With a little help from our friends

Talent can take a rock band to the top. But having a celebrity pal can get them there a lot quicker, says Simmy Richman
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The Independent Culture

As usual, Warhol saw it coming. Although credited as "producer" of the Velvet Underground & Nico album, between you, me and the banana on the cover, his white-wigged oneness had as much to do with the creating of the music on that seminal record as Milli Vanilli. So, after securing the Velvets a contract and the able studio assistance of the engineer and producer Tom Wilson - the man who'd signed the Mothers of Invention to Verve in 1966 - Warhol introduced German model-turned-chanteuse Nico to Lou Reed and his bandmates and left his charges alone to play.

What Warhol anticipated was how the very act of linking brave and experimental music with his pop art personality would benefit both band and artist. Back then, it was a bold move (in fact, many "rock" fans in the late 1960s were put off that first Velvets record because of its arty associations, and one of the greatest records ever made barely dented the Billboard top 200). These days, there's nothing like a little celebrity endorsement to help get a career in music nicely off the ground.

We have become used to such strategic name-dropping. Magazines, especially US magazines, annually publish lists of the records by musicians that more illustrious musicians, actors and those perceived to be taste-makers have enjoyed over the course of the year. Acts such as Daniel Johnston in the early Nineties (Kurt Cobain) and Arcade Fire (David Bowie) and Rufus Wainwright (Elton John) in more recent times, have all had the good fortune to be blessed with an endorsement from an artist whose taste is seen to matter.

And even if the celeb's choices are somewhat more questionable, not to worry - an inclusion on, say, Jamie Oliver's Cookin' compilation (Toploader, anyone?) will at least gain your music an exposure it might not otherwise have found. "A good blast of these tunes, a nice bit of tucker and some good company is, without sounding like a cheesy git, the recipe for a nice time, happy days," said Oliver of his own dubious choices. Exactly.

But while the celebrity endorsement is becoming more and more overt, some A-list taste-makers are taking the process a step further. After an arguably underwhelming big-screen career since the glory days of Young Guns and, um, Young Guns II, Kiefer Sutherland is very definitely back on top, playing superspy Jack Bauer in the TV series 24. The actor, as the co-owner of Ironworks, a recording studio and record label based in LA, has used his new-found leverage to further the career of one Rocco DeLuca and the Burden

"I don't play in a band, and I didn't build the studio so I could make a vanity record," the actor explained. "It was really to start a label that was going to help young artists who might not otherwise be able to find their way."

When Ironworks released the Burden's I Trust You To Kill Me on 8 May, anyone buying the CD might have assumed that the extent of Sutherland's involvement was as just another name in the obligatory thank yous. Not at all: the actor was happy to take time out from running around saving the planet against the clock to subtly and tastefully drum up business for his favourite act's shows - when Rocco DeLuca and the Burden played Dublin last Christmas, Sutherland phoned a local radio station to plug the free event. He told all and sundry that he was DeLuca's road manager and "bag-handler" while he willingly (and impartially, of course) told one national UK newspaper: "The Rocco DeLuca album is very good." It actually resembles an LA version of Turin Brakes - likable but not about to change the world.

Sutherland appeared on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross with his charges to flag up the Sky One "documentary" (at one time it would have been called a promo - if promos were ever two hours long) of his sojourn on the road with the band. As more than one reviewer noted, the actor was clearly living out a long-cherished fantasy of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Can you imagine his father, the great Donald Sutherland, spending his downtime from making Klute and Don't Look Now ensuring that Chicory Tip didn't run out of plectrums?

But Kiefer's not the only Hollywood A-lister at it. Sofia Coppola is such a big fan of the French band Phoenix that she first gave their profile a little lift by weaving their songs into Lost in Translation. "I love them," she told Entertainment Weekly, "so we used the song 'Too Young' for the scene when Bill [Murray] and Scarlett [Johansson] are dancing." Sofia - now dating the band's lead singer, Thomas Mars - has gone one better for her next film. In spite of the fact that Marie-Antoinette is set in 18th-century Paris and Phoenix are a 1970s-sampling, post-ironic act, Sofia has given the band a further boost by casting the boys as court musicians in the film.

As Warhol foresaw, the celebrity endorsement is largely a win-win situation. It all seems harmless enough, so who can really object if a humble musician gets a little leg-up from a famous friend every now and then? And sometimes, for a showbiz while at least, the pair might even seem inseparable, for better or worse. Pete looks even more lost without Kate; Preston was literally an Ordinary Boy before Chantelle; Lyle Lovett hit a creative peak while Julia Roberts was around; and who could argue that there's more fun to be had playing spot-the-Gwynnie than watching Coldplay?

'I Trust You To Kill Me' by Rocco DeLuca and the Burden (Ironworks/Polydor) and 'It's Never Been Like That' by Phoenix (Virgin) are out now. Phoenix's UK tour begins on 27 May ( www.wearephoenix.com). 'Marie-Antoinette' opens in the UK on 8 September

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