Clip: Changes at Kill Rock Stars
Kill Rock Stars' Slim Moon Leaves KRS for Nonesuch
Moon's Wife Portia Sabin to Run Kill Rock Stars
Kill Rock Stars and Nonesuch might not seem like they have much in
common. One label is known for launching pioneering riot grrrl bands
(Bikini Kill, Bratmobile), experimental outfits (Deerhoof, Xiu Xiu),
and indie rock titans (Sleater-Kinney, the Decemberists).
The other, a Warner Bros. subsidiary, specializes in "world" music
(the Nonesuch Explorer Series, Youssou N'Dour, Caetano Veloso), NPR
fare (Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin), and Wilco (Wilco).
But the pair just got a lot tighter with the announcement that the
founder/head honcho of Kill Rock Stars, Slim Moon, will leave his
position at KRS sometime this fall to work in A&R for Nonesuch. Moon's
wife, Portia Sabin, will take over both Kill Rock Stars and its 5RC
Pitchfork got the story straight from Moon and Nonesuch Senior Vice
President David Bither.
Bither and Moon met through folk chanteuse Laura Veirs, who they both
did business with. The two got to know each other over the course of
more than a year when Bither, who at the time was considering starting
a Nonesuch A&R department, asked Moon for ideas with regards to who
might fit the position.
"I spoke to Slim," Bither explained, "not about him, because I
assumed, because of the label, because of his history, because of his
involvement...and commitment to that, he wouldn't be a candidate. But
I thought he might know of people in his own travels that he might
think of as someone we should talk to. So I mentioned it to him; I
told him we were thinking about the possibility of doing this, we
hadn't made a final decision, and if he thought of anyone, to let us
know. So about...three weeks, four weeks later, he called and said, 'I
think you should talk to me.'"
Moon elaborated, "Well, David had mentioned in passing to me that they
were thinking of adding a new A&R person, which was sort of monumental
for them, and they were in no hurry, but it was an idea they were
considering and were probably going to do because things are going
well there. My reaction when he said it was, 'Wow, what a great
job!'...and then over the next few weeks it just kept haunting me...I
joked at one time to David, 'Well, I'd love that job if it was an
alternate universe where I wasn't doing what I'm doing.'
"And then a while more went by, and I was [reading] Performing
Songwriter magazine, [and in] one issue I was reading about how the
woman editor herself struggles with being a songwriter, and she took
time off, and then she reinvented herself. I mean it wasn't really my
story, but the point of it was how powerful it can be to reinvent
yourself periodically throughout your life, to challenge yourself and
do something new, and it just came to me, like, I'm not stuck. I don't
have to do the same thing the same way forever. If I think this is a
great job, and I love Nonesuch and the way they do business and the
people I've met there, then why shouldn't I apply for that job?
"I haven't been unhappy or anything," he added. "I just really want to
push myself to do a whole new frontier."
As mentioned above, Moon's wife and business partner, Portia Sabin,
will be taking over his duties at the label. Because the pair is
moving from KRS' home base of Olympia, Washington to New York City,
where the Nonesuch office is, the former company will go bi-coastal,
with Sabin likely taking one or more members of its current staff
cross-country with her.
An official start-up date for Moon is tentative, as he and Sabin are
still searching for a Big Apple living space. Bither said, "They'll be
here by the end of the year, would be my guess. And he can begin to be
involved in doing things with us, even if he's not physically here
He continued, "This is not the traditional case where someone gives
two weeks' notice and leaves their job and comes to work for you.
We're ready for him whenever he's ready to join us. But he has things
that he's dealing with, with regards to the label, with regards to the
move, with regards to how he wants to make that transition, and he and
Portia are talking about all of that, so we've sort of said to him,
'You tell us what works best for you.' It's been 40 years as a label
that we've never hired an A&R person, so it's not as if another month
or six weeks is going to make a big difference. So it's however most
comfortably he can make that transition."
"I think I know quite a bit about working with bands," Moon commented
said of his big career transition. "I know almost nothing about
working for somebody else, and working in a larger structure, so I'm
guessing, but I think my earliest time will be just with the learning
curve of how the company works.
"Despite having been a boss and entrepreneur for the past 15 years, I
really am comfortable with being a team player, particularly when the
team is a really excellent team. It's fine with me that these guys who
are smarter than me have veto power, because I respect that they know
what they're doing."
The big question, however, pertains to whether or not Moon feels he's
sacrificing his music-before-money roots in the switch. "With the
records I've worked, it's always been about music first, work with
talented artists, and just expect that the audience will come. And
that's the same way that Nonesuch works and has worked for a long
"And so I don't feel like there's going to be a learning curve there.
I already get it...I just think we see eye to eye on that. It's all
about great talent and...trusting your ear instead of wanting to sign
whatever hype buzz band everyone else wants to sign. I don't think
Nonesuch has ever really worked that way. I think it's about trusting
their own ear with what they think is high quality, and then hoping
that other people hear it as well."
Bither touched on Moon's future duties, stating, "One of the reasons I
think bringing someone in to work with us is to just add another voice
to that dialogue. We talk a lot, Bob [Hurwitz, President of Nonesuch]
and I especially, because we're the ones responsible for A&R, about
the kinds of artists that we're drawn to, and the kinds of music, and
our desire to be involved across the board in all kinds of serious
music...it is about working with artists and records and putting them
out into the world.
"So Slim will be an A&R person, meaning that he'll be looking at
artists and musicians in the same way that Bob and I do...We tend to
work collectively, meaning that he'll be sitting in marketing meetings
where we talk about our projects, and I'm sure he'll have ideas,
especially given his experience, that will be of interest to some of
the things we do.
"But essentially his job will be about what he's done in some respects
at Kill Rock Stars, which is finding great artists. What he won't have
to do is run a company and all the other things that adds to his
plate, which he's probably happy about at this point...And because
he's run a label, he'll have very interesting perspectives...and ideas
that I think he can bring to bear, which is another reason we really
liked the idea of how this could work.
"I can't think of a comparison or a precedent for this. Obviously
there have been larger labels buying smaller labels for years and
years and years, but for someone of his stature, with a company which
I think is one of the great indie labels, deciding that it's time to
move into another phase of his own work and joining forces with a
company like ours...is creating a hybrid in a way, which I'm not sure
there's really a comparison for, which I think is really exciting and
"It's a long history of dedication to being involved in different
kinds of music," Bither added. "That's something we absolutely don't
intend to change. It's not as if we're moving the company, shifting on
its axis toward a model that KRS would represent; it's really more
adding one more voice to the dialogue that we have internally about
the things we do, and I think he feels there's a certain liberating
quality to that too, because it kind of broadens his own palette, as
far as the kinds of music he's paying attention to, the kind of music
he's interested in, the kind of artists he may be able to pursue,
which maybe wouldn't have made as much sense where he was before, so
it's about a broadening, not about a shift of direction."
Nobody has any qualms about Sabin taking the KRS reins. Moon, for the
most part, won't be assisting her except on the most basic level-- "If
she has questions about 'What did you promise this band?' or 'How did
this royalty calculation work?'-- stuff like that, just to make sure
that everything runs smoothly, I will answer those questions," Moon
told us. "But I think it's actually pretty important that I don't give
it to her and then try to work her like a puppet thing or whatever.
She's really going to run the show."
Bither added, "He's going to be keenly interested in what happens
there, but I think he will be very clear-- it's not as if there's some
sort of dotted line back to KRS. He doesn't want anyone to perceive
the idea that he's sort of halfway still there. That will only be
confusing to everyone, make it difficult for Portia, make it difficult
for us and him. This is really about starting something new, but it is
about as I said, it's not abandoning KRS to the first bidder, it's
about a transition in a reasonable meaningful way, to someone who's
equally committed to the company and its success.
"I think my hunch is that while they're different people, and she'll
have different ideas about what she'll want to do and maybe some of
the artists and all of the rest, that it will be more of an integrated
move than it would be in other circumstances."
Moon said, "She really wants to be careful to maintain the legacy that
it's had and to be the artist-friendly, value-driven label that we've
been. And she's really up to the task, the challenge of the label, and
she's really excited about it."
But just because the changes ahead are exciting doesn't mean saying
goodbye to KRS is easy for Moon. "In terms of KRS being some sort of
ego trip for me or some sort of monument to myself or whatever, I have
absolutely no remorse or sadness about leaving it," he explained. "But
I'm currently in the middle of working on some projects with some
bands who I really like, and there's definitely some sadness involved
in handing over the reins on those projects. And calling up artists
and telling them, 'Well I guess now we'll just have to be good
friends.' The bittersweet part of making a big life-changing decision
is the things that you have to leave behind.
Finally, Moon wanted to make sure that everybody out there knows he
"wasn't interested in a major label job." He commented, "If it wasn't
Nonesuch, this would never happen. I wouldn't be running off to work
at some other big company. Really, I just think they're such a great
organization. I'm ready to take my lumps if someone wants to accuse me
of being a sell-out, because I've got to do what I think is right."
Posted by Kati Llewellyn in interview, exclusive, business on Tue:
10-03-06: 07:00 AM CDT