I was walking down a street in Beijing when I noticed Seymour Stein coming towards me. (That sounds like a huge coincidence, but it wasn’t; we were both attending the same music conference.)
“Hey, Seymour,” I said, “I was just looking for someplace to eat. Any recommendations?”
He pointed in the direction from which he had come. “There,” he said, indicating a brightly lit place that was brimming with locals. “Kung pao. Very good kung pao. Ask the girl at the counter for the kung pao.”
“Great. I’ll do that.”
“What’re you doing later?” Seymour asked.
“Nothing, really. Why?”
“There’s a club called D-22 north of here. They’re supposed to have some really good punk bands playing tonight. Wanna come?”
And so it came to pass that I went trolling for punk rock in China with the man who founded Sire Records and signed The Ramones, Talking Heads, Madonna and so many more. I recall him making me pay for the cab rides to and from the venue, but this dude didn’t become a legend by spending his own money. Besides, it was a tiny price to pay for being able to say I had been out with Seymour.
We run into each other often, always at music conferences: China, Singapore, Toronto, New York. The man is a walking history book when it comes to the music industry. That’s why you should take some time to read this interview he did with The Quietus.
Seymour Stein needs no introduction. Beginning at Billboard when he was 14, Stein’s remarkable career stretches back nearly 60 years. He also worked at the legendary Brill building and set up the independent label, Sire, with Richard Gottehrer in 1966. His name is irrevocably linked to some of the greatest pop and rock artists of the last 50 years. I’m sure most will know of his role in the careers of Madonna, Talking Heads, The Ramones and The Pretenders; all of whom sit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as does Stein; who was inducted in by another of his artists, Ice T. Stein is also known for responsible for introducing many of the great British alternative bands of the 1980s to the US market; Echo & The Bunnymen, The Smiths and Depeche Mode to name a few. Still running Sire at WMG, Stein devotes at least an equal amount of time and energy to the world-wide indie distributor, ADA.
The interview process was one that was long in gestation, and one that hints at the busy life Stein leads. Conducted via a set of calls from the KZN Music Imbizo Conference in Durban, and (previously) under the awning of a teepee on a broiling hot day at Haldern festival, Germany, where Stein gave a command performance at a talk I hosted, running through a myriad of stories and happily fielding questions. On the basis of our interview, he clearly still enjoys the challenge of bringing new labels from around the globe to the ADA roster. It is also very clear that Stein still holds onto his principles as an independent taste maker. We opt for a path less trodden for the Quietus interview; talking about what, for Stein, constitutes an “independent” outlook in the music business, and what songs first moved him at the beginning of such a remarkable career.