CKRRR #020 - Gordon Raphael on Working With The Strokes
Happy New Year people! Right…a lot of you are fans of The Strokes and want to know more about their musicianship vicariously through debut L.P producer Gordon Raphael, right? What fav songs does he have off Is This It?
I'm all about New York City Cops, Someday, Take It Or Leave It, Soma, and Trying Your Luck. Those songs just blow my mind! I don't want to live without any of them!
Hard to narrow it down to one right?
yes, impossible! for me
I have no trouble talking bout my days in the service of The Strokes!
Glad to hear you are open to such questions, although it's important to me that we set about dealing with you about you and not just The Strokes. O.K, so you approached both Come On and The Strokes after a gig. I’m intrigued! What did Come On have in their sound that appealed to you, and what was it that The Strokes lacked at the time that you perhaps tweaked?
Come On had a power and development like a modern day The Beatles, with really compelling guitar blends and chord progressions, excellent vocal harmonies and killer songs. Really hit me hard. The Strokes looked cool, and had great swagger and stage postures, but the music for me wasn't jumping off the page yet. I couldn't take my eyes off Fab Moretti though, cuz even tho he was only rocking a kick, snare and Hi Hat, he seriously looked like he was going to snap his neck and spine in half with each hit. I was fixated watching him play cuz I thought he was going to break in half by the end of the show!
You've been staggeringly honest about your initial recording with The Strokes and how you were humbled by how much they knew what they were after. How much should a producer let the band dictate where things are in a mix? In a session with you, who has the bottom line?
When I first had the chance to record The Strokes (my lucky 3 day 3 song demo deal at the time!) I found their music to be much more interesting as i got used to it, and focused on the details. I had 2 main thoughts: 1) how in the world would kids their age have heard The Velvet Underground and The Stooges, which had been out of fashion (if they ever were in!) for decades, and only old folks seemed to know about these. And 2) These poor unfortunate young musicians (The Strokes) There's no one in New York that will listen to this demo, cuz guitar music is so out of style and fashion, and no New York labels want anything but super-pop and modern electronic music! : )
Were there any discussions regarding that time's pop landscape? Were changes to accommodate those pop tastes considered, and if so, who had that bottom line?
The production and sounds for The Strokes was always an open discussion with their dreams, and my interest in finding a way to realize them within the context of my studio. The first question was "what are you looking for, in terms of sound?" The humbling part was when I realized to what level of intelligence and listening skills these incredibly gifted and aware musicians possessed! All five of them were listening intently to every note and every tone, and making frequent comments and suggestions to me during the recording and mixing process. I truly believe the producer's job is to serve, entertain and work hard to let the band's ideas shine.
I believe that too. It must be frustrating to work with bands that don't know what they want but are unable to be open to suggestion.
You must have worked with groups like that. Any coping strategies you wanna share with any young producers out there?
In a session, the band ALWAYS has the bottom line. It's their music first and foremost. I have had heated emotional discussions with bands, and been almost childlike in my begging for certain parts to stay, or certain versions to be used, but ultimately I always realize that in the end it's the band's call, even if it hurts me a little. All in all though, I'd say in 98 percent of cases, me and the bands always agree really nicely and powerfully!
That's good to hear. I have to say, there's so much information here that we're gonna have to invent some regular sub column to cover all of it - even after editing. Oh and I thought of this the other day. How’s this for a strategy, Change the name of your band from Analog Poodle to Digital K-9! It could herald a return to your industrial period.
ha !!! : )
i'll answer your last question too! hold on! x (fun talking with you, and thanks again for your interest!)
Were there any discussions regarding that time's pop landscape? Were changes to accommodate those pop tastes considered:
Yeah, PLEASE answer that!
I realized the first time I ever drove with The Strokes in a car to Boston for a gig, that they loved and knew so much pop history, listening to the New York radio stations and singing along to many songs. 70's 80's and 90's - they were intimately familiar with all those major hit songs.
That makes sense.
I think of them as a pop band. Must have been strange to work with them before everyone else thought of them as such.
The first time they came in my studio Transporterraum, they answered my question with "whatever is going on in record production these days, that's what we DON'T want to do" so that got me thinking about exactly what was NOT being done in year 2000, which was having bands playing together in a room and jamming out at killer volumes and having fun, and recording that!
And now we've gone back to a time where people multi-track separately again, wouldn't you say?
Later, by First Impressions, I know they were thinking "wow, all these bands that came after us and inspired by us are selling more copies, I wonder why?? Maybe it's because they use big pop producers, and get more professional sounds!"
I never thought of them as a pop band when i worked with them... it was very weird what they were doing... counterpoint harmonies-- every instrument including the hi hats, playing melodies... no chords!! and really dirty heavy rock sound on everything. I guess the most pop part for me was the metronomic absolutely steady drum tempos! the lyrics were certainly also extraordinarily strange and cool!
Great use of intricate layering. Gotta love a band with two guitars that realise that playing the same chords in songs is a wasted opportunity.
I lived in London starting in 2002, and I was very much Mr. Popular as far as party invitations and studio jobs! by 2004, the whole sound had gone back to really simple pop hooks, glossy production and quite normal sounds. Nothing i was interested in, and I got no calls to work in The UK since then! Luckily Europe was digging my style from 2004- til 2009, and then the West Coast USA, Argentina and now Mexico took over showing me love and having me work non-stop!
Great use of intricate layering. Gotta love a band with two guitars that realise that playing the same chords in songs is a wasted opportunity.--
Yeah, comment on that before we roll our our penultimate question
yes, but more than that... the two guitars and the bass are really playing melodies, hardly ever chords! I liken it to Bach, more than rock-- it's a Baroque form of harmony presentation-- 3 moving melodies. Most rock relies on heavy chords, power chords for the impact and excitement. In fact I remember Julian asking me how we could get closer (during early First Impressions sessions) to a Nirvana production sound, and I instantly thought, "well listen to how Kurt Cobain is pounding out huge chords, and then contrast that to how Albert and Nick's parts were like 2 different single string melodies working together".
John, im gonna go start my day here! sun is shining, and a band practice in a few hours!!! more soon!
I LOVE my Cobain power chords! Go, start your day...this next ones gonna be a tough one to answer anyway - and I'm in danger of being late for my date!
Penultimate question time: Recommend three artists that I ought to check out on your label. ONLY three. Keep it short Gordon…you’re gonna give my sub-editor a seizure. Go!
ok ok ok! I can do that really tightly and quick! : )
more chaos is better!
Penultimate question time: Recommend three artists that I ought to check out on your label. ONLY three. Keep it short Gordon…you’re gonna give my sub-editor a seizure. Go!:::
2) Sarah Maguire singing "I Said"
3) Satellites (from Mallorca) doing the song Torna.
More info from Gordon next week guys. For now? I'm outta here.
(btw, if you were invested in reading more St Pierre Snake Invasion this week – sorry – but I think last issues review was comprehensive enough. But don’t worry, when they play Stoke Newington in a few weeks – I’ll be there).