Rick Rubin
Life Among the Wildflowers

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Ah, the gold standard. But you were attracted to more hard core, rebellious music, which The Beatles really weren’t.
But they were, because they became the biggest band in the world, and because they don’t exist anymore, you don’t look back on them as being this outlaw band. But they really were.

Like back in Hamburg?
When they started, they were really a punk rock band—playing with toilet seats around their necks, trying to stomp hard enough to break through the stage. Really punk.

Do you think being a suburban kid from Long Island made you gravitate toward harder music?
I don’t think it’s just that. But I think, being suburban, there’s less of a pretentiousness. I’ll give you an example. I grew up an hour outside of Manhattan. One of the bands I worked with early on was the Beastie Boys, and their musical taste was radically different from mine. I liked bands like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin—they hated those things. Because being cool kids in the city, those things were too commercial, too mainstream. So the Beastie Boys liked really underground stuff, which served them well. It was cool, and it made them who they were. But I think it was the collaboration between my more suburban, mainstream taste and their more eclectic, underground taste that made our working together so successful.

Growing up, I always wished I lived in the city, instead of on the Island, but, in retrospect, I learned a lot about the culture that I wouldn’t have learned had I grown up in Manhattan. I feel like I had the best of both worlds because I was close enough to be in the city, but far enough away that I didn’t have what I’ll call a “holier than thou’” attitude. It’s not that I don’t like those things, but I’m not bound by those things.

Another thing that affected my taste is that I’m an only child. Typically, people learn about music from older brothers and sisters, and I didn’t have that, which forced me to create my own taste and really know what I like. When you’re 11, whatever your 14-year-old brother or sister listens to, whether you like it or not, it’s a starting point. It’s a point of view, and I never had that. So it was really searching for things that appealed to me, without any kind of filter. Which is why I got into punk rock. I really liked it. But I know I didn’t get my taste from anybody else.

Also, I often liked things that other people didn’t like, and then they would come around and like them. When I was in high school, I loved AC/DC, and they were not popular yet. About two years later, everybody liked them. That’s always been the case—like with rap music. I loved it when nobody liked it.

That’s a blessing, but in some ways it’s also a curse, because what you liked often changes when it gets popular, and sometimes you see what’s great about it gets to be not be so great anymore. Which is sad, but then you move on and find other new things, which is good.

An engineer who works with you told me that once, while checking mixes in the car, you said, “The radio is my musical instrument.” If that’s your instrument, how do you play it with the artists you’re working with?

In working with a band, I find what’s good about them and help bring it out. Also, songs are a big deal for me. I’d say that my biggest contribution to bands is helping them get their material together. I know that some producers are more concerned about what it sounds like. And I’m clearly involved in what it sounds like, but it’s almost more like I join a band when I produce a record. But, I’m unlike all the other members of the band, who each have their own personal agenda. The bass player is concerned about the bass part; everyone is concerned about their own part. I’m the only member of the band that doesn’t care about any of those particulars. I just care that the whole thing is as good as it can be. I want to say it’s less about the details, although it’s all about the details, so that’s not quite right. But it is a grander vision.

Most artists only hear their own instrument. Not all, of course; Tom Petty is a good example of someone who doesn’t. He really is a record-making craftsman. He hears the whole thing. Some of the things I’m most proud of are things I’ve done with Tom. Like the Wildflowers album. I really like it a lot; it sounds like it was made on a weekend. Of course, it took us two years to make it sound like it was made on a weekend—the right weekend!

Do you ever make records fast?
Definitely. I often make records faster than a lot of other people. It usually has to do with how prepared we are in advance. The last Chili Peppers [Californication], I think, we made the whole record in like six weeks. Top to bottom. We recorded 20-something songs. But it’s the pre-production time that really makes the difference. Sometimes that’s a couple of weeks, sometimes it’s a few months, sometimes it’s a year of getting ready to go into the studio and cut the whole album in a week. The preference is always to get as much done before you go in the studio as possible.

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Reprinted with permission from Magazine, October, 2000
2000, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved