It’s not everyday that you have the chance to talk to one of rock and roll’s great producers, but if and when that time comes, you try and learn everything you can from a master of his craft. Case in point: legendary hard-rock producer Ross Robinson, who also just happened to oversee Tech N9ne’s debut rock and roll project Therapy.
In part one of our interview with Robinson, we talked specifically about what went into the process of making Therapy and working with Tech N9ne.
In this portion of our exclusive interview we talk about the philosophy behind production and what it takes to facilitate greatness in the studio. Ross shared with us his process, his favorite producers and what he looks to get out of a recording session.
Aspiring artists and producers take notes: this is the second part of our exclusive interview with Ross Robinson.
Is there a goal or mission statement that can apply to making every record that you’re involved in?
To create a lifeform that’s never existed before and have it inspire people to do the same and making a piece of art that’s unique and doesn’t repeat an old pattern structure. That’s what I want to do. Just inspire people, like a kid studying for a test feels so good listening to this song at the same time that they get an A. You know what I mean? It can change the air in the room for the listener.
In your opinion, what are some common traits between the great producers?
Just to fearlessly follow a craving inside your gut and not be afraid to speak out. Also to be a cool fucking dude that people will listen to. If you don’t have a spine people are just going to walk all over you and you’re not going to influence anyone. So integrity and follow the craving.
You’re talking about the craving for “it” and it’s not your craving, it’s the universe’s craving?
Yeah, you got it.
Who are some other producers that have inspired you?
Jimmy Page, Robert Smith, Nick Cave – yeah, just the bands that mainly self-produced themselves. I think The Beatles definitely and the Stones self-produced, they just jammed and made their own stuff and they had an ear and an intention that was beyond. It’s so rare for an artist to be able to do that with themselves and that’s why is such a hard gig and they’re so impressive to me. I would say Jimmy Page freaks me out the most.
When you’re making a record, do you need to be a fan of a certain genre to effectively produce in that genre?
Do you know what a record is supposed to feel like as it develops or do you just know what honesty feels like?
The record has its way and I follow whatever that is. Mainly, a song will guide you, not you guiding a song and hopefully things will happen that you didn’t expect and it’ll inspire something new which will inspire something new beyond that, then all of a sudden you have this thing that you never knew could exist. Those are my favorite. That’s the ultimate. How much better could it possibly be than to have something that wasn’t supposed to be here?
Talking about the song guiding the artist and the creation of it, does it also dictate your levels when you mix the song?
Yeah. I think for my ego to think it knows what to do is ridiculous because it has its way and if I take control and go “This is what it’s supposed to be,” then I’m running it short. Obviously there are certain things that sound good, but those things are also guided. It could be like a straight-up, obvious “kick this loud” or “snare this loud,” but that’s all guided stuff as well. If it feels right, do it and there you have it. I kind of think the more I think I know, the less good it is. I try to keep it wide open.
Do you ever have a preconceived notion before you go into making an album of how it’s supposed to be?
I have an idea of what it’s supposed to be, but as it goes down I have to stay wide open. The person with the smallest voice in a band, to me, could be the most genius if they’re not afraid to say something. I make a rule that everybody’s allowed to say something and we all hear it and listen to it, so it’s a wide open space, so it creates this ability to space travel. The world needs something new. It doesn’t exist on old. Our nature is creating something that’s never happened before and if we stay in tune with that, it’s on. There’s certain things I know to start with to help that process, like I’m not going to put a guitar player on a banjo, you know?
But you don’t have a vice grip on any certain idea of how something is supposed to be, because that’s just closing off yourself and the band to something amazing that you would have never discovered.
So your mom teaches how to question stressful thoughts of the world and in your case you translate a lot of this energy that many might consider to be undesirable into music. Is that ever a conflict of interest, or how does that reconcile?
