Hear and Now

“Come over here and talk to me,” whispers Alicia Keys from an oversize couch, where she’s sipping delicately out of a can of Coke. The 20-year-old R&B wunderkind is in a Williamsburg loft shooting a video for her new single, “A Woman’s Worth,” and trying to recover from an overnight bus ride from Washington, D.C., where she opened for Maxwell. “The trip ended up taking like seven hours,” Keys says. Then she pulls back: “But it’s all good – getting to play with Maxwell has been a dream.”

Keys’s modesty plays against R&B type as much as the elegant Eames-style chairs on the video set do, or as much as “A Woman’s Worth” non-vengeful-sounding upbraiding of disrespectful men does. That same sensibility is all over her triple-platinum Songs in A Minor, which is as influenced by Brill Building songwriting as it is by Prince (a cover of the Artist’s “How Come You Don’t Call Me” takes the song’s loneliness to new heights). At a time when most R&B singers are puppets of producers who stack their albums with trendy cameos, Keys wrote and produced most of Songs herself, and the few collaborations are with soul giants like Isaac Hayes. Lyrically, her sensibility is that of the underdog – not the reigning diva. “We call ourselves Batman and Robin,” explains longtime friend and manager Jeff Robinson, chatting with a group of stylists near the back of the loft, “because we’re about busting the cliques, the bullshit private parties, the ‘Page Six’ stuff.”

Keys credits her low-key approach to growing up in what she calls “the Two H’s” – Harlem and Hell’s Kitchen. She was singing Broadway standards by 4, was studying classical piano by 8, and spent her teenage years at the Professional Performing Arts School. In whatever spare time she had, Keys sang R&B hits with girlfriends during after-school programs at the Police Athletic League on 124th Street in Harlem. “But groups are hard,” Keys says. “We could never agree what to sing – or even on a name for a group.”

Enter Robinson, who made the trip to 124th Street to see Keys perform at the urging of his brother Conrad, a pal youth counselor. “She sang Mary J. Blige and I was like, okay, cool, she’s got soul,” Anderson remembers, “but then she sat down at the piano and started playing Scott Joplin and I was like, whoa, this is some next-level shit.” Columbia Records signed her in 1996 – “They gave me a good deal and they offered me a baby grand piano, so how could I refuse?” Keys says – but shelved the album she recorded. “They wanted something more easily definable,” she remembers, “something not me.”

She was then signed by Clive Davis, who had just formed J Records after being pushed out of Arista, and Songs, which debuted at No. 1 last summer, is the label’s first big hit. Now Keys has to balance her natural humility with Oprah appearances and the responsibility of composing songs for the forthcoming Muhammad Ali biopic. “This,” Keys says, surveying the hairdressers, makeup artists, and production assistants scurrying around the shoot, “is everything that I’ve been working for.”

When Ryan Adams, country music’s great young hope, broke up his North Carolina band Whiskeytown and moved to New York, he got his bearings every day by starting at the Lakeside Lounge. “It was the only address I knew in New York,” he says. “So I’d tell the cab driver to take me to the Lakeside, and then I’d figure out where I was going from there.”

Often Adams didn’t go anywhere – he just perched on a leather barstool and wrote songs (“New York, New York,” the single on his new album, Gold, includes a sly shout-out to the bar). The Lakeside is that place essential to the soul of any true music city: the musicians’ hang. The tiny, U-shaped space on Avenue B offers cold Tecate, a photo booth salvaged from the Asbury Park boardwalk, and the kind of genius jukebox, with 3,000 tunes ranging from Hank Williams to a Ghanaian version of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” that can only be the creation of an obsessive.

