The details are a little blurry on Billie Eilish’s first time meeting Danny Rukasin. She remembers him wearing a leather jacket (“I was?” he asks with a skeptical laugh) and was convinced he was in his 40s. (“30s!” he later objects.) “It’s so cute to be thinking about all of this,” Eilish, 20, reflects with a soft smile while sitting next to her brother, FINNEAS, 24, in a serene greenroom in Phoenix, mere hours before her next headlining show.
But the facts about what led to that moment in late 2015 are irrefutable. When Eilish first met Rukasin, now 43, FINNEAS already had a rapport with the manager — he had previously reached out to him about his own band, The Slightlys. “Danny gave me great advice way before jumping in and working on anything, which to me, that’s always a sign of respect,” he recalls. Soon after, the two ran into each other at a Meg Myers show in Los Angeles, and FINNEAS mentioned (or rather, screamed, as he recalls in an exaggerated reenactment) that he was also working on music with his kid sister.
A day later, FINNEAS uploaded what would become Eilish’s breakout hit, “Ocean Eyes,” to SoundCloud — and Rukasin was one of the first to call. “I was like, ‘Wait, how old is she again?’ ” Rukasin remembers. He became Eilish and FINNEAS’ de facto manager, later bringing on Brandon Goodman, 37, as co-manager at the top of 2016. (The two met a decade ago when their respective clients at the time toured together.) By 2019, they co-founded Best Friends, a management, publishing and recording company that has since also signed Bishop Briggs, Role Model and other artists, writers and producers to management deals.
“Brandon and I are both extremely focused on Billie and FINNEAS, and we never want to take our eyes off that ball,” says Rukasin. That approach has, of course, yielded monumental results, from Eilish’s 2019 chart-topping debut, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, to FINNEAS’ own debut full-length, Optimist, being released last year, and much in between: Grammy sweeps, an Academy Award win, history-making bookings for Eilish as the youngest solo artist to headline Coachella and Glastonbury.
“At the same time,” Rukasin continues, “we’ve grown a great team around them and can lend what we’ve learned in the past 10 years to other projects and clients that we really love. It’s about hiring the right people who are capable, but also helping them develop into superstar managers themselves.” That group includes Laura Ramsay, who handles Eilish’s and FINNEAS’ day-to-day matters; as Rukasin puts it, Ramsay “has an incredible ability to understand Billie and FINNEAS and their taste.” Adds Goodman: “Billie wants to see every single thing and we want to oblige that, so we needed someone who was with her [on the road]. That’s how it started, and [Ramsay’s role has] evolved into such a bigger part of the team, executing everything.”
Both Goodman and Rukasin knew well what it’s like for young artists diving headfirst into the industry. Goodman started managing his first band as a senior at Michigan State University; in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Rukasin played trombone in pop-punk band The Hippos — the first release on label Fueled by Ramen, which kicked off a 20-year working relationship with John Janick (FBR’s founder and now chairman/CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M). “That Janick is the head of this company that signed Billie is a crazy, full-circle moment for me,” says Rukasin. (She is signed to The Darkroom in partnership with Interscope.)
Like any good team, Goodman and Rukasin say their greatest strengths are complementary. Goodman excels at “seeing very quickly what’s necessary and what’s not,” Rukasin says, adding that he inherently understands how to navigate the industry’s behind-the-scenes business. Goodman calls Rukasin “the most attention-to-detail-oriented person I’ve met in my entire life,” one who can “see far out and have the most efficient grid of time — which has really helped Billie have such a dynamic career as far as hitting every angle and being everywhere.”
“That’s a great partner to have,” says Goodman, before adding with a laugh, “Go back to me again.”
“Is this therapy or an interview?” quips Rukasin. “I love it.”
Billie and FINNEAS, you two performed at the Grammys in April and won an Oscar for “No Time To Die” in March. Which room is more intimidating?
Billie Eilish: Oscars. It feels like I am a goddamn nobody in a room full of actors, and that’s fine.
Does part of you enjoy that?
Eilish: A little bit? But at the same time, it is a little bit weird. I think it might be the same way if an actor came into a room full of musicians, they’d be like, “Interesting vibes.”
FINNEAS: Because of music festival culture, you really get to know your contemporaries. At the Grammys, during commercial breaks, everybody was walking up and saying hi.
You two also wrote original music for Disney/Pixar’s Turning Red. Danny and Brandon, how do you field all the requests for Billie and FINNEAS?
Danny Rukasin: What’s a more relatable topic for Billie to write about than a teenage girl who’s a huge fan of music?
Brandon Goodman: And being obsessed with a heartthrob artist. It ties back to the story of her and [Justin] Bieber. We want to make sure they see everything, especially when something is a significant offer.
FINNEAS: They’re always super transparent.
Goodman: We have a weekly call with them — it’s harder when they’re on the road to maintain, but we go through things and we preface it like, “We think you should pass on this,” or “We know you’re going to pass on this.” They’re passing, as they should be, on 98% of things.
FINNEAS: We’re all very aligned these days on everything. I think you have an unbridled enthusiasm for all opportunities at the beginning of your career, which Billie and I were at recently. You’re just like, “Wow! Somebody is asking us to do something?” I often talk about wanting to do things or Billie and I both being like, “This song is fire, let’s drop it now!” and our managers being like, “Well, let’s not drop it now…”
Eilish: Yeah, in hindsight, I’m grateful for that.
Goodman: And then what happens? “No, let’s drop it now.” (All laugh.)
Is that true?
Eilish: There was a period where I was 16 or 17, and I was like, “I want to make a three-song EP, and I want to drop it right now.” And I was so certain that that was the best idea possible, and they were like, “Well, here’s why maybe this is a better idea.” And I was like, “No! Absolutely not.” And they were right for sure.
Rukasin: Part of it was your understanding of music was the SoundCloud era — putting something up and it goes. And then also, you were — and still are — so genuinely young, and you feel something and want to put it out. There’s a certain amount of, “I want to express this right in this moment,” and then us being the dudes, the old guys, who are like, “No, no, no, wait; let’s do it the right way.”
Eilish: The mixture of me being a SoundCloud fan and teaching them what my experience was while they were teaching me what my career was did benefit [all of us].
Rukasin: We also, in that stage of her career, wanted to do nothing but set her up to succeed. And I think now she can do whatever the f–k she wants, and that’s the cool thing. We built it the right way.
We had to really suss out who the partner was that really believed in her and the music they were making and were going to help develop that. The decision that Billie ultimately made were the people we all agreed on, like John [Janick] and [Interscope vice chairman Steve] Berman and Justin [Lubliner, founder/CEO of The Darkroom], who was really excited about what Billie was doing on a totally other level.
FINNEAS: Very youthful, in a way that most people weren’t.
Eilish: I’m really proud of the way we waited that out and made sure it felt right.
There have been major shake-ups in management lately, with rising and superstar artists parting ways with the managers who helped launch them. How important is it to get the team right from the start?
Rukasin: It’s tough because a manager is really [part of] the DNA of what you’re doing. Someone who is going to understand you and be able to guide you through every step of the process of being an artist from the start to wherever you land. I think sometimes it’s based on access. FINNEAS didn’t know anybody, and had I been a different person or a different manager, maybe he wouldn’t have stayed with me because as time goes on, you learn whether somebody really gets you or is going to trust you. It’s really hard to get it right the first time. There’s also a lot of great young managers who are just friends with someone and they’re kind of learning the business together with the artist.
Goodman: I’ve heard other people talk about how passion can be just as valuable as experience [for a manager] because if you have a young, dedicated, smart person who wants to get it right and knows how to work with people and find the answers by asking questions, that can go a long way. At the end of the day, artists really want people working with them who want to succeed and are capable of learning quickly. There are really no barriers to entry to being a manager. That’s the truth. All you have is yourself — and then, of course, you have to be fortunate enough to work with great talent.
