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Martin Kierszenbaum on Signing t.A.T.u. to Interscope, Launching Cherrytree

Martin Kierszenbaum
 Eric Ryan Anderson

Martin Kierszenbaum photographed in 2015.

With his Cherrytree Music Company, begun as a joint venture with Interscope Geffen A&M in 2005, Martin Kierszenbaum helped launch the careers of Lady Gaga, Feist, LMFAO, Disclosure and others. Since then, he’s grown his business to include publishing and management divisions, the latter of which represents longtime client Sting, Shaggy, Incubus’ Michael Einziger and more.

As a musician, songwriter and producer, Kierszenbaum performs under the pseudonym Cherry Cherry Boom Boom, and has collaborated with many of his clients. His latest credits include co-writing several tracks on Sting & Shaggy’s 44/876, which hit No. 1 on the Reggae Albums chart, as well as Madonna’s Rebel Heart cut "Holy Water."

Ahead of the label’s 15th anniversary in 2020, he recalls the Interscope signing -- Russian duo t.A.T.u. -- that earned him his own label and Jimmy Iovine’s ear, as well as Cherrytree’s first story in Billboard magazine.

 


 

I don’t speak Russian, but I kept singing their songs phonetically in my head. When I showed the group to [Interscope co-founder] Jimmy Iovine, he bet on the crazy look in my eye. t.A.T.u.’s “All the Things She Said,” released in 2002, is very near and dear to my heart because I wrote a lot of the lyrics. The song was them against the world, a young Thelma and Louise. We sold 5 million records globally, and the track hit No. 8 on the Mainstream Top 40. They’re still the biggest Russian act to chart that high in the U.S. It was a huge moment to see it on the Billboard charts, which authorized and validated it in a way. 

As some of my A&R work, including signing Keane and t.A.T.u., had been covered in the magazine, Billboard wanted to be the first to write about Cherrytree. We signed Feist first, who called us “a mom and pop shop inside a department store.” We were never daunted by borders and searched all over the world: we signed Robyn from Sweden, Die Antwoord from South Africa, Disclosure from the U.K. We were one of the first labels to cast a wider A&R net internationally, which probably had to do with my background, having lived on three different continents. Coming up in the record business as an international marketing person, I looked for sub-cultures with real roots. I always thought if something could sell in Germany, it could sell elsewhere. 

I graduated with a music theory degree from the University of Michigan and have spent most of my life championing musicians. It’s a unique component of Cherrytree, that it’s run by a musician. It attracts artists that are looking for people that can speak the language of music as well as business. I always looked at Cherrytree as a handmade thing, almost like blowing glass. Everything is bespoke to the client, and we’re very particular about who we get into business with. A lot of people have supported us since, but Billboard was the first, and there from the beginning.    

A version of this article appears in the Dec. 7 issue of Billboard.


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