— By Larry LeBlanc
This week in the Hot Seat: Elaine Schock, president of Shock Ink.
As a major figure in the music biz swirl, Elaine Schock gives importance and grace to personalized public relations.
As president of Los Angeles-based Shock Ink, her strategized advice to her clients may be discussed, analyzed, and agonized by them over and over; but the clarity, and passion of her commitment to them inspires journalists the world over.
“I’ve got the best publicist in the world, Elaine Schock,” Toby Keith bragged in Billboard a few years back. “She kicks every other publicist’s ass.”
Now in its second incarnation, Shock Ink has a roster that also includes Willie Nelson, Fred Eaglesmith, David Lee Roth, Gabriel Iglesias, Heart, and Johnny Gimble.
Among her past clients are: Billy Joel, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Travis Tritt, Sinead O’Connor, Brooks & Dunn, Annie Lennox, Roberta Flack, Genesis, Trisha Yearwood, Rhonda Vincent, DierksBentley, Michael W. Smith, Phil Vassar, Melissa Ethridge, Henry Rollins, Buddy Guy, Harry Connick Jr., Prefab Sprouts, Lucinda Williams,Technotronic, the Stone Roses, and the American Music Awards.
Schock has directed national media campaigns for the Bangles, Bob Dylan, Huey Lewis & The News, and Billy Joel, among others. She booked an unknown Natalie Imbruglia on “Saturday Night Live” before her American debut album shipped to stores; and her aggressive media work laid the groundwork for the Dave Matthews Band’s national breakthrough.
Schock’s career began at Island Records in London in the ’70s. This was followed by jobs at Casablanca, ABC, MCA in Los Angeles; and at Columbia, and Chrysalis in New York before setting up Shock Ink in 1987.
In 1996, Schock put her business on hiatus to be Sr. VP/Media & Artist Relations at RCA. She reopened Shock Ink in late 2000 after leaving RCA.
The Los Angeles Daily News once hailed Schock as ‘The Queen of Controversy Spin.”
After all, Schock deftly guided Toby Keith through his public spats with the Dixie Chicks, and with the late newsman Peter Jennings; dampened the media frenzy surrounding Billy Joel’s divorce from Christie Brinkley; and tried to stick handle past the media bloodbath that followed Sinead O’Connor’s Pope photo shredding incident on “Saturday Night Live.”
You are a music industry lifer?
I am. I will always be.
Can you imagine yourself doing anything else?
No. It is the only thing I imagine myself doing.
Are you glad you are not handling John Mayer or Taylor Swift?
Yeah, I’m very glad I’m not doing either one of them. Though, the fact is that I love controversy. It invigorates you to figure out a way out (of a crisis). I’ve had my share of controversy. It’s heartbreaking because it takes on a life of its own but also its energizing. You have to figure out a way, if you can, to plug it up. It’s hard with all of the (media) outlets and everybody focusing on what’s going on.
Has the media’s handling of these events become more circus-like in recent years?
I think that it is much more difficult (to deal with) but (such stories) have always taken on a life of their own. For example, I handled Sinead O’Connor, and she tore up a picture of the Pope. She was one of my first clients at my company. I learned a lot from that. I also learned that a lot of (the life span of a controversy) is over with what the artist will or will not do. (That story) took on a life of its own but Sinead also had a life of her own. She had her issues, and the public certainly had their issues. It was never going to work out for her.
[Sinead O’Connor’s career, particularly in the U.S. nosedived when she appeared on “Saturday Night Live” on Oct., 3 1992. She performed an a cappella version of Bob Marley’s “War” and tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II. This was apparently intended as a protest over the sexual abuse of children in the Roman Catholic Church. The following week, SNL host Joe Pesci held up the photo, explaining that he had taped it back together, and said that if it had been his show, “I would have gave her such a smack.”]
Were you on the set?
Yes, I was on the set. Nobody knew that it was going to happen. I had negotiated what she was going to sing. Everything had to be approved. I had just had a baby, and I had to go back home and bathe it (between the rehearsal and the show). I came back, and Sinead had talked to G.E. Smith about changing songs.
He went out of his way to make sure that she got the second song that she wanted even though it had not been agreed to in advance. He was the one who went to Lorne Michaels (executive producer of “Saturday Night Live”), and said, “She’s an artist. Let her change her song.”
When I got there G.E. came to me and said, “This is what we are going to do.” I was like, “‘Scarlet Ribbons’ is such a beautiful song. Why change it?” That was the song that she was going to sing originally. G.E. was like, “You don’t get it. You are not an artist” and blew me off. Sinead played me the Bob Marley song, and it was very nice but it didn’t grab me as one of her songs. It certainly wasn’t off the album [“Am I Not Your Girl”]. But, you go with what the artist wants.
Two weeks after “Saturday Night Live” Sinead performed at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary tribute concert at Madison Square Garden and was greeted by a mixture of cheers and jeers. She left the stage in tears.
That was really unfortunate. That stemmed from “Saturday Night Live.”
Did that appearance torpedo her career in America?
That certainly helped to torpedo her career. If she had come back with a great record after that, it would have all changed. The public will forgive you if you are talented, and if you come back with something that they love.
After her apparent public melt-down, Britney Spears returned to public favor with a decent album (“Circus”) and a successful international tour. R. Kelly’s career appears to be unscathed as well.
I would have thought R. Kelly wouldn’t have gotten away with it but he did. He came back with “Ignition” (which reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100), and it was brilliant. R. Kelly’s (alleged) video went everywhere, and it wasn’t nice. But he’s so talented that he came back (with a hit). People will forgive you for anything if you can bring them some pleasure.
[After a video of a man purported to be R. Kelly having sex with an underage girl was released, he was indicted on several counts of child pornography in 2002. The case went to trial in 2008, with the jury ruling Kelly not guilty on all 14 counts.]
News cycles seem endless today, and controversies seem to get ramped up.
Before TMZ, there was always the National Enquirer. Everything is bigger today. (A controversy) does take on a life of its own but it’s shorter. I think with John Mayer that whole problem is going to be over before Playboy is off the stands.
[John Mayer’s raunchy Interview in the March, 2010 issue of Playboy has been covered by over 1,500 media outlets. In the interview, he appears as being racist, and homophobic; and he talks about sex with Jessica Simpson and about his sexual habits in graphic terms.]
In the Feb. 4 (2010) issue of Rolling Stone, Mayer provided far too much information about his self-pleasuring habits. Maybe he shouldn’t be doing interviews.
But he can’t help himself.
Well, he’s still young.
He’s not young; he’s 33. Being 33, you are not that young. He should know better. He has gotten away with (past comments) because he tweets all of the time. He is used to giving out information. But he really should stop. He should just play guitar for awhile. John Mayer is a musician and he should act like one. He should act like he’s got loads of talent. All of this other stuff, this unfiltered nonsense, doesn’t help his career. At this point, it has hurt him it but that can change easily.
Taylor Swift is big on Facebook and Twitter.
That’s part of her allure. And she does connect (with fans).
Tweeting is like having no filter to the public. When an artist is being interviewed, there’s usually a publicist or manager involved. With Twitter, that filter is taken away.
It’s totally taken away, and because (artists) are used to it, it becomes a habit. Some are addicted to it. It is one of those things where there’s no filter. John Mayer doesn’t have a filter. A lot of people don’t have filters. I was reading (an interview with) Sandra Bullock where she’s talking about her surprise for husband which was having her pubic hair made into a heart. I’m thinking, “Where’s her filter?” She’s an Oscar nominee. Don’t tell people this. It is unnecessary.
[This year Sandra Bullock garnered her first Oscar nomination for her portrayal of real-life Good Samaritan Leigh Anne Tuohy in “The Blind Side”].
It was initially reported that the moonshine and marijuana bust of Willie Nelson’s band members involved him.
He wasn’t anywhere near there.
You’ve worked for Willie for 6 years. How do you work with Willie when everybody wants to interview him?
Willie doesn’t do (all interview requests) anymore. Willie does a few interviews. Because I know he will do, maybe, a few interviews, it’s the ones with the most bang for the buck.
Would you take TV over print?
Not necessarily. It depends. We do really well with print, and it really works for Willie. The TV stuff we will do, but it’s time consuming so I’m really selective. This really works for Willie. He sells a lot of records.
Everybody wants Toby Keith as well.
Every artist is different. What Toby will give me is a lot more than what Willie will give me. Willie, however, is giving me a lot more now than he did, say, a year ago. It really depends on what Willie is doing. Willie records all of the time; he tours all of the time. He wants to golf and have a family. He is the busiest artist I’ve ever met. Toby will give me a couple of weeks, but he will work non-stop.
Johnny Gimble’s new album, “Celebrating With Friends.” was released Feb. 16th on CMH Record. It features Willie, Vince Gill, Merle Haggard, and Garrison Keillor as well as the albumâ€™s producer Ray Benson.
How do you work an album by a legend who is now in his 80s and was a member of Bob Wills’ famous swing band, the Texas Playboys.
You push it where you can. You push it country because Johnny does have that. You push it Texas because he’s there. Then you shoot for mainstream (media) and hope for the best. It’s been a fight. All of the (media) things I wanted initially I got a lot of them. But a lot of times people just ignore that it’s Johnny Gimble. I think he deserves better, but everybody is getting involved in other things, and they don’t do as much on him as they should. He is available for interviews, and I have made that perfectly clear.
The media overlooks so many iconic figures today.
And they won’t always be here. Because they won’t always be here, this is really the time to take the opportunity (to do an interview). When it’s too late, it’s too late. They have missed an enormous opportunity to talk to a legend. It is beyond me why everybody wouldn’t say, “I need this interview.” It’s history. You only get to talk to these historical people for so long.
Alan Jackson’s new album “Freight Train” will be released March 30th. The title track was written by Fred Eaglesmith. Not bad for a Canadian singer/songwriter who is supposedly flying below the radar.
I think Fred would tell everyone that he’s flying under the radar but I don’t think he really is. He had the Miranda Lambert cover (“Time to Get a Gun”) and Toby had a cover of his (with “White Rose”). I love Fred. He’s a brilliant artist. He’s so much fun to watch. I steal all of his jokes. If you haven’t seen 10 Fred Eaglesmith shows then you are selling yourself short. He’s everything you want an artist to be. He’s very sweet, funny, and he’s very smart. I’m dying to post his new songs. They are so brilliant.”
There is a lack of music trade press today.
There is no trade press, really. You do get straight-ahead trade press but it’s all straight-ahead. It’s all the news that fits. Only a small group of people read. Billboard, Even when it was big, only a small group of people read it. (Freelance journalist) Melinda Newman will do (music industry-related stories) sporadically (in newspapers) like the Washington Post but she doesn’t often have the normal (big) outlets. And, Phyllis Stark just started her (industry) newsletter (Stark Country).
In the ’70s Robert Christgau wrote that there were five powerful American music critics critical to a new artist’s career. You can’t say that today.