We met Elliot Roberts for the first time in 1999, at a club called The Starfish Room in Vancouver. Elliot had flown up from Los Angeles to see us play after hearing our first album, Under Feet Like Ours. Elliot had managed Neil Young for decades, and they ran a Santa Monica, Calif.-based label, Vapor Records, which was then distributed by Warner Music. He was interested in signing us, and we were beside ourselves. We were 19.
After the show we went with Elliot to a bar. I remember feeling giddy and ordering a drink that came in a neon plastic cup. Over the next few hours Elliot regaled us with stories about his current and former clients — Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Joni Mitchell, to name a few — and how he started Asylum Records with David Geffen. When he assured us there was something special about us, we believed him.
Elliot offered us a recording contract that night. With it, he offered something we needed even more: time to develop our craft that major labels couldn’t have given us. He promised us a career. He promised us we’d make records as long as we wanted, and that we’d write our best music in our 30s.
A few months later we signed with Vapor — and shortly after that, Elliot had us opening for Neil in amphitheaters across North America. Over the next six years we released three albums with Vapor, and Elliot came through on every promise he made. He gave us time to develop — to grow, to write, to travel, to fall in love and have our hearts broken. We put it all into our music, and, as Elliot prophesied, we went on to write some of our best songs in our 30s.
It wasn’t all business with Elliot, though. Soon after we signed to Vapor, we told Elliot we were gay. We had just turned 20. “Should we be honest if someone asks us about our sexuality in an interview?” we wondered, wide-eyed. At the time, it wouldn’t have been unusual for someone of Elliot’s age and position to have cautioned us against being honest. Many artists have told us how a manager, agent or label advised them to stay in the closet for the supposed good of their career. But Elliot just chuckled and told us to always be ourselves. So we have been. By encouraging us to be ourselves, Elliot tied the future success of our band to transparency and honesty. And that gives us an origin story unlike those of other acts — one full of hope, support and sage advice.
Hearing about Elliot’s passing leaves us heartbroken for his family, friends, longtime clients and partners in this business of art. He was an infectious, charismatic and generous man who did so much for so many. He helped bring important voices to the world and managed and released beautiful and necessary music his entire life. We will be forever grateful for Elliot’s instincts and for his kindness to us. Twenty years ago he took a shot on two queer kids from Calgary and ended up playing a significant role in both the career we’ve had and also the people we grew up to be.
This article originally appeared on Billboard.