s and their sense of imagination with rock operas like “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia, ” I just loved. It was something that really resonated with me, because it was like a fashion forward and music forward attitude. But, it wasn’t until I discovered house music in 1988 while backpacking in Europe that I was totally blown away by this new sound that was taking root. For me, that was completely alternative, and I loved the energy and sense of unity and community that it instilled. From that point on, I just completely wanted to be a DJ and play house music. So, I started by playing dance music on college radio here in LA at Loyola Marymount University’s KXLU.
Q: Discuss some of your career experience highlights like working on blockbuster movies like “Tron: Legacy” and “The Matrix.”
JB: Being on the radio in LA has its benefits, and one of them is that you’re playing radio for a lot of influential people in the entertainment world, so I’ve gotten some great opportunities out of that, including relationships with directors like Joe Kosinski who did “Tron” and also, more recently, I did a movie with Tom Cruise. I also worked with the Wachowskis of “The Matrix” for about three years on all three films. It’s really about relationships. I don’t actively look for music supervision work, because my plate is pretty full with the radio station, but I do believe in people. I believe in artists, and I stand by them. So if there is a relationship I want to serve, I am always available.
Also, becoming Music Director five years ago was certainly an honor. I had been at the radio station for 15 years, and I never assumed that I would get that role. It was a great evolution for me, because I was able to expand from the dance music emphasis and the house and the trip hop in order to promote more music, like folk and rock. What I like is it’s a constant challenge. You’re always meeting new artists and trying to understand them and interview them and also brainstorm interesting ways to promote their material. For me, it’s this brilliant blank slate where I can express creative ideas. Like, let’s do Beck here at this studio, an evening, invite-only thing, and let’s make it exclusive and we’ll record the whole thing for broadcast later. There are just a variety of different outlets for me to channel ideas, and that’s pretty inspiring.
Q: How do you maintain composure during your interviews with some of the most amazing musicians on the planet?
JB: They’re usually on tour, so you can ask them about the tour and highlights at various shows along the way. Some artists are just dysfunctional, and that’s fine. You can still admire them and appreciate them for that even though they might not be a great interview. They’re just going to prefer that people understand them through the lense of their music, and that’s cool, too. So, you’ve got to kind of detect that ahead of time. Yesterday, I had an interview with a band called KINS, and I like their music a lot, but I could feel right away that they were not talkative. Their music actually has the feeling that they’re very cerebral, sort of like Radiohead, recorded in a basement, barely looking at each other sort of thing, but I managed to get a pretty solid interview out of them, but I seriously had to keep digging. And then, there are bands like Silversun Pickups who I would ask one question, and they’d just take it from there. It was like the Silversun Pickups Variety Hour. So, it’s a mixed bag, but my rule of thumb is to be gracious, welcoming and everything else will fall into place.
Q: In your 20 years on air, who were you able to meet that had you a little star struck?
JB: I don’t mind that nervous feeling; it kind of makes you feel like you care and you’re alive. Last year, I interviewed Depeche Mode in front of 800 people in a convention hall. I was so nervous, but everything went great. The success is when you feel like you pulled it off. There are other artists like Nick Cade & the Bad Seeds who is an artist who is a pretty intimidating figure. Going into it, I was really freaking out, but, I realized that that sense of creative tension is a good thing and can ultimately result in your best work.
Q: Much of the music you curate could be found on college radio stations. How do you relate to the younger demographic when you are now 43?
JB: I think the music keeps you young. Going out and being a part of the music scene, and being open- minded and inquisitive helps me to keep in touch with that same feeling of being in a record store… which actually shows my age, because there are no record stores. (laughs) That feeling of being excited about music, there’s just something sure about that. And, I’m still really involved in the festival and dance music world, and so, whether it’s playing Coachella or being involved with the EDC in Vegas, it keeps you feeling young and alive.
Q: How do you prepare for a big performance like playing at Coachella in the new Yuma tent last year?
JB: That was a really unique situation. It was the inaugural year of new tents. They started this stage called Yuma, which was meant as an answer to the overblown, massive Sahara dance tent. That kind of turned into a giant frat party, and they wanted to do something more thoughtful, music that you could feel as opposed to more of a spectacle. So, they asked me to play in there, and that was a real honor. I chose music that had real warmth to it—music that wasn’t about the sensational drop, the next big car alarm sound. It was more like let’s take people on a journey, and know that we’re going to be in an environment where the lights are turned down low and it’s more about facing the speaker as opposed to facing a giant LED screen. So, in terms of preparation, it’s getting a sense of where you’re playing and what kind of idea you want to put out there.
Q: I’m assuming you’re a faithful Coachella goer. What’s the best Coachella performance you’ve ever seen?
JB: I’ll have to go with Daft Punk in 2006. This was their big reveal of both of them as robots and the pyramid that they played on. Prior to that, they had sort of fallen out of sight. So, to be there, when the curtain parted… I really think that was the birth of what we call EDM today, because EDM is so much about the stage and the spectacle and the lights, and really, that Daft Punk performance is the first time someone brought a huge stage show to the dance tent. To be there was just amazing, and that’s pretty much a legendary performance, and I feel like it completely changed the game.
Q: Since the Grammy’s only recently started rewarding EDM acts, whom do you feel should receive a lifetime achievement award from that genre?
JB: There are all of these giants of the 90s era, which was such a huge stretch in that music, so Prodigy, Orbital, Underworld, Moby, these are all artists that both in terms of commercial and critical success, really deserve to be acknowledged. Also, when you’ve been involved in the scene for so long, I’m hearing a lot of sounds coming back into fashion from that era. So, maybe there will be some recognition. That’s definitely one of my missions, which is to help cement the legacy of this music. I think it’s the most significant movement of our generation.
Q: Wow—that’s a bold statement. Why do you feel that EDM has so powerfully influenced our generation?
JB: Because it’s about completely reimagining the experience of music. It’s not about a seated concert hall and having a ticket and staying out of the aisles and staying orderly. It’s about full-spectrum sound experience and being totally proactive. It’s an adventure. It’s movement that’s socializing, it’s expressive, it’s kinetic, it’s everything. The early days of the rave scene and further back to disco and soul, we really didn’t have the technology, but now, we’ve built these massive temples of sound, and I think the experience becomes so much more profound. It’s really reset the format; it’s reimagined what rock spent 50 years building. The biggest music promoters in the world are betting on the experience of dance music now. There’s also been a rise of music festivals in general. There is such a sense of identity—people dress up in a certain way, people tattoo themselves, they’re passionate about this gathering. There’s something very human about festivals. There’s sort of this primitive need, but it wasn’t being fulfilled by rock and roll; and, it sort of came up from the grass roots, and that’s why I describe it as the most significant movement of our generation. There is a new understanding of what people are talking about. The Beatles was their revolution, and EDM is our revolution.
Q: What projects do you have planned for 2014?
JB: I’m working on an EDM exhibit with the Grammy Museum to launch in the spring of 2015. Our summer season will be busy again with all kinds of events. We do a series in July at the Hammer in Westwood—I just love it, it’s a free event in a great space with an open courtyard. I look at it project by project. It’s never a dull moment.
Q: Where can we find you hanging out when you’re not DJing on our favorite radio station?
JB: I prefer Venice and Abbott Kinney, but I will also give a nod to Downtown, which has grown so much and is awesome for food and different venues. The Ace, in particular, just opened, and they have a great theatre next door. My hood is Venice, though, and I like to have cocktails at Scopa on West Washington. It’s an Italian restaurant, and they have a terrific bar scene as well.