Paradise City Creator Ash Avildsen on Metal, Spirituality, On-the-Road "Number Two" Stories, and the Future of the Show

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Ash Avildsen is earning much cred as a multi-media mogul.

His past has seen him playing in a signed touring metal band (Reflux), starting the Sumerian Records label from his Los Angeles apartment, and now venturing into the world of film and television production --  all in spite of his famous father's legacy, not because of it.

With the recent premiere of his rockin' heavy metal riddled indie soap opera Paradise City, a sequel series following the 2017 film American Satan, dropping on Amazon Prime, he can add "TV showrunner" to his resume, along with actor and director.

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We were psyched to shoot the shit with the guy and dig all sorts of juicy, crazy matter out of the successful, young entrepreneur's twisted head. Join us now for the journey:

TV Fanatic: Is it true you started your record label in your apartment?

Ash Avildsen: Yeah, I was born here [in Los Angeles], but I only lived here till about four or five, and then I grew up on the east coast in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. And then, in 2005, I moved out and was in a little Venice Beach studio apartment and started my label.

And I had already known how to book tours from being in a band and touring, so I had experienced being a promoter, putting on shows -- that's kind of what the Cameron Boyce character [in Paradise City] is kind of inspired by, my early days in the business and putting on punk and metal and hardcore shows, and then that evolved into doing bigger shows and festivals.

So in 2005 -- in between our first album and our second album -- my guitar player took time off, and, in that time, I moved to Venice; I started my record label. I merged my bedroom booking agency into a bigger agency and just never went back to touring.

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We never made the second record; I just went full-on, on the industry side. The first release was, like, late 2006, and then, yeah, been building it ever since.

Is that how you kind of made your connections and bands for your label?

Yeah, that was a huge part of it, and then it was in the era of MySpace. So MySpace played a big part in breaking artists -- a lot of like underground metal bands and stuff; you could get big on there.

There was a band called Suicide Silence that I was working with. They would draw hundreds of people in all these different cities when they had never been there, didn't have a record out or anything, so that was a really exciting time. And, yeah, as, like, a guy in a band and everything I'd done in the business, [it] made it realistic for me to start a record label.

Because I was booking a lot of these bands that were worth tickets, and they didn't have deals. And I would go to the established labels in the scene, and they would either offer them a Draconian deal, or they didn't understand this kind of new wave of heavy music. So I would just do these like 50/50 one-off deals with artists based on me being their agent and them trusting me.

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Some of them were even opening acts for my band. My band wasn't that big, and we peaked out about doing, like, between 300 and 500 tickets as a headliner. But that was pretty good on a first album back then, but basically, I started the label and then just started building it, and as it got more established, we could find bands for multiple album deals.

And a lot of early bands that did a one-album deal came back and re-signed based on how good relationships had been going. So I just kept building and building it, and now -- finding Smashing Pumpkins was a really big moment for us. I am just continuing to grow, man, trying to fight for things rock, you know?

Good, someone's got to carry the torch, man.

Right? Now, for the first time in a very long time, it's actually become cool again. When I started Sumerian, wasn't cool to wear, like, Nirvana and Guns n' Roses shirts and stuff, and now it's in vogue again. It's all over like Urban Outfitters. It's just becoming hip again, which is really exciting because it's been a long hard road to get here.

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I'm old enough that I still feel like Godsmack is, like, a new band. I'm an 80s child, so anything after like, 91, I think, is brand new. But you're really breathing fresh air into this stuff. How did you branch into the film industry from there?

I didn't want to cross over into film until I'd reached a certain level of success in the music business. And that was mainly for two reasons: one, because I wanted to make sure I got to a place I was happy and confident in career-wise in music.

And the second thing is, I didn't want to feel like I was ever trying to emulate my dad [John G. Avildsen] or kind of exploit my last name or lineage or anything like that. So once my label got to a certain level, and my booking agency did, I did a strategic deal with another agency, so I didn't have to book bands anymore.

I got out of that, and I was able to fill that time up with focusing on TV and film. And that's when it all started to take flight.

