Fight the power

Reprise Records president defends the rights of his artists against the Right and the wrong

"I was very, very upset when they left," Klein says. "I mean, I worshipped them. So I was very, very upset by it." When asked if he considered leaving behind them, he says, "Absolutely--very, very seriously."

But when new Warner Music chairman Danny Goldberg offered Klein the job of head of Reprise Records, the label Frank Sinatra started in the '60s, Klein decided after much consideration to stay. He says he was "awed" by the talent on the label-- including Paul Westerberg, Belly, Dinosaur Jr., Mudhoney, Enya, Wilco, Rickie Lee Jones, the Cult, and the Chairman of the Board himself--but that "I wanted to stay with the artists that I worked with and the people that I worked with more than anything."

"I do remember the first time Neil Young called me, my secretary yelled in, 'Howie, it's Neil Young,'" he recalls. "I said, 'Oh, sure, sure.' Like Neil Young's going to call me. So I picked up the phone and said, 'Hello.' And he said, 'Hi, it's me, Neil.' And I thought it was our local promotion guy from Boston. So Neil's talking to me and I'm thinking he's just making fun of me and it's really Andrew. And I'm responding as if it was Andrew. It's so embarrassing. I couldn't imagine Neil calling me. It was too much to imagine."

Klein is regarded by his employees, from publicists to artists, as one of the best bosses anyone could have. He wields tremendous power at Warner Music and often acts as a one-man publicity-A&R-promotions department, bringing talent to the label and then ensuring its happiness once signed. His trip to Dallas to hear Mudhoney and Filter at Trees two weeks ago highlights his commitment to his artists. Klein withstood two nights inside the packed, sweltering club--and was actually whacked on the nose by a banister that had fallen from a railing above him, which left a red mark on his nose--to lend support to two bands that are not among Reprise's elite.

He will often let a band pick its own singles, sometimes against his better judgment (as in the case of Belly); he will not order an artist to resequence an album if he thinks it's unsellable. Klein, who speaks about music with the passion of a fan and the conviction of a friend, is committed to the antiquated notion of "total artistic control," for better or worse.

"I have a responsibility now, which I take very, very seriously to the shareholders of Time Warner," Klein says. "These are the people I work for. They invest their money and they expect a return, and I feel it's my job to help them get that return. But there's a short-term way to do it and a long-term way to do it.

"I believe the people who invest in Time Warner who paid approximately $40 a share are in it for the long run. And if they aren't, they shouldn't be. They're not in it for quick turnover. Our job is to build artists, to provide them with a safe home, to nurture them, in every way enable them to let their art come out. And that means not going for the quick, easy buck...

"For example, I think [the new Neil Young-Pearl Jam album] Mirror Ball is going to sell a lot of records. That's my judgment, but we'll see. But second of all, I know that when I listen to songs on that record, tears come to my eyes. I know that I'm spiritually uplifted from listening to this record, that there are songs on this record that make me think--that bring me inside to make me think, that bring me outside and make me think. I feel that Neil has achieved an amazing, amazing record, that what Neil has done is a valuable thing to our culture. And I have a job now, which is to disseminate that to as many people as I can. It's like a crusade.

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