I try to take these really awful subjects that most rock bands want to sing about and it’s like “Okay, if you want to sing about it then everybody gets to go there.” So I’ll go around the room and inquire what it means to each band member and basically everybody is in the spirit of the song and basically what I try to do is keep the eyes looking up at the mountain top seeing whatever the subject matter is as the highest possibility of what could have happened or what did happen and what you get out of holding onto the belief and realizing “Oh shit, I’ve been suffering, I’ve been in pain, I’ve been hating this person or that person” and who would you be without the story? “I would be free, I would be awake, I would be able to give” I get to walk people through my mom’s work and they can see how the belief serves them in the negative and then how it serves them on the other side of it. Then you turn it around and you can see your part of it which takes the other person off the hook and basically you get to be responsible for your own happiness and not depend on another person to give you that ability to live a good life. “It’s their fault!” Is it really true? Where am I at fault? What did I do? It’s kind of confusing unless you go on her website or watch her YouTube but it’s really simple.
Why do you seem to gravitate toward this heavy, hard rock?
I don’t know. I’ve always been into the most extreme. I guess it’s from racing motocross and the injuries and the high trauma factor, it just feels like home.
So you’re comfortable with chaos?
Yeah, I can for sure feel God in the most extreme situations. It’s great.
Would you ever equate one of your sessions to a ship at sea that is just going through the most torrential fucking storm?
Yeah…that’s actually a good idea.
Are there any genres that you want to explore that you haven’t yet?
I’m just really open for whatever happens. If something comes along and I feel that thing, I say yes. There have been times where I’ll just jump into something and I have no idea whether I’ll get paid for it or not. It doesn’t even matter, it’s just what I do and I love it. It could be anything as long as it moves me.
It is interesting that your perspective on production is that you are serving the song, you’re serving the music and a lot of people picture what it takes to be successful as a “me” thing and you’re looking out for your interests, but you have this thing about surrender and the ironic thing is that it has made you very successful. Do you ever see people who kind of get it wrong, taking the more selfish route to success? How do you approach music, how has it given back to you, and how do you think other people can learn from that?
The first album that I did was the first Korn record and all we cared about – there wasn’t even a thought of it’s going to sell anything, we had no concept of sales or what that means, we just wanted to create something that was so badass that nobody could smoke it. We were here to just be the most badass ripping thing ever and play it for our friends (laughs) and that was it. It was to give and express and not want something back from it. We wanted to play it for our friends and that was it.
I’ve had a lot of platinum albums and not one single time did we try to make a hit. Not one time. There was never a focus on it, there was never an A&R person saying “Hey can you do this?” or “Do that.” Never, because basically in those situations nobody had anything to say because they didn’t fully understand what was going on. So I’m extremely fortunate in that area to not be a total prostitute thinking that I need something in order to survive. It was never like that. I don’t need to prove myself.
And the surrender thing, basically, is all about knowing why I’m doing it and it’s to give back to the thing that’s breathing my lungs and beating my heart when I’m not doing it. That’s what it is. It provides back when I’m in that space.
If you had a choice between your next project, what do you think it would be and why?
It’s what I’m doing right now, just what’s in front of me. How do I know? It’s one of my mom’s things: “How do I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing? It’s because it’s what I’m doing.” It’s cool, it’s this French singer/songwriter, Soko, and she’s fucking awesome. I’m learning a lot. A lot.
Do you think you learn something from each project that you take with you?
Every time, for sure.
Is there something about the music business that you wish would change? What would that be and why?
You know, when I used to buy albums I would appreciate what I would buy and I would give it a chance more so, because I wouldn’t want to have to take it back and it’s like I would get into the soul and the spirit of the album and sometimes I just didn’t like it. But basically with the overwhelming abundance of massive amounts of music for free, there’s that loss of importance for each project and I guess that’s what I appreciated about what I grew up with and I don’t see it anymore. There’s these new videos coming out on world’s greatest DJs and they keep exposing these idiot kids with their MPCs unplugged with people filming them and jamming out to their DJ sets and they’re pretending like they’re playing their controllers and they aren’t even plugged in. It’s just so funny. It looks like a trend is happening where all that shit’s getting exposed, and I really like that.
With the availability and how much easier it is to create, do you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing?
I think it’s good because when the real deal comes together it will stick out a trillion times over everything else. The more refined and computerized things become, the more the real will shine.
Like my mom says, the universe is perfect.
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