People Who Work Here would like to introduce to you the inimitable Andy Kotowicz, Vice President of Sales and Director of Marketing, as well as A&R dude and father of one. I worked with Andy for quite a long while, at least a year and a half, before I realized that Andy was really only a year older than me. It’s not like Andy acts super old or anything, but there is definitely something about him that makes him seem, I hesitate to use the word wiser here, but maybe more experienced? Paternal? I don’t know; I can’t put my finger on it. Anyhoo, Andy is a very passionate person and he ends up blowing his top a little sometimes if he gets too worked up about something. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not scary or weird—it’s more like when your dad gets really mad because you left his tools in the rain, you know? Oh let’s get on with it—let’s meet Andy!
L: Tell me how a young man from Michigan made all the way out here to the West Coast via the East Coast. Who did you work for in New York and why did they let you write the liner notes to Flamin’ Groovies reissues?
A: I lived in Nashville for a couple of years after I graduated from college. In ‘96 and ’97, I worked at a little label in Murfreesboro, TN, where I got to know a guy named Andy McLenon pretty well. He was the general manager for a time. Before that, he and his partner Jack Emerson, who sadly passed away a few years ago, ran a label/management company called Praxis. They worked with Jason & the Scorchers & Georgia Satellites. Andy knows everyone and everything about music. Anyway, after a couple years, it kinda seemed like it was time to move on and my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) and I decided to move to New York. Andy left at the same time to work for Seymour Stein, who was starting a Nashville branch of Sire. One of the last days at Spongebath, he said to me "You’ll never guess who I met last night." The answer was Jonathan. They had met through Seymour and they were both in town for a Mike Ireland show, I think. Andy knew that I was a big Sub Pop fan and one of his greatest attributes is that he will become your greatest advocate and will sing your praises to anyone who will listen. I owe the guy a great debt of gratitude. Soon after, Jocelyn and I moved to New York, where I worked for a couple of different labels, Razor & Tie being the first. They were best known for doing the ‘70s Preservation Society TV comps as well as Monsters of Rock and Cledus T Judd (No Relation). They had also done some phenomenal country and R&B reissues. I would tell the guy who put that stuff together (Mike Ragogna, who now does catalog at Universal) that he should reissue the Flamin’ Groovies’ Flamingo and Teenage Head among other things. Soon after, BMG decided to revamp the Buddha label as a catalog imprint and they hired Mike to head it up! They, of course had those two albums at their disposal and I was probably the first person that came to mind to write the liners because I was obviously into it and I would work cheap. I’d never written liner notes before and I think the reaction of the label to them was “It’s good for what it is.” I’m proud of having done those. It was a big thrill. Meanwhile, I’d started corresponding with Jonathan and Megan, thanks to Andy. We traded records and met a couple times and when the sales job came up, they offered it to me. By the way, McLenon was also the guy who turned me on to the Groovies in the first place, bringing the long-winded answer full circle. [Is he done yet? Somebody tell me when he’s done. -ed.]
L: You would probably give Iggy Pop a BJ—tell me why you like him so much and when the obsession began.
A: It’s more the Stooges than Iggy specifically. [Yes, but I don’t think you have that many mouths. -ed.] I think I first heard Raw Power in about the 8th grade. My friend Frank was a punker and he played it for me at his house after school. I went to Tappan Junior High in Ann Arbor, same as Iggy, or Jim as I like to call him. The obsession started when I heard Funhouse for the first time a few years later. It struck me as the perfect music, such a unified statement of aggression. It’s almost like a suite, rather than an album, though I may be splitting hairs. It’s almost a matter of civic pride for me. I still have not listened to The Weirdness, perhaps to maintain that sense. [Lyrics on that album include something along the lines of “My dick’s getting hard as a tree.” STAY AWAY! -ed.] Kind of the same deal with the MC5. My uncle gave me his old records when I was in 9th grade. Among them was a copy of Kick Out The Jams. When he was a kid, my uncle was in a school production of Jack and the Beanstalk. My uncle was Jack and the Giant was played by John Sinclair. [Holy fuck! Why have I not heard this story before? -ed.] My Grandma has a newspaper clipping with a photo of the two of them in their costumes somewhere.
L: How was growing up near/in Detroit? It seems depressing. How did your nice Polish family wind up there?
A: Ann Arbor was a great place to grow up. It’s about 40 miles southwest of Detroit and is really sort of like an oasis [That might be going just a little too far, right? Oasis? Really? -ed.] in Southern Michigan because of the University, which I took great advantage of. My great grandparents immigrated from Poland in the late 1800s. My grandfather was born in Yonkers (same as Stuart!) in 1901 (same as Stuart!). His family moved to Detroit and later, Flint because of the auto industry. [Also a cheery place! -ed.] My Grandfather started in the Buick plant as a messenger when he was 16. They squatted on land just outside the plant in Flint, where they eventually built a tar-paper shack, on to which they kept building. That became the house that my Dad grew up in. [The American dream! -ed.] He moved to Ann Arbor to go to Dental School in the early ‘60s. I spent more time in Flint than Detroit. I was pretty unaware of Detroit’s plight until later. As a kid I’d pretty much just go there to the Zoo or Greenfield Village or Tigers games with my Grandpa. I guess Tiger Stadium would have been my first exposure to downtown Detroit.
L: You just recently had your first child—tell me about it. Is it hard? Weird? Do you wake up sometimes and go “there’s a stranger in my house!”?
