For three decades, Jamie Lincoln Kitman has been the President of The Hornblow Group USA, an artist management company currently based in Nyack. He has guided the careers of multiple artists that have won Grammys and sold millions of albums. Clients past and present include They Might Be Giants, OK Go, Violent Femmes, Meat Puppets, Yo La Tengo, The La’s, Freedy Johnston, and Mike Doughty. On the up-and-coming end, Hornblow now guides the innovative trio Moon Hooch, singer/songwriter Vandaveer, and Luaka Bop artist Delicate Steve.
Yet the music world isn’t the only field Jamie has succeeded in, as he is a well-respected writer within the automotive world. He is the winner of both the National Magazine Award for commentary and the IRE Medal for investigative magazine reporting. His writing has been featured in GQ, The Nation, Top Gear, Private Eye, The New York Times, and England’s CAR. He has written blogs for Yahoo! and NPR’s Car Talk. He also happens to be the New York bureau chief of Automobile Magazine and has a book in the works for Simon & Schuster.
I had the pleasure of working under Jamie at The Hornblow Group for a few years and was constantly in awe of the guy’s productivity. Beyond the aforementioned managerial and creative projects, he also happens to be an attorney, the father of three children and the, well, father of several dozen well-maintained cars. For kicks, he also managed to launch a record label in recent years, Hornblow Recordings; the label notably released a children’s album by Ozomatli in 2012.
When I asked Pete Smolin — Hornblow’s long-time Director of Operations — what it’s like working with Jamie, he answered: “Working with Jamie for 13 years has been an education unto itself. I’ve learned an immense amount of things from him over that time, not just about the music business, but about cars, the [Pittsburgh] Pirates, politics, and the entrepreneurial spirit. Jamie is one of the smartest and most interesting people I know and I am grateful to have the opportunity to work so closely with him.”
I had the pleasure of catching up with Jamie for a “Really Busy People” Q&A for Downtown, and his responses did not disappoint one bit. He was honest and direct yet full of relevant anecdotes and smart references. Jamie Lincoln Kitman can be followed on Twitter as @JamieKitman, while The Hornblow Group USA is live at www.hornblowgroup.com.
You’re a lawyer, have managed rock bands for almost 30 years, are an internationally renowned journalist, have a serious car collection, run a record label, and have done some real estate investing. When someone asks you what you do for a living, what do you usually say?
Jamie Lincoln Kitman: That my personality development was arrested at the age of 12. Cars and rock, what was really interesting me in early adolescence, seem to have directed my professional life. It embarrasses for its lack of seriousness, but a lot of people tell me they wish they had my job, which is probably true. I think this is because a lot of people don’t like their job, and frivolous or not, I generally enjoy mine.
In juggling so many unrelated — or so it seems — careers, what is the biggest challenge?
JLK: Time — more accurately, lack of time. Though I ought to know better, after all these years, I am starting to suspect that I must like juggling. I respond to deadlines and enjoy landing the planes. I just wish I had about 10 more IQ points.
Is there a tool or app you rely on most in order to keep all of your gigs going? Or a time management technique you rely on?
JLK: I don’t make to-do lists. I have a pretty good memory for the dumb stuff I gotta do. But my friend Bo Orloff hipped me to the BusyCal app, an aftermarket refinement of the basic iCal. Having it on all my devices has increased chances of my remembering that meeting we were having downtown at 5:00 PM. Google Maps and the Waze traffic program have helped on the transportation and endless logistics of life.
Was it always your plan to be diversified with your career? Or is that something that happened organically?
JLK: I think I probably first thought I wanted to write about cars from the age of 14, though I didn’t expect it would necessarily happen. Managing bands first crossed my mind when I was taking a class in my alternative high school about the music business with my then next door neighbor Tom Werman. He’d go on to produce the second through fourth Cheap Trick albums, as well as Ted Nugent’s seminal Cat Scratch Fever, all of which did so well that he had to move to L.A., where he soon became “Mr. 80s Hair Metal” — Motley Crue, Poison, L.A. Guns…
He took me to see Queen’s first New York performance at The Bottom Line in the Village when I was a freshman in college and at the table next to us, George Harrison was there — who we met — but it was Neil Innes of the already-defunct Bonzo Dog Band who I wanted to talk to. We arranged an interview at his rental apartment at West 72nd Street, but my cassette recorder didn’t record, so our conversation was lost to history.
