Craig Aaronson, the A&R man responsible for signing artists such as My Chemical Romance, Avenged Sevenfold, At The Drive-In, Mastodon, The Used and Against Me!, has died after a long battle with cancer. TeamRock's Tom Bryant, who interviewed the LA-born music executive for his recent MCR biography The True Lives of My Chemical Romance, pays tribute.
When The Used’s Bert McCracken first told Craig Aaronson about a band he knew called My Chemical Romance, the Warner Bros A+R man knew better than to ignore the advice of a friend. That’s the kind of man he was, a loyal man who trusted his friend’s recommendations – in other words, not the sort of guy you come across very often in the music industry.
He flew to New York and saw My Chemical Romance play in a shitty dive bar. “They gave me the chills. It was an easy decision from then on: I thought, ‘No matter what it takes, I’ve got to sign this band’.”
He spent a year doggedly on their case. The band were wary of signing to a major label, suspicious of money-men A+Rs and, in guitarist Frank Iero’s case, so traumatised by being wooed that he eventual wrote songs about how much he hated the experience. It says something about Craig, that My Chemical Romance never thought of him like that. It’s why they signed with him and not one of the guys who took them to fancy restaurants and promised them the world.
“One day we were hanging out with Craig and he asked if we wanted dinner, so we went for pizza,” said Iero. “His credit card got refused, so I had to pay for it! But that’s how we wanted it – the most impressive thing [an A&R man] could do for us was to understand where we were coming from and to bring us some cool CDs. Craig got that.”
Craig Aaronson died yesterday of cancer. I interviewed him a lot in 2013 when I was working on a biography of My Chemical Romance and then spoke to him subsequently this year while he was in the process of working with the Hundred Handed label. He never once mentioned he was ill and his commitment to new music was such that, despite the fact he had terminal cancer, he was still trying to find new platforms on which to release it right up until the end.
He had great ears. The list of bands he signed reads like a who’s who of the great rock bands of the last decade or so. He signed At The Drive-In to Grand Royal, Jimmy Eat World to Capitol and, when at Warners, added The Used, The Distillers, Glassjaw, Avenged Sevenfold, Taking Back Sunday, Mastodon, Against Me! and many, many more to the roster.
He was a fighter, too – he called himself “a persistent fucker”. He fought to sign his bands, then he fought for them at the labels. One example came when, at the end of the album cycle for My Chemical Romance’s Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, he persuaded Warner Bros to part with half a million dollars for a music video for the band’s Ghost Of You single – something the label were dead set against. That’s the kind of persistent fucker he was – “My job,” he said once, “is to keep everyone at the label’s dick up about my bands.” And he did it with aplomb.
If you were in one of his bands, then he adored you. You could do no wrong and he would fight and fight and fight your cause. It’s why his bands loved and trusted him, and why they have rushed to convey both their admiration for him and their shock at his death. Gerard Way tweeted “Rest in peace Craig. You gave us fire, hope, and love. Thank you.” Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace, added: “News of a death is always heavy. I’m taking the rest of the night off y’all. Love the ones you got.” Coheed and Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez tweeted: “The world lost one of the kindest men I know today. You’ll be missed, Craig.” And that’s just a selection of the outpouring of love.
The man was a champion of music, full of boundless enthusiasm and unfailing belief in the bands he signed. Loyal, dedicated and talented, he was one of the good guys in an industry full of bad guys.