J O S H J A V O R
X Ray Touring
L O N D O N
Interview by Ariane Halls
Photography by Martin Coceres
X-Ray Touring is one of the world’s biggest booking agencies, with a roster filled with artists as varied (and wildly successful) as Pulp, Queens Of The Stone Age, Scissor Sisters and Tyler, the Creator. In what sounds like some sort of music-industry fairy- tale, booker Josh Javor was offered a job at the independently owned UK agency after drinking backstage with legendary agent and X-Ray co-founder Steve Strange. We spoke with Javor about spreadsheets, Rob Zombie, and the future of the touring industry.
Ariane Halls: What drew you to the music industry?
Josh Javor: I think it’s something about live music. I remember when I used to work at the record labels, the best part — especially when I was interning — was when we got free tickets to go see gigs, because obviously I couldn’t afford to buy any tickets at the time. So, I got to go to the gigs, which to me was the best part — actually seeing the band live.
Why do you think X-Ray has become as big as it has?
I think X-Ray’s worked because it’s basically — the directors are five very, very different people, but they have a common goal. All five of them are brilliant at what they do, and it’s amazing the different artists that we have between us, from Black Eyed Peas to the Pixies and from Green Day to Coldplay; Queens of the Stone Age; Linkin Park... I mean, there are some huge acts, but everyone’s got some great up-and-coming acts at the same time. And I think if you look at a lot of these agents, who work with these bands longer than I’ve been in the industry, I think that’s really... I think that’s what helps: having proper relationships with acts. It definitely helps you, because the more you understand the band and the more you understand the management, the better you can work with them. If you don’t know the band well enough, you have all these conversations about what to do, but if you’ve worked with the band for ages you just know.
It becomes about instinct. I think that has something to do with it. I mean, obviously you don’t want to assume too much; you need to... It’s not your decision, at the end of it. But that’s the best part about working with an artist right from the start: you know them from before they were famous, and you know what they’re really like.
So, what’s the difference between working with The Black Eyed Peas versus working with a band like the Pixies?
Well, unfortunately I don’t work with either of those [laughs], so...
[Laughs] Well, maybe you can give me an analogous example.
Well, I work with Coldplay, Queens of the Stone Age, Blondie, Eminem, Snow Patrol, Modest Mouse, Bright Eyes, Rob Zombie... I can go on for quite a while!
OK, what about Rob Zombie versus Coldplay?
To a certain extent there isn’t a difference — you’re doing the same job for each band; you just tailor it to the way the band would like it. Some bands don’t want to play too many shows in a row; some bands don’t like playing shows where you go on stage really late; some bands don’t like playing shows where you go on stage too early. It’s quite simple, actually, when you think about it. You just need to remember.
Do you have some sort of spreadsheet set-up? Like, “Rob Zombie will not play before 11:15 pm.”
Some people should [laughs]. Actually, Steve and I have strange memories; it’s funny. It’s like how you don’t need a computer to know what your friend likes to drink when you go to the pub; it’s the same thing, really. It just becomes second nature.
So, aside from people skills and a good memory, what do you use to manage everyone’s interests?
You need to have patience, you need to be thick-skinned, and you need to fight for your artist — you can’t be a pushover. And you also need to know how to prioritise. If someone says to you, “I need this now,” you have to pull everything out of the bag to make sure that gets done, even though you might have lots of other things to do that you also need to do.
What differences are there between US and UK booking agents?
The difference is that we don’t book anything in North America, whereas American agents would like to book in Europe. That’s the only difference, really. I guess the only other difference is the type of personality you get from the Americans and the English.
A sense of humor?
Yeah! [Laughs] Maybe that’s what it is. But we all kind of do the same job.
How have things in your corner of the industry changed since you started?
When I started, the live-music industry was that thing on the side that no-one really knew anything about — it wasn’t such a prominent part — and what’s changed... I mean, it’s only been in the past few years, but now there are seven times as many festivals as there’s ever been. The whole point about going to a gig has completely changed. It used to be people would go to a gig — well, it wasn’t a special occasion, but it wasn’t like now where it’s like, “What are we doing this weekend? What gig are we going to?” It’s such a part of everyday life now, and not just because of the festivals... Most people go to at least one festival a year. If you just take Australia as an example, the amount of festivals that have just popped up in the last five years...
It’s absolutely amazing. And the fact is that maybe one year, one of them might suffer, but in general they’re doing well. You have great festivals in Australia: Harvest, Soundwave, Big Day Out, Laneway, Groovin the Moo — which is an incredible idea — Falls Festival, Parklife, Byron Bay. I mean, we could go on and on; there are a billion festivals in Oz. It shows you that that live-music industry has changed. And because the live-music industry has changed so much, the recording side of the industry has had to change accordingly. They want to get involved in live music as much as possible. When I work with artists, they’re obviously signed to record labels, and I’m more than happy to work with the record companies; it’s important that we’re all on the same page. Whereas before you didn’t really need to, now I think a clever person would work with them as much as they can, so that we’re all working toward the same goal.
How do you feel about Live Nation?
We work with Live Nation quite a lot; I get on with them really well. I understand that they’re everywhere, but it’s the same with AEG — they’re trying to be everywhere as well. You kind of expect it, really — why wouldn’t a large company want to carry on growing? Personally, as long as everything’s OK for my artists, I don’t really have an issue with any of it. I think [the people who do have an issue] are the people who seem to care too much! I just make sure that, for the bands I work on, they have the best possible tour that they possibly can — I just want to book shows [laughs] and I want them to go well; I want the gigs to be sold out and the bands to say, “Yeah, that was a great tour.”
Where do you see the industry in ten years?
The one thing I try not to do is look into the future. I think the best thing to do is not to worry about what’s going on right now and to make sure what you do right now is the best you can possibly do, because who the fuck knows? I do think the festivals have become such an important part of the touring calendar, and the one thing I can say is — and it’s showing already — if your festival isn’t great, if you’re just putting on a stage and a burger van, you’re not going to succeed. People want to be amazed, and there are so many great festivals... It just takes a bit of thought. So, there are going to be festivals that are going to die because they don’t provide a wow factor. Apart from that, I couldn’t predict anything!