But the Lakeside’s true attraction, the real reason that there’s often even more talent sitting at the bar than playing onstage, is rooted in the rock-and-roll-forged friendship of the bar’s co-owners. Now both in their early forties, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and Jim “the Hound” Marshall met in a midtown recording studio one late night in 1979. Ambel was an original Blackheart, playing guitar with Joan Jett; Marshall was driving the van for the Cramps. Six years ago, Ambel, who had started a record-production company, and Marshall, then a WFMU D.J., opened the Lakeside. Joey Ramone appeared unannounced on one of the first nights, and touring friends like Steve Earle and Gillian Welch began stopping by for spontaneous late-night shows after their paying gigs. The Lakeside quickly became an incubator for new talent, particularly of the southern-accented, alt-country variety, thanks to the partners’ love of roots music. The North Mississippi Allstars made their New York debut inside the Lakeside. Pedal-steel wizard Robert Randolph played his first nonchurch show here. Regulars (from left, behind Ambel and Marshall) like Laura Cantrell; Mike Ferrio of the band Tandy; Ambel’s wife, Mary Lee Kortes; Tammy Faye Starlite; Amy (daughter of Mose) Allison; and Tandy’s Drew Glackin all use the scruffy room to test new material. “We avoid using the C-word,” says Ambel, fresh from playing in Steve Earle’s touring band, the Dukes. “Because whenever we say ‘country music,’ we get tons of terrible tapes from bands who want to play here.”

That’s as exclusive as the Lakeside gets. “They were nice to me when I was nobody,” Adams says. “What was that place Arlo Guthrie sang about? The Lakeside Lounge is like Alice’s Restaurant – only for guys who like to play G chords and Stones records.”

“When I play the piano in the System II recording studio that used to be at Carnegie Hall I’m thinking, Duke Ellington played this piano,” says pianist Jason Moran with evident awe. “I’ve got a bootleg recording of some raggedy jam session Charlie Parker did right around the corner from me. It’s a lineage here in New York.”

There’s been one ever since the Harlem Renaissance, when Fletcher Henderson (from Atlanta), Coleman Hawkins (St. Joseph, Missouri), and Duke Ellington (Washington, D.C.) came to Sugar Hill to make it here. And New York is still the nation’s only jazz proving ground for players like Moran, 26, who left Houston in 1993 to settle in Sugar Hill himself.

On his third album, Black Stars, which features the legendary 78-year-old saxophonist-flutist Sam Rivers, Moran draws on passions from hip-hop to free jazz and influences from Ligeti to De La Soul. Urbane and full of highbrow idiomatic nuance, Black Stars, says Moran, is an album he could only have made here in the city. “Growing up in Houston, I’d look at New York and it was surreal,” he says. “It still is.”

It’s the weekend before this year’s first Democratic primary, and the sixth annual Fordham Road Renaissance Festival has been decked out with signs welcoming Fernando Ferrer. But it isn’t the neighborhood’s favorite mayoral candidate who makes the women holding small children and the men drinking cerveza out of paper bags jostle to get close to the outdoor stage – it’s salsa singer La India.

With her coltish legs and mane of black hair, La India looks a bit like Jennifer Lopez. But unlike the videogenic Lopez, the 32-year-old La India can sing – and she improvises trills and yelps that all but overwhelm her twelve-piece band’s slinky salsa.

“I’ve always liked singers who had drama to what they did,” she says later. “When I was little, I couldn’t get enough of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand.” But La India – so nicknamed because of her dark complexion – also absorbed the salsa, hip-hop, and house music she heard in her North Bronx neighborhood. “My parents played Tito Puente and Celia Cruz, but my older brothers and sisters went to clubs like the Paradise Garage,” she explains, “and I grew up right near the Zulu Nation parties.”

Her diverse influences show in both her traditional salsa recordings and the exuberant dance anthems on which she sings for the house-music production duo Masters at Work. “I don’t consider myself just a salsa singer,” she says. “I’d rather be thought of as an artist who sings rhythmic music, whether it’s Afro-Caribbean or house.”

Though the music business is reluctant to recognize such range, La India could follow Marc Anthony into the mainstream: After another album for the Latin-music label RMM, she’ll record for Sony Latin. “Tommy Mottola knows my potential,” she says, “but I think Sony is more excited about the tropical side of my music when they should be looking at me for the crossover.” La India pauses, turning serious. “There’s nobody in my category,” she boasts, “who has been able to top me.”

“Devil, you are a liar!” shouts Hezekiah Walker. “The blood of Je-sus is against you!” It’s a hot Tuesday night, and the Pentecostal minister and Grammy-winning gospel singer is calling out to his congregation in the Love Fellowship Tabernacle in East New York. He’s turned out the lights, and his booming baritone echoes off the low ceiling. “Satan, you are a lie! Uh-huh!” he yells, contrapuntal gasps emphasizing each furious breath as the members of his congregation clasp one another, praying and shouting.

