I wanted to start by giving a huge “thank you” to Martin Kierszenbaum for letting me send him questions.
You all probably at least know of Martin from his work with t.A.T.u as well as his diligent work with all of the artists on Cherrytree Records. He is also head of A&R at Interscope Records, and has worked with Sting, Keane, Feist, Ai, Colby O’Donis, and many other artists internationally. He is Cherry Cherry Boom Boom.
And enough of me babbling: his name is all over if you want to learn more on your own. On to the questions:
1. What are your earliest memories of music in your life, and how early did it become such a major component of who you are?
I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember. I started taking piano lessons at 8 years old and became very interested in writing music and what I call the language of music theory. I was pretty much obsessed with the process of making music and began spending more and more time on it to the point where it probably kept me out of a lot of trouble in high school and college. To this day, making music, talking about music and listening to music is when I’m the happiest.
2. You’ve seen so many people walk through the Cherrytree and Interscope doors: do you see any major differences – personality, attitude, anything – between young artists that started out when you first came into the business and the artists we see today?
There isn’t necessarily a major difference in the level of quality, determination or passion. Those elements are quite constant with truly talented folks no matter the era. Where I do see a difference is in the access to and availability of information. Thanks to the interconnectivity of today’s world, talented artists can be more empowered, informed and aware. Modern technology also allows more talented artists to be exposed, no matter where they come from. I see that as a beautiful thing.
3. Do you have a favorite music or artist-related story to tell?
I’m fortunate enough to have worked with many very special and talented artists. It would be hard to pinpoint just one experience. Someone extraordinary from whom I’ve had the privilege to learn tons is Sting. He’s been like a big brother to me in his kindness and support. I do remember meeting him for the first time many years ago. I was doing international publicity for his Soul Cages project and had traveled to Atlanta to supervise an interview with a Dutch publication. I was in the glorious Fox Theater in Atlanta thinking about having started work for A&M records only the week before. I went backstage to greet Sting and take him to the interview room backstage. We both got in the elevator there – an old one where you have to open the screen door manually when you arrive at your floor. In the elevator, Sting was holding a plate, trying to squeeze in his supper before doing the interview and playing the show. When we got to the floor and the elevator stopped, I spaced and didn’t open the screen (And, Sting couldn’t do it because his hands were holding the plate). So, the elevator automatically went back down to our original floor. Sting looked at me and uttered the first words he ever said to me: “you f’cked up.” I’ll never forget it; quite an auspicious first impression really. 18 years and lots of adventures together later, I’m proud to say that Sting now records on my imprint.
4. How do you think the heavy digitization of music and voice is affecting the technique and technical skill of young artists today, if at all? Where do you think it will take music?
There have always been technological advancements in making music. Did the piano forte affect the technique and output at the time? Surely. I think that making great music requires musical talent, originality and skill. That hasn’t changed. It’s not easier to make great music. It’s just different.
5. You’ve met so many amazing, influential people, have you ever been starstruck? With whom?
I’m still very impressed when I meet a musician that I really admire. I mean, for me, great musicians are heroes. Music is important to me so, yes, I get excited. It’s not to the point where it interferes with doing my job, but I embrace that feeling of excitement. It’s fun and brings me joy.
6. Which artist that you’ve worked with has been, in your opinion, the hardest to market to the American scene, regardless of musical skill? What do you think made it so hard to get people to catch on?
Anybody making maverick music and pushing the creative envelope is going to be met with some resistance at first. I’d say I may have made it a little harder for myself when I started trying to break artists across borders just because it wasn’t that prevalent a concept at the time. But, as with anything that’s unique and of great quality, it will eventually succeed and reach its audience. Growing up, my dad always told me “cream rises to the top.” That idea continues to inspire me to this day – even in the face of the toughest obstacles.
7. What do you think is your “most played” song of all time?
You mean my favorite song? Or a song with which I’ve been involved? It’s tough to pick a favorite song but my top 10 list would probably include “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” by Dionne Warwick, “Appetite” by Prefab Sprout and “1999” by Prince. In terms of my own songs, I’m proud of having co-written “All the Things She Said” by t.A.T.u. which was no. 1 for 4 weeks in a row in the UK. I think “Happy Birthday” by Flipsyde was special and I really like “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)” by Lady Gaga which recently reached no. 2 in Sweden.
8. Cherrytree seems to have such an international assortment of artists – was that your intention from the beginning and why, or how did it come about?
My intention is to not let geographic location limit us. I moved all over the world when I grew up – lived in 3 continents. The prospect of seeking out talented artists across borders and cultures isn’t daunting to me at all. Doing so widens my net in terms of finding exciting artists. It’s not that I purposely search for international acts. It’s just that I don’t have an aversion to getting up at 3am to make a call or traveling 18 hours in search of great music. I’m excited to find talented people and help them get their music exposed no matter where they are in the world.
9. You must get approached by and exposed to so many great bands that would love to work for Cherrytree every day: what’s the process for sorting through to find new talent for the label?
This is the hardest thing to articulate because so much of it is based on particular taste and instinct. Cherrytree looks for unique and trend-setting artists within the tradition of pop music. I’m drawn to unique voices, great songwriting and compelling points-of-view.
10. What professional or musical accomplishment to date are you most proud of?
At Cherrytree Records, we’re privileged to work with really innovative artists such as Feist, Tokio Hotel, Sting, Lady Gaga and Robyn, just to name a few. That’s a real source of pride for me: to be involved with artists whose music is pushing creative boundaries as well as touching people’s emotions. In addition, I’m really proud of the connection that the team at Cherrytree has been able forge with the music-loving folks that form what I call our “pop alternative” community. I think that people can feel the family vibe that exists here at the label across the http://www.cherrytreerecords.com site and the other Cherrytree destinations including the Cherrytree chat, http://www.cherrytreeradio.com, and The Cherrytree House TV program. I think people can feel that we love our staff, our artists and their music. I consider it an honor to be able to work with the team at Cherrytree and its amazing roster of artists. I’m also grateful to all of the Cherrytreerec’ers – our supporters who feedback to us and egg us on every day.