I was fortunate; I finally met my dad for the first time when I was about 34 -- I grew up knowing who he was, obviously, but I never actually met him until I was mid-30s. I saw him once when I was, like, 12 -- in court, which is actually a pretty gnarly story -- but we never ever connected until the past five years.

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So you really kind of are Simon from the show?

That character is heavily inspired by my life. Yeah, the dad is the guy that -- Ryan Hurst plays Oliver, the big label boss. He's obviously not a movie director, but I kept it in the world of music.

But yeah --  the scene in the pilot where [Simon's] complaining -- there's kids on a message board talking shit, saying he's only booking bigger bands because of who his dad is. I totally went through that on our message boards growing up.

They thought because my dad worked in Hollywood and made Rocky and The Karate Kid, somehow he was helping me book bigger metal bands and stuff when I was putting on shows which, one, I was like, he has nothing to do with the music business, and two, I've never fucking met him.

So it was really, really annoying because I would get falsely accused of nepotism and being privileged when it was the complete opposite. The last name actually haunted me because people always ask like, "Oh, what is Stallone like? What's Ralph Macchio like?" I'm like, "I don't know. I never met them".

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Oh, man, I could see how that's kind of a downer, but look what you got out of it.

Yeah, man, you know, it all worked out in the end, a long hard road to get here. But I'm very grateful I got to meet him and become great friends before he passed because there would have been -- it would have been a lot darker and more challenging an existence, never having had done that.

I didn't realize how autobiographical it was. I know it's fiction, but now I get it. There's one scene -- I just wanted to clarify -- is there a scene in Paradise City where Leo might be snorting the ashes of the dead manager? And smoking them?

Yeah, surprisingly, that's actually a thing that some people do. I didn't just grab that, but yeah, that's like a thing.

I had to rewind it.

Yeah, I didn't want to lean into it too much. And [if people are] paying attention, they'll get it, but yeah, that's totally a thing.

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It must be hard watching the Cameron Boyce scenes. How do you feel about Paradise City being his final gig? Did he get to see any of it?

No, I don't. I don't think he did get to see any of it. He passed July 2019, and we had wrapped March. Yeah, I don't know that he saw. I mean, he saw some stuff on set. I don't think he saw any of the early edits or anything.

Man, he had this energy and charisma that, when he was in the room, he just lit it up. I mean, I know that sounds like some cliché one-liner, but he literally lit the room up. He had this very positive, infectious charisma and vibration that made you feel great to be around him.

And in entertainment, a lot of times there are young people that get very big success at a young age and sometimes that can kind of poison the well, in the sense of how they carry themselves as an individual and as a professional collaborator.

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And with Cameron, it was the total opposite. I give a lot of credit to his parents. You can tell that he was raised very, very well, and he had a very good grasp of being a child star and someone who -- 19, 20 years old -- having millions and millions of followers.

He was just so not that, like, "Hollywood menace" young talent. You could tell he was an old soul. He carried himself so well. He carried his fame so well, and he was just a fucking pro man, and just so humble, and appreciative, and just awesome.

When a young person dies because there's some level of reckless youth to it -- whether it's like a drug overdose, or like drunk driving or something, a motorcycle accident -- it's obviously still completely devastating. But it's slightly easier to wrap your head around the tragedy of it all.

But with Cameron's case of just [passing] in your sleep like that. It's really hard to process. You have to assume his spirit had another assignment to go to, and his consciousness is somewhere else, you know, because you can't make sense of it at all.

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Do you have a religious background at all? Because I see all the religious references in the film, were you raised that way at all?

I personally don't consider myself part of any organized religion. I am a big believer in karma, and I consider myself a very spiritual person. I think the most important parts of all the religions of the world -- their most important rules and lessons [is what] they all have in common.

And then, from there, they start branching out into getting very, very specific kinds of silos. But I think the most important things they all have in common, you know: be a good person, don't steal, don't kill, treat others how you'd want to be treated. All those basic human principles, they kind of all have that in common.

My grandmother was Ukrainian orthodox. I did go to the Ukrainian church growing up, but I never kind of stuck with it or anything. I do believe though in like, Angel energy and demon energy. I think that's a real thing.

