In high school, Lewitinn took a bus after school to her first internship in 1996, a two-year tenure at ABC News’ website. It was during that time that she needed an AOL screen name— Lawrence suggested Ultragrrrl, a combination of a failed feminine product he was repping called Ultrafemme and a riff on riot grrrls. Unbeknownst to them, the seeds of a perfect marketing persona were planted.
It was also around this time that Lewitinn met Mikey Way, who many years later would become the bass player for My Chemical Romance. She met him by typing in a string of search terms (Blur, Radiohead, NYC) into AOL’s search engine—she e-mailed Mikey and they became fast friends, even briefly dating. Another search, this one for “New York City” and “music journalist” turned up Marc Spitz. “She was like any other IM you would get unsolicited from someone random,” says Spitz, who was working for Spin’s website at the time. “Nine times out of 10, I would have closed the box and not responded, but I thought, ‘Ultragrrrl, that’s interesting.’ ”
As an intern at Spin, Lewitinn was an idea machine, if not exactly a gifted writer, which led some to criticize her behind her back. “I always planned on being in the music industry, but I never planned on being a rock critic,” she says. “I never was a rock critic. I was a rock fan that had a pen.”
Her college education is minimal: She has a two-year degree in advertising and marketing from the Fashion Institute of Technology. She’s got a sort of George W. quality to her—she’s not particularly eloquent and can come off spacey. But she’s smarter than she seems, and despite her insistence that she’s totally uncalculating, she’s quietly used various internships and assistant-level jobs to construct her own University of Ultragrrrl course load, learning about every aspect of the music industry—writing, publishing, Web design, publicity, marketing, scouting—while working at inside.com, sonicnet.com, ivillage.com, and Ultra14, an online marketing company. At one point, she interned for a band manager, garnering a skill set she later flexed (not very well, by her own account) for My Chemical Romance. She’d gotten the gig in 2001 via Mikey Way, her old friend and former boyfriend, two months after the band had formed and before they’d even recorded their first album. A bidding war ensued, but the band didn’t sign with a major because they felt they were too green, instead releasing their debut, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, on an indie. Lewitinn realized she was in over her head. “I was trying so hard to get them a new manager because I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing,” she recalls. “But I got them a bunch of meetings.” Eventually, Reprise signed them in 2003—the sophomore release that resulted, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, went platinum.
She never saw a dime.
“People always ask me if I ever made any money and if I’m upset that I didn’t, and I’m not!” she says. “I was not in it to make money. I was in it to help these bands. I love music, and sappy as it sounds, I helped these bands because I loved them. It’s one of those things where you don’t see the money immediately, but you feel it later on. I’ll always be able to have it on my résumé that I managed My Chems. While I didn’t get a $30,000 check, I did get opportunities and doors opened because of my reputation, so I had no problem with that. You can’t buy reputation.”
When she likes a band, she goes the extra mile, which might be what separates her from rival bloggers all chasing the same thing. “People at the label realized they were getting a three-fer,” says Hirschorn. “She’s got good instincts, she’ll promote the band on her blog, and she’ll actively sell the band to a network of people who know who she is.”
“She’s a huge cheerleader for her acts,” concurs Billboard’s Martens. “But it doesn’t necessarily translate to sales.”
“I’m a born promoter, ultimately, because I have a big mouth and I’m obsessed,” Lewitinn says. “All I do when I get into a band is talk about them nonstop, and I send e-mails to so many people every day that, like, a band that is unheard-of is suddenly known, but nobody knows why, because all I do is, ‘Muse, Muse, Muse.’ ”
Indeed, when Stevenson first met a teenage Lewitinn at an EMI Christmas party, she was balancing a drink on her head and going on about Muse, an operatic rock band from England. “I thought, ‘This girl had some amazing energy,’ ” he says. His next real encounter would be when she was managing My Chemical Romance. After that, they kept in touch, and when he first heard of the Killers, he asked her to dig up an MP3 and find the band. She did, and urged him to sign them.
“Here’s this downtown blogger saying she loves Linkin Park—not saying it’s a guilty pleasure, but as a fact, just like her telling me how much she loves the new Interpol record,” he recalls. “When she told me that, I knew she’d be a good a&r person, because she wasn’t trying to find things that were cool. Some people think they have an ear because they are trying to find things that are around a cool scene—not music.”
Several years later, Stevenson and Lewitinn officially teamed up—he benefiting from her hyper-attuned ear, she benefiting from his vast knowledge of how to run a label. They just released the Photo Atlas’ record, No, Not Me, Never, and are gearing up for Play Radio Play’s The Frequency EP in late April and the Horrors’ full-length, Strange House, in early May. The skeptics will be watching.
So far, the success of Ultragrrrl has hinged on her ability to turn herself into the ultimate fan. Now, she has to turn herself into the ultimate music mogul. When the hype and the cacophony of hate fade, it all comes down to her ear.
“You just get that feeling,” she says. “It’s not a matter of taste, or just looking out for different things. It’s like, when I listen to something, I know within the first minute if I’m gonna like it. I know immediately. Rob thinks I have really good instinct. Like I said, I am not very calculated; I just feel it.”
As we left the Hammerstein that night, I noticed that the blonde superfan from earlier had managed to get in after all. “I tell people I’m psychic,” says Ultragrrrl, as our taxi pulls away. “I know what’s gonna happen. They don’t believe me.” Maybe someday they will.