By: Paul Rogers
"I got a call from a band out on tour. They needed to replace their guitar player because he was masturbating too loudly on the bus and hoarding the fruit," deadpans Barry Squire. "They said ... '[he's] making a lot of noises and in the morning all the fruit is gone.'"
Whether seeking replacement full-time members or temporary touring players, "name" L.A. bands usually call Squire. As the city's preeminent musician referral service, he's a quiet kingmaker with palpable empathy for the players he's been sending on auditions for the past two decades. And for struggling local musicians, he's perhaps the sole portal to overnight success.
Raised in Santa Monica, Squire spent his early adult life as a drummer in local bands and on TV shows. He started gathering names of exceptional players while working at the American Federation of Musicians in the early 1980s, before parlaying an expanding knowledge of the local scene into A&R positions at Warner Bros., Geffen and Columbia Records during the 1990s.
His shift into musician referral began organically when, in 1995, he was approached to help assemble a band for a teenage Canadian singer new to L.A. That teen was Alanis Morissette and that band included drummer Taylor Hawkins (now in Foo Fighters), bassist Chris Chaney (currently of Jane's Addiction) and now-longtime Morrissey guitarist Jesse Tobias.
"[Morissette] was great in spreading the word about how I was able to find musicians," Squire recalls. "That led to other opportunities and bigger bands. When the record industry started to have a meltdown [around 2000], it was the perfect time to turn that into a full-time occupation."
Squire now maintains a database of over 8,000 musicians and has worked with more than 40 gold- and platinum-selling bands. His clients have included Demi Lovato, Skrillex, Guns N' Roses, Mariah Carey, Maroon 5 and Justin Timberlake.
"The artist spends time with me and we go through a questionnaire," Squire says. As well as age range and influences, his clients can request everything from vegetarian musicians to, in the case of "a certain alternative-rock diva from the '90s," specific astrological signs.
"Then I sit at a computer that can do a lot of the work," Squire explains. "But in the end I actually have to go through all of the individual profiles and match up the musicians with the vision."
Squire also boasts a mental database of bizarre music biz tales. He recounts working for a band funded entirely by its (currently incarcerated) leader's multimillion-dollar bank fraud.
"He used it to fund a major rock-star lifestyle without actually being a rock star," he recalls. "There was a $750,000 touring bus; there were strippers being flown in [and] people that were paid to be in a posse."
One manager offered to pay both his band and Squire triple their agreed-upon salaries in marijuana (the drummer took him up on it). And, yes, Squire successfully found a replacement for the aforementioned masturbatory guitarist, midtour.
He cites working with an up-and-coming Katy Perry as among his most satisfying professional experiences.
"She was really respectful of all the musicians that she auditioned," Squire says. "I helped her with a later addition to her band, a guy named Casey Hooper who finally was able to play the Super Bowl with Katy."
Squire holds auditions and teaches at numerous L.A. music schools and colleges. This led to another "rags-to-riches" story when, in 2001, he invited an obscure Musicians Institute alumnus to go jam with one Rivers Cuomo. Scott Shriner has been Weezer's bassist ever since.
"It's a great time for me when I can see that a musician has finally achieved success," Squire says. "The first people they call are the parents ... then it's the ex-girlfriends."
The audition process has changed considerably in Squire's years of musician referral. This writer auditioned though him in 2003; back then, a CD was left on my doorstep containing songs to learn for an in-person audition the following day. Today, social networking and video-sharing websites have made online "pre-auditioning" the norm.
"It's absolutely essential nowadays that musicians have current, strong YouTube videos, great photographs [and] dedicated social media," says Squire, who does not charge his referrals. "A lot of the artists choose the musicians that they want before they ever arrive at the studio."
The gigs have changed too, with veteran acts touring more (to compensate for diminished download-era royalties) and fewer young bands able to afford "hired guns."
"There's actually a lot more touring work for musicians with 'legacy' acts," Squire says. "There's less touring work [with] newly signed bands, because not nearly as many are getting signed."
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Lately, Squire has helped select a band for former One Direction crooner Zayn Malik and delicately sought musicians prepared to audition in their underwear for an upcoming R-rated Las Vegas show. He's even brought like minds together inadvertently.
"There's been four couples that have gotten married now that met at my auditions," he says. "[And] 30 or 40 bands that formed [while waiting] in the lobby."