In Big Sound week there are new tales of badness, madness and general strangeness being created right now in Brisbane. And some manager coming to clean up afterwards. Wind Back Wednesday goes back seven years to another Big Sound to hear exactly what it’s like being a band manager. Think mother, father, husband, wife. And social planner.
MANAGER TROIS, QUATRE, CINQUE
“I don’t have a life,” says Rae Harvey quite matter-of-factly. “That's one of the big sacrifices in management I think. Everything else comes before your own life.”
Harvey, who has been managing the Australian trio The Living End for 13 years and recently took on rising young band Children Collide, isn’t complaining. As she’ll tell the audience at the loudly capitalised BIGSOUND music industry conference in Brisbane this week, “I hang around with nice people” and anyway, band management can’t be done any other way but full time, all the time.
"I don't take long breaks at all. I tend to take a week at a time and [even then] I check my e-mail once a day,” says Rae. “I haven't had a full break where I've been completely un-contactable, since I started. It's not like a normal job where if you work at the bank they can call the temp agency. There is no temp agency for management.”
It’s not like a normal job? That’s probably a given. But is it something more? The topic of the BIGSOUND panel on which Rae will speak is Marriage And Management: what's the difference?
Well, for a start, you don’t normally have to bust your spouse out of a Texas jail as panellist Brett Williams has had to do for his band Cold War Kids. It's the cost of doing business in that state, says Williams who had to drive down from Los Angeles overnight when an overzealous local plod mistook prescription pills for something racier.
Marriage doesn’t normally involve a late-night trip to Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles for a partner suffering from unexplained panic attacks which "came out of nowhere” mid trip (“by nowhere I do of course mean that you would have to discount the three-day ingestion of cocaine followed by sleeping pills – but aside from that it was an utter mystery,” says one experienced manager).
Nor does it often require you to race back from Singapore airport to a gentleman's club to rescue a “lost” partner.
However, Williams, who is married, argues that, jailing apart, “I can assure you that management and marriage are similar” for the intensity of the relationship, the way your lives are entwined 24 hours a day and for the co-dependency that develops.
That’s something confirmed by Andy Kelly, who managed both the Vines and Jet when they were the hottest bands in the world with attendant brutal schedules and competing demands, mental health issues and self-inflicted “lifestyle choices” and frequent apologies to hotels, airline staff and the occasional journalist.
"Well, you fall in love, ask someone to spend the rest of their life with you and then slowly discover each other’s worst traits over the years ... that’s band management, but not my own personal experience of marriage thankfully," says Kelly who is more prone to laugh than groan over the experiences he’s encountered.
“I’d have to say that any issues of neediness or dependency can sometimes be traced back to the way management unwittingly set up some kind of learned dependence by doing absolutely everything apart from writing and performing.”
Actually, muses Kelly who is the father of a young daughter, maybe the relationship is more like parent and child. "You become so caught up in survival mode, that is to say, trying to keep one person in the band happy so the other people in the band don’t leave, so that you and the record label remain happy, and so hopefully the fans remain happy. It’s a very strange cycle to get caught up in, and not dissimilar to being an over-protective parent," he says.
"It comes from the right place, but it can definitely backfire."
Harvey, who has one errant member of Children Collide who has been known to go missing, sometimes for days at a time ("If you check on his Facebook there's a message on there recently ‘Heath, if you read this, please phone the office’. Seriously. I left it there a couple of days ago.") laughs that "I've got 11 kids".
"I don't have any of my own children, except a step-son, but there’s 11 ‘children’ that I look after," says Harvey, who actually is more likely to sing the praises of the maturity and responsibility of her charges, in particular Living End.
However, "you also become the gatekeeper in their lives” in and outside the business.
“It's not uncommon at all for a band member, or their wife or girlfriend, to call me to check if someone is available before they can make plans for them. ‘I don’t know if I can make these plans for our wedding anniversary, I better check with Rae first’. Which is kind of weird when you think about it."
So why do it? "For the stories," Kelly says, only half jokingly.
"Can I just add that I do still love managing bands? It’s not all apologies and rehab. There is also some music and fantastic people involved, as well, and sometimes especially, the ones who make management’s lives slightly more ‘exciting’ than they would prefer.
“In fact, generally always those ones."