When Sumerian Records co-founder and chief executive Ash Avildsen purchased Hit Parader earlier this year, he made clear he had no intention of reviving the print magazine that helped establish hard rock and metal as the dominant force in music during the 1980s and ’90s before finally shutting down in 2008.
Instead of print journalism, Hit Parader was reborn as a production company for Avildsen’s film and TV projects. “I didn’t want it to just be an extension of Sumerian because that can make other record labels nervous about their artists being involved,” he tells Billboard. “I wanted a music-centric brand with a legacy for our production company, and obtaining the Hit Parader brand would be both a celebratory name that was neutral to all labels.”
Avildsen also admits a fond nostalgia for the glossy title and its rock-star-adorned covers. As an aspiring music business executive, he’d pick up a copy of Hit Parader at Tower Records in West Hollywood and eagerly read its interviews with rock stars like Ozzy Osbourne and Axl Rose.
The magazine inspired Avildsen’s aesthetic for Paradise City, his first scripted project under the Hit Parader banner, which will air on Amazon Prime Video in March. The show focuses on The Relentless, a fictional band led by real-life rocker Andy Biersack from Black Veil Brides and a cast that includes Bella Thorne, Emmy-winning actress Drea de Matteo, Mark Boone Junior, Ryan Hurst, BooBoo Stewart, Rhys Coiro, Perrey Reeves and Cameron Boyce in what will be his final role. The 20-year-old Disney channel alum died unexpectedly in 2019 due to complications from epilepsy. The series composer is Emmy-Nominated Isabella “Machine” Summers who helped co-found Florence + The Machine.
The performances on the show were filmed on location at venues like The Roxy and Avalon in West Hollywood, The Belasco Theatre in downtown LA, as well as taping and shooting B-roll at Aftershock festival in Sacramento.
Paradise City is a follow-up to Avildsen’s 2017 film American Satan, saying the supernatural musical thriller was “the origin story of Paradise City and The Relentless.” The show is loosely based on Avildsen’s life, growing up without a relationship to his father John Avildsen, who directed films like Rocky and the Karate Kid series.
“Almost everything in Paradise City is inspired by real events I experienced growing up in an unorthodox single-mom household as a kid estranged from his famous father and then my adult life becoming self-made in the ruthless music industry,” says Avildsen, who notes that parts of the show that dabble in occult themes and supernatural elements are based on real experiences that “guided and misguided my life ever since moving to Los Angeles.”
Avildsen didn’t meet his dad until he was 34 years old, saying the experience was extremely emotional but overall very positive. John Avildsen died two years later at the age of 81.
“For kids that grow up with one parent, you can go on one of two paths: You can blame the world, your parents, blame God, blame lack of God, or it can light a fire under you that you’re gonna make it no matter what,” Avildsen tells Billboard. “Paradise City is the show made to inspire these millions of teenagers and young adults. It reminds us that there is no light without darkness, that sorrow and heartbreak can be the greatest drivers of art. It reminds us that there is always hope, that you are never alone and that music is always there if you let it be.”