Justin Press Got His First Music Industry Gig By Simply Writing A Fawning Letter About a Show
Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans, where we meet the people in the local music scene that you don't see on stages.
Justin Press in perhaps the single greatest photo of all-time.
Justin Press was, for many years, one of the key people running what is now known as Verizon Theatre. Back then, it was simply known as NextStage.
See, when Press was a youngster, he wrote a letter to Nextstage expressing his opinions of the theatre's quality, and it ended up getting him a job there. Pretty amazing, stuff. They started him out as a production runner and eventually elevated to the bigger responsibilities, such as booking and managing.
But, when Press started out, he was the guy who went to "get ginger root for Jane's Addiction," and "dealt with the Osbourne clan" when Ozzfest would roll in. It was a job he tackled with a lot of enthusiasm considering who regarded himself to be -- just a kid who liked bands and collected records.
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Specifically, though, he was a kid who grew up pretty far from it all -- on a Royal Air Force base in Scotland in the '70s. In his down-time, he was, and still is, a passionate music consumer; heading to shows molded to his tastes in prog, punk and hard rock, for the most part.
Eventually, his work experience started to factor into that as well -- especially after eventual colleague in
These days, though, he's partnered with local musician Kell Curtis of the band The Bright to helm his own company, Wheelhouse PR. After the jump, we let Press tell his story in his own words.
You've been a significant consumer, critic and supporter of local music in DFW for a while. And, from a fan standpoint, you were finding your way into shows since you were very young -- back in the early '9's, right?
Being a part of some incredible scenes over the years in DFW was part of my training ground. The hardcore days of Clown Ramp and Liberty Hall/Circle A Ranch to Theater Gallery and the cavernous Club Clearview, Dallas and Deep Ellum were a scary place to a 16-year-old at the time. Especially one from the backwoods of Fort Worth. There were a lot of nights at the Arcadia. Or at Joe's Garage seeing a spandex-clad Pantera. And let's not forget Mad Hatters/Axis Club, and those riotous gigs at The Engine Room. And that small window when Deep Ellum and Trees seemed like the flashpoint from 1990 to 1994.
So I could say with no doubt that I supported the DFW music industry with blood, sweat and a steel liver. Over time, and it's like anything, you just burn out and become jaded about it. I felt that when KDGE and mainstream media started rearing their heads, it took something dear and poisoned the well. Of course, that's just my punk mentality speaking -- you know, the need to hold onto something so closely that you strangle it. Deep Ellum didn't grow up, it just over-ate. And, as you watch an engineering firm move into the Circle A space, or linen-tableclothed restaurants sandwiching themselves in between old battlegrounds, you realize that some parts of it are over. So you go through this turnabout where for about 10 years you just run from it and take more of an interest in, I dunno, Swedish metal or whatever.
But, today, I can honestly say that the DFW scene, though getting awfully crowded, is vital and bursting with great energy. You've got "the pillars" in folks like Mike Schoder and the Granada, Clint Barlow and Trees, Tami Thomsen and Kirkland, Scott Beggs and Sierra Bravo, Chelsea Callahan and Double Wide, Jeff Liles and The Kessler, Lance Yocom and Spune -- all old-schoolers doing new things in order to keep creativity and the sounds alive! I feel somewhat out of touch with local band scene right now. But the local music scene and culture? It's upward and onward.
Care to name a few local bands that actually earned the Justin seal of approval?
Shit, local bands don't need my approval. I'm just another asshole with an unpolished opinion. But I can tell you from what I witness, DFW bands work their asses off and that goes underappreciated by a large segment of the populace. You know how fucking hard it is to load up, load in, set up, play, break it down, load out, and for maybe 30 people on a Tuesday evening? It's emotional suicide. And I realize that it happens in every city. But to be doing it in Dallas, which seems somewhat cursed, that takes passion. And local bands here are definitely filled to the brim with that. Hell, I see it weekly with my two best friends and their band. It's always a leap of faith off a cliff with no safe landings. As soon as these clowns get out of the "bottle-service clubs" business and start investing their time in real music, then maybe some will get their due because the audiences will expand.
But, from what I recall, there are a few that I had hoped would have gotten to the next level. Baboon and Rubber Bullet, in particular, come to mind. Who I wish could break out today is Blood Of The Sun, just an incredibly tight band that makes me wish I still had my old Taste records.
Were you able to help many local acts when you worked at the theater?
Local bands didn't really seem to fall into the AEG Live agenda unless it was The Toadies, who really are a global band that just happen to be local. Though, I'd be remiss not to mention the fact that from '91 to '95, they saved the scene and brought it accolades. Sure, for metal and hard rock shows at The Palladium, which is also an AEG live property that I did sales for, you'd get local rock band as openers and for these bands to play for 500-plus people, basically for beer money. It was always a great chance for exposure.
When you're at a theater level as an act, are you really deemed local anymore? At some point, "local" just means breeding ground. I can tell you, though, that several of the people who I worked with were big into promoting and helping advance local music, including Robin Phillips, who used to be with Daughter Entertainment prior to AEG. It's interesting to see now, too, that AEG Live is working with local hotspots to put shows into those rooms -- including Lola's and, of course, the Granada, with whom they've had a lengthy relationship with. All this synergy is great for creating a sense of community.
It's sort of Goliath turning to David from time to time.
In high school, did your musical tastes lean in one particular direction, or was it more of an all-encompassing enthusiasm?
In high school, I was music-fluent enough to hang with the heshers in the parking lot talking about the merits of Motorhead, while at lunch breaking down the latest Gang of Four album with my Honor Society friends. For me, it was The Stray Cats at the Bronco Bowl one night, Ozzy at Reunion Arena the following. And I wasn't a poseur trying to straddle both sides because I knew the language better than anyone else. The real crime, though, is that, through all of this, I never bothered to pick up an instrument. I just didn't have that "thing," so I knew the non-performing side was my way in. But school never led me to music or entertainment other than sharing mutual love for this band or film with classmates. Nowadays, I'm too old to be hip, yet too seasoned to buy into trends. So I stick with what works for me.
OK, so if school didn't lead you towards the industry, what did you do to get your foot in the door?
Foot in the door? Fuck. I had to kick the damned thing in to even get a chance. I worked in record stores, sold unknown records for small cult bands for labels to Japan, worked in music publishing and finally started writing about music. In college, you never knew about music industry careers. To me, it was just always some down-trodden-looking soul coming in the shop to hang posters and give the managers a stack of cut-out promos. Who would want that gig? Two years later, we all did. And I did it for a pauper's salary. "Welcome to the rest of your life, dumbass! You should have studied chemistry!" How I got into the concert business was by, believe it or not, writing a letter about my experience to the NextStage management after seeing, gulp, an REO/Styx gig. I was blown away by the venue. Little did I know at the time that this was the new era of the concert experience -- the "creature-comfort theater." Anyway, the HR person called me and told me she read my note and asked if I wanted to come out and try to be a production runner. "What the hell is that?" I wondered. But I came out, interviewed, got the gig and here we are today -- in a different career.
Tell us about the business you're involved in now.
Currently, I co-own Wheelhouse PR and Marketing with Kell Curtis from the band The Bright. I met him through his wife, Julie Lange, also in The Bright, who was my last mentor at AEG Live. She thought he and I would make a good partnership. It's very incestuous. It's a double-edged sword for us because we look alike and think alike. So, having that shared wavelength can be sometimes tough to battle. If we're working on something, one of us can go off on a tangent about the guitar sound on an old Frank Marino song and then it becomes a two-hour discussion. But, to our advantage, we are both professional enough to realize that the work comes first. We do public relations for various national companies and clients focusing in on entertainment driven brands. Our current clients include Monster Energy, Guvera (an Aussie based music download site), Shiprocked, Right Arm Entertainment (they book Rock on the Range) and are in discussions with a major guitar company, and a couple gaming companies. But we also handle project work as well. And, as our name says, we do anything related to publicity, public relations, marketing, creative and activation for our clients. So I still work in music and live events, just in a different discipline these days. As you can imagine, we like to have a good time with it.
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