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Jason Bentley on His Past at KCRW and Future With ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

The mid-June announcement that Jason Bentley was leaving KCRW as music director and the host of “Morning Become Eclectic” has been the subject of much speculation. Among the unanswered questions: Where is Bentley going and who will be his replacement? Three months later, we’re not much closer to an answer.

While Bentley has lined up the music supervision job for the forthcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” movie, the nationwide search for the voice of “Morning Becomes Eclectic” continues, with hosting duties for the remainder of 2019 being handled by a revolving crew of KCRW staples: Anne Litt, Garth Trinidad, Aaron Byrd and Raul Campos. (In the future, the music director position will be separate from MBE host.) Just ahead of Bentley’s last day, he sat with Variety to look back on his time at the station and ahead to his next adventure.

You started working as the music supervisor for ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ around the same time as your KCRW exit. Coincidence?
The timing is really nice with that. I’m trying to apply my sensibilities, tastes, contacts and relationships in the industry at a higher level in terms of overall mainstream marketing and promotion. I can arrange things for this project that are really big time. For example, we can use different scenes in the movie, which will be timeless, just as they were in the first one, where I can have my fingerprints on the picture and do some great things for artists. Tasteful things, but that also live in the popular, top echelon of our culture. It’s just speculation at this point, but the possibility of integrating the film promotion with the Super Bowl half-time show. These are conversations that are happening with the studio. When you’re dealing with a property at that level, there are some major things you can do. It’s important that I’m on point now, developing these opportunities with artists and writers and producers. It’s not out until July of next year so I’m glad we’re not in crazy rush mode. We’re in “let’s develop great ideas” mode. It’s exciting.

Music supervision seems to be a popular gig for KCRW DJs, and it’s one you have experience with, having worked on music in ‘The Matrix’ films and; Tron: Legacy,’ among others. Is this the path you’re taking?
People say [to me], ‘Oh you could do a lot of music supervision.’ But it’s such a rare case where a friend of yours calls you and says, “Can you come on board? Let’s do this.” It’s much more common to have to really pound the pavement and find jobs that aren’t always savory. You have to be active. You have to go after the score. I’ll need to make the decision if I want to do that. I have several friends I would love to work with. Junkie XL, a guy I helped get his start in Hollywood by giving him a chance on The Matrix and now he’s big time. He just finished “Terminator: Dark Fate.” There are newer guys that I feel very warm around. Ludwig Göransson, Academy Award winner this year, top of the game right now, I consider him a friend. There are opportunities with him, and others. I’ll look for those, and we’ll see.

You’ve spoken about a Jason Bentley Presents series of concerts. Will we see that?
I’m interested in producing live events. I feel I have that trust with the audience and with the community to curate music events. It gives me an opportunity to be a part of the fabric of LA. Through KCRW I’ve built some of their greatest event brands, like the Masquerade Ball and the five years of free concerts at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City. The process, from concept to realization, is very gratifying. Initially I was thinking, “I’ve got to have a Halloween show” or, “I’ve got to have a New Year’s Eve show,” but it takes more energy than you expect.

Have you spoken to any established promoters to get their support in putting on events?
I want to try and do it independently if I can. What’s important in this next stage for me is ownership. I’m willing to take a risk on myself to retain that. I want to at least try on my own first. It’s all about having an interest in something I create. I’m cautiously optimistic about that. I want to surround myself with the best people possible and the best venues possible. I want to look at the Music Center, which have just done a big redesign of the whole courtyard area. They’ve completely reimagined that space and they want to do programming. Also, the folks at The Soraya, the performing arts center at Cal State Northridge, they would love some help and direction. There are different ways I can express my live music curation ideas.

What is the first venture we will see from you after KCRW?
One of my revised terms when I agreed to continue to do Metropolis at KCRW was my having more ownership of the brand. Now the understanding is, I deliver them a radio show exclusively called Metropolis, but outside of that I’m free to develop ideas, which had always been a constraint before. It was a conflict of interest working as a music director of a public radio station and exploiting a club brand making T-shirts, hats. Whatever created revenue for me was a conflict of interest. But now, with my new control and new agreement, I can pursue that.

Will you be doing a Metropolis club night?
I see Jason Bentley Presents as a more diverse presentation. Metropolis is more specific and plays to my first love of dance music so it’s wide open with that. I have to look for the right scenario because where it inhabits has to be a place I want to be, and I don’t want to be at a nightclub in Hollywood on Saturday night. I think it will be riffing on new interpretations of the dance music experience we’ve seen. I went to Berlin a few years ago and they were having these great parties during the day by the river. People were just there to socialize and listen to the music. It had so much vibe. Hopefully something more in that spirit can happen for Metropolis.

Do you have an interest in returning to a record label environment?
That is a whole other thing you have  to fully invest in. My experience at Maverick really soured me. It was a frustrating experience. But, it’s a different time in the record business. It might be more interesting. Right now, label deals, distribution deals, they’re not pulling me.

Have you had conversations with people about those kinds of deals?
I’ve gone on those dates and I’m just not feeling it. I’ve had lots of great meetings with great executives, whether it’s WME or CAA. I feel supported. I’m talking, listening and thinking but I’m not rushing the process. Maybe that opportunity will arise, but I don’t see anything attractive. I don’t know if I can function in a cubicle environment.

You mean in a corner office environment?
Even corner office, I just don’t know if that’s my nature. I would have to be retrained somewhat. I’m going to try and stay entrepreneurial and independent. I think it’s possible. I know a lot of people who do it that way that are an inspiration to me. Odesza and their management group have created a whole ecosystem for themselves, and they’ve looked for support where they need it with strategic partnerships. Or any artist for that matter. On your own terms you can find success and continue to do what you love and what you want to do.

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