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ASH AVILDSEN | CREATING HIS OWN DESTINY, CROSSING OVER INTO FILM, AND HIS HIT SERIES ‘PARADISE CITY’

August 17, 2021

Read the full interview on Flaunt.com!

Ash Avildsen is the definition of self-made, going from music promoter to starting respected rock label, Sumerian Records & Production Company Hit Parader, representing artists such as The Smashing Pumpkins, Black Veil Brides, and Meg Meyers, to name a few. In fact, the very laptop he used to kickstart his label (while inside his Venice Beach apartment) is currently on display at the Grammy Museum.

Avildsen describes himself as a creative cavalier who loves music and film, someone who “learns a lot of things the hard way.” With his very DIY, punk rock background, a lot of things in his career were learned through first-hand experience, trial and error. He states, “Dropping out of college, touring with a band, you learn everything. A lot of times that’s the best way to learn certain things, because you learn the ins and outs and the pros and the cons. There’s been a lot of that.”

Growing up on the East Coast in Washington D.C. before relocating to Los Angeles, Avildsen is the writer, director, and creator of PARADISE CITY, even playing a character named Levi Svengali in the show. Produced and financed completely by himself, the hit series is loosely based on Avildsen’s life experiences, including his estranged relationship with his father, Academy Award-winner John Avildsen. Mending the relationship in his early 30’s, Avildsen and his father went on to develop a strong friendship prior to the latter’s passing, even working together on a script.

When you put good energy into the world, you receive it back, and that’s exactly how Avilden’s journey unfolds. A huge believer in cosmic consciousness and gratitude, Avildsen is as humble as they come.

Flaunt caught up with Avildsen via Zoom to discuss his roots on the East Coast, what brought him to LA, his love for music, the inspo behind his label Sumerian Records, his laptop on display at the Grammy Museum, his new show PARADISE CITY, advice for aspiring musicians, and more!

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What was a young Ash Avildsen like growing up in Washington D.C.?

D.C. was cool. The punk and hardcore scene was really big there so at a young age, that’s what I gravitated to. D.C. was one of the cities that really had its own sound, scene, and style. That was really cool. We had some really legendary clubs like The 9:30 Club, The Black Cat, Madam’s Organ, certain places that were really synonymous with the music culture there. It’s also a tri-state area: Washington D.C., Northern Virginia, and Maryland are all right in this one area. That made it possible to experience different  types of cities without having to travel really far. Baltimore wasn’t that far either, about 45 minutes. I did a lot of stuff in the music scene in Baltimore growing up as well, but I really liked it. I liked growing up on the East Coast, it was a really good experience.

What brought you to LA?

I was going to start a record label and I knew LA from touring. Every time we’d come through Southern California, it was this mecca of music. I’d consider LA the music capital of the world. Nashville is technically Music City, it’s got music in every which way. But for rock and alternative, a lot of things that are my main focus, LA’s the capital. Everytime we came through on tour, I said, “God this place is amazing!” I finally drove out, made the move and didn’t look back.

How did your love for music begin?

It was cassette tapes. It was the Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction cassette tape. The first music video I ever remember seeing that blew my mind—well there were a few. The one that really made me go, “Wow, I’ve never seen anything like it,” was Billy Idol’s “Cradle Of Love.” Which was the first time I ever saw the sex appeal of music video storytelling, that’s a big thing when I was a little kid. I was really into Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, and Skid Row, then became really into Nirvana and Pearl Jam once the 90’s arrived. From there, I completely fell in love with rock and alternative. It took me away.

How did you first get the idea for Sumerian Records?

My band was signed to a record label and I’d gotten a couple other record Label offers. I had experience, also working as a promoter because I’d do a lot of the punk and metal shows in D.C., Maryland, and Virgina. I worked with different labels. After touring and meeting with different bands at different labels, I felt there’s a void. Labels were focused on the new era of heavy music, also to make a label with more of a family feel. Because I was a dude in a band, living on the road. I really knew the culture and what it took.

A lot of labels felt it was older guys in offices that had these more old school record deals. I wanted to do something that was more DIY punk rock mentality. I started off doing one-off deals with bands I was friends with, that I was booking or I had toured with. I gave them the most artist-friendly deals available. I started building it from there. We filled a void that was there in the music scene for these genres, a newer forward-thinking, progressive label. Been trucking along ever since.

