"I'm one of the top five hated people in the music industry," says Nancy Stevens, the manager of local bands Violet Wild and Authority Zero and former program director of alt-rock radio station KEDJ.
That statement might sound hyperbolic, but it's pretty accurate. While running The Edge, Stevens pissed off more than a few people by taking certain local bands The Format, Authority Zero, Trik Turner, Mink Rebellion under her wing, playing their songs on the station, getting them prime slots at Edge events, and shopping the bands to record labels. I've long been critical of the way Stevens used her position to coddle those bands and their careers, though for the past year she's been out of the radio business and managing bands full-time.
Stevens' position as program director of The Edge put her in touch with label heads and A&R representatives from New York to Los Angeles, and that advantage having friends in high places made her one of the most powerful people in the music business in Phoenix, and she retains those contacts today. Both Violet Wild and Authority Zero (which she co-manages with Randy Buzzelli, who's worked with Jay-Z, among others) have new records coming out early next year, and L.A.-based Agent Sparks, which Stevens manages via her own Hammerthumb Entertainment, is out on the road with Hoobastank and put out its first full-length album in June of this year.
For more insight into Phoenix's music scene, visit Brendan Joel Kelley's "Ear Infection" blog.
When I've criticized Stevens in the past, I compared what she was doing at The Edge with what would happen if I wrote a cover story about a local artist in this paper, then took pains to get that artist signed and on the radio. My assumption was always that she was managing those bands, and that she had some bottom-line motivation to get them signed. But she tells me that's not the case.
"I wasn't technically managing; I wouldn't put the manager's title on it. Maybe Santa's little helper, but I wouldn't say management. I helped a lot, let's just put it that way," Stevens says. "Don't get me wrong I helped the bands get signed. I shopped the bands because I believed in them."
It still sounds like a conflict of interest to me, but she tells me, "All [program directors] across the nation have helped a band at one point or another. Why wouldn't a hometown station embrace its own people? That's the way I looked at it. This is Phoenix, this is our backyard, these are our bands. Why would we not want to help break them?"
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Stevens spent four years as program director of The Edge before leaving when Riviera Broadcasting bought the station (Riviera now also owns Power 98.3, formerly Power 92). "The hardest thing ever is time and time again to go in with your beliefs and sell your story and get people to believe in you and what we were doing," she explains. Nowadays, Bruce St. James, veteran program director of Power 92 and 98.3, is program director of both Power and The Edge.
"I shopped the bands because I believed in them," Stevens reiterates. "There's nothing wrong with that; you can't tell me that I can't, as program director, find a good band, find good music and go shop the music. You can't tell me it's wrong to play them on the radio station, because every single band had proven itself, outside of me.
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"It was a team effort. We were a really tight group over at The Edge," she continues. "If it's something somebody believed in or I believed in yeah, I was gonna help them. It wasn't money I've been a manager straight up for a year and haven't made any money. It's not easy making money on a band. Bands don't make money, so how would the manager?"
These days, Stevens' management projects seem on the verge of taking off. I've heard Violet Wild's record, and it's solid, radio-friendly rock 'n' roll, with front man Bobby Scott and guitarist Josh Kennedy's uncanny chemistry driving the band. I haven't heard Authority Zero's new record, and I'm not much of a fan, but that band already has a solid fan base from its days on Lava/Atlantic Records. I can't call Stevens out on conflict-of-interest issues anymore, but her contacts from her Edge days still make her a music business power player.
As she tells me, to get bands signed, "You have to have a lot of friends. You've gotta be able to walk into Jason Flom's [former co-owner of Lava Records and CEO of Atlantic, now chairman and CEO of Virgin U.S.] office and play him a record. That's where you've gotta be. When I go to New York, I've gotta be able to get an appointment with Flommy and show him my new band. If you can't walk in like that, it's so difficult to get a band signed."
Stevens walked a thin line and pulled it off, and now I'm not the only one who's slightly envious of the payoff she got for it. And she's well aware of that. "I know I pissed a lot of people off. But at the same time, I'm not doing it deliberately; I'm doing it because I can't do everything," Stevens says. "I can't save the world, I can't help every single band I wish I could. If I could, I would have. There's only so much room on the radio station. Same with managing there's only so much time I have to help a band out. So you've got to pick and choose your battles."