Anyway, I believe it was from Tom Werman that I had the realization that you could make a living in the music business. And while I wanted to write, one take-away from a childhood as the son of a freelance writer — and later newspaper columnist — was that every extra dollar meant more hard work for you, whereas other types of professions, I imagined, might compensate you differently.
After everything fell into place in terms of having clients and steady work, has there been a person who you modeled your career path after? Or a person you look at now that inspires you to keep doing what you do?
JLK: I really didn’t know any other managers before I started, and while I can say I’ve met a few incredibly brilliant, resourceful and kind-hearted managers through the years, in general I feel about them like I feel about my fellow lawyers — I yield to no man in my distaste. To be honest, I was probably inspired at first by the need to pay the rent, and later employees and of course myself, so as to support my children, a house and a burgeoning car collection.
But the starting point for my management career was the unshakeable belief that the world wouldn’t be a better place until as many people as possible knew about They Might Be Giants. Organizing disobedient political activity was a hobby of mine in high school and college. But I quickly learned that unlike the political issues then current on campus — apartheid and racism generally, nuclear power, militarism, world hunger — unlike those, people really cared about rock music. Which makes the organizer’s job so much easier.
I work and have worked with a lot of great bands, and I have to say the most successful are the ones that work the hardest. OK Go worked at an unbelievable clip, They Might Be Giants and Mike Doughty the same, year after year after years, and Moon Hooch work so hard it is mathematically-impossible. But if I had to name a person who inspired me first and longest, it would be TMBG’s John Flansburgh. His work ethic is extreme yet highly-admirable, if possibly toxic to lesser men and women, but what I love the most is his resilience. His partner in TMBG, John Linnell, whom I love dearly, is obviously a very motivated genius as well.
You don’t get to have a career, and especially in the music business, if you’re not ready to bounce back from getting kicked in the face really hard on a fairly-regular basis. You need a thick skin and a bedrock belief in the righteousness of your cause — i.e. you — that borders on the monomaniacal. In that regards, John reminds me of my dad, whose staying power and ability to get going when the going got tough through a long career as a writer, was also inspirational.
Do you have an accomplishment you’re most proud of within your music business career?
JLK: Still in business, after 30 years, with my first band, They Might Be Giants, as well as accomplished masters like Mike Doughty and Mark Heidinger of Vandaveer, and some great new bands like Delicate Steve and Moon Hooch.
Knowing what you know now, is there a skill or trait most necessary for a person to sustain a long-term career within music or entertainment?
JLK: If you’re talking about managing artists, an ability to identify music that other people will relate to is pretty key. As a manager, you’re as good as your bands, and if your band sucks — or no one cares — you have a five-alarm problem. Managers who stick around a long time tend to be associated with an artist who sticks around.
For musicians, it’s about having music other people like so much they want to tell other people about it, but it’s also as above — you need a thick skin, hyperactive work ethic, and a touch of megalomania. That core belief that unless tens of thousands of booties around the world are shaking to your music, something is seriously amiss. If there’s nobody in your band who feels that way, to the core of their being, if it’s not the central trait of at least one person’s character and personality in your camp, it’s probably not happening for you guys. Drive is so important, it’s why talent is on the list of what you need to succeed, but not necessarily at the top of it.
The majority of American music business executives tend to be based in New York City or Los Angeles, yet you are largely based in Nyack. How have you managed to do what you do outside of a major city for so long?
JLK: I am in the city all the time. Being a professional car tester affords me lots of fine new automobiles to test out on the drives in and out of New York City, with someone to pay for the parking.
Is there a field or profession you haven’t worked in or around which you one day hope to?
JLK: Well, I’m writing a book for Simon & Schuster on the history of lead in gasoline, so publishing would be one.
Any upcoming projects or events you wish plug? Anything coming up that you’re particularly proud of?
JLK: The great rock critic Michael Azerrad and I have put together a film treatment for a teen party comedy based on the life of my old clients, Meat Puppets. It’s kind of great.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do with yourself?
JLK: Cooking, light vegetable gardening, bicycling, hanging out with friends and family. I also spend a lot of time fixing broken cars. But I don’t like that.
Finally, Jamie, any last words for the kids?
JLK: To paraphrase The Jefferson Airplane, you’re only as shitty as you feel.