How do you two manage artists who are growing up in front of the whole world? And Billie, how do you handle that as a young woman managed by two dudes?
Eilish: No sh-t. Two dudes in their 40s at the time.
Rukasin: Well, 30s.
Goodman: I was 31!
Eilish: You guys were 50 to me.
FINNEAS: However old your parents are is how old you think all adults are.
Goodman: We are very lucky that Maggie and Patrick [their parents], but Maggie especially, are a very big part of the whole thing and are there every step of the way [for] Billie and Finn — and to help translate some things that might need to be put into their language. Even to this day, Maggie continues to be integral to every big decision and the day-to-day goings-on.
FINNEAS: Our parents never talked down to us because we were children; they might have had to repeat themselves and explain something more than if they were talking to an adult, but they never talked to us with a kind of…
FINNEAS: Yeah, they were never condescending to us ever, and neither are our managers. I think our managers communicating openly with us and treating us like peers even though we were children at the time that we started working with them, we were used to that style of communication from our parents.
Eilish: I’m just now thinking about this, doing a lot of meetings in that year of 2016 of just having put out “Ocean Eyes,” there were a lot of people that we did meet that treated us like children.
FINNEAS: They just didn’t know what to say, and I don’t blame them for it.
Eilish: But it just proved even more how good [Goodman and Rukasin] were with us, especially at the beginning when we didn’t know what the f–k was going on. They didn’t make us worried or scared or feel out of place or like we were doing something wrong, which was really nice. And we would meet people who just didn’t know how to talk to us.
FINNEAS: And I empathize with that too, man. I’m only 24, and when I’m talking to a 13-year-old sometimes, I’ll be like, “Well, what the f–k do I say?” Being 13 feels so long ago to me.
Eilish: It’s hard to talk to people from a different generation.
When you think about a long and healthy career, what does that look like?
Eilish: It’s really a real thing that I think about a lot…
FINNEAS: Yeah, most people are cautionary tales.
Eilish: It’s really hard to maintain a timeless kind of career, and the longer I exist as Billie Eilish, I’m more and more aware of like, “Let’s look at this through a different lens.” Because when I was “hot” or whatever, when you have that first moment of “Boom, everybody’s looking at you…”
FINNEAS: When you have your breakthrough…
Eilish: …it feels like that will literally never go away, in all the bad ways and all the good ways. It was actually John Mayer who said something to FINNEAS that made me think about it. (To FINNEAS.) What was it?
FINNEAS: We were at an airport in Wisconsin in the summer of 2019, and it was really crazy, like all of the TSA agents were filming Billie, it was like a zoo…
Eilish: Everywhere we went, I mean, it was a nightmare.
FINNEAS: I was like, “Everything is just crazy right now.” And John was like, “Ah, Billie’s white hot.” He was like, “It’s like seeing an animal on safari.”
Eilish: And it’s scary. It feels like it’s never going to end because when you’re new, that is like nothing else. But it changes. It doesn’t last for a really long time.
FINNEAS: Which is good.
Eilish: Which is very, very good. It has been interesting to see how the couple of years have been after that. I’ve been looking up to the people who came before me way more. When I was 15, 16, 17, I wasn’t thinking about the things that all the artists before my time had gone through to get to where they are. Now I see how hard these people have worked, and I note it, I really note it. I don’t want to jinx anything by saying, “I’m going to do this or that,” but I think that it’s an amazing thing when people have longevity.
FINNEAS: It’s really rare. You don’t have to reinvent yourself every day, but you do have to evolve because everyone else is. That’s what people forget so much about musicians: Whether or not your favorite musician is evolving, every other person on Earth is. If you want to be somebody’s favorite musician for a decade, you have to evolve — because so are they.