 What does it mean to have your laptop displayed at the Grammy Museum?

It was really cool. It’s always trickier for people on the industry side to get noticed, you’d think it’d be a guitar with a big rockstar or something. That’s normally what it is when you look at what’s in the Hard Rock Cafe. It was very vindicating, validating. I literally started on this laptop, it was a Sony Vaio before it became a Mac. It was covered with punk rock, hardcore stickers that I lived on the road with. I’d book tours and run all my music business from the road itself.

This was before iCloud and different things where you could store. Everything was literally on a hard drive, all of your contacts. It was before iPhones. It was this little battle station that I was able to start building an empire with, and handling a lot of other artists’ careers literally in my lap on a laptop. I have a lot of memories with it. They did that History of Heavy Metal in the Golden Gods exhibit in the museum. They said “Hey, do you have anything that shows the start of the label?” I said “well, I have this old laptop. I don’t really use it anymore because I’m all Apple now.” A Sony Vaio, a lot of memories on it. They put it in there, honestly that was super touching. Not to get all emo, but wow. [laughs]

What does it mean to be  creative director of PARADISE CITY?

The show takes place in the world of the music business, specifically the rock and roll side of it all. Really the heart of the show is about unorthodox families and single kids, especially scenarios where the father has a child but doesn’t want anything to do with the child. I read there are over 500 active TV shows like that. For me, it was a good topic to focus on. That’s a really big thing, especially in the US. There’s a lot of single parent households, especially kids who grew up without dads.

That’s why it’s dear to my heart. I was lucky to meet my father as an adult; I was 34 and we became really close. They say write what you know. I thought that focusing on that for Cameron’s character would be compelling, interesting and authentic. I originally wrote it way more about the bands, I didn’t want to broadcast my personal life. I got some feedback from some pretty established writers and producers in the TV space, they said, “Dude, you need to put your story in this. Your story’s crazy! I’m like, really “really” I should just focus on the bands.” Sure enough, I got convinced by some people who were a lot more experienced in TV and film than I was, and they convinced me to do it. Looking back, it was the right thing. It gives it a lot of heart to the story and those character storylines.

 You play Levi Svengali in the show, how was that experience?

That was another thing a couple of my close friends helping with the show were pushing me to do once I created the character. It’s a more over the top magnified version of what I actually do with artists on my label, trying to get songs and vocal performances to a certain place. There’s a lot of truth to how those things happen in the studio. Ross Robinsong for example has quite the legendary reputation for getting singers and vocalists to go to darker places, to pull out emotional performances and the lyrics when they’re in the vocal booth. He did that with Korn, Slipknot, some of the biggest heavy bands from my generation. That was paying homage to producers that do that, while also having fun with the storylines. It’s cool. A lot of people ask, “Do things like that really happen in the studio?” Yeah, read the interviews. The rock stars talk about it. It’s not folklore, it’s out there if you dig deep enough.
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What are your fondest memories on set?

The live performances are always fun because we mix background SAG actors along with real fans that are excited to be on set, to try and make the energy for the actors performing on the stage as well as the crowd shots feel real and authentic. A lot of the musical performances were a lot of fun. Specifically Drea de Matteo, she was so lovely every time on set. She brought a great energy and positive camaraderie between the crew and the cast, so any day Drea was shooting was a favorite for sure.

Being on Sunset was fun. The opening scene of the pilot, we’re literally right in front of The Roxy at 1am. Coincidentally, there was a show that night letting out. There were real people coming into the streets that weren’t part of the production. We’re trying to maintain real life fans of another artist mixed with the actors, so the Sunset shots were really fun. They were hectic and stressful but looking back, there’s something to be said about shooting at night on a busy street where there’s all this energy and commotion.

How’d it feel having your movie American Sata picked up?

That was cool. That was the first real movie I made, in the sense of it had a theatrical release. It got it picked up by a very credible distributor. It was a low budget indie film that had tons of different locations, obviously it’s connected to Paradise City. You don’t have to see the movie to see the show but it’s all in the same universe. That’s a really amazing experience. We got it out through AMC theatrically. It opened on a number of different screens, it was a Top 20 movie opening weekend. Nothing compared to big studio movies but turning my record label into a DIY theatrical distributor, it was fun.

