A day with Gordon Raphael


C’era un tempo in cui le interviste erano paragonabili a delle vere e proprie udienze, poi i mezzi di comunicazione e l’evoluzione, fatta di tutte le comodità ed i collegamenti che ci hanno condotti alla modernità, ci hanno messo nelle condizioni di poter arrivare praticamente ovunque ed a chiunque in qualsiasi momento a discapito del romanticismo. Era moderna… ‘Modern Age’… penso agli Strokes redivivi ed annunciati al Primavera, ultima chiamata Take it or leave it rilancio o canto del cigno? Passato, presente e futuro (?) di una band che ha rivoluzionato il decennio passato, ho parlato di questo (e non solo) con la persona che li ha visti artisticamente nascere e che li ha condotto nei loro primi significativi passi… Mr Gordon Raphael, il produttore di ‘Is This It’, ‘Room On Fire’ e parte di ‘First Impressions Of Earth’. Laddove in realtà anche una telefonata sarebbe stata più “oldfashioned” abbiamo sopperito con un’altrettanto godibile chiacchierata via chat su Facebook, tra ricordi del recente passato e progetti che potrebbero coinvolgere anche una band italiana… il cui nome comincia con la “M” e finisce con la “I”.

You’ve seen The Strokes when they were born and grew up, producing their best and most successful albums, what mistakes did they do to lose most of the appeal they have earned?

Mistakes? I am a rock and roll music producer, I was not put on this earth to call the creative steps that artists and friends of mine make “mistakes”! When I met The Strokes they were very young super excited and very talented musicians around 20 years old, and they were trying to get their music heard, and to be able to live the life of a musician. I think they really did a great job of that. Of course they grew, and had many experiences, such as becoming in “the public eye”, and touring many many times. All that is part of life, and life is all about changes, and trying new things, new music and new ideas. I saw The Strokes play in June 2014, and they were even better musicians and more powerful players than they were in 2000 when I started working with them. I call that GREAT!

How did you come to conceive the sound and style of ‘Is This It’?

I am a composer, songwriter and musician. I made 1000 of my own songs before I met The Strokes and recorded them all. I know that what a real, musical band wants is for the engineer and producer to listen very closely to their ideas and do everything possible to help make their dreams in the recording studio “come true”.  So when they told me that they did not want to sound like anything else that was being recordin in the year 2000, I had to think for 1 minute about “what was NOT being done”. And to me the answer was – have musicians play their music together in one small room, and look at each other and rock-the-hell-out! Most bands were using Pro Tools and computers to make things very artificial, and “extra big” and commercial sounding. Fab once told me “we just want to hear the sounds dancing together in the air”! Perfect. Let’s do that!

A producer friend of mine told me to ask you what equipment did you use to record guitars and drums in particolar. Can you tell me or is it a secret?

Guitars: well everyone knows that they each used their own special guitar, and both had same amps – and same pedals. I recorded those using Senheisser 421 microphone, and API pre-amp. No EQ, no compression. No plug-ins. Voice: Avalon 737 pre-amp, and cheap Audio Technica 4033a microphone. Thats all. The rest was music and singing.

What are the causes of the small success of the Strokes solo projects?

The only thing that makes “success” in terms of wow, bigtime massive fans around the world is this:  the music must connect to the deep inner dreams of huge amounts of people at the moment it is created and unleashed into the world. It also must get promoted or spread around the world using… internet? Video? Facebook? Selfies? Magazines? Radio? All of these things. The Strokes album Is This It came out at the perfect time in the Zeitgeist (Spirit of the times!) to connect with people who were tired of hearing boring, corporate fake music! Ha ha. I believe this. I was just at Julian Casablancas solo show in Berlin two days ago. He sold out the venue, and had a big crowd going crazy for his new band The Voidz. This music was amazing, and not in any way “average” or “normal” or a cliché! And yet he connected with people very powerfully. That is a fabulous success to me.

Who is representing today what The Strokes represented at the beginning of 2000?

I have seen no one really who is starting a new movement in music lately. But, I know from traveling around the world heavily for the past 10 years- that there is amazing powerful and creative music still alive and well. I meet many people who are making incredible great music! That’s the good news. And this is exciting. We never know when a new Idea is going to take the world’s imagination by storm. I will also say this loudly and clearly: I cannot believe and never will get used to how much terrible music, useless hollow music and shitty lyrics people are making and listening to today. So much of modern music makes me want to throw up! For example: If I hear another song with the words “Bad Bitch” in the lyrics, I may go insane!

What do you think about re-union powered by big summer festivals?

I dont know anything about reunions, and I only went to 8 summer festivals in my life, to see The Strokes in Amsterdam, Mallorca, Japan, Paris, London, Berlin, Ireland, and London, back in 2001 and 2004. 

You lived and worked in Seattle, London and NYC and others more, being the right person, in the right places, at the right time. How is it going now in Berlin, for you and in the music scene? How is it going now in Berlin, for you and in the music scene?

