Exclusive Interview with Madison House’s Nerd in Residence, Jake Schneider

Jake Schneider has been in love with lyricism since childhood. As an adult, he has spent his career following that trend. Schneider began at Madison House in Colorado as one of the youngest agents hired in the company’s history and by age 31, eventually became a full partner and Director of Agency Development, amassing top tier artists in genres ranging from hip-hop to EDM.

But that’s not why TalkNerdyWithUs spoke to him.

Very few people outside Schneider’s circle know of his intense zeal for comic book fiction. With over 3000 collected prints, walls covered in comic book paraphernalia, and one of the gnarliest tattoos in recent history, Jake Schneider has a whole different inner world that he wanted to share.

This week, I got a chance to chat with him, geek to geek, and pick his brain on the story behind his collection of comic books, his deep appreciation for storytelling, and the interesting connection between hip-hop and comics.

What draws you to Madison House in Colorado? What part of their atmosphere attracted you?

I grew up in Minneapolis and then I went to the University of Iowa. There was a great program called SCOPE Productions that produced concerts for the University. We were fortunate to have a situation where any venue that was above 300 capacity were basically university billed. So for larger acts that wanted to tour, they would have to go through Scope Productions. I was a huge live music fan. I use to be a punk SKA kid. I just love live music. I got into college and started booking a ton of shows and joined up with Scope and became the talent buyer and eventually the director of the program. I did that for five years. Neglected academia to do so. (laughs). These were mostly paid ticketed shows, and it gave me a bunch of experience as a talent buyer when I was in college.

I had worked with Madison House a few times, and I really liked the personality and the vibe they maintained. Dealing with Nadia Prescher and Jesse Aratow was like a breath of fresh air. They were very professional and very “on it,” yet there was a lack of the serious vibe you get from other agencies, this aggressive-to-be-aggressive vibe. When I was ready to graduate, I was slinging resumes to everyone, and I was pretty sure I wanted to work on the agent side, but it’s a tough build early on. Madison House extended me an offer to learn the ropes, and they had just signed an act, LOTUS, that they allowed me to work on with partner and agent Jesse Aratow. I started signing acts, and that gave me a lot of freedom and power at a younger age to just go after it. I don’t think I made the company a ton of money right away in those first couple years. But they stuck by me until that turned around and a couple of my investments in some of these developing artists began paying off. All the while the vibe was so professional yet casual. The fact that we can bring in our labradoodle, Henson (named after Jim Henson of course), but still maintain a very pretty professional aesthetic just worked for me as opposed to going to one of these corporate agencies.

Denver’s also the sunniest city in America.

Were there artists that you booked as an agent that you were already a fan of? What was it like “meeting your heroes”?

It’s happened a few times. I was a huge hip-hop fan back in high school and college. I started The University of Iowa Hip-Hop Week, I was big into hip-hop education, the history of it, paying dues, all that. I was really into Jurassic 5, Blackalicious, and The Pharcyde and so I had been listening to those acts. We ended up working with Chali 2na (of Jurassic 5), Blackalicious, Tre Hardson and Fatlip from The Pharcyde and a bunch of other hip-hop artists I really liked. It was a crazy full circle thing to be representing them. I don’t necessarily work with all of them anymore just because you have to make sure that their plans are aligning with your plans. But I’m really excited that I had that opportunity in my earlier years as an agent.

What draws you to hip-hop as opposed to, say, polka?

A couple of things. I’m an English and history major. I read a lot. I like spoken word, poetry, narratives, etc. Hip-hop, despite how at times it could be controversial, has an amazing narrative wit lyricism and having this amazing production surrounding those word got me into it. I love the narrative and the storytelling and what people had to say. I would listen to a track and identify a simile or a metaphor and be like, “Whoa, that’s dope.” I was one of those people that would pause the music in the car to tell everyone else like “Whoa – dude just said XXXXX,” and I had friends that would care and some that be thoroughly annoyed. (laughs) But I was so into breaking down production on it—what were they sampling, what the story was, what the narrative was behind all that.

Would you say your love of story ties into your obsession with comic books?

I’ve been a big comic book nerd/sci-fi/fantasy nerd since age 6. My aunt and uncle took me to the children’s theater in Minneapolis, and they were doing this incredible rendition of The Hobbit with like this full dragon there and next thing you know at age 6 I’m like tearing through The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings on this total consumption of stories. After awhile, you start maturing, and you realize that you like the narrative of non-fiction as well.

