LOS ANGELES - With a shaved pate, trim build and clear blue eyes, John Biroc has a mien that is both cerebral and serene, like a mathematician moonlighting as a yoga instructor. But the 63-year-old therapist's actual job is quirkier. Biroc is a motivational coach for the mosh pit scene and a hand-holder for rap rockers.
Biroc's client niche is a loud and unusual one: He works only with young rock musicians, most often tattooed, pierced and angst-ridden modern rock bands but with an occasional mellow songwriter tossed in. On a busy day, that makes his office in Los Angeles' neighborhood of Encino resemble the backstage scene at the Roxy.
Incubus is among the more famous clients to pass through that waiting room, and band members have not been shy in publicizing their session work with Biroc. They have hailed him in interviews and in the liner notes of their albums.
The infomercial is part of the ramping up of his venture, which he calls the Biroc Process. He has plans to launch a New York office soon with the same core concept: Pairing mental health professionals who have creative arts in their backgrounds with fledgling rock stars who need a steadying hand.
"It's not therapy, it's coaching; it's about the future, not the past," Biroc explains.
Biroc has nine coaches working for him as subcontractors, and he says their past artistic lives are almost as important to their roles as their mental health credentials. The coaches help their clients deal with creative blocks, cash windfalls, drugs, booze, family stress, power struggles within the band.
Often the subtle threats are the most common, says Paul Fried, a bass player in the quartet Audiovent, which released its debut album last month. Fried at first sought care from Biroc on his own, then brought in his bandmates to hammer out problems within the band dynamic.
Biroc played drums in a band during a stint in the Army that saw him stationed in Newfoundland in the 1960s, but the group had far more enthusiasm than talent. The experience taught Biroc a lot about the nature of collaborative creativity. His worldview is rounded out by a University of Southern California doctorate in humanistic existentialism, 18 years as a theater professor at California State University, Northridge and his training as a family and marriage therapist.
Biroc is loath to detail too much of his casework for reasons of confidentiality.
The sessions are not confined to the office; band members on the road teleconference with their coach to discuss internal relations and new challenges. Biroc expects that at some point, the coaches will travel with the bands. As for the bills, sometimes the band pays directlybut more often the services are contracted by the record label or band manager. Biroc says his clients have included acts represented on the rosters of Jive, EMI, Epic and other labels.
This entire couch trip will probably induce nausea among rock purists who already view the latest generation of rock as too whiny and too beholden to commerce. Others, though, may reflect on Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Keith Moon and decide that pro-active help for young artists is a godsend.