Rick Rubin is a tough
guy to figure out. First off, there are those publicity photos: The ones
that show him looking mysterious and menacing, hidden behind mustache,
beard, longer-than-shoulder-length hair and those ubiquitous dark glasses.
Biker? Hippie? Some kind of weird guru? The message isnt clear.
Then theres his background: Simultaneous stints as both law school
student and outlaw rock and rap producer. A vegetarian who studies Eastern
mysticism, Rubin also owns a Southern wrestling circuit. A four-time Grammy
nominee for Producer of the Year and the producer of 1996s Grammy-winning
Country Album of the Year, hes more than once championed albums
considered so offensive that their labels refused to release them. In
print, hes been called elitist and arrogant, as well as sweet and
sensitive. So, what is he really? Demanding? Difficult? Dark? Dangerous?
Or just a pussycat in disguise?
Probably the only thing 100% certain about Rick Rubin is that music is
his overriding passion, the filter he sees the world through. Hes
done landmark albums with Run-DMC (Raising Hell), the Beastie Boys (Licensed
to Ill) and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (BloodSugarSex- Magik, Californication).
His shotgun marriage of rock and rapAerosmith and Run-DMCs
smash collaboration on Walk This Way revitalized Areosmiths
stalled career and started a revolution in rock itself. His continued
involvement with Tom Petty (Wildflowers, Echo) and Johnny Cash (American
Recordings, Unchained) helps keep these artists vital and current. He
thinks nothing of working with Slayer (five albums) and Danzig (four albums)
on one hand and Donovan (Sutras) on the other. And, after all his success,
Rubin still does hang in ratty rehearsal halls, not letting his bands
near a proper studio until the songs are great. Hes an enigma, a
cipher, but his love of music is clear as day.
We met for this interview in the peaceful library of his Hollywood Hills
home, surrounded by books on Eastern mysticism, psychology and Sufi poetry.
Incense burned, wind chimes jangled faintly and Monday, his Hungarian
puli, curled quietly at our feet. Outside the library door, there was
plenty going on: Rubin had just finished a record for new artists Paloalto
on his own Sony-distributed American label, as well as projects for Eagle-Eye
Cherry and Mel C. Currently, he is producing a new Johnny Cash effort,
a collaboration between System of a Down and Wu-Tang Clan, and dealing
with the ongoing projects of the other eight acts on his American Recordings
imprint. All of this, by the way, while preparing to go into the studio
with Rage Against the Machine. And as we sat down, guess what? The first
thing he wanted to know is what Id been listening to.
been both a record company owner and a producer from the very beginning
of your career. Do you find the business part of the job creatively satisfying?
It can be. I prefer the strictly creative endeavors over the business
endeavors, but to me, the business part of it is being able to follow
through on the project.
You mean having control?
I wouldnt call it control. Its just the vision of the project.
I dont feel that my job is done once the music is finished; it can
also be my job to be involved in other aspects of what a band does. Depending
on the band, Im often involved in artwork and videos, marketing
approacheshow people perceive the band. Its continuing on
with a project instead of just passing it off.
So your involvement in business evolved out of your desire to make
Its hard to say. I kind of started where I am; Im really just
doing the same things Ive always done. I didnt come up through
the business. Ive never been an engineer, Ive never worked
in a studio, Ive never done the things that a lot of people have
done to become producers. I started as a producer, Im still a producer.
And Ive always, from the beginning, run a record company. The first
records I made were on my label. Ive worked with other labels along
the way as an independent producer, like for Red Hot Chili Peppers for
Warner Brothers. But I also produce for my company, and then Im
more involved, like with Johnny Cash and System of a Down.
Its always been that way, so its hard for me to judge what
I do vs. what other people do. Because I dont know what other producers
Well, theyre all different anyway.
I know a lot of producers were engineers who graduated to being producers,
but I cant imagine what qualifications an engineer would have to
be a producer. To me, its just a different job, but there are some
great engineers who become great producers. Again, I dont know what
they do. I only kind of know what I do, and Im not too sure of that.
Youve been fortunate that your personal taste has struck
so many chords with the public. How do you think you developed that taste?
I was lucky enough to grow up with The Beatles. What little I know about
music is from them.
to Page 2
Magazine, October, 2000
© 2000, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved