Mike Ragogna: Randy, it’s an honor, thanks for the time. Let’s talk about your group North Of Nine. You met Jackson Guthy after an Ellen performance?
Randy Jackson: Yeah, I was like, “Who is this kid, he’s mad talented, what’s going on with him?”
MR: What was it about him that you saw?
RJ: Well one of those things that struck me was that there are a lot of pop stars and I usually put them in two categories: There are pop stars and there are artists with commerce. He’s kind of a throwback for me, he’s an artist. It’s the guys of yesteryear that had long careers as opposed to being pop stars. He writes, he plays piano, he’s more of a singer-songwriter in that way and that’s what really struck me, his singing and his writing. I like that the guy’s not just singing pop songs, he’s actually trying to be a credible songwriter and try to make something happen.
MR: Is that the thing that appeals to you most when you’re looking at new acts? Is it the depth?
RJ: That’s the only thing for me. I’ve had a long career in this and I’ve worked with some of the greats of the greats of the greats, thank god. I’m so blessed. I’m always vying and pushing for the artists. The pop star thing, yes, I want to have hits, everybody wants to have hits, but I want to have hits for twenty-five, thirty, forty years. I don’t just want one today and then you never hear from them again. That does not interest me. I think it’s all about the long haul. It’s about the journey, not about the sprint, of course. As a manager in order to even think about getting involved with any artist you have to be able to see the long haul. I’m honestly going to tell you the music industry is not in the best shape. You’ve got to look at an artist and say, “Okay, can we go the distance here?” It may be a while before we have some real commerce happening, so you’ve got to really believe in the music and believe in the act. That’s my thing. I like artists. I’m always going to live and die by that, you know what I mean?
MR: Having worked with many acts, do you ever see super-talented artists who just shoot themselves in the foot?
RJ: A lot of them do. It’s most often. Ego is a scary thing. You wake up every day and tell yourself you can do what you want to do, but hopefully a couple of days later you wake up in reality and say, “Hey wait a minute, I can do that if I’m willing to take what goes with that.” Take the bitter with the sweet as they would say when I was playing with a lot of blues guys back in the day. Can you take the bitter with the sweet? You want that sweet? Take some bitter with it, too. Everything has a zen sort of yin-yang balance to it.
MR: When you worked with Jackson in the studio, I imagine he was in the spotlight.
RJ: Oh yes, one hundred percent. He definitely has opinions, he’s definitely talented, he’s definitely in full control. This is a great new young band. This is a great beginning to have. I think these guys have a huge future. Or else I wouldn’t be involved.
MR: He’s also had a pop history, having opened for One Direction and other high-profile acts.
RJ: He’s had a pop history and I think that’s kind of what led him to this. He saw a lot of younger artists breaking today and of course I urged him and said, “Look, you can either go that way or you can try and become that credible artist that has a huge career as opposed to the pop star that may have a hit or two right now and then you never hear from them again. Unfortunately a lot of the people that are going on the charts today you may never hear from again unless they have a hit. Pop stars are driven by the hit song. Artists are driven by a hit song plus you want to know more about them, they’re interesting, there’s a lot of depth there, you want to read about them, you want to learn everything, you show up if they have a hit or not.
MR: When you were working with Jackson and the band on “We Ride,” what was the evolution?
RJ: It’s amazing to see them manifest and develop their sound and work on it. What I look for in artists is instinct. Artists have great instincts, they don’t know everything to do right, but most decisions they make are really good musical decisions with arrangements and everything. I’m really happy with where this band is and where we’re growing. I really think big things are ahead for them in the future.
MR: And of course, you’re going to stick with them.
RJ: Yeah, dude, come on. If I buy in, I buy in. But I buy into the artistry first. You can get a hit song from whomever and put it somebody and say, “Wear this, stand here, shake like this, let’s get a choreographer in and let’s go to the radio.” That doesn’t interest me. That’s a little boring for me.
MR: Randy, in my opinion, on American Idol, you’ve been the voice of sanity for many years now.
RJ: [laughs] Thank you.
MR: I feel like because it’s sort of a cattle call of aspiring pop stars you’ve gotten a very up close perspective of that.
RJ: Well, yeah, and what a show like Idol really is a big spotlight for all of these kids. Some of them are pop stars and some of them are really artists. After being in the spotlight and being discovered by the show and America and having fans and people vote for you it’s up to them what they can do with that after. That’s what the real test really is. The show is only one part. The show is the big spotlight to expose your talent to the world. What you do with it after that is really going to be up to you. You have that, that’s opened the door for you, now walk in. What you got?