A: It’s the best! There’s nothing I’d rather do than be with Anna. It can be hard with the cryin’ and the crappin’ and the general lifestyle re-alignment, but I assume that will pale in comparison to actual parenting! The difficulty so far is completely outweighed by the good stuff though. The first couple of days are incredible. You’re just consumed by this feeling of cosmic love and hope for humanity. It’s gotta be close to the feeling that people supposedly get from TM. Just this feeling of being one with the Universe. That gradually recedes and anxiety, terror and panic take over.
L: You like to use words like “davenport” and other strange old-timey phrases. Where did you pick that up?
A: I guess that would be a tribute to my Grandma Fran. I also like to say “Warshington” and pronounce the days of the week “Mondee through Fridee.”
L: I am curious about you as a kid. When did you start getting into music and stuff? Did you go through a theater phase or anything?
A: No, I was never in Theater and frankly, I’m offended by the question. [It’s the glasses… -ed.] I guess I started getting into music when I was about 10 and my friend’s older brother got a Walkman, which I thought was really cool. I went on lots of car trips with my family, so the Walkman was pretty essential. My first favorites were Billy Joel and Men at Work. I started listening to Top 40 radio in 1982 or so. A couple years later, the Electrifying Mojo started doing night shifts on that same station, WHYT. He would play a ton of Prince and Electro R&B/hip hop stuff like “Planet Rock,” “Egyptian Lover” and “White Lines,” but he’d mix it up with Kraftwerk and New Order and Detroit Techno. Plus there were all those great AOR stations out of Detroit. R.E.M. was pretty huge in Ann Arbor and I got obsessed with those guys. They’d name drop all kinds of other bands in their interviews like the Velvets and Television and I’d go search out those records. Also, because they name dropped Lester Bangs in “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” I asked my parents for Psychotic Reactions and Carborateur Dung for Christmas one year, which they got me. I had no idea what his significance was at the time. [I can’t believe that a good ol’ boy from Flint would misspell “carburetor.” I like that you fancied it all up, though, for sure. -ed.] I also started listening to WCBN, the college station. They were playing a lot of Mission of Burma and Sonic Youth and Dinosaur. That was probably the point of no return, obsession-wise. Downtown Ann Arbor was pretty safe, so my folks never really had a problem allowing me to go hang out at record stores. Schoolkids Records eventually asked if I wanted to check bags during Christmas and I also worked there a bit during the summer. Then I got an after school job at Play It Again Records who had an Ann Arbor store for about two years. Both stores are unfortunately gone now. [It’s not your fault, Andy. You try every day for these guys. -ed.]
L: Tell me one thing you love about each of the bands that you A&R. Which one is your favorite?
A: A Frames —No one ever parlayed paranoia into such hooky, punk songs. Such a great band.
Baptist Generals —Chris Flemmons takes the old show-biz addage “always leave ’em wanting more” to new extremes. The guy’s got a really unique point of view and an amazing yowl.
Comets on Fire —Though they are on hiatus, I’ll just say this: They are the complete package.
Fruit Bats —Eric Johnson is the single most talented guy that I work with, as a singer, songwriter and a musician. His next album is going to be unbelievable. [And he’s got a killer butt! -ed.]
Mudhoney —If you had told me when I was the kid in the previous question that some day I’d work with Mudhoney I would have lost it.
Pissed Jeans —It is rare that a band so perfectly balances volatility and humor. I don’t believe this has happened since the late ‘80s Golden Age of Sub Pop, Touch & Go and Am Rep.
Wolf Eyes —Jesus. It’s hard to say what I love about Wolf Eyes. Would you let your daughter marry a Wolf Eye? They’re like the Kiss of noise! They’re incomparable! [I bet that they are all very tender deep down. -ed.]
L: I notice that you do a lot of your work here on the phone as opposed to email, which is exactly the opposite of how I do my job. Why, Andy, why?
A: Sales is a discipline of nuance, Lacey. How am I supposed to grind our distributor over e-mail? If I said in an e-mail to Orleans, “We should have upstreamed the Shins to WEA.” he might think I was kidding!
[I don’t even know what this means! -ed.]
L: Remember that time that we were driving around in your car and you were playing that Norm McDonald comedy CD? Do you still stand by that being funny?
A: Good Lord no. I like Norm MacDonald and I think I was just hopeful that it would actually get funny, but it was pretty much just plain bad. You laughed too if I remember correctly! [That was uncomfortable laughter, Andy. -ed.]
L: Are you excited to see the new Wes Anderson movie or do you not care at all? (I know you didn’t think Superbad was very funny..)
A: I do want to go see it! I liked Zissou. Nothing better than Bill Murray with nothing to lose (except Broken Flowers). Plus that “Search and Destroy” chase scene? I loved the beginning of Superbad. That big kid being abusive was hilarious to me, and Michael Cera is good in everything. I hated that cop story line though. It was unnecessary and really dumb. [Agreed, and The Darjeeling Limited is awesome. -ed.]
L: What is the best thing to happen to you this year? The worst?
A: Best? Easy. Anna. The worst is easy too. I sincerely hope I never have to fire anyone ever again.
L: And finally, tell me a word you hate.
A: My sister has a problem with “nutmeat.” I’d have to go with her on that one. Also, though not a word, there’s a trend in food service to ask “How is everything tasting?” I hate the syntax of that AND “Excuse my reach.” [“Excuse my reach” is THE WORST, but you’re clearly eating at nicer places than I am. -ed.]
L: Hey, Andy, I’d like you to make up a question for yourself. Andy on Andy, so to speak. Go!
A: Bonus question: Andy where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: I have no idea