"I think the record industry has gotten to be more about labels wondering what the new single is rather than labels nurturing artists," fashion designer John Varvatos tells Rolling Stone. "It's gotten away from making a full album of music that someone would want to listen to all the way through."
As a self-described "music junkie," the designer hopes to change that with his new label John Varvatos Records, which he has just launched with Republic Records. As the label's curator and president, he has not yet signed any artists or planned any releases, but Varvatos says he wants to help nurture the label's aritsts and develop their careers. "I want to be really intimate in terms of that," he says. "I want the artists to feel like I'm a real partner with them, not that I'm just a label head that's connected with another big label, Republic Records. I want them to feel that there's a partner there."
Currently, Varvatos is "sniffing out" artists to sign in his travels and listening to demos. "We want to find the next Guns N' Roses," he says, though he's not limiting the focus of the label. While the ethos of his fashion brand is rooted in rock & roll and has featured Jimmy Page, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper and others in his ad campaigns since its 2000 launch, he says he isn't looking for any one genre. "I'm not looking for old-school rock & roll, and I'm not looking to sign old-school rockers that are looking for a label," he says. "That's not the thing. I'm looking for young artists who are looking for a haven to create and evolve their music."
One of the things that excites Varvatos about his partnership with Republic is the label's commitment to younger artists on the main label, as well as on imprints like Cash Money, Lava, Brushfire and American, among others. "If you look at Republic, they're quite a young label," Varvatos says. "They don't have this big catalog like the Columbias and the RCAs and the Warner Bros., and the old classics. We want to create those next kind of catalog artists, the Neil Youngs that have been with their labels for years and years, Bruce Springsteens, where there's a real partnership there."
"John lives and breathes pop culture on a global level," Republic Executive Vice President Charlie Walk tells Rolling Stone. "His knowledge and perspective on music is something invaluable to us because it comes from a completely different angle with him being embedded in fashion. He's not approaching it from the standard 'label side' of things. He has the ability to find music through untraditional means that we're not accustomed to. He can sit in a room with an artist and offer a viewpoint from the lifestyle and fashion world. That's really incredible for talent to see."
"As true fans of the Varvatos brand, we plan to sail into unchartered waters and discover new talent and create dynamic opportunities to launch careers artists," Republic Chairman and CEO Monte Lipman says.
In addition to developing new talent, Varvatos plans on rereleasing singles and compilations that aren't currently in circulation, though he would not disclose which comps he was thinking of. "We're going to do limited-edition releases where we're going to do 1,000, 1,500 pieces – not so different than what Jack White's label Third Man does in that regard," he says. "We'll just be doing it on a different level with different types of artists."
"It's edgy, it's sexy, it's smart, it's forward-thinking," Walk says of the partnership. "We're not going to do things typically. We're in the business of breaking new artists and breaking ground."
Looking at the new deal overall, Lipman says he is most excited to have "the opportunity to work with a pioneer in the world of fashion and pop culture." Varvatos says that fashion will have an intrinsic relationship with his the music he puts out, but that it will not be the label's guiding force.
"It's not my idea to market my brand with the label," he says. "If somebody's got a different style, I want to embrace that style. My idea is not to turn artists in to Stepford Wives for John Varvatos imagery. It's really to embrace and nurture their style in every regard, the musical style and their own personal style."