This article was originally published in the May 3, 2003 issue of Billboard. Ocasek passed away Sept. 15 at the age of 75.
COMING HOME: Ric Ocasek, Elektra Entertainment Group’s (EEG) newly named senior VP of A&R, is nothing if not loyal. Elektra was the first label he ever set foot in as a young man looking for his big break in music. “I was 21. It was 1970. I came to New York from the Midwest, and I thought you could just walk into a record company and give them your tape,” Ocasek says in an exclusive interview about his new post.
“So I tried to do that, and Elektra was the only label who let me in.” he continues. “I remember the girl s name, Shelly Snow, who saw me. I don’t even know if they called it A&R back then, but she closed her door, lit a joint, and I thought. ‘Jesus. I’m in heaven here,’ and then we listened to [my] songs and I exited. I didn’t get the deal, but it was nice to have the experience.”
Flash forward to 1978. and Ocasek’s group the Cars is one of Elektra’s top acts. By the time the band released its last studio album, 1987’s Door to Door, the Cars had sold more than 20 million albums in the U.S., according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America. (Ocasek also recorded two solo albums for Geffen in the mid-’80s.)
Through his Cars tenure and beyond. Ocasek has produced scads of acts, including Bad Brains, Lloyd Cole, Weezer, Nada Surf, Hole, No Doubt, and Bad Religion, so it’s no surprise that EEC chairman/CEO Sylvia Rhone came calling.
“Sylvia phoned me and said. ‘I have a wonderful idea, let me run it by you,'” Ocasek says. “We went to lunch and discussed it. It’s something I never thought about or imagined. But I thought, ‘I like Sylvia a lot. This will be a great way to hear a lot of great music and maybe find something in the haystack. I’ll be in the office at my own discretion. I’ve never had an office job before… then there’s waking up earlier than 12, I can’t do that. Sylvia’s not making me do that.'” She’s also not making him work exclusively for Elektra; Ocasek stresses that he’s still able to produce acts not on the label.
For her part, Rhone tells Billboard she was looking for someone with a unique perspective. “I have tremendous respect for Ric as an artist and producer of great taste,” she says. “Having not had any previous label experience, he gives Elektra a fresh pair of ears and a new look to the A&R process. I am confident he will make an indelible contribution to the creative vision of the company.”
Ocasek says he hasn’t signed anyone to Elektra yet, but he’s on the hunt for things that “are different. I have an interesting view of the music I get that’s probably quite a bit different from most A&R folks, since I’ve been on the stage and written hundreds of songs. I’m looking for acts where the general sound and genre is already intact. They should already be good, they should already have their own style…I’m also not doing this just to find productions; there are only so many records I can produce a year without going nuts.”
Don’t expect to see him lurking at the back of clubs in search of the next big thing, because he says plenty of music finds its way to him. “I don’t think I would be on a mission to scout out things, although I’d go see things that I think are good. But I couldn’t stand the smell of going into a bar every day I don’t even drink anymore. I can’t imagine going in there and having to run out to have a cigarette.”
Regarding his own musical career. Ocasek says he still makes music and is, in fact, working on a solo record. “It s a pretty artistic one that I might just put out on the Internet. I don’t want to return to the pop world as a performer. I don’t think I could, because I don’t think anyone would be interested. I don’t want to go out and worry if the record company is going to push it and if it will get airplay. I can still do records, and it’s OK if it’s just for a few.”