For the last few weeks, I've explored how music and sports intersect
and in the aftermath of tragedy
However, there's a unique class of people for whom the intersection of
sports and music is far more personal: Professional athletes who have
made the transition to being professional musicians.
These artist-athletes are a rare species. Sure, there's the
occasional vanity album from current athletes looking to scratch an
itch or leverage their fame into more dollars -- be it MLB pitcher
Bronson Arroyo dabbling as a singer-songwriter
[http://vimeo.com/31978942], or albums from NBA stars like Metta World
Peace (then, just Ron Artest
[http://www.allmusic.com/album/my-world-mw0000570296]) and Shaq
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaq_Diesel]. Oh yeah, and there was
that Serena Williams record
But it's rarer to find athletes with a music career that lasts. For
some, retirement offers an opportunity to devote substantial time to
other interests, including music: Olympian and golf legend BABE
recorded for the Mercury Label in the early 50's. Iconic college
basketball player, NBA forward, and jazz bassist WAYMAN TISDALE made
eight albums and built a devoted following
passing away from cancer in 2009. And former Yankees center fielder
BERNIE WILLIAMS is now thriving as a jazz guitarist
Ever fewer still are the athletes who chose to leave sports for
industry careers in music. Yet, this is the case for CHRISTEN GREENE
[https://twitter.com/christengreene], a former Division I basketball
player and current music business manager.
Greene comes from a basketball family; her father and two sisters all
played and coached. Beginning as a standout forward with Paint Branch
High School in Burtonsville, Md., Christen went on to a full
scholarship at North Carolina State University
playing under the legendary KAY YOW
But after three years in the ACC -- "the best, most challenging
conference in the country,” she says -- and reaching the Elite Eight
in 1998, Christen left basketball, graduated on time, and began
focusing on music. She currently manages the Grammy-Nominated and
Platinum selling band THE LUMINEERS [http://thelumineers.com/],
Seattle-based indie orchestral folk band HEY MARSEILLES
[http://heymarseilles.com/], slam poet ANDREA GIBSON
[http://www.andreagibson.org/], and well-respected singer-songwriter
CHRIS PUREKA [http://www.chrispureka.com/].
To anyone with more than a hobbyist's interest in either discipline,
it should come as no surprise that someone like Christen, who achieved
so much success as an athlete, could also thrive in the music
business. Concerts are like games -- high stakes performances where
you must execute under pressure and attention. Long nights and early
mornings are common. Ambition, drive, and a singular focus are all
necessary to succeed. Practice is practice.
I recently spoke with Greene about her time as an athlete and how she
made her transition into the music industry.
ERIN MCKEOWN: FIRSTLY, WHAT ARE YOUR FIRST MEMORIES OF PLAYING SPORTS
AND EXPERIENCING MUSIC? DO YOU NOW OR HAVE YOU EVER PLAYED AN
CHRISTEN GREENE: I remember shooting and showboating on the court
during my oldest sister's games at half time. I remember playing in
the front yard with my dad, and my sisters teaching me how to do a
left-handed layup. "GO OFF THE RIGHTFOOT!!!"
I remember buying my first [cassette] tape with my own money -- Guns
N' Roses' Use Your Illusions I
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_Your_Illusion_I] -- at the mall on a
basketball trip and hiding it from my parents. I remember discovering
punk rock and realizing my friends didn't get it. And then I remember
making new friends. I put together benefit shows in high school, made
zines, and went to shows all the time in [Washington] D.C.
I played trumpet in elementary and middle school and then played
sports exclusively in high school.
MCKEOWN: WHY DID YOU STOP PLAYING COLLEGE BASKETBALL?
GREENE: I just really fell out of love for the sport. I wasn't into
the lifestyle, expectations and commitments that are Division I
college basketball. I dreaded practice; something that I used to love
became a chore. It was time to move on.
MCKEOWN: GIVEN YOUR LOVE OF MUSIC, WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO GO INTO
GREENE: I'm not really sure. I think it chose me. Booking a couple
hundred shows a year or living in a studio didn't seem as fun as
helping shape and guide careers and working on big picture growth. I
don't sign an act unless I've got a long term vision for them. So the
great part of my job is really finding a mutually agreeable long term
vision and helping it come to reality.