The scene in Berlin is for me about quiet time to read my books (Just finished Keith Richards book “Life”, and now reading Greil Marcus book about The Doors). I love riding bicycles here, and the Vegan food revolution is going amazingly well here. Superfoods, organic juice bars, Raw stuff its incredible. Very much further ahead than any other city I know, including New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and London. We have Vegan supermarkets here, like 3 of them! Thats the new rock and roll, and revolution for sure!! The music in Berlin, except for what I play on my record-player at home, and my record player in my studio here, pretty much sucks sucks sucks, just like in most other cities! Ha ha… sad but true. Minimal techno… ha ha… Software music?? ha ha.. Indie rock?? (you must be kidding!). High budget hip hop with cocaine and champagne….?? please… take it away! I have very strong feelings about great music, I get SO turned on by a good song, or a good drummer or a good guitar player, good keyboard player and a killer singer. BUT I absolutely hate fake, cheezy, crappy weak and unoriginal music. It kills my aura, man! I also recognize that everyone has their own opinion and reasons for liking what they do, and I am not smarter or better than anyone else! So that balances all of my rage ** a little!

Which differences and which similarities did you find between these cities?

Seattle: rainy, grey and the most beautiful mountains and trees. Lots of brilliant people there, great coffee (Vivace Cafe) great vegan pizza. Too much traffic, and too many corperate rich normal people have moved there. Less freaks visible and audible now in Seattle. Best band: The Tempers. This band represents what I always liked about Seattle its nature and its genius. Berlin, I already told you.. great for riding bicycle, and spending time making your own art/music cuz its not stupidly expensive yet! Lots of really nice and smart people here. Great food, if you dont eat the unhealthy immoral sausages and the body poisoning meatscraps of the Doner Kebap. People are still largely addicted to cigarettes and beer here to try and deal with their depressions. Kind of like a mutual respect for each other committing suicide! Cute! Also there’s a party trap, cuz of the cheap beer, people come here to try and do their art, and wind up with 10 year hangovers. One more thing thats GREAT about Berlin no fucking guns! Imagine! Walking down the street and you’re never afraid of some whacko with a gun! I think thats a very important plus for Berlin. London: Very pretty, very expensive. No rock and roll, just some really cool underground weird electronic hip-hop thats very special. I love the National Gallery there, and there’s a lot of great recording equipment there, and some extremely smart and nice people I know there. Los Angeles: fun, sunny. Nice people- too much traffic, and lots of good music, but its hidden in Echo Park, Silverlake and not many people in the world ever hear it! New York?? great expensive vegan juices, but delicious. No good music that I know of since Room on Fire and Soviet Kitsch! Smiles. I never stop thinking about early Talking HeadsPatti Smith, Television and The Ramones.

Is it easy to have you as producer?

Its very easy to have me as a producer if I love your music, and you can afford to hire me to come to your city and work. I work in Argentina a lot lately, and sometimes in Brazil and Mexico. For most of the 2000’s I have been traveling in Europe recording bands. I look for powerful, creative, exciting and original music to produce. And, Im working on my own songs a lot lately.

What kind of producer is Gordon Raphael? How would you relate yourself to other famous people like Rick Rubin or Julian Casablancas itself or Jack White?

Gordon Raphael is way way way less famous and rich than those other guys! I love Julian, I don’ t know Rick Rubin, and am not that familiar with his work, and Jack White is nice, but Im not a fan of his music. I saw an early White Stripes show in London, and thought they were great, but I never got too excited about his musical intentions, and his musical vibe.

What do you think about TV talent-shows?

I never think about TV Talent shows. I think its more corporate bullshit. People will watch anything to avoid dealing with making great changes in the world and taking their power back. Most governments suck the life from the people, and are helping to destroy the planet very quicky and stupidly. So TV talent shows are perfect to distract the people, and keep them busy while their right are being stolen! Yay. Wake up!

Would you ever produce someone that come from X-factor?

Can I say it…?? FUCK the X-Factor. Please give me Divine with John Waters, or Candy Darling with Andy Warhol. Far more fun!

Have you ever collaborate with italian artists?

I am negotiating right now to work with my first Italian band. I love something very clearly about Italian culture and history. There is also an amazing music culture that goes back into Baroque and Classical music for me, from Italy. And there’s many great Italian painters (and a few filmmakers!). I am crazy about. So far I have only been 2 times in Italy, very briefly- but I can’t wait to spend more time there. I cannot say I have heard more than 3 bands from Italy in the past decade! I am curious tho!

What’s your opinion concerning italian music for what you could have seen from outside?

I know its not popular to say this, BUT There are three PFM albums that changed my life: Photos Of Ghosts, The World Became The World, and Chocolate Kings. These are three of my favorite albums I ever heard. From that I fell in love very heavily with the idea of Italian music!

I’ve read that you’re about to finish your own album too, would you tell me something about your band?  

I am working with two bands in Buenos Aires, Argentina right now. We did 10 concerts in 2014, and we recorded 12 of my songs which will come out soon. My music is psychedelic sometimes punk-edged aggressive. It also has outer space stuff in it from my Arp odyssey analog synthesizer, of course! I love Buenos Aires and have been there 100 days this year, just rocking the fuck out!!! Its a great rock and roll city, probably the MOST rock and roll city in the world right now, although I hear some great stuff coming from Australia too!

What are your best 5 albums of 2014?

I only heard one album from 2014 this year: Tyranny by Julian Casablancas & The Voidz. It was not an instant easy record for me to hear or love, but it was already amazing and interesting the first time I heard it, so I kept trying it until I found its melodic, lyrical and rhythmic secrets. Its truly a monumental work of new music/art. Im so proud of him for discovering that great power in himself to make this record and work with The Voidz! Wow. I also really am blown-away by the production of that, I have NO idea how they did it. I heard they spent 4 years making it– like a artistic science project!!

Niccolò Matteucci



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Photo by Graeme Maguire