Videos by American Songwriter
[Photo by Paige K. Parsons]
Jordarn Kurland started Zeitgeist Artist Management in 1999, shortly after the Seattle band Death Cab For Cutie put out their first record Something About Airplanes on Barsuk. In 2003, Kurland signed Death Cab to his company and has also taken on groups like She & Him and New Pornographers. More recently, he entered into a partnership to produce San Francisco’s Noise Pop festival every February.
This weekend, Kurland, Noise Pop, and fellow SF-based promoters Another Planet will put on the fifth annual Treasure Island Music Festival, hosted on a manmade island and former naval base in the San Francisco Bay. On Saturday, the Australian electro-dance duo Empire of the Sun headlines while Kurland’s client Death Cab will take the festival’s final Sunday slot, with artists like Chromeo, St. Vincent, and Beach House rounding out the bill. With just two stages, fans have a chance to see every performer, unlike many other festivals where they may have to choose between favorite acts with similar set times.
We talked to Kurland about how difficult it is to put a large festival on an island, what he looks for in new bands, and who he’s excited about seeing this weekend.
How did you guys decide to put a festival on Treasure Island?
We wanted to build an outdoor festival in the same spirit as Noise Pop. We spent a couple of years scouting locations. It was amazing to us that Treasure Island was even an option. We had no idea you could do [a music festival] out there.
Was it difficult to get the city on board for it?
Treasure Island has been overlooked for such a long period of time that they’re happy to have an event out there that is celebrating the best parts of the island. So it’s surprisingly easy; what’s not easy is actually building a music festival. [Laughs]
Treasure Island is kind of unique among big festivals for having two distinct days of programming: electronic music on Saturday and indie rock on Sunday. How did that come about?
That came out by accident. When we were booking the first festival it just made sense to split it up. What’s nice is every year there seem to be bands that could perform on either day. This year you have Death From Above 1979 which could work on either day. One year we had MGMT headline and they could have gone on either day.
Do you think American music fans are becoming more genre-agnostic, maybe more like European music fans?
Yeah, I do. The connectivity of the internet and the ability to find new things. We have a Coldplay song with Rihanna on it on the radio right now. The biggest part is really access and experimentation.
What exciting things do you see happening in the live music space?
The festival culture is interesting. Three or four years ago you started seeing festivals popping up everywhere – some of them didn’t have a distinct flavor. So I think we’re starting to see those festivals weeded out. It’s a culture that didn’t exist before Coachella, before Bonnaroo. Having been going to Europe for years and [experiencing] their festival culture, it’s a nice to see that here.
You’re also an artist manager. What are the challenges today of managing artists?
The challenge has always been how you find your audience, how do you connect with people, how do you get heard? It’s a different process than it was ten years ago. It’s not just about getting a song on the radio or getting a video on MTV. People are hearing things from many more input points than there used to be. The challenge is still how do you build a career in a day and age where people have more options than they’ve ever had.
Who’s someone you’ve recently signed and what attracted you to their music?
The Head and the Heart, for sure. The record was so great. Even though it was still the early days of them being a live act, they really were doing something unique on stage. They had a real rapport with one another and were very charismatic. People go to shows because they want to see something bigger than them. I’m not saying we have to find bands that have Axl Rose fronting them, but you want to be able to grab onto something.
What are some of your favorite past Treasure Island performances?
Girl Talk in 2010. Flaming Lips in 2010. Broken Social Scene last year was great. MSTRKRFT a couple years ago was amazing.
Who are you looking forward to this year?
I’m looking forward to everyone and I have a few clients playing too. I think Flying Lotus is an incredibly exciting performer. I saw Cut Copy a few months ago and thought the show was great. We curate the festival so tightly that it’s exciting to see everyone.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Kurland began managing Death Cab For Cutie in 1999. He started managing the band in 2003.