Carissa Hughes Went From Local Music Fan to Label Rep to Her Current Gig at the AAC.
Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans , where we meet some of the people behind the local music scene -- those who aren't necessarily members of local bands, but more the people who make the scene move.
At the moment, Carissa Hughes works for American Airlines Center, where it's her job to help make sure the events at the arena run smoothly. For years, though, was a local rep for Universal Records.
Those are cool industry monikers to have for sure, but both jobs are ones that can seriously take it out of you.
Regardless, Hughes is -- and always has been -- a staunch supporter of the local music scene.
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It takes a tireless support ethic to throw yourself into all of the above, but Hughes does it gladly, and is really just at her very happiest to be out spending time with her friends, a couple of which have been featured in this column -- like attorney Cat Hough and Kirtland Records' Dale Brock.
Yep, she's part of that crew.
Hughes started falling in love with music when she was a little one, but the real obsession started for her when MTV came around. Suddenly, her home was permeated by the sounds of early MTV pretty much 'round the clock.
But that part of our conversation is best left to her to tell. Mostly, because you can practically hear her enthusiasm in her stories.
So, you were a big MTV kid, huh?
Oh geez. Once MTV started, forget about it. It was on in our house all the time. And that was when MTV was amazing. Ask my mother now and she will deny it, but from '81 to '86, MTV dominated our household tube. Little did mom know at the time the music monster she was creating within me. How my twin sister didn't get influenced the same way, is beyond me. Yup, little known fact: I am a twin.
There's a twin of you? Wow! What were your high school years like?
Well, from the age of 13 through college, I was a long distance runner. And this provided lots of time -- and miles -- to just coast to another world with music. Yes, I totally was running with a walkman! And I would listen to The Edge all the time on that thing, too. As a teenager, being out in the 'burbs, The Edge, at that time, was great in connecting me to what was happening locally. And the Tales from the Edge CDs? Those were beyond!
You were venturing into Deep Ellum at a pretty young age, too, right?
By the time I was 16 or 17, I was able to drive. My rad parents would let my friends and me venture into "The Deep Ellum," which is how my parents would say it, to check out Bowling for Soup, Jibe, Hide the Real, Doosu, Baboon, Hagfish, etc. After high school, I left for college, but would return during breaks. By the time I turned 21, I was back in Dallas and finishing up school at SMU. I remember celebrating my 21st birthday at Curtain Club and everyone being a little shocked that I was just turning 21 at that time. Everyone assumed I was much older by then because I had already been around for a few years.
So, in your opinion, how do you transition from being a music "fan" to actually working in the music world?
You're lucky, that's how! I do say it all the time: I am so fortunate to have been able to combine something I love -- music -- with my career. While I was in college, I met Sherif Shafi, who was working at Sony Music Dallas' office. He connected me for an interview with Barbara Santella Valva, also with Sony, for the Dallas College Representative job out of the Dallas office and she, and a few people based out of Sony's NYC offices, hired me. Seriously, it was one of the most exciting days of my life. I had a fantastic run with Sony, then moved over to local label G2 Records, run by Gust Kepler. And from G2 I moved on to Universal Music Group as an artist development rep for the Dallas and Minneapolis regions. Pretty much all of middle America was my territory. I worked with numerous labels during my years there. Although a good portion of my career was focused on national acts, I always used any and every resource and opportunity I had to elevate Dallas acts and Dallas' scene as a whole.
Who's out there that the rest of us need to see? Any acts that you predict big things for?
Johnny Lloyd Rollins! I do think he is the most under the radar musician in Dallas right now. He is working on new stuff right now and it will be amazing! People on Vacation -- Jaret Reddick and Ryan Hamilton's side project -- have an EP about to debut. If you were lucky enough to catch one of just a few of their performances so far, you got just a small preview of what's to come -- and it's good! Oh, and Burning Hotels! Just when I thought they couldn't get any better, they change up their sound and vibe a little, and even better stuff forms! I think the real story is that anyone could be the next big thing. Everyone should be supporting their local scene so that, when the next big thing breaks out of Dallas, you'll be able to say you were there in the beginning.
You run with the Kirtland crowd pretty regularly. Thick as thieves, you guys are. How did that all start?
Ha! Yeah, consider me Kirtland Records' No. 1 fan! You know, I'm not quite sure. I had met Tami Thomsen and Dale Brock several times through the years. Shortly before the very first Dia de los Toadies festival, Fontana, Universal's "independent" distribution arm, began distributing Kirtland Record's releases and I decided to head out to Possum Kingdom for the fun to be had. I really didn't know what to expect. Of course, I knew there was going to be a kickass rock show because the Toadies were playing, but it was so much more. It was the start of something really, really special. Dia de los Toadies is building a Texas music community. The Toadies and everyone at Kirtland -- John, Tami and Dale -- put on an amazing weekend every year with Dia and bring bands from all over Texas together for it. Fans from all over Texas -- and really, the United States as a whole -- come out to what is just a sick weekend of music. Really: If you haven't made it to one yet, you are without! But besides Dia, everyone at Kirtland is so instrumental in supporting and fostering great music from our community. And, really, I just like to surround myself with people way cooler than me. So, to get back to the question: Dia brought us together! Aw! Barf. There is just so much talent around right now. Of course, The Toadies, Sarah Jaffe and Smile Smile -- all of whom have new stuff coming -- are killing it for Kirtland.
What about other local acts?
Besides Johnny Lloyd Rollins? Ishi, Burning Hotels, galleryCat, Descender, Here Holy Spain, Analog Rebellion, El Cento, MISSILE. Ah! I can't stop! It's pretty safe to say that you can find me at Dada, Granada, Trees or The Double Wide on a regular basis. All are run by top-notch folks and book great acts! And over at El Sibil and The Kessler, they are putting on really cool, intimate shows. Definitely a secret-show feeling. You and the posse, partying in style.
What about behind-the-local-scenesters?
I think the following folks are recognized, but I don't mind giving more credit where credit is due: Josh Florence and John Solis are doing wonderful stuff with Dada and have turned the Homegrown Festival into a much-anticipated spring event. Scott Beggs has consistently booked Deep Ellum forever and now, with a permanent home at La Grange, he will be making even more great stuff happen. Chris "CP" Penn makes it possible for local bands to still have a place to sell physical product at Good Records. And Good Records overall still keeps alive that "record store experience," which I think is so important. Mike Schoder, Julia Garton and the whole Granada crew are also wonderful at blending national and local acts together in a friendly, happy and chill setting. And, of course, there's the fabulous Chelsea Callahan, who, with her booking, management and constant promotions, is more than a music supporter and advocate; she's the local scene connoisseur.
Give us some fun war stories from a night out with your gang!
You make me sound much cooler than I really am! Thankfully, no real war stories. I would just say that if there is a big show, event or festival in Deep Ellum there will generally be an after-party at my warehouse loft, with the occasional impromptu DJ set, plenty of dancing and, for anyone brave enough to take me on, some basketball. Most recently, the night after Ha Ha Tonka killed it at ACL festival and then came to Dallas and wowed a packed La Grange crowd, a seriously competitive game of H-O-R-S-E developed between myself and them that last until 4 a.m., fueled by a healthy amount of drinks and, somehow, fireworks. Perhaps I didn't come out victorious, but I had a strong showing.
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