When I was really young, I liked comics, however as I grew up a little bit I started thinking some of it was super cheesy. That changed in 1990 or 91, Marvel did this X-men reboot, by Jim Lee and Chris Claremont. It was edgy and sexy, and as a young kid, I was like, “whoa, hot comic book chicks? This is crazy!” (laughs) To this day, Jim Lee is still one of my favorite artists. And these stories were full of great content. At one point, there is defection and internal strife and the breaking off of X-Men into two warring squads fighting for different reasons. It really was that X-men #1 that kickstarted my collection. I realized that there could be larger story arcs and narratives in comics as opposed to what used to be “one-off” Archie or Jughead comics. I really wanted to read to read an elongated and semi-complicated narrative.

What are some of your favorite arcs?

I’ve got a bunch of them from over the days. Infinity Gauntlet is one of the ones I’ll always go back to. I loved Secret Wars, and  Secret Invasion.Civil War was an amazing one because it was after 9/11 and there was a lot of parallels between the NSA, Homeland Security and all that stuff that really hit home with me and was thought provoking. Age of Apocalypse is one of my favorite alternate universe Marvel throwbacks. I just think it’s so cool to see all of these characters in different positions and what would happen if Apocalypse, the god of mutants, basically assumed this Hitler-esque role. It was creepy, but it was a really interesting story and one of my favorites that I’ll go back and read every couple years.

What was the first comic book that you bought with your own money?

It was that X-men #1, but it was a triptych. It was four covers that became one long poster cover that to this day is one of my favorite snapshots of the X-men. I got one of the covers and then realized I needed to go back and buy the rest. (laughs) I remember busting out all of my allowance money to do that.

It seems as though you’re a bigger Marvel fan than a DC fan.

I am. I enjoy Green Lantern at times, but I feel like it’s a little too abstract when you have a planet that’s a lantern. Some people love it. Superman always kind of turned me off because when you have Superman’s generic superhero costume compared to Cable from X-men, it just wasn’t cool to me. I felt like it was a little cheesier. With DC, I feel like it’s all about the writers. There’s a bunch of Batman arcs that I really dig. I’ve read all the really crucial Batman ones because I felt they were dark, edgy, well written, well drawn and I was into all those for sure. It’s just that I felt that the Marvel universe was a little bit more accessible. You have a big world that you enjoy with so many of the characters interconnecting at some point. It’s like this massive soap opera where the West Coast Avengers could hang out with Alpha Flight and then go and do their thing with some Russian superior. I just thought it was really interesting. The Marvel world is little more of an escape for me because they’re placed in actual cities throughout the globe as opposed to fictional cities which I still think is cool, but I think I identify with the fact that Marvel’s more realistic. It’s really cool what they’ve done exposing non-comic book fans to that world. Whereas DC has been lacking lately.

Are you super pedantic about the differences between comic book films and their source material?

I’m definitely pedantic. It drives me nuts. (laughs) It irks me that right now Fox is doing the X-men and then obviously Disney is doing Marvel and the fact that there are two Quicksilvers. Are we going to pull in the fact that they’re Magneto’s kids? Things like that. With the newest X-men movie, I would have liked to explore some of the origins behind a lot of those characters; there’s so much to those characters that’s awesome, and I felt that we were introduced to them in a sort of stop-gap way that wasn’t really conducive to telling a story. So I do get frustrated sometimes, but then sometimes the movies go and get some stuff right and do a really good job. You have to realize that you can’t take comics books and take everything and throw it all on the screen and make it the same because it would be an endless length film.

How come this is the first time your comic book obsession has been brought up in any of your interviews?

It doesn’t get brought up that often. (laughs) There’s’ a couple of times it has. I think my peers in the industry all know that I’m the local sci-fi, comic book, fantasy nerd and it’s just because a lot of publications that I do interviews with don’t necessarily care about some of those extra hobbies. I wear my nerd badge on my sleeve. I come in rocking an X-Men t-shirt, or this new Moon Knight shirt I grabbed. People know that I have other passions, too. It’s actually one of those things that I have to keep in check, or I could be talking about it all day. (laughs)

How do you manage to do everything that it is you do? Between collecting comics, having a full-time job, being a husband, where do you find the time?

It’s all about work/life balance. We could all be checking our phones and computers and inboxes non-stop, but we wouldn’t be happy. We’d burn ourselves out. I had to kind of pull back myself last year. So there’s a give and take. Luckily for me, going to bed, I don’t sleep very well (I’m trying to. I think sleep is super crucial), so I read graphic novels to bring me down. So that’s where I get my Marvel fix. English Soccer, another one of my hobbies, is on at 6 am or 7 am on a Saturday. That’s my time of rest. I can watch soccer and know that no one is going to bug me. But there’s definitely times I realize it’s a work-in-progress always trying to figure how to balance everything without burning yourself out. I feel like I do a good job. You just have to dig into what you’re able to and realize what your boundaries are and set those healthy boundaries.

You can follow Jake on Twitter: @Piddonkadonk

And check out some of the other things we geeked out about once the interview “officially” ended.

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