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What's the word on a second season, and what might that look like?

We're going to, I think, get the first month's numbers next week, but I'm feeling pretty good about it. I think we're going to be able to do a second season.

Once we have all the data from the first month, we're going to present that to some of the big streamers and see if any of them want to get behind it and take it on from here forward. And if not, then we can continue to do it completely independently. We'll kind of look at all the numbers that we put up.

I would love to get more players in the TV space to help with all that, but yeah, as far as the main story points and arch and everything, that's all kind of mapped out, but I'm totally open to collaboration as well.

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What happened in recasting some of these characters from the film for the TV show?

So the two [big ones], really, were Bella Thorne playing Lily and then James Cassells playing Dylan.

The Lily thing I always thought Bella would be fantastic for it, and it just felt like it made sense to have Bella become Lily Mayflower. 

For Dylan -- I mean, I never really mentioned this, but I sent [original American Satan actor Sebastian Gregory] an offer, and his attorney and manager came back and tried to ask for all this money.

And I'm like, "Excuse me, am I confused here? Did you, like, blow up since the movie, and now all of a sudden you can demand these fees?" Because it still looks like the movie was the best -- or like, the most-watched role he's had.

I hit Sebastian up directly because I thought he's a great actor. I'm like, "Hey, man, your team's about to blow this deal." [And he's] like, "It's okay, let me talk to them." And then they still came back after the weekend, making these demands. And I'm like, "No, I don't think that's justified."

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And you know, James Cassells kind of inspired the character, anyway. I actually was originally going to have him play it, but he was scared to try acting.

So once the rub happened with Sebastian's team, and the success of American Satan had already gained this cult following, then I had James audition. And once I saw the audition, I'm like, "Oh, yeah, you can totally do this!"

Being in the rock industry for so long, I imagine you've got some good stories. What's the scariest or grossest thing -- off the top of your head -- that has happened with either you or one of your bands? Or fans?

This is a pretty gross one. So one of the artists in the show -- I won't say who, that's up to that person if they want to share it publicly. So, I think Elias says it in the first episode about "no matter how big you get, you still can't shit on the bus, you still got to scoop your dog's poop," right? You gotta curb your dog.

So, you know, band guys will go to the bathroom -- number two -- inside of a bag, so it doesn't stink up the bus, and similar to dog poop, they'll poop in the bag and then throw it away. So there are a bunch of fans outside of his bus. And he said, "Hey, don't touch this bag," you know, because it was a shitbag.

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He threw it out of the bus, and the fans thought, "Oh, it's probably like a like a sweaty t-shirt, you know; let's go open up the bag and get it," and it surely was not a sweaty t-shirt. It was a pile of shit. And the fans said, "Oh my God, eeewwwww!". That's probably one of the grossest easily.

There was another funny one when the singer of another band -- he was drunk on tour in Europe, and he was partying in a field with some fans, and he was with his girlfriend -- and he comes on the bus. And he's bitching at the other guys, like, "Man, you guys smell fucking horrible. This place is disgusting, you guys need to shower!"

They're like, "Really? You're normally the one that stinks, what the fuck are you talking about?" He's so just confident that they were the ones that were smelling. So he goes into the back of the bus with his girlfriend, and a couple of minutes later you hear his girlfriend, she goes, "Hooooo, what the fuck?"

And he had gotten dog shit in his hair when he was rolling around in the field partying. And that's why he smelled so bad because he went in the bus smelling the fucking dog shit in his hair, by his nose. And the girlfriend discovered that minutes later in the back of the bus. So I don't want to get too much into the shit [stuff], but I guess those are two shit stories.

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There seems to be a theme -- at least in the show, maybe a little bit in the movie too -- about music unifying people, that rock has that kind of power. I believe in that. And that might be the only thing that might have that power. Is that something you were thinking about when you were putting those scenes together, the power of music?

I think the power of music definitely plays a big part in that. I don't know that it's specifically genre-specific, though. I do think rock concerts are a great place of unity, which Maya talks a little bit about in the [season] finale. But yeah, I do believe that the power of music can be very, very unifying, and hopefully, we see more of that.

Kerr Lordygan is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.

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