Vicky Hamilton came to Los Angeles from the Midwest in 1980 and cut her teeth working at a record store on the Sunset Strip and helping to promote Mötley Crüe’s early career. She then went on to propel Poison, Stryper, Guns N’ Roses, and Faster Pussycat into the spotlight, literally shedding blood (she once stapled her thumb to a picture of Vince Neil for a display she was creating in a record store) sweat, and tears to help support emerging artists that she felt had star power.
Hamilton has been hailed by Forbes magazine as “one of the most successful music executives in the business.” She has worked on gut instinct that proved to be right time and again. To give it some perspective, as a Geffen executive, two projects she took interest in that the label passed on were the Goo Goo Dolls and Toad the Wet Sprocket. They undoubtedly regretted those decisions.
With a slew of books like Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt and Slash’s autobiography detailing the debauchery of the 1980s, it is fitting that Hamilton would release her own tome, titled Appetite for Dysfunction: A Cautionary Tale. The book gives insight into the music industry in the 1980s, as well as the people who were holding everything together while artists were indulging in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
She also describes how she crashed through an extremely thick glass ceiling for women in the industry, even in a male-dominated genre like hard rock.
In the case of Guns N’ Roses, the band members took over and trashed Hamilton’s apartment for six months as she booked their shows and negotiated them a record deal. In his book, Slash proclaims, “I like Vicky a lot. She was very sincere and meant well… I worked alongside her doing everything I could to further our cause; with her help, everything began to really take off.” He also admits to trashing her apartment.
At 61, Hamilton is still promoting up and coming artists, or “baby bands” as she likes to call them, with as much passion and enthusiasm as she has always had about music. And yes, she still enjoys watching her former “baby bands” like Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe, all grown up and well into their reunion eras, even if they didn’t always treat her as fairly as they should have.
Recently, Hamilton was nice enough to sit down with Heavy Consequence to discuss her book, her take on the current Guns N’ Roses reunion and possible new GN’R material, as well as the accuracy of the film version of Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt, She also talked about her current artistic endeavors and the state of the music industry with us at a quiet little vegetarian restaurant in Studio City, California.
On the Guns N’ Roses reunion
I didn’t think it would ever happen to be honest. But I think it’s good that it did happen. I wish it had included [classic members] Izzy [Stradlin] and Steven [Adler], because to me that would be the true reunion. I saw the show twice. It’s really good. I’ve got to give it that. And it’s very professional and it has all the bells and whistles, but it’s never going to be the band that I worked with in the early ’80s, where it was just like raw, live abandonment and you knew you’re watching a train wreck, but you couldn’t take your eyes off it. But it’s a great show. I’ve got friends that have gone like 40 times.
On Guns N’ Roses working on new material
I think they are, but we’ll see. I kind of felt like Izzy was the glue that kept that whole thing together and the real songwriter. Not to take anything away from Axl, because when I saw him play “November Rain” on the piano, I was like, “Oh my God, I never knew that you could play like that.” And he pulled down his glasses and he’s like, “Vicky, there’s a lot of things you don’t know about me.” So, he has his moments of great writing, but I don’t know, I think if Izzy was in the band, they would have more material. Let me just be the diplomat and say that.
On how she sees Guns N’ Roses a little differently than the rest of us
There aren’t a lot of people that work with baby bands and that’s what I like to do. When it came to June Carter Cash and working with her and Johnny Cash, they were already iconic. But for the most part, most of the acts I’ve worked with are baby bands. So, the way that people idolize Slash and Axl or whatever isn’t how I see them. I mean, when I knew them, they weren’t famous really. I’m still friendly with Slash, so it’s like he’s always going to be one of my kids. To me, it’s not like he’s this iconic rock star, although I realize he is, because people call me every week wanting me to ask him for things. It’s like, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be him, you know, what comes flying at him daily. But when it comes to him, he would prefer to be on the road 365 days a year, that’s just how he is.
On finding the “next” Guns N’ Roses
Since I’ve put out the book, a lot of bands are finding me, and I’d say 80-percent of them are things that I would not be interested in or they sound like Guns N’ Roses or Poison or somebody that I’ve already worked with. And it’s like, once I’ve done that, I don’t want to do a repeat of that because I did the best of that already. So, it’s interesting to me that every band that sounds like Guns N’ Roses writes to me and I’m just like, “Yeah, okay, well I did that.”
On recognizing talent through gut instinct and not just numbers
I don’t really know how to describe it, but I know it when I see it or hear it. It’s kind of an arm-hair-raising experience where it resonates with me. It makes me feel something like I want to slit my wrist or go up and hug them. That’s why I call my new label Dark Spark Music because most of the things I like are sort of dark in tone. That’s what resonates for me.
On the accuracy of the film version of Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt on Netflix
Happily, I was not in it. I mean otherwise I probably would have been bent over a desk or something. I mean the charm of the book for me was that they were all telling the same stories and none of them would recall them the same way. And the book was optioned several times, but I think they couldn’t figure out how to make that fly. Ultimately, the Netflix thing just told the story in sort of an animated way because it was more fiction than fact, but kind of true to form. But it’s made them want to get back together and tour, so that’s something.
On writing her book Appetite for Dysfunction
I’ve always wanted to do it. And going back to the days in the ’80s, when I was working at Geffen, when I did my contract with them, they wanted to have a clause in it that said that they owned all my properties and I fought to not have that in my contract because I knew I wanted to write this book. And during that time period I made some tapes of stories about the bands and stuff. And I’m so glad I did that because flash forward to 2010 when I started on it, it took me about seven years to write it and then like three years to edit it. And I’m so glad that I had those tapes.
I mean, the hardest part was the order of things, especially during the Guns N’ Roses days, those were sort of a blur. I had to confer with some friends. Luckily, I still had all my old day runner pages so I could like see what happened. I did work with Kris Weber who was the guitar player of Hollywood Rose, which evolved into Guns N’ Roses. Weber was very helpful in helping me put that timeline together. Everybody put their bands together in the Rainbow parking lot and then they would jam for a week and then they would move on to the next player, so it was kind of hard to keep track of all that. I worked with Slash when he was in Black Sheep, when Hollywood Rose was out there.
On the subject matter in her book Appetite for Dysfunction
My book is not about Guns N’ Roses. It’s more about my journey and observations about the record industry. There’s only like four chapters that deal with Guns N’ Roses.
It is just kind of ironic that I came from Indiana and I basically picked the three best bands of that era. You know, and I think it is because I’m from the Midwest that I was able to do that because I had listened to so much commercial radio that I recognize a good song because, let’s be real, you can be the best live band in the world, but if you don’t have any songs it isn’t going to happen, you know?
On how her book is not a “tell-all”
Most of the girls that have written books about the ’80s are groupies and I really am resentful when I get lumped into that category because I have always been a business person, and a manager, and a behind-the-scenes person. I didn’t sleep with the bands, so it’s like I definitely didn’t brag about sleeping with bands, so that’s kind of the difference there.
On women and the music industry
I mean I like to think that I’ve sort of kicked down the glass ceiling for women in the music industry and others who are walking after me in this crazy world — and, you know, things like the #MeToo movement and stuff. I think guys have to be a little more gentle in how they treat things. I just went to see the movie Bombshell and it was so great. I mean the writing’s really good, the acting’s really good, but it’s a really good snapshot of what actually happens. It’s about the TV world and Fox News and stuff, but it’s the same scenario, you know.
Don’t get me wrong, in the ’80s a lot of the girls wanted sex, too. I mean, I am completely grateful for hookers and strippers because they took care of my bands and bought them cigarettes and dinner and clothes and things and it’s like they kind of helped me, too, you know?
On her new record label
It’s called Dark Spark Music. I have a distribution deal with the Orchard, which is part of Sony and they have 50 offices around the world. Sony bought it, so technically it’s a Sony company. I mean their New York office has so many computers. I’ve never seen so many computers in one space. It’s been a learning curve for me because when I did A&R for Capitol and Geffen it was all about product. Now it’s about streams. If it’s a young band, the playlist is a big part of their life.
I’m starting to sign up a lot of people and I’m also overseeing five acts, so I manage a couple of them. I’m really happy with my projects. They’re all really good.