MR: I have nothing but respect for you, but I have to confess that American Idol has become something of a punching bag between me and many artists I’ve interviewed. Artists are worried that kids are watching this show at home and believe this is what you do with your musical talent, this is the path.
RJ: That’s why I’m setting the record straight for you. The idea is it’s a spotlight. It’s the search for the next superstar. You find somebody that you think has the talent and it’s what they do with it afterwards. The great thing about Idol is that people can look at that and blowback all they want, but there’s many roads to Rome and none of them are the gods’ science; they’re all roads to Rome. If you want to be in a band and get on the road and play for one person a night for ten years and then play for five and take twenty years to build it or however long it takes, that’s one road. Now you have a lot of these TV shows and they’re another road. And as I said, it’s only a spotlight because people think it’s a cure-all. It was never meant to be a cure-all. Guess what? Kelly Clarkson had a spotlight. She was the girl that was very unassuming. You never would’ve thought she’d become America’s sweetheart. Whatever labels were signing, they weren’t looking to sign her at the time. She came, she had the spotlight, and whoa, she made something happen with it afterwards. Carrie Underwood, Adam Lambert, Jennifer Hudson, that’s what I’m saying. What can you do afterwards? It’s up to you at that point. You’ve been waiting on a chance, a break.
These shows are a chance. You’ve got a break, you’ve got the spotlight, you’ve been crying for the spotlight and you’ve got it. What are you going to do with it? That’s what it really is. People are going to blow back because they think that it’s easy and that all this gives the wrong message to kids. No it doesn’t. Look at all of the people who have been on these countless numbers of shows that nothing happened with. That shows you that not even the spotlight is easy. As I see it, we’re the only show where anything has happened with these contestants. Idol must be doing something right, I think.
MR: Randy, what advice do you have for new artists?
RJ: I think you’ve got to learn everything you can, I think you’ve got to be unbelievable at your craft and I think you’ve got to figure out what’s the star in you. And I think you’ve got to stop watching TV and watching other people and saying, “Oh, I want to be like that.” No, who are you? You’ve got to find the star in you. You may be a better dancer than you are a singer. Okay, so work that dance thing and find a great song. You’ve got to figure out what’s going to be your angle. What’s your lane? Everyone competing for the same lane in the same area is really going to be tough. Honesty is a tough thing. Sometimes people have to swallow a bitter pill that, “Hey, maybe I’m a better songwriter and not a singer.” “Hey, maybe I’m a great singer but I don’t write great songs, so let me find the songs.” “Maybe I don’t have any of that but I’ve something really quirky.” You know what I mean? When you look at artists today that have careers, you can look to the gods. You can look to the great Arethas, the Mariahs, the Whitneys, the Celines, the Dylans, the Springsteens, the U2s and Coldplays, Radiohead–a band that I love–I love all those others, too. You can look at all those and see something unique about them. You’ve got to find something that’s unique about you and see how to really put that forth and make that appetizing for the public.
MR: Beautiful. You’re working with North Of Nine right now, what’s your prediction for them?
RJ: I think these guys are going to do well. I think it’s taken a minute to get here but I’m really, really happy and satisfied with where we are and we continue to grow and build.
MR: Nice. What about Randy Jackson’s roster of working artists? Is it growing?
RJ: Oh, yeah. We work with quite a few artists, I love new artists, it’s what I love the most because my favorite phrase is “What’s next?” I love trying to help to be part of that discovery mechanism of, “What’s next?” I invest a lot of time and energy in that, you know what I mean?
MR: What advice would you have given to a younger Randy Jackson?
RJ: Well, listen, a lot of great people graced my life and gave me a lot of wisdom and a lot of insight and helped me. When I was fifteen years old playing in a party band a guy said to me, “Listen, all these great older people that you’re around? Be the sponge and figure out the good things you can take with you and learn from every experience that you have.” When you talk about evolution, that’s all it’s been for me. It’s been all about growing and growth. You’ve got to evolve. That’s my “What’s next?” thing.
MR: And what’s next musically for Randy Jackson?
RJ: I play all the time. I may drop some music here in the near future. I’m always creating and always playing. Music is my soul, it’s heart of everything I do. It’s my therapy and my muse, you know what I’m saying?
MR: I hear you. You’re awesome, I really appreciate the time you gave me.
RJ: Thank you so much for your kind words, man. Thank you.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne