MBW’s Key Songs In The Life Of… is a series in which we ask influential music industry figures about the tracks that have – so far – defined their journey and their existence. This time, it’s the turn of Jérémy Erlich, Global Head of Music at Spotify – and with it, one of the most important decision-makers in the modern business. The Key Songs In The Life Of… series is supported by Sony Music Publishing.
At first glance, you might not assume that Jérémy Erlich is a musical mutineer.
Erlich is now comfortably established in the upper echelons of music biz corporate responsibilities – not only at Spotify, but also in his previous job, as CFO & EVP of Business Development at Interscope Records.
He’s well-turned-out too, meeting MBW in Spotify’s Los Angeles offices in a sharp blazer and crisp open-necked shirt.
He even – and this will get explained later on in this interview – pronounces Serge Gainsbourg with delicate gallic flair, rather than with your author’s leaden anglicized lumpiness.
Despite all of this, Erlich was, and to some extent still is, as he puts it, “in love with the sound of angry protest”.
This is the joy of MBW’s Key Songs… series: it reveals the autobiographical realness on which leading execs/entrepreneurs’ modern-day presentation is built.
In the case of Erlich (whose team is preparing for Spotify’s Stream On event later this week) that realness traverses the fury-infused sounds of Rage Against The Machine and Ice Cube, by way of Sublime, The Grateful Dead, BLACKPINK, Bob Dylan, and the aforementioned Monsieur Gainsbourg.
Yet as Erlich explains below, his musical life, historically speaking, begins in France, as a child, watching his dad spin Pink Floyd on the household turntable…
1) Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here (1975)
My musical taste, my love for music, all started with my dad. And this is my first real music memory – my dad’s record collection and, specifically, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.
Wish You Were Here triggered my love of music. That album and [its eponymous lead] song have always been with me.
I was born in France, then moved to the USA as a kid, then moved back to France. Before landing in France, both of my parents were born in Poland, before making their separate ways to Paris.
My dad has always primarily listened to American music, British classic rock, and jazz; my mom has only really ever loved The Beatles.
My dad’s jazz collection was never my thing as a kid. But the classic rock side [of his vinyl], from Deep Purple to Pink Floyd, resonated. The photo on the front of Wish You Were Here, the man on fire, is forever ingrained in my mind.
I would have been nine when I pulled out that album for the first time. I just remember thinking, ‘What the F is this?!’ And then you listen to the lyrics – “two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl” – wow. I still listen to that song at least once a week.
2) Ice Cube, It Was A Good Day (1992)
I was born in Paris, then moved to Austin, Texas when I was seven. In Austin, I went to American public school, and that’s where I learned English as a French kid… the hard way! And then, aged 11, I moved to San Francisco, then to Houston – I went to French schools both times – and at 15, I moved back to France.
I was living in San Francisco when I first heard Ice Cube. I’m not sure if you remember this, but there was the Columbia House CD thing – when you could buy five albums for a penny or whatever, then cancel [the subscription] immediately because it was too expensive.
Ice Cube’s The Predator was one of those albums. The rest I’m not particularly proud of! But I’ve always been drawn to lyrics, and that album was very current, and very lyrical.
“I’m a fan of socially conscious, kind of angry, the-world-is-fucked-up music. Ice Cube really opened my eyes to a part of that world, as an 11-year-old kid going to a French school in San Francisco.”
If someone ever asks me to describe my favorite genre of music, it’s protest music. I’m a fan of socially conscious, kind of angry, the-world-is-fucked-up music. Ice Cube really opened my eyes to a part of that world, as an 11-year-old kid going to a French school in San Francisco.
This song started my love of hip-hop. From there I went to Dre, to NWA, to Tupac, and that kind of led into everyone I like today, like Kendrick Lamar.
It Was A Good Day is protest music in a very different way than protest music from that classic rock protest era; it’s a catchy, optimistic song, but the subject matter is a real insight into a world which I was completely unfamiliar with.
It moved me and inspired me, as a kid trying to figure out what the world means.
3) Sublime, Santeria (1996)
When I was living in North California [San Fran], I would have been 13 or so, and this era of [mid-nineties] alternative rock became hugely influential in my life.
Santeria by Sublime sums it all up. I can still sing every lyric of that song when it comes on the radio or on a playlist.
I started trying to sneak into Grateful Dead shows [in this era]; I remember being out trying to scout a ticket, and then Jerry Garcia died. That was the most traumatic day of my life as a 14-year-old.
4) Rage Against The Machine, Killing In The Name (1992)
Rage Against The Machine was the first concert I consciously went to with my own money. I absolutely loved Rage, and I love them to this day.
Killing In The Name is obviously pure protest music that opens your eyes to the plight of different people in the world.
When I first heard this, I’m probably in Houston, and I’m 15 or 16. You can feel the anger, the rebellion, in the instruments. I think the Rage Against The Machine album and Evil Empire are some of the best pieces of protest music that have ever been recorded.
“I kept the Rage T-shirt I bought at that show for about 10 years too long.”
They’re all geniuses in that band, but Zach’s lyrics, his performance on stage, “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me”… I mean, it’s not Shakespearean, but it’s some of the best lyrics that I’ve ever heard. His cadence too, for a ‘rock’ band, it was so different at the time.
I kept the Rage T-shirt I bought at that show for about 10 years too long. Every time I’ve heard a song like this in my life, it’s triggered much deeper considerations – and a desire to learn about what these causes are.
5) Bob Dylan, Blowin’ In The Wind (1963) / Leonard Cohen, Bird On The Wire (1969)
I could have picked any song by these two artists.
I was in college in Chicago, my early 20s [studying Economics and International Relations at Northwestern], when I really started appreciating Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
Bob Dylan is Godlike in my mind, and I think Leonard Cohen’s a close second. Both of these songs, I wish I had written. They’re lyrically perfect.
“It’s pure poetry, Nobel-worthy literature. It’s everything that I think a song should be.”
Both of these artists are ‘distinct’ vocalists, and the melodies of these songs aren’t particularly complicated, but it’s all about the words. It’s pure poetry, Nobel-worthy literature. It’s everything that I think a song should be.
Creating songs that are lyrically timeless is such a hard thing to do. These two songs are perfection.
6) Serge Gainsbourg, Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais (1973)
Serge Gainsbourg deserves to be in the same category as the Dylans and the Cohens. He’s an amazing lyricist, and this is simply the best sad love song that’s ever been written.
It’s all about leaving someone, but it’s just such a beautifully written piece of music.
As a very proud Frenchman, I needed a French song in here because French music overall has had a huge influence on and in my life. I toyed with this one: Do I put a Daft Punk song in? But they’re mostly in English so it doesn’t really count! Gainsbourg to me is one of the best French lyricists there’s ever been.
“This is simply the best sad love song that’s ever been written.”
We spoke French at home, I went to French schools, there was enough French influence in my life [to expose Erlich to French music as a teenager]. But I’d also watch MTV, I’d try to sneak into Grateful Dead concerts, I’d go see Rage Against The Machine – the culture around me was very American.
Then when I moved back to France aged 15 or 16, living in the suburbs of Paris, I dove into this music that I knew tangentially, but I’d never been immersed in.
That’s where my deeper appreciation of French music emerged. I’ve never lost that cultural connection since.
7) DDU-DU DDU-DU, BLACKPINK (2018)
My friend who I went to school with in London, JJ [Joojong “JJ” Joe], who worked at YG North America, would always send me emails about Korean music. And one day, while I was working at Interscope, he sent me this song by BlackPink.
I watched the video and was like, ‘Holy shit, this is great music’ – despite, obviously, not speaking Korean. BTS was becoming something [in the US] at this time, but K-pop wasn’t where it was today, it was still in the early phase.
“This was the first song where [as someone working in the music industry] I really believed in an artist, and risked my own reputation on saying, We have to do something with them.”
I just really believed in [Blackpink] and the ability for these four women to cross over. I ended up going to Korea a bunch, falling in love with Korean culture, signing them to Interscope via the YG partnership, and I’ve been close to the band ever since.
This was the first song where [as someone working in the music industry] I really believed in an artist, and risked my own reputation on saying, ‘We have to do something with them. They are excellent, and I will continue to do whatever I can to help them fulfill their full potential.’ As soon as I heard it I thought: ‘We don’t have anything like this in the US.’
I’m still close to all the members: they’re fantastic, such hard workers, and so talented. But they’re also the perfect group: they’re all very opinionated, they’re all very different, they’re very talented in different ways – but bring them together and it just clicks.
I feel so privileged to have had a front seat to watch them grow to what they are today. They’re amazing.
Key Songs In The Life Of… is supported by Sony Music Publishing. SMP represents classic catalogs including The Beatles, Queen, Motown, Carole King, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, Leiber & Stoller, Leonard Cohen, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and The Rolling Stones, as well as beloved contemporary songwriters such as Ed Sheeran, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Olivia Rodrigo, Calvin Harris, Daddy Yankee, Gabby Barrett, Jay-Z, Ye, Luke Bryan, Maluma, Marc Anthony, Miranda Lambert, Pharrell Williams, Rihanna, Sara Bareilles, Sean “Love” Combs, Travis Scott and many more.Music Business Worldwide