Before the holiday weekend, I had a chance to sit down with music producer Ross Robinson, known as “The Godfather of Nu Metal” thanks to his work with Korn, Slipknot, Glassjaw, At the Drive-In, and many more.
His beach front studio (in Venice, CA) doubles as a home for the bands he works with. Despite the rocking music that is produced here, the studio had a very beach appropriate, laid-back vibe. The band currently working with him, Dan-an-an-an Akryod, was just hanging out on the sofa, relaxing and talking about music. It’s this vibe and the experience of living where they work that allows the band to get immersed into the music and create something that couldn’t be reproduced any other way.
After brief introductions, Ross and his team lead me down to the studio where all the magic happens. Complete with a drum room, tape decks, and lots of equipment, so many albums and tracks had been recorded there. Surrounded by the music, we dove into some questions.
How do you go about choosing the bands you work with?
It’s all about discovery. I go through my Myspace friends and listen to demos. It has to come from a place of genuinely loving something about the music, whether it’s the vocals or drums. But Myspace is the main platform I use; it’s a gateway to every band in the world.
What’s your recording process like ?
I still go to tape on drums. Technology has made it possible to have a studio in house with a drum room. I can do a record now easier, and appreciate the music more.
I get to really find out if I’m in it for the music or if in it for the plaques and awards. Awards come easy, there was a lot more ego in the music industry before. But now it has a more garage band feel. It’s pure, genuine, alive.
Would you say you’re hands on in the recording process? Or do you let the bands take the reins?
I’m extremely hands on. It’s a mental experience, it’s pure mental surgery all the way through. It’s about getting bands to open up and be fearlessly vulnerable, to allow the song to have its way. The album turns into its own lifeform, exuding a life through the song. It’s important to get ego out of the equation.
Who are your favorite music producers?
My favorite producers are actually bands that know what they sound like & get an engineer to foster that sound. Some of my favorite bands right now are Crystal Castles, Sleigh Bells, Julie Christmas, Robert Smith, and Radiohead.
What do you think about “Pay What You Want” albums, like Radiohead?
It takes the stealing aspect out which leaves no resentment of the band to the fan. It fosters love for each other more. Stealing music, piracy, leads to resentment on both sides. Fans feel everything should be free, but for startup bands it’s hard to get started and make a living doing what they love. A lot of great bands die before they’ve had a chance to live.
Do you have any advice to start up bands or aspiring producers?
Everything has to be done from pure creative life, you can’t do it and expect anything from anybody. It can’t be done without passion, you just need to give and not anything in return – it’s a very Christ-like consciousness. This business requires the highest level of dedication. If you want something back, you are in the wrong business. Just jump in and let it have its way with you. Most importantly, have fun.
If you could re-record any of the albums you worked on, which one(s) would it be and why?
Everything I do has all of me in it to best of my ability at the time. That said, I would love to re-record with Blood Brothers and Slipknot. I was on painkillers for both because of injuries so I don’t remember some of it. Also, with Slipknot I was more concerned with protecting the band’s business than their music at the time. Their manager was a thief and was wasting the band’s money. I would see them out partying on the band’s dime and I had no patience for that. I could have been wrong, but I was looking out for the band.
What are your thoughts on Auto-Tune?
It’s garbage, just garbage. I actually just finished working on a hip hop track with a line “a real voice with no autotune.” Music stands out more if it has truth. You just shouldn’t record those who can’t sign. If music comes from a deep place, and it’s in tune, on beat, and is genuine, why fix it? I’m known most for vocal performance and will never use auto-tune.
What are your thoughts on remixing/remix culture?
I’m so busy with bands that I never jumped in, but I would love to get in with what Little Baby Sunny is doing. He’s killing it! You can tell he sings live as well. But what I do, I see it as basically remixes but with full bands instead of separate tracks/beats.
What was it like working on your first major album?
Korn was the beginning of my production career; it was the first record I did that was released. We spent two and a half years just working on the band, preparing for the album, putting the band together, etc. We worked together for so long, but recording the album only took six weeks – my fastest project to date. We were working together without expectation of selling albums, just to record something to play for friends. We were all shocked when 200 people bought it in a week! We all still talk about that together, it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago.
What do you think is the ssue in the music industry?
Greed – if you’re in a position of wanting something for yourself, you get blinded. You can’t see art or sense the future. The industry is looking for fluffy, cotton candy hits and that’s really not where it’s at. For example, if the cast of Jersey Shore started a band, they’d be signed instantly.
What do you think is the biggest misconception of the music industry?
Once you sign a record deal you’ve made it. There’s so much more that can happen to change that. You’ve got to stay together because a record deal is not the end. You never know what will happen after you sign.
Also, the thought that after you have a hit, you’ll have to duplicate that sounds and sales every time. Artists say yes to studios too much, you NEVER have to. The power is in the person who knows this. Studios manipulate you into doing what you know isn’t right for you, your band, or your sound. You just need to roll with what feels right and it’ll turn out perfect. So many bands sell out to get something they think they don’t have, and then blame it on the labels. When you cave into propaganda that means you’re selling out.
And finally, what are some of your upcoming releases/projects?
The Klaxon’s Twin Flames video just came out, and it looks awesome. Repeater, which is the James’ (from Korn) side project, In Born finished in October and I believe a single just came out.
Also, I mentioned them before when we were talking about auto-tune: Hyro da Hero which consists of a Houston inner city kid, from Def Jam Records, Cody and Mark from Blood Brothers, Daniel from Idiot Pilot, and Paul from At the Drive-In.
After talking, Ross played some upcoming tracks from Hyro da Hero and I will definitely be checking them out when it drops. We also talked about how the Klaxon’s cover art came from his desktop of a funny cat picture. They repurposed it and used as CD art. Part of the reason they decided to use it is because at the beginning of a new song, Ross would yell out “SPACE CAT” just for fun because of their love for that picture. It’s that sort of fun attitude and camaraderie between him and the bands he works with that gives his albums such a distinct sound.