Swiping Right on Life with Ash Avildsen of Sumerian Records
The founder and CEO of the Warped Tour staple on his new movie (about Tinder) and how he wants to impress his dad (who he's never met and also directed 'Rocky').
Image via Ash's Twitter
I sat down with Ash Avildsen, the founder and CEO of Sumerian Records as well as an agent at the prestigious Agency Group, to talk about his new venture into film as writer/director/star of What Now (Theaters March 19/VOD on April 3rd). Founded in 2006, Sumerian Records has a variety of artists that make you want to get in the pit and try to love someone: we’re talking Skrillex’s original project, From First to Last. We’re talking The Dillinger Escape Plan. We’re talking dudes wearing super tight black jeans with a carabineer hanging off a belt loop at Warped Tour. Recently, Sumerian has released music from more mainstream alternative rock acts, Chino Moreno’s side project Crosses, and notorious DJ/Producer/Cocksman Borgore.
Sumerian artists have a history of non-traditional marketing practices. In 2011, a Sumerian artist released a “fake leak” of their own album. BitTorrent users thought they were downloading an actual new album by Born of Osiris, but instead they got audio of the band conversing, farting, and playing Charlie Sheen samples. In 2012, Asking Alexandria and I See Stars were filmed getting workout and motivation advice from WWE Wrestler The Ultimate Warrior (RIP). In 2014, the label denied all knowledge of fake kidnapping publicity stunt set up by Upon a Burning Body.
I walked in to Sumerian’s Westwood, CA offices at 6:30pm on a weekday. After passing an empty reception desk, pinball machine, and a few dark offices, I found Ash sitting in a dimly lit, platinum plaque-adorned glass office working on the phones. He waved me in and wrapped up his call. At 33 years-old, Ash is approachable and speaks confidently. He seemed genuinely excited to talk to me about releasing What Now.
The movie follows three best friends navigating the brave new world of online "swipe dating" (read: Tinder) and features guest star appearances by Asking Alexandria, Steven Adler of Guns N' Roses, Ice-T, Bone Thugs n Harmony, WWE Legends Jim Ross and Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and more.
I happened to catch Ash right before he was about to head to a lavish restaurant in Santa Monica with his girlfriend where blind waiters serve the food in pitch black. Naturally I had to ask if he met his girl on Tinder. We also talked about how no one really knows who is in Imagine Dragons and about the complexity of how still to this day he has never been acknowledged by his own father, who just so happened to direct three Karate Kid movies plus won the Oscar for Best Director in 1977 for some movie called Rocky. Shit got kinda deep.
Noisey: Have you dated off Tinder?
Ash Avildsen: Uh, I’ve been on a couple.
And how’d it go?
It was fine. Everyone is like “Oh it’s just this crazy hookup app.” I’ve never gone that route. To me it’s like, “OK, cool, I’ll meet you for a drink and see if we vibe,” but it’s not like Tinder Nightmares on Instagram… But I’ve done online dating for a bit because I wanted to meet people outside of the music world. It’s refreshing to me to meet people who don’t know about the bands that I work with or people that are in the “scene” so to speak. I think online dating gets a bad rap, but to me it’s great. I can see what they look like, see what they’re into, and get a good barometer check instead of walking up to someone at a bar and trying to shoot the shit and realizing, “Oh wait if I could have read how you present yourself on the internet I might not have gone up to you OR I might have been that much more excited to talk to you.”
How is the difference between guys and girls using Tinder portrayed in the movie?
One of the lines in the movie on a first date is the girl goes, “What made you swipe me?” and the guy goes, “Well I’d love to say something really deep or cute right now but I saw your picture for a fraction of a second and I swiped (yes) along with hundreds of other ones.” And then she says “Same except the hundreds I was swiping were (No).” We tried to do a good job of showing the female perspective on Tinder, and a lot of lines the girls say are based on the actresses’ own experiences from online dating.
Did you meet your current girlfriend via online dating or IRL?
I was at this art gallery in Venice and there was this really cool poem. I posted a picture of the poem (on Instagram), and she liked it. She was one of the first people to like it, and I didn’t recognize her name. So I went on her page and saw she was on Kik, this messenger thing. So I downloaded Kik because this was before direct messaging on Instagram, and I wasn’t gonna be the guy who starts liking pictures from 17 weeks ago and likes eight pictures trying to get her attention (laughs). To me that’s creepy as hell. I downloaded Kik on my phone and looked her up. I think my opening line was, and I hope she doesn’t get mad at me for saying this, but her name is Kat and I’m messaging her on Kik so I said, “Break me off a piece of that Kik Kat bar.”
So the relationship started from one single click. Knowing that, do you lurk what else your girlfriend is clicking online?
No. I don’t at all because I trust her so much. I also don’t have time. Half the time I will go on Instagram for a minute or two, and I won’t even like anything because I get worried that people are analyzing what I’m doing like, “Well he just liked that picture why didn’t he like mine? What the fuck is that supposed to mean!?” Everyone is so deep in to analyzing what everyone else is doing on the internet it’s like disease.
You’ve worked with hundreds of bands. Did you draw any inspiration from their online dating experiences for this movie?
I can’t say who the people are, but I will say some band dudes that aren’t as big as they want to be will actually pretend to be in bigger bands. They will hook up with girls then the girl will find out, “Wait a second that motherfucker wasn’t in that band.”
How does that even work? The girls don’t do any research?
I guess not, yeah. Plus, here’s the other thing. There are a lot of bands, not even in the Warped Tour scene, where people know what one person looks like, but no idea about the rest of the band. Even big bands. Look at a band like Imagine Dragons. That band could walk in to Starbucks, and a lot of people wouldn’t even realize that it was them. I guess this is the girl version of having a picture up with multiple people in it, and guys can’t figure out (which girl from the picture is the one they will be meeting).
Switching lanes for a second. Your father, John G. Avildsen, won best director for Rocky in 1977 and did Karake Kid one through three along with a number of other huge films. A few online sources list you as “estranged.” What is your relationship like with your dad?
I’ve never actually met him. I have no ill will towards the guy. His movies actually inspire me, and I think he’s incredibly talented. I’m grateful I have his DNA. I’ve seen him two times in the past 20 years. Once I was 12 years-old and I was outside of the family court in New York. It was over child support. He was sitting two seats down from me and reading a newspaper, and I was waiting for him to acknowledge my presence or notice my existence. Like “Hey I’m here,” and he never made eye contact with me and went in to the court room. That was the last time I saw him until last year when he was doing a Q&A (for his films). They were showing Save the Tiger and Joe, two of the films he did that were really good that were before his Rocky fame. So I went there with a bunch of close friends to back me up cause it was like, “OK, I gotta take Xanax before I walk in here and calm my nerves.” (I didn’t realize it) but my friend was filming me because I asked (my Dad) a question about The Power of One, which is my favorite movie he did but it didn’t get as much love as I thought it would have. I basically said, “Your movies have inspired me and played a big part in my success. A lot of them are about underdogs and the triumph you can have.” So I asked him as a fan about The Power of One, and if there was a reason he thought it didn’t get the credit it deserves. He gave me a really good response, and I don’t think he had any idea (he was talking to his son). I have that video. It’s emotional. I would love to meet him, and I think he’s incredibly talented. (Strangely though) I’ve grown up with a stigma almost of people online saying, “Oh the only reason he was able to launch Sumerian Records is because he’s a rich kid with his daddy’s money.”
I would say the opposite. I feel like you’re trying to get his attention. Like if you won best director he would have to notice you. Do you think that’s part of your motivation towards your success?
I would just want my Dad to acknowledge me and talk to me just based off me being me.
Robesman is your dad. Follow him on Twitter.