We just made a record with this band called Lovely World, who I think may be my best band in like 30 years. I find them very impressive. They are kind of a Led Zeppelin meets Black Sabbath meets Pearl Jam thing, but they’re from South Carolina, so there’s a little bit of a Southern thing in there, too.
And we have Damien Sage, who is a great singer-songwriter. He plays acoustically and with a band. He sounds a little like Lou Reed. His single “Cold Blood”, we decided to release in December 2019 just because so many people suffer with holiday depression. Looking at the demographics, on his last single, it was like 50-percent men and 50-percent women. And on this song about depression and addiction, it’s 58-percent men. I find that really interesting.
The Holy Knives are two brothers, Kyle and Kody Valentine, out of San Antonio, and they have been described as The Cure as produced by David Lynch. They are a mixture of Western gothic twang and moody synth-pop. The Holy Knives are cutting a track and then Jamie Hince from the Kills is doing a remix of that song.
On how she finds new talent
I don’t go out every night anymore. I mean, I’m 61, I don’t want to go out every night anymore. And there’s just so many bands. So, usually, word-of-mouth type scenarios. A friend called me when he saw a band in Arizona and he’s like, you have to get this band. They’re like coming to L.A., so I went and saw them in L.A. So, they come in different ways. Damien is a funny one because I met Damien through a guitar player in Gelson’s grocery store. Lovely World, I saw half a minute on Instagram and I was like, this is my next band. I find a lot of bands through other bands because other musicians are the harshest critics. It’s like, if a band likes it, then they’re probably pretty good because they hate everything.
On the current music industry
Greta Van Fleet, Dirty Honey — it’s very retro out there right now. The Arctic Monkeys are my favorite band at the moment. I can’t even believe how big they’ve gotten. The Arctic Monkeys’ manager was the one that said to me, “If you’re going to keep signing these young bands, you’re going to have to start a record label to like get them to the next level.” For the last year, I’ve been cursing him like why did I listen to him? Ha ha, but now that I’ve put out a couple of singles and it’s working I see he was right. Damien had four followers on Spotify, now he has like 4,000 followers. So, it’s like it’s working, and if you look around, the trend is management companies all have their own labels now. The management end of things has become way more important. In the ’80s, when I was coming up, A&R was the coveted position. Now it’s a management, which is more of what I do. And the record companies are different now in how they work, and they sign things by committees and they’re to looking at numbers and publishing. They’re not very many people like me that will decide things on talent.
On dabbling in the art world
I went to art school also. Art was kind of my first love before music. So, I have a philosophy, I will not rep painters unless they can paint better than me. Ron English is probably the most successful painter I’ve worked with. His paintings go for like 50 grand a piece now. I work with a Seattle painter named Eric Montoya who I think is a brilliant, and Maxine Miller, who did my book cover. I work with her. She’s known for tattoo art kind of stuff. I mean I find art and music is sort of interchangeable and relatable as is fashion and music.
On a possible film or movie on her life
I’ve been doing a lot of meetings with production companies and directors and things. I mean at some point, it may turn into a TV series or a movie or something. I mean it’s like I’ve gotten close a few times and then you know, it blows up. The movie industry is mind baffling to me. I’m starting to figure out how it works and I’m amazed that anything gets made. I used to be amazed that records got made, but now that doesn’t amaze me so much. A lot of people want to like get a Guns N’ Roses bio pick out of my book and I’m not interested in doing that. That’s like such a nightmare. I mean what I could give them is what happened before it happened. Because everybody knows what happened after it happened. But I’m not interested in that. It’s a small piece of my story. This one company painted it like My Week with Marilyn. It could be like a snapshot in time, that could be interesting. And you know, it occurred to me last night that my story is a music version of the story of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and that’s a hit. I mean, I think that’s loosely based on Joan Rivers, so I could see doing a film on my real life and then doing like a fictional ’80s show because how much fun would that be?
Our thanks to Vicky Hamilton for taking the time to speak with us. Pick up her book, Appetite for Dysfunction: A Cautionary Tale, via Amazon, and keep up with her current roster of bands at this location.