“I love the Lord!” he shouts, choking the mike like a rapper and stamping a brutal tap-dance into the battered wooden stage. As Walker looks skyward, the lights flash on, the drummer kicks in, and the choir belts out Hallelujah. As Walker asks for a yeah, middle-aged women in their Sunday best dance with thugged-out young men in Sean Jean and Triple 5 Soul sweatshirts. One worshiper in fubu, baggy jeans, and cornrows passes out and gets carried down the aisle by friends.

Upstairs in his modest office, sitting on a leather sofa and typing messages into a Motorola pager, Walker explains that his hip-hop-influenced approach to gospel is designed to “update the church, make it a little more urban.” Since founding the ministry in 1994, Walker, who grew up in the Fort Greene housing projects and lost both of his parents by 21, has recorded nine albums, each one immersing the gospel spirit ever deeper in the slick sound of contemporary hip-hop and R&B. Now, with another ministry in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, Walker is on the brink of crossing over to MTV the way Kirk Franklin did. He’s already been dubbed “the Pastor of Hip-Hop” for his role as spiritual adviser to stars like Lil’ Kim, Nas, and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.

“I got a lot of flack from the church community at first,” admits Walker, who, in true hip-hop style, drives a black Mercedes. “But reaching out is a pastor’s job. You know, Billy Graham reached out to Johnny Cash.” Of course, Graham never took it to the next level: Walker, with Combs, is co-producing the long-overdue Thank You, a gospel album on Combs’s Bad Boy label that will pair his choir with R&B singers like Brandy, Faith Evans, and Brian McKnight.

And while Walker’s been telling Combs that “he doesn’t have to act like that to sell albums,” it’s clear that advice is flowing both ways. “I see what Sean does and I say, Okay, I could do that, too,” says the pastor. So this winter, he’ll unveil his new clothing line, Hezekiah Walker Wear.

Walker, who recently appeared with his choir on the “Tribute to Heroes” telethon, backing stars like Celine Dion, is already achieving the mainstream success most contemporary Christian singers can only pray for. Before the show, he remembers, “this guy Bon Jovi kept calling me. So I said I’d better look him up on the Web and find out who he is.”

“I don’t like the word practice,” declares Thurston Moore, Sonic Youth’s majestically disheveled guitarist, hoisting his lanky frame out of a battered old couch in the band’s poster-splattered downtown studio. “It makes it sound like you’re still trying to figure out what you’re doing. We know what we’re doing.”

It’s hard to argue with that. Having pioneered New York’s No Wave scene in the eighties and inspired indie rock in the nineties, the members of Sonic Youth – (from left) drummer Steve Shelley, guitarist Lee Ranaldo, singer-guitarist Kim Gordon, Moore, and new guitarist Jim O’Rourke – earned their peculiar designation as punk-rock elder statesmen through relentless experimentation. Their faces may not be new, but their sound always is. Last year, the band recruited producer O’Rourke to give NYC Ghosts & Flowers a subtle sheen; they just added him to the band, altering a lineup that hadn’t changed in sixteen years. Now they’re working on a soundtrack for French director Olivier Assayas and recording the first tracks for an upcoming album Gordon describes, with some irony, as “classic rock.”

“That’s it,” says Ranaldo. Listening to a demo in a scuffed office chair, he hears a bridge that needs help. “Where we at?” “Reel 14 – twelve minutes in,” his assistant says. Guitar pick in his teeth, Ranaldo scribbles on a yellow pad and looks at his bandmates: “Let’s work on that.”

“Wait,” mutters Moore, “I can’t figure out which guitar I was using.” Known for collecting guitars as well as torturously detuning them, Moore stares at the masking tape on the back of one guitar neck to see what he’s done to it, sighs dejectedly, and then ambles off in search of another.

He returns with a different guitar and smiles as he strums it – then stops and shakes the instrument. “Oh, that’s not it, either,” he groans. So he walks out the door once more, guitar in hand, still searching for that next new sound.

“Basically, our mothers set us up,” says Teddy Thompson. It was 1997, and the son of folk-rock musicians Richard and Linda Thompson had just moved from London to Los Angeles, where Rufus Wainwright, the son of folk-rock musicians Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, had also turned up. “I was expecting one of those hemp-wearing, introverted folk musicians’ kids, and I was expecting to be bored to death,” says Teddy. “Wrong on both counts, of course.”

