Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans, where we meet the people in the local music scene that you don't see on stages.
Lazo's experience with record labels has had her working with a variety of national touring acts, but the list of artists that are based in our hometown alone is impressive. The Eli Young Band is her current project; they have a new release set for next Tuesday. Lazo was also the on-point for Erykah Badu's last release event at Good Records. The event drew over 500 people. The list goes on, as you'll learn below.
Up until just over a year ago, Lazo was paying her dues and working odd jobs both on and off the label's grounds -- and essentially having a good time due to the fact that she at least had her foot in the door in the music industry.
As is a recurring story here in LMA, Lazo was a spirited music fan, and that enthusiasm led directly to her break in the biz. She got that break when one of the clients in the chiropractic office she worked at turned out to be Bubba Wayne McManners -- a legendary name among Texas-based label industry types. In passing, Lazo mentioned to McManners that she was tired from driving more than three hours to see Cinderella in concert. McManners, intrigued by her musical enthusiasm, made Penny an unofficial tastemaker of sorts, sliding her records from the piles of submissions he would get from both his label (MCA at the time) and from the unsigned acts that had gained McManners as an industry contact.
From there, her excitement evolved into a labor of love. Before long, she she'd proverbially paid her dues. Now, Lazo travels the country, jumping on and off tour with country acts signed to Universal. And she's having fun doing it, too: She takes photos of artists holding her taco-shaped makeup case, just for kicks. Hence the photo above.
If you can manage to put aside your bleeding jealousy over the kind of life Lazo is leading, check out her story after the jump for a little inspiration and insight on how to break into the biz.
As long as I've known you, you've been involved in work with national touring acts. What about acts from Dallas or surrounding cities?
I'm currently working with The Eli Young Band from Denton. They have a new release August 16. Erykah Badu's last release was a blast, too, with over 500 people at her Good Records signing. And that was just after her nude video shot at Dealey Plaza. It was rewarding to see Blue October go from playing to 50 people to selling out venues constantly and getting national attention. I've also worked with Graham Colton, The Nixons, Rhett Miller, Element 80, Jack Ingram, Pantera, Hellyeah (when they were on Fontana), The Toadies, Forever the Sickest Kids, Flyleaf, The Polyphonic Spree, and more!
What happened to the young Penny to lead her down such a dark road as the music business? Were there family members that pumped music into your head?
My mom was into Elvis, The Beatles, The Supremes and also Loretta Lynn. My Dad was a Hank Williams Sr. fan, and also loved Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Then there was my older cousin who turned me onto stuff like Heart, Joan Jett, Aeorsmith, Kiss and Duran Duran. Music is and has been my life. I consider myself fortunate to have such a well-rounded influential background. My parents were very lenient and I began seeing shows at two years old. Elvis was my first show! I don't recall it, but it was late-'70s "Vegas Elvis," right before he died. The ticket was 10 dollars! [Laughs.] My family just happened to be in Memphis the night he died, too. I remember seeing the flowers all on his lawn and the multitudes there mourning. I played classical piano throughout school and placed first in several state competitions, sang in church and choirs and, as everyone does, experimented with bands. Music saved me from many a night in an otherwise dismal Louisiana life. I was the kid in school with the weird hair and clothes, so music was my outlet.
How about education that might have pointed you this way?
I have a BS in biology, go figure. I'm actually somewhat proficient in chemistry and biology. I had been interning, but no jobs were materializing due to the Polygram merger, so I had already begun college. I figured I had to have a back-up plan for the volatile history of the industry, so I planned to go to medical school if I didn't get into the music business. I also am a registered massage therapist and, at times, I will work on artist clients.
How about the point when being a student and an intern turned into actual paying work?
I eventually got hired at Universal Music Group Distribution. First, I was a front office and sales assitant. Since then, my tenure has included being a field marketing rep, which is where you're responsible for visiting the many retail stores and building those cool displays you used to see and supplying them with our music and covering in-stores. Then, I became a Universal Records artist development rep, working acts like Godsmack, 3 Doors Down, Matt Nathanson, Nelly, Hinder and Pat Green. Working the Texas artists like Pat Green and Cross Canadian Ragweed led to the country gig -- divisional country marketing manager. Then I did stints at Big Machine Records, Music World Entertainment and re-joined Universal Distribution as Island/Def Jam Artist Development rep, and now I'm back again to being a country label marketing rep! I now cover 16 states from here to the Dakotas, and the West Coast. I implement all marketing efforts, social media, partnership marketing and online marketing for all of our country labels. It's artists like Taylor Swift, George Strait, Sugarland, Sunny Sweeny, Eli Young Band, Randy Rogers Band, Hayes Carll, Black Joe Lewis, Ryan Bingham. All Texas artists. Also: Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts, Brantley Gilbert, The Band Perry and more.
I understand you and Jack Ingram were regular pals in his early days.
He used to attend SMU and cut his teeth at Adair's. We spent many a night spent eating late-night burgers. It was awesome to be a part of Jack's rise to his first No. 1 single on Big Machine Records with "Wherever You Are."
I know about your humble beginnings with (now-retired label rep icon) Bubba Wayne McManners. Is he a bit of a mentor to you?
He is an absolute genius. He always had the foresight to see where this business would eventually be and the state of the industry. He predicted back as early as 1999 the demise of the CD and the foray into digital. The most important thing he taught me is about relationships -- to be yourself, genuine and honest. Work hard, educate yourself, keep the faith and, most importantly, keep passion for the music and artists. He is one of the most respected in the industry, and artists to this day still recall his hilarious jokes and stories. If I ever have a dilemma, he the first person I reach out to until this day.
How do you like being "the country chick" for Universal? You seem to be so much more rock 'n' roll!
Yes, I'm the country chick! I like it because there's lots of Texas-based artists. It's cool. The Eli Young Band, as I mentioned, they have a new release called Life at Best streeting on August 16 and are doing a Texas club tour of CD release shows, including Billy Bobs in Fort Worth on August 20. There's multiple Texas-artist releases in general, too: Sunny Sweeney August 23; Robert Earl Keen on August 30; and the king himself, George Strait, on September 6.
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You seem to be having the time of your life the last couple of years. True?
Very true! I am genuinely blessed. Not many people can wake up and say they love their job and are pursuing their passion.
In the midst of your fun adventures, you've begun to collect photos with artists holding your taco! Where did the taco photo trail begin, and what inspired it?
Oh, the Taco! "The Taco Files" were inspired by a humorous exchange -- oddly enough before a Jack Ingram show -- between me, a girlfriend and the waiter at Mi Cocina. Of course, you know the innuendo ... I said quite loudly when he reached to take her plate, "Don't touch that! I'm going to eat her taco!" It became a running joke, and then a coworker of mine bought me the infamous taco purse. It just took on a life of its own. I thought it would be funny to take pics of people with the Taco, and have accumulated over 350 pics. I make it a point to have some artists participate, and they all "get it" and comply! Dane Cook was the only person to turn down The Taco Files.
I know you still manage to get out on the town a good bit. Any non-country local acts that have impressed you recently?
I'm into Ishi, Fair To Midland, Preteen Zenith and the Tyler-based Rockett Queen. I've been helping with their recent release, Goodnight California, and am excited about frontman Walter Lee's upcoming transition into the country world!
Where do you hope to see things go in your world? Aspirations?
Well, I am at the moment hoping to survive the precarious conditions in this industry in order to eventually work in management and/or at a label of my own. Nashville could be calling my name. I want to do whatever is in my power to see my artists -- many of whom have become friends along the way -- continue to be able to sustain their careers and livelihood.