Saturday, December 8, 2012

Meet Miles Copeland: The Founder Of I.R.S. Records

*courtesy of the Dash Cafe

Ever wonder what it would be like to be the son of an American CIA officer and a Scottish intelligence agent who grows up to found a record label? Miles Copeland doesn't. From Wikipedia:
Miles was born in London, England, to Miles Axe Copeland, Jr., a CIA officer from Birmingham, Alabama, United States, and Scottish Lorraine Adie, who was in British intelligence. Due to Miles Jr.'s profession, the family moved throughout the Middle East, in particular Syria, Egypt and Lebanon. As a result, Miles and his brothers became fluent in Arabic.
One of those Arabic speaking brothers happened to be Stewart Copeland, drummer for the Police. While trying to get the Police signed to a major label, Miles founded a new record company with the intention of giving New Wave acts a leg up in the industry.

For years, I simply knew I.R.S. as "R.E.M's record label." Rock writers would always talk about I.R.S. as some sort of significant label, but the only band I ever consciously realized was actually signed to I.R.S. was R.E.M. I mean hey, that's a pretty good act to have. All five of the albums the band released on I.R.S. in the mid-'80s were more or less great. And you couldn't miss that logo on the LP and CD covers. If all I.R.S. ever did was sign R.E.M., then they would have had a legacy worth remembering. But while I will now admit that R.E.M. was probably the most significant act ever signed by I.R.S., they would have to be my second-favorite act. What I didn't know was that, long before Europe began handing out free radios, the label's biggest band was the Go-Go's.

The Go-Go's made I.R.S.

Also, I.R.S. made the Go-Go's. Let's just say it was a mutually beneficial arrangement.

You see, by 1981, the Go-Go's had become an extremely popular concert attraction, but could not, for the life of them, get a record deal. Do you know why?

Because they had vaginas.

None of the major record labels wanted to sign the Go-Go's, because they were all girls. That's it. Liked the music, thought they were talented, but said they were missing penises. Actually told them to find a boy and insert him into the band - even just one. According to Charlotte, “They basically said, ‘No, we can’t sign you because you’re an all-girl band.’ Literally said that." In a 1994 interview, Jane observed, "In 1980, a record company wouldn't think twice about saying 'Oh, we don't want to sign you because you're girls.' I mean, no one would dare say that in 1994. They might think that, but they'd never say it out loud."

Well, back in 1980, they would say it out loud. But oh, my friends, the Go-Go's would have the last laugh. And so would Miles Copeland III.

Miles Copeland is the one person in the Go-Go's story who comes closest to being a father figure. He was, shall we say, the man of the house. While working on Urgh! A Music War, which prominently featured the Police, as well as several other acts who were either signed or soon to be signed to I.R.S., such as the Cramps, Oingo Boingo, and Wall of Voodoo, he started sniffing the Go-Go's out. From Lips Unsealed:
In April, following months of back-and-forth between Miles and Ginger, he finally signed us to I.R.S. Records. We were very excited to finally get a deal and have the chance to make an album, but in private we shared disappointment that we weren't getting a million-dollar advance from a big label, which had been our dream and probably would have happened if our band hadn't been all female ... at that point, we said a collective Screw it, screw everyone, we'll show the entire industry.
Indeed, show the industry they did. Those clueless record label executives who turned down the Go-Go's have now gone down in history as spiritual heirs to legendary Decca Records A&R man Dick Rowe, who passed on the Beatles in 1962, famously uttering the words, "Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr. Epstein."
We officially signed on April 1, 1981, and celebrated over dinner and drinks - lots of drinks - at Kelbo's, a kitschy Polynesian restaurant in West Los Angeles ... After dinner, we went with Miles to the premiere of the movie he was creative consultant for, Urgh!: A Music War, and I was impossible. I had done a bunch of coke at the restaurant and taken a quaalude before we left. Buster was out of town and I brought a cute skateboarder for company. We sat right in front of Miles and made out through the entire movie.

At one point during the film, I got up to go to the bathroom and glanced over at my new boss. I felt his steel-blue eyes cut through me like a carving knife. Too wasted to care, I smiled and waved.

He probably wondered what he had invested in. No, on second thought, he knew exactly what he was doing. He was going to make a Go-Go's album and I think he had the same feeling the rest of us did - that it was going to be great.
Miles Copeland would ultimately be right about two things: the Go-Go's album was going to be great, and Belinda Carlisle was going to be impossible - for thirty years.

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