“Linda was like, ‘Oh, my poor little son’s all alone there,’ ” remembers Rufus. “I think she wanted me to be Teddy’s boyfriend. And he’s straight. But you know those crazy artist people!”

They certainly do. And it may be one reason why Rufus, Teddy, and Martha Wainwright, Rufus’s younger sister, also a musician, hang out together, back each other up on albums, and routinely join each other onstage with an easygoing, sometimes intoxicated rapport. They’re not quite rock royalty – more like talented, hard-working children of talented, hard-working musicians – but they all share their parents’ gift for incisive, smartly arranged songcraft. Rufus’s and Teddy’s debut albums and Martha’s self-distributed EPs all have an intelligence uncommon in today’s pop. Rufus’s follow-up, Poses, written between social engagements while he was living at the Chelsea Hotel, has a dusky romanticism at times reminiscent of Cole Porter. “However you dress it up, you have to have a good song,” Teddy says. “Rufus’s songs sound just as good when he sings them in the living room, which he invariably does.”

Which sounds like something else they could have learned at home. “Teddy and Martha and I,” says Rufus, “our parents are all from the troubadour tradition.” So while Martha can happily recall “a great night at the Dakota, at Sean’s house,” she’s quick to add, “I know that conjures up a ‘rich kids’ image, but there was also a natural sort of real friendship.” She guesses that the little scene they share has been easy to sustain because, despite Rufus’s and Teddy’s recording contacts, “nobody’s become a really huge pop star – we’re still pretty concerned and insecure.”

“Although I would love to be a superstar, I have a very good sense of what it would be like just to play a gig here and there,” says Rufus. “I think in any musical family there’s stuff that’s transmitted genetically, and I feel very fortunate that with us it’s more like … we had the corner shop. I knew that I had to work behind the cash register for a while. And then become the general manager.” He laughs. “And then turn it into Bergdorf’s.”

“C’mon, let’s lick this!” shouts rapper Mos Def, bounding into a rehearsal space on West 26th Street, his new band Black Jack Johnson in tow. Every bit the dandy in a crisp white dress shirt and brown Bermuda shorts, Mos (né Dante Smith) turns and smiles at the two kids snoozing on the room’s black leather couch. “What y’all doin’?” he says in a Bill Cosby grumpy-old-man voice. “Been drinking teenage malt liquor?”

Just as Mos livens up a lazy afternoon at a rehearsal space, he’s been shaking up the city’s hip-hop scene, first as half of the political rap duo Black Star and then on his solo debut, Black on Both Sides. Now, with the rock and jazz virtuosos in Black Jack Johnson – (from left, behind Mos) former Living Colour bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun and ex-Parliament synth maestro Bernie Worrell – he’s trying to transform the sloppy rap-rock hybrid pioneered by bands like Limp Bizkit into legitimate fusion.

It hasn’t been easy: At a Roseland show in December, the group muddled through Bob Marley covers. But today, the band falls into a loping groove, with Mos pounding out a syncopated rhythm on Calhoun’s drum kit, then plunking sullen chords on the piano, and then belting out the theme from the Batman TV show. When the band settles to a stop, he takes Wimbish’s bass and plucks a dubby rhythm: It’s “Batman,” rewritten as “Blackman,” with lyrics about racial profiling. “No, officer,” Mos sings, a mockquaver in his baritone, “I don’t have a valid driver’s license.”

Done kidding around, Mos leads his band into Jimi Hendrix’s “Who Knows?,” trading in some lyrics from Black Sheep’s hip-hop hit “The Choice Is Yours.” “No, no, no,” Mos shouts when Wimbish stops, “not yet.” The rhythm picks up again, slowly taking shape as an old Bad Brains song. “Faster,” insists Mos, and Calhoun hits out a machine-gun beat as Mos leans into the mike. “That’s it!” he declares. “That’s some real rock shit.”

“Four years ago, I started this party,” says Rekha Malhotra, fiddling with the turntables and samplers that clutter her cozy Williamsburg apartment. “I had no idea it would turn into this whole scene.” “Basement Bhangra,” the raucous South Asian dance party she throws at S.O.B.’s on the first Thursday of every month, has become the must-dance destination for young South Asians as well as an expanding number of dedicated clubgoers. “We’ve gone from being an ethnic curiosity to being a plank in New York nightlife and cultural life,” Malhotra says. “Now the music’s all over the place and that’s great.”