It got picked up by Miramax and Showtime, those are two companies I’ve always grown up idolizing. That was super awesome. I found a fanbase that kept growing, which is what motivates me to keep focusing on the world and creating Paradise City because there’s a demand for it. New people all over the world, especially in Latin America. I remember we put it out and here, we went through AMC theatrically. In Mexico, we had a distributor called Cinemax. They’re doing Thursday, Friday, and Saturday showings all over Mexico, tons of cities were selling out in advance. People were buying movie tickets in advance. The Mexican response was completely amazing. With the series, Brazil’s been really getting it too. Prime Video Brazil has been posting about it on their own Instagram and socials, even though it’s not an Amazon original. The Brazilian fanbase has been awesome. Mexico and Brazil definitely put a lot of smiles on their faces.

 Talk about being a believer in cosmic consciousness and gratitude.

I got really into learning about cosmic consciousness when I read a book called The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire by Deepak Chopra. I’d read about Quantum Healing earlier on, also by Deepak. He’s one of my favorite authors and deep thinkers. He’s explaining what cosmic consciousness is, how we’re all connected. We’ve seen a lot in nature how 100 birds can fly into a tree and none of them bump into each other? They all fly out of the tree at the same time, it’s like beautiful chaos in a sense. There’s order to it, none of them fly into each other.

What would happen to 100 human beings if they were to scatter out of a nightclub? They’d be bumping into each other because the connection between sentient beings is more prevalent in nature than it is in humanity. I really got into that, also the synchronicity. People think the universe works in its own mysterious ways, I actually believe the opposite. It works in super obvious ways, you have to be tuned into the right channel. He talks about in the book how there are no coincidences, everything is either a message or a miracle. I really believe in that too. Some coincidences happen of course, but a lot of times synchronicity and serendipitous moments are the universe trying to send you signs and signals. We’ve earned that.

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

You have to be obsessed with your art. You have to do it because you really love it. Don’t do it because you’re trying to make money. There are a lot of easier ways that are way less stressful to make money. You really gotta do it because you’re so passionate about it, specifically if you’re making original music. You could move to Nashville, play in a cover band and make plenty of money being a gigging musician or a session player. If you’re making original music and you really want a career as an original artist, you have to work way harder than everyone around you. You have to figure out what you’re bringing to the musical world that isn’t already there in abundance. Whether your sound’s original, whether you have unique songwriting, whether your presence, your imagery, your lyrics are super unique.

You have to figure out why in a time where there’s more music than ever—and anyone can release music. You can go through Distrokid or Tunecore. It’s not like back in the day when we were kids where you had to go through a record label, you got a CD. It’s not like that anymore. There’s 40K new songs every week, uploaded to Spotify. There’s never been more noise to cut through, but the flipside is it’s never been easier for an independent musician to have a career because the gatekeepers don’t control everything. Of course you want a record label, an agent, a publicist, radio and all this stuff, but you don’t technically need all that to start building a career and having millions of people find out about you. Whether they’re watching a video on YouTube, hearing your song on Spotify, or seeing someone do a video to your song on TikTok, the words of reinforcement or encouragement to the independent artists is you have more tools than ever in the history of music. Literally ever there’s never been more tools, but there’s never been more competition. That’s why you have to be willing to work really hard, focus on it as much as you can without it ruining your life. Sometimes it does ruin your life, but you make it a process.

What are you most excited for next?

There’s a lot of great stuff happening with the label, new releases we have coming out later in the year. We’re about to drop the new Poppy record, which is going to be amazing. She’s super super special. The next film is a true story on Mildred Burke who’s the first ever champion female pro wrestler. It’s based on the book Queen of the Ring and her own published manuscripts, that’s an incredible story. We’ll hopefully be announcing some news about Season 2 of PARADISE CITY here next month. That’s been a focus, trying to figure the best way to move forward with the loss of Cameron, whether we’re going to change that storyline or whatnot.

Are you the one making that executive decision?

The Cameron character, it’s become a group of people. Ultimately, yeah. I get the final say as a creator but I’m trying to be as sensitive as possible. I’ll get thoughts from his parents about it all. It’s not something anyone ever imagined they’d ever imagine they have to do as a writer, director, or producer. It’s the worst nightmare. The good news is people loved his performance. People seemed to really have taken a connection to the series and the storylines. We’re going to do everything we can to keep telling it, hopefully even more people will see it in the second season.
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