Billie, you grapple with your future on Happier Than Ever. When you think about the big picture, is this what you want to do and will do forever?
Eilish: I don’t really think about a quitting moment. I picture my future and things I want to achieve, and… I don’t know, it’s tough. I don’t know if I should even say this, but music was never the thing I really wanted to do. I love music so much, but it wasn’t ever the first thing I thought of doing. For FINNEAS, it was really different.
FINNEAS: Billie’s a multihyphenate.
Eilish: I used to do a lot of different sh-t.
Goodman: You’re an overall creative.
FINNEAS: Fashion, directing…
Eilish: Yeah, and music was the underlying love that no matter what I did was always there, so I guess it was subconsciously the thing I loved the most, but I had so many other goals in my life. I don’t feel like they’re not going to happen, I feel hopeful for them. In the last year, I’ve done so many things that I dreamed about doing years and years ago just because I was like, “Oh, I can actually do that now,” like nothing is stopping me. I don’t think about my end of days when I’m going to be alone on a ranch…
Goodman: Like when you’re 25. (Laughs.) And Billie hasn’t done this, but there’s a power in going away and coming back. I mean, Adele is a great example. A lot of artists are. We feel Billie has reached the level where it’s OK if she wants to focus on other things for a minute. We are on her timeline, and when and how she wants to release music, we’re here to support that.
Eilish: The thing that does scare me is the idea of, if I’m not in the mood, does that mean I can’t do it?
FINNEAS: I don’t envision a world where Billie and I ever stop making music together.
Eilish: That’s what I mean. It’s not like a 9-5 job where we have to stop one day or not.
FINNEAS: To me, it’s always going to be about moving goal posts, and I don’t necessarily mean to bigger, I just mean to different places. When I look at artists who are continuing to inspire me, it’s the breadth of their career as opposed to like, “Wow, they have another No. 1.” We’re very fortunate and very blessed, but I don’t feel that winning a bunch more Grammys is what’s keeping me inspired these days.
Eilish: On that note, I had this feeling yesterday at the Grammys because we obviously didn’t win anything — I went into the day suspecting we weren’t going to win anything, and of course, the internet, no matter what happens, is going to be like, “You were robbed,” and I’m just like, “I wasn’t, I have seven at home. It’s OK, it’s all good.”
Rukasin: You were also nominated for many, which is great.
Eilish: I was nominated and that’s amazing, but getting up during a commercial break and people coming up to me being like, “You changed my life, your music gets me through the day,” I’m like, “That’s it.”
FINNEAS: That’s the win.
Eilish: I’m getting choked up because yesterday, I was like, “Who gives a f–k if you don’t have fans?” That’s what I care about. I just want to keep enjoying the music that we make. And so that’s why I think I’m a little bit of a procrastinator when it comes to working, especially when we’re busy. In theory, I want to make a song and put out an album next year, but that means we have to make it, and it’s really hard to make music, for me. I don’t want to make something I don’t like, so I get freaked out, but I never want to stop creating the way that we create and making music that touches people. That’s it, you know? That’s the only longevity I give a sh-t about.
Rukasin: And also honesty, the last record was so honest.
FINNEAS: That’s why the hook of the new one is: “We got an Oscar.” (All laugh.)
Goodman: It’s like we talked about, Billie doesn’t have to put out an album at a certain point. She’s earned [the ability] to do it when she wants to do it how she wants to.
Given the award talk, has anyone on the team uttered the word EGOT lately?
Goodman: We’ve heard the term before.
Rukasin: I mean, we’ve talked about it. How can you not when Lin-Manuel is going for it? Given the amount of people who have done it are incredible talents, putting Billie and Finn in that same category in our minds, and most people’s minds, how can you not? But it’s not the only motivation.
Goodman: If you’ve accomplished half of that by the time you’re 20 and 24 years old, who knows what the future holds? At this point, we’ve learned that anything is possible with the two of them.