Bhangra is an evolving fusion of traditional Punjabi folk music mixed with urban beats. The operative word is evolving: “We don’t have to come out of a box called South Asian anymore,” she says, “so we just play good music.” In 1998, she launched a second party, called “Mutiny” – now held monthly at Filter 14 – that offers a more adventurous range of music often only loosely connected to South Asian sounds. “If I’m looking for a certain sound now,” she says, “I don’t care where it comes from.” When she hasn’t been planning parties or spinning records – everything from kodo drumming to drum ‘n’ bass – she and “Mutiny” partner D.J. Siraiki (né Vivek Bald) have been composing and recording their own music and planning a “Mutiny” compilation album to highlight their hybrid sound.

Malhotra grew up in Westbury, Long Island, listening to Run-DMC, Doug E. Fresh, “and anything they played on Kiss FM,” and began her career spinning rap records at parties while attending Queens College. “I came into D.J.’ing loving hip-hop,” she says. “It wasn’t until later that I discovered my own roots through bhangra and found the Indian electronica coming out of Britain.” If anything, she says, her sound isn’t so much South Asian as it is New York.

“This is where you get your mental samples,” she explains, absently pushing buttons on her new Roland SP-808 sampler. “A friend comes back from London and brings back something; someone goes to India or wherever and brings back something – we’re all helping each other and learning from each other. You know, a couple of years from now, we’re going to have some really exciting things to talk about.”

Flipping through the new issue of the British fashion glossy The Face, Nikolai Fraiture sees a high-style seven-page photo spread and looks up. “Are these guys a band,” he wonders, “or do they just take pictures and stuff?” But he’s not really sneering: The band the Strokes bassist is making fun of is his own.

With their Coffee Shop cheekbones, prep-school backgrounds, and carefully careless clothes (leather jackets, skinny ties, patterned socks, and Converse sneakers), the Strokes – (from left) Fraiture, singer Julian Casablancas, drummer Fab, guitarist Nick Valensi, and guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. – are accustomed to accusations of valuing style over substance. They took off in England like beans on toast – even before they released an album in America. “England is the only place in the world our music has been exposed properly,” Casablancas says with a shrug, as though magazine covers, No. 2 records, and admirers like Elton John were no big deal. Then again, it could be true: The Strokes have the swagger and the songs to be New York’s first great rock band in over a decade. (They could also be the first real rock stars of the Backstreet Boys generation, a bridge from cute guys with choreographers to cuter guys with self-destructive tendencies.) On their just-released debut, Is This It?, they melt down glam-rock romanticism, garage-band noise, and Avenue A attitude into furiously modern pop. With or without meaning to, they’ve picked up the symbolic weight of “New York rock,” as well as the influence of local legends like Television and the Talking Heads.

“Whether we’re totally unique or not, it’s something that no one else is doing,” says Valensi. “People know music is stale right now. They just know it.”

College dropouts (from Hunter, NYU, suny, and Five Towns College) between 20 (Valensi) and 23 (Casablancas), the Strokes met at Dwight, the Central Park West private school Truman Capote attended. Valensi’s mother owns a French restaurant on the Upper East Side. Casablancas is the son of former Elite Models majordomo John, but he says it was stepfather Sam Adoquei, a painter and National Academy of Design instructor, who “taught me everything I know about being a good musician.”

To stay grounded, Casablancas made a pact with Hammond, whose songwriter father (“It Never Rains in Southern California”) told him not to buy too big a house, so it doesn’t become more about the mortgage than the music. The deal is, they have to keep taking guitar lessons, and they have to stay put in the current apartment they now share. “In two years, come back and ask, ‘Do you guys still live in the same place?’ ” Casablancas says. “If we say no, we’ve become assholes.”

“I need you to fall to the floor in a luxurious, Fellini-esque way,” says Casey Spooner, wiping a shock of dyed black hair from his face. Wearing yellow high-tops and a matching yellow-and-black Harley-Davidson T-shirt, Spooner is standing in a sparsely furnished studio at the Musical Theater Workshop on Lafayette Street, instructing several sweaty dancers in baggy workout clothes how exactly he wants things to go at an upcoming show at Exit. “You’re using too much space for your movements,” he reminds them. “We’re not going to have this sort of space.”

It might track like a scene from a Britney Spears episode of MTV’s Making the Video, but Spooner (with choreographer Vanessa Walters) is rehearsing Fischerspooner, a performance-art collective that takes its name from him and composer-producer Warren Fischer and its aesthetic from the Teutonic techno of Kraftwerk and the star-studded showmanship of the Backstreet Boys. “We want to explore the sort of theatrical ideas only Janet Jackson and Madonna get to work with,” explains the 24-year-old Spooner (pictured), who founded the group three years ago in the East Village with Fischer, 42, a fellow Art Institute of Chicago alum. “We did this because we had gotten sick of the avant-garde. We wanted to be popular.”

So far, they’re a hit on the art-gallery circuit (they’ve played Gavin Brown’s Enterprise) and in the fashion world (Imitation of Christ has been helping out). But songs like “Emerge” have the predawn decadence of great disco, and their full-length debut, #1, is a bona fide hit in Europe. “What we do is pop in the very best sense of the word,” Spooner says. “I’d love to be a pop star in Japan.”

In the meantime, he has more immediate concerns. “Watch the pits, people,” he warns as his exhausted dancers raise their arms to the sky. “Watch the pits.”

In the sticker-covered hallway that passes for a backstage at the just-defunct Wetlands Preserve, the Cleveland sextet Chimaira is reveling in an orgy of appreciation. Covered in sweat, they’re wagging tongues, flashing the devil’s-horn symbol with their fingers, and trading postgame reviews (“Dude, that was metal.” “No, that was metal metal!”) with scruffy soundmen, the members of metal act Ill Niño, and teens in black T-shirts trying to look menacing. No one pays attention to the white-bearded grandfather hanging sphinxlike in the wings.

Which is fine with Cees (pronounced “Case”) Wessels, the Dutch founder of Roadrunner Records, which signed Chimaira and Ill Niño as well as best-selling hard-rockers Slipknot and Nickelback. A retiring 61-year-old who has never before given an interview, Wessels remains all but unknown, even to some of his own bands. But rival executives began paying attention when Roadrunner’s roster of high-volume malcontents started going gold. And one such mogul is slicing through the backstage scrum, digital camera held high above his six-foot-four frame. “If you meet these Roadrunner people and make them strip, they’ve got a Roadrunner tattoo somewhere,” jokes Lyor Cohen, the president of Island Def Jam Music Group, which acquired half of Wessels’s company in July for $33 million. “They’re living and eating this culture.”

Indeed, says Wessels, who has no tattoos, “people buy music unheard just on the strength of the Roadrunner label.” Though some of his bands can get a bit extreme (sample Chimaira lyric: “You destroy me every time, you little cunt”), metal has always maintained a steady audience of awkward adolescents, and Wessels says Roadrunner’s sales have grown by 25 percent a year over the past decade, thanks to groups like Spineshank and Fear Factory. “We always knew we could make money putting those records out,” Wessels says, “names you never heard of before or afterwards.”

A bored Amsterdam copywriter and former marketing and A&R executive at RCA and Polygram, Wessels formed Roadrunner in 1980 and released a Jim Croce album. But even though his taste tends toward opera and the Rolling Stones, he couldn’t help but notice the rising interest in British metal groups like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. “I don’t profess I understand,” he admits, “but it’s important to be close to what kids want.” So he refocused his company, buying international rights to American acts like Metallica and Megadeth and then signing his own bands.

Cohen first noticed the label seven years ago when he was COO of Russell Simmons’ label Def Jam, and decided Wessels’s label could make the journey from extreme to mainstream. (Simmons and Cohen sold their stake in Def Jam to Universal in 1999 for $110 million.) The two became friends, but Wessels wanted to keep his independence. “We would have made a fortune,” sighs Cohen.

After Slipknot’s 2000 debut sold more than 2 million copies worldwide, Wessels began to think other Roadrunner acts could do just as well if his company had more marketing muscle, and he explored partnering with a major label. He says most of the big players put in bids – “I ate a lot of good dinners” – but Cohen came with entrepreneurial bona fides and a promise not to interfere with Wessels’s vision. “Kids have to be rebellious,” says Wessels. “We provide a kind of service to make it a more intense and sometimes more pleasant experience.”

Hear and Now