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"I've become what I said I'd never become," says Trevor Pryce, laughing into the phone. "Yeah, a hipster. I have a Mohawk." The VH1 exec on the other end wants a photo of 33Hz, the flagship act of Pryce's Outlook Music Co. label; the network is slated to feature the group on the Here Music First section of its website when 33Hz's debut release hits stores Tuesday, April 26.
Despite Pryce's declaration, he has too much depth for the hipster designation -- not to mention that at 6'5" and nearly 300 pounds, the body inside the crisp, neo-vintage Clash T-shirt is quadruple the size of your average fashionista's.
If any label fits, it's that of voracious audiophile. XM radio runs in Pryce's house all day long. He knows what's hot right now -- ask him about Bloc Party, LCD Soundsystem or the Go Team -- and has an expansive, wide-ranging audio library with 6,000 CDs and about 10,000 songs at his disposal. "My parents were Jamaican, so I grew up with a lot of reggae music," he explains. "Then I started skateboarding, and my friend John introduced me to Bad Brains. And I grew up with a lot of hip-hop, too, and Public Enemy sounded so heavy to me. PE always had this rock undertone to all their songs; it had that same sense of bottled-up fire. It was always so loud, and it was such a big wall of sound, and there was so much shit going on, that it sounded like punk music to me -- and I didn't even know what punk music was, really.
"I grew up in the suburbs," he continues. "I was always looking for stuff to sample, and my dad had so much music in the house. My dad loved the Rolling Stones. He loved Bob Marley and 'Beast of Burden,' by the Rolling Stones -- that's what he played every Sunday. And then MTV -- I couldn't stop watching it as a kid. All the things that were being played just opened my eyes. I've always been kind of that odd guy who likes more things than I should. I remember when I was probably six, at the beginning of Sesame Street -- the theme song was like a funk song, and I remember thinking, 'Somebody should rap over that.' I'll never forget that in my parents' bedroom in East Orange, New Jersey."
These days, Pryce has no problem acting on an idea. A few years ago, he was contracted with Polygram as an artist/producer when it was acquired by Universal -- which promptly dropped him. Rather than initiate negotiations with another label, he launched Outlook. "Everything I'd always done was through Polygram and through the A&R guy there," he reveals. "It was like, 'How do I do this?' So the first thing I did was say, 'Well, I need some bands.'"
Scouring Garagebands.com, he stumbled on Roman Candle, a North Carolina-based quintet, signed the act sight unseen, and produced a record that sold around 2,000 copies. He then negotiated a joint deal with Hollywood Records, which spent a ton of money re-recording the album multiple times before eventually dropping the act two months ago. "It was a good experience," Pryce says. "It was my second experience dealing with a major record company. From doing that, I think I'm a lot smarter with my decisions -- or I'm starting to be. I'm starting to figure out that what's really important is getting a record out."
He recently established a relationship with V2 Records, which is set to release Candle's re-recorded album later this summer, and now he can focus on 33Hz -- another act he signed sight unseen. Pryce plans to work the Internet buzz for the next three months, with a traditional marketing blitz to follow this summer. "It makes more sense," he explains. "Whereas the major would have done it the other way, like, 'Okay, let's shoot our wad now and see what happens,' I'm kind of like, 'No, it needs to be a slow build for the record rather than throw everything we can at it right now.'"
Pryce's plan seems to be working for 33Hz. In addition to VH1, iTunes will reportedly feature the band next week. Since South by Southwest, quite a few tastemakers have taken a liking to the Brooklyn-based four-piece deemed "super clean white-boy R&B" by Fluxblog.org, a weblog considered influential by Blender. "I think these guys are going for more of a Hall & Oates kind of thing, but they end up sounding like outtakes from that last Justin Timberlake album, which is good enough for me," the blog reads. "Enjoy it now, before it inevitably ends up in a Target commercial." On an industry site I belong to, several folks have name-checked the band in their player picks, with one guy insisting it's "Prince and Phoenix together at last."
But while 33Hz is one helluva guilty pleasure, it's no Prince -- and it's no local act, either. "As far as what I sign, it does not matter what you do, what you look like, how you sound live, where you play," Pryce says when I ask about opportunities for the home team. "I don't care how many people you play for. What does your record sounds like?