Moroccan-born Annie Ohayon has had quite the harmonious career. We know her as our resident compère for the Annie O. Music Series, but she's had a long and fascinating career working with the legendary talents under the Arista label. Nowadays, she curates an eclectic group of musicians for her series at The Standard, East Village– from conceptual icon Arto Lindsay, to French singer Lulu Gainsbourg to the indie pop sensation Tegan & Sara. Her veteran ears knows what she likes, and when she likes it, she books it.
When did you come to New York?
I came in 1983 after living in Israel and Paris. I really wanted to explore New York.
How did you get started in the music business?
Music was always my life, I was obsessed with French music. I started to learn English while listening to The Beatles and Pink Floyd.
I was spotted by Kathy Schenker, who had a music PR firm. Sting was one of her clients at the time. She knew I was interested in music and knew of my background in media. The rest is history!
What was working with Clive Davis at Arista Records like?
Clive recruited me from Kathy. Arista was looking for someone with international sensibilities who wasn’t in the label system. I knew that I didn’t fit into the label structure, but I also knew that I couldn’t pass up an opportunity working for Clive Davis. I was head of press for a year and then left to start my own company in 1993.
Clive Davis with Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart
Some of your first clients were Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Smashing Pumpkins, and Annie Lennox...That was a great time in music...
I consider myself very privileged to have had the opportunity to work with music royalty. I have a lot of backstage and green room memories but I will leave it at that! The best part was being their friend as well as working with them and having their trust.
How did you get involved with the Oscar winning film, Dead Man Walking, starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon?
I represented Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the amazing sufi artist from Pakistan, on behalf of Peter Gabriel in the US. I got a phone call from Tim Robbins, the director, asking me if Nusrat would want to do the score for his film with Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam, and his brother David Robbins. He needed my help to make it happen. That is what you call an offer you simply can’t refuse! It was a highlight of my career and working with Pearl Jam was one of the best experiences I’ve had.
How would you describe your current position at The Standard?
I bring in the talent, produce and promote the shows, and curate the series. I’ve really found balance in this position. It’s almost like an A&R job.
Lulu Gainsbourg, Annie O., and Ara Starck from The Two
How do you find your bands?
Some come from my connections in the industry, others through word of mouth - new talent looking for alternative spaces and audiences, and a few through agents. My favorite way though is to go out at night and see who is around. My ear is my guide, if I like it, I book it.
Is there a common trait in the artists of the Annie O. Standard Sounds music series?
Not really. It’s about the quality of the music, how it moves people. I like exposing audiences to new cultures, so international talent is great. The music might not be something that I would normally play at home, but if I hear it and like it, then it's nice to bring in a new crowd - that's always been a priority of mine... Exposing audiences to new cultures and exposing the space to new audiences.
Do you purposefully mix the avant garde with the mass market genres? I.e. Dorit Chrysler vs. Tegan and Sarah
As I don’t book DJ's, that is my way of mixing things up. I wouldn't call any of it "mass market." I'm indie at heart. I just try to stay away from the common.
Annie O. with Amadou and Maryam
What has been your favorite Standard Sounds performance?
I love them all...but, Rodriguez "Sugarman" in August of 2012 was spectacular. I am very excited about a few of them coming up in October! Especially, Steve Nieve's solo project. He plays piano with Elvis Costello. He is fantastic.
See invites below. Don't forget to RSVP.
What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
Play live as much as you can and stick to your instincts. Don’t make compromises that will come back to haunt you when you get famous! Don’t be too open with the press....and get a great manager!
Did you ever think about taking the stage yourself?
Yes! I was in a band a long time ago. There were three of us- one drummer, one guitar player, and I was the voice, singing French songs. I really loved it, but when it came time to get on stage I couldn’t do it - I’m too shy.