MCKEOWN: HOW SEPARATE DID THE WORLDS OF SPORTS AND MUSIC FEEL FOR YOU
GROWING UP? HOW ABOUT NOW AS A PROFESSIONAL IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS?
GREENE: It was night and day: The people, the cultures, the hangs. It
couldn't have been more different, actually. It kind of feels this way
now, too, though, every once in awhile I see a professional athlete
tweet at one of our bands, or about being at shows and it makes me
happy. A few NFL guys asked me for tickets to The Lumineers' show in
London this year. I made sure they didn't play for the [Dallas]
Cowboys and put them on the list!
MCKEOWN: DO YOU FIND MANAGING AND ADVISING BANDS IN ANY WAY RELATES TO
YOUR EXPERIENCE ON ATHLETIC TEAMS?
GREENE: Being a Division I athlete has a lot of demands and you learn
this incredible time management aspect of life at an age where it
becomes ingrained. That was super helpful in my current work.
Obviously, having to work in and on teams was helpful, and developing
those relationships -- the trust, the unconditional love. I'd say I
carry that around with me now with my clients and coworkers.
MCKEOWN: DO YOU STILL PLAY BASKETBALL, OR ANY OTHER SPORTS, FOR
EXERCISE OR FUN?
GREENE: I just started running, which I never did growing up. It's an
interesting departure from team work, and so much different than any
training I ever did. My body is too beat up to still play basketball
in any serious way; my knees are pretty shot. I'm used to a certain
level of play and like to play against that and with that level. It's
not fun otherwise. I love to play Frisbee and kayaking is my summer
love for sure.
MCKEOWN: FOR MANY ATHLETES MUSIC IS A PART OF A PREGAME RITUAL. WAS IT
GREENE: I really had it down on game days: Walk-through, breakfast,
banana on the way out (Chiquita sticker on my forehead for laughs on
the way to the locker room, stuck inside my locker -- I compiled a lot
in 3+ years), shower and shave. Put on my favorite Minor Threat
concert t-shirt and high school game shorts under my college game
shorts. Eat Wint-O-Green Lifesavers (ten of them!). Get onto the court
first for my total ritualistic warm up: four full-court layups to
"Brown Eyed Girl [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqXSBe-qMGo]" played
as soon as I hit the floor by our devoted color commentator. Then a
series of shooting drills.
[It was] the same thing every game.
MCKEOWN: BOTH MUSICIANS AND ATHLETES HAVE TO SPEND QUITE A BIT OF TIME
"PRACTICING." HOW DID YOU LEARN TO PLAY BASKETBALL AND IMPROVE
GREENE: I literally grew up in a gym. Some people went to church, my
family went to gyms and practices and games. I worked really hard on
that "Greene Hook Shot" that eventually got me into college. I am 6'3"
and didn't want to be a "post" player
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Center_(basketball)]. But I couldn't
dribble that high, or it'd get stolen. So I really had to learn how to
dribble well to work around the guards. I remember working on that
after practice and with my coaches in college in separate sessions. I
loved it. The little bit of flash I could do was so fun.
MCKEOWN: WHAT PRO TEAMS DO YOU FOLLOW?
GREENE: The Washington Redskins -- die hard. The Seahawks, because
I'm out here in Seattle now. I'm really looking forward to this WNBA
season; there are some exciting players in the league right now.
MCKEOWN: WHAT ARE THE LAST THREE ALBUMS/ARTISTS YOU LISTENED TO?
GREENE: Phox [http://www.phoxband.com/], You Won't
[http://youwontmusic.com/], and Jay-Z
ERIN MCKEOWN IS A MUSICIAN, WRITER, AND PRODUCER. HER LATEST ALBUM IS
MANIFESTRA [http://www.erinmckeown.com/manifestra-2013], OUT NOW ON
TVP RECORDS. FOLLOW HER SPORTS PODCAST “ * ” (@ASTERISKPODCAST
[https://twitter.com/AsteriskPodcast]) when it debuts in the summer of
NEXT WEEK, MCKEOWN TALKS TO BRIAN BARTHELMES, FRONTMAN FOR THE INDIE
BAND TALLAHASSEE [http://www.tallahasseeband.com/] AND A FORMER