Rock-Star Wrangler Allen Kovac On Mötley Crüe's 'Dirt' Revival, Durability In The Streaming Era

Allen Kovac and Nikki Sixx
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Kovac (left) with Sixx at Build Studio in New York on March 5.

After Mötley Crüe brought Allen Kovac onboard as its manager in 1994, his first mission was to bring back singer Vince Neil. Since then, Kovac has helped transform the group from ’80s rock stars into icons. “That took a sober band, and it took a focused band,” he says. “They were willing to let me do my job, so I went ahead and took them on.”

Although he has been Mötley Crüe’s manager for 25 years; is CEO of its label, Eleven Seven Music; and co-produced The Dirt movie, Kovac points out that he has not always been “a rock guy,” having previously managed Richard Marx, Luther Vandross, Clint Black and En Vogue.

“I wasn’t a Mötley Crüe fan,” he says. “I don’t look at my taste in music. I look at how to make songs better, artists reach better. I’ve managed every kind of artist from alternative to country. It doesn’t matter what the genre is. What is the quality of the content, and what is the best way to activate the audience? Those are the only two things I look at.”

New concepts have been key. “None of the acts of their era -- Poison, Def Leppard, Kiss -- are on the radio charts,” says Kovac. “It’s really Metallica and Mötley Crüe. What has caused that is Mötley’s ability to reinvent itself -- whether it’s Carnival of Sins, which was a more theatrical [tour] production with a lot of people involved from clowns to aerial dancers, or Crüe Fest, where they combined with younger artists to develop a younger demo.”

The band organically fit well with Allen’s management style. “I really like the way that Allen handles things like marketing, getting the right people in at the right time, and putting the band at the right moment to do certain things,” says Crüe guitarist Mick Mars. “Like, you gotta to do this and you gotta do this to make this happen. You do this and this will happen. He's a genius, and I really admire him at that level to where he knows how to do that.”

Jake Giles Netter/Courtesy of Netflix
Actors Douglas Booth, Kelly and Daniel Webber (from left) starred in Netflix's The Dirt as Sixx, Lee and Neil, respectively.

Kovac likes to get a band's team together in one room to keep their ranks strong. “A board of directors meeting with all your representatives in one room limits the gossip and chaos,” he explains. “The business manager is either taking care of their business side [or not], the lawyers are taking care of the business affairs side or not, and the manager is either elevating them and creating more revenue or not. If that's the way things are done, I've never had a problem. The challenge comes when in a business of gossip, which I think is poison, there are no real facts. And facts are whoever talks to someone last. When everyone's in a room, there's really nothing much you can do other than look at reality. Smart artists know that to have positive outcome they need to have a focus view of what they're doing. Those are the artists I gravitate towards.”

For a band that retired from touring at the end of 2015, Mötley Crüe has gained many young followers who have been drawn to its music and beguiled by its tales of rock’n’roll hedonism and its very real consequences, as best showcased in Netflix’s The Dirt, which converted its audience base from 64% 45- to 59-year-olds to 62% 18- to 45-year-olds, according to Kovac.

“We didn’t want to mask the era,” he says. “We wanted people to learn what you would do to yourself, your family and friends if you were dealing with excess. That was important. Whether it was violence or drunk driving or opiate abuse, this band had the courage to put it up there. Courage is very important to satisfying an audience. When they see you have the courage for truth, they know the difference.”

A version of this article originally appeared in the Sept. 14 issue of Billboard.