Van Toffler Talks SXSW

Sawyer by Mark Jafar, Viacom

From the mtvU Woodie Awards to the MTV Hive’s new In My Room performances, MTV continues to expand its presence at the ever-growing and increasingly influential SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Festival in Austin, TX.

To share the method behind the channel’s musical madness, and unveil an exciting new artists’ initiative that includes VH1 and CMT as well, Van Toffler, President of Viacom’s Music and Logo group, will take the stage on Thursday, March 15th as a SXSW featured speaker.  We sat down with Van today to talk about SXSW, the reinvented Woodies, and how he feels about following Bruce Springsteen on the speakers lineup (editor’s note: ouch).

Have you ever been to SXSW before? 

I went, I remember, a bunch of years ago with Mike Judge, probably around the Beavis movie.  We were launching MTV Films and we were in the film festival.  And I got  pretty drunk and heard a lot of good music there, as well as had the chance to talk about our movies.  I haven’t been there in a chunk of years, but we decided to do our mtvU Woodies event down there last year, and now we’re going to follow up again this year.

What do you plan to cover in your speech?

I’m pretty much going to talk about how all of us empty suits have helped screw up the music business, and then talk about a great new pro-artist music initiative we have that will live across all of our music brands.

Why did you feel like SXSW is to the place to break that news?

I think that’s where a lot of the  breakthrough music news is coming out of.  You know, there’s the digital part that happened this past weekend, and now there’s music, as well as films.  But I think a lot of great music news comes out of SXSW now so it feels right.

Are you able to stick around to see any bands?  If so, which artists are you looking to catch?

Yeah, I’ll see bands potentially Wednesday night, but definitely Thursday after my speech!  I’m looking forward to seeing Fun – who we’re gonna livestream at the Woodies.  I don’t know Friday if I’m gonna get to see a lot of bands at the (MTV) Hive House, I might miss them.  And Imagine Dragons will be performing at the House, as well as after I bore people with my speech.

Can you tell us about the reinvented Woodies?  It’s now in its second year in Austin – how has the change of scenery helped inform and shape the show?

It’s definitely more sort-of rootsy and has a handcrafted feeling.  We’re gonna stream all-day – on Thursday – performances and then air a special on Sunday on MTV & mtvU.  So it’s much less polished than the typical awards shows you see on MTV, and even  the Woodies in the past. It’s just got a great vibrancy in Austin to do it live around that environment, which sort of houses musicians, and managers and tons of music people.

Looking at the SXSW speakers agenda, it looks like you’ve got an up and coming rocker out of Asbury Park, New Jersey warming up the crowd for you earlier in the day.  What advice do you have for those of us who one day hope to call The Boss their opening act?

Could there be worse placement for a speech than going after Bruce Springsteen?  No, I’m happy to be at SXSW.  I can’t believe Bruce is keynoting, but I can highly recommend to everyone that you never want to follow the greatest performer of our lifetime.  But maybe he’ll stick around for my speech, we’ll see. (laughs)

Finally, I saw your “desert island” albums list on the SXSW website and, as a fellow Oasis fan, I have to ask about your inclusion of Oasis’s Definitely Maybe.  I wonder if there’s anything you can say about the legacy of that band – much-maligned in our fair country – and how you feel about them, and the Gallagher Brothers?

I loved, loved the Gallagher Brothers, and that record is an almost song-for-song perfect reflection of what it’s like to be a rebellious adolescent and think you’re immortal and you can take on the world and Live Forever as, you know, the name of  one of their songs.  It takes out everyone else in the music business, it just talks about not growing old, and just saying, “the hell with everything, I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do.”  And that, to me, is the perfect spirit of music, and rock music, that I try to be around every day, and I’ve been a professional. (laughs)

I think the Gallagher Brothers forgot that after (What’s the Story) Morning Glory.  Fame got to their heads, they didn’t become great live performers, and they literally spit on the stage when they came to the States.  Whatever worked for them in the UK didn’t make its way across the Pond.  And now, they don’t talk to each other (laughs), so it’s almost perfect. But I still love them.

Catch Van on Thursday,  March 15th from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. at the Austin Convention Center, room 18ABC, and watch the 2012 mtvU Woodie Awards Sunday, March 18th 8/7c on MTV and mtvU.

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