Interview: The thoughts of Strokes Producer Gordon Raphael

Posted on January 8, 2015

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In 2004, I interviewed record producer, Gordon Raphael for the music publication CMU Daily. For editorial reasons this wasn’t published and has now seen the light day for the first time in 11 years.

I had for while, tried to pin him down to answer a few questions for me, but due to working on the Strokes albums and travelling hopping throughout the world, time proved to be in extremely short supply.

Raphael talked through his inspirations, goings on, hopes and dreams and learning to smile, but think “fuck you” in your head at the same time:

Goings On

“I wake up in a panic that there’s too much too do, and way too little time. Thinking about my band Black Light, and our new record The White Album and how I just can’t figure out for the life of me to release it! Even though I have my own label Shoplifter Records in London, I am now In NYC working on The Strokes 3rd album. So I decide I need a strong manager at this point to help me coordinate all the myriad projects I am involved in. I’ve sent some music to Radiohead’s manager and also to the manager of Pharrell Williams. There is a new interview, about 6 hours worth of writing up on Alan McGee’s website. I have many rants on www.shoplifterrecords.co.uk and www.rockfeedback.com. Now there is so much info about my dearly held view out there in cyberspace…it’s very gratifying.

Today I am meeting Regina Spektor at 2 to give her a Jazzmaster guitar for her show tonight at Sarah Lawrence College. She is an astounding musical phenomenon and I am overjoyed that I met her and we worked on Soviet Kitsch together. Later I will check in with The Strokes at the studio I designed and built for them near Port Authority. If they are ready with a new song, perhaps we’ll start recording it today. If I am not recording in a studio I like to practice the piano, go for walks ’round the streets of NYC and look at girls. The female gender never ceases to amaze and confound me, (they are) masterpieces of creation and the most difficult thing in the world to figure out. (Especially when they are drunk…)

This weekend I will record an amazing lady from Montreal, Canada named Genn from the band The Nice Ones and the drummer from Guided by Voices will play on that. I also met a new Russian girl who plays piano and sings, named Margarita Shamrakov and I will try to sign her to my label in London. She is way cool and quite beautiful – her music very lavishly produced and big time like hip-hop with heavy metal guitars and piano. She won the John Lennon songwriting contest and was awarded her prize by Yoko Ono….”

How to be a producer

“Basic knowledge of the recording process and how to either get interesting sounds in a studio or command an engineer to do it. An understanding of how musicians think and feel during the creative process in the studio. Some people get very uptight when they think -“This one’s for real!! Billions of people may hear these notes for many years to come!!” So I like to make people feel as comfortable as if they were at home in their rooms just messing around. It’s a good thing to know how to do. Also I like to think that one has to have a great love for sounds and music and an aural sensitivity.”

Advantages and disadvantages of being a record producer

“Advantages you get to watch and listen as amazing musicians express songs right in front of you, and be involved in their creative very vulnerable process. When I watched Anna Mercedes singing her tracks in the years I worked with her, it was always an amazing experience, a rush greater than any drug! To hear a melody and emotion coming out in such an intense and directed moment can be sheerly overwhelming sometimes. Working with Jordi from The Satellites (Mallorca) or Nick Valensi on guitar; well those are peak moments. Having Julian singing loudly in a chair right behind me in a control room, or whisper singing into my ear to show me how a vocal could sound over a music-track is quite fun.

Disadvantages: As a musically sensitive artist trying to live in a music business world run by politics and sleazoid individuals who 99 percent of the time support such terrible music…that’s the biggest one. The press, the labels, the grey-suits and the accountants – its such a shame, and the result is the sorry state of the music industry and probably influences the way people in general behave and think, because the music they hear each day is artificial and generally stupid. A disadvantage of being a producer is that you are often immersed in some artist’s inner vision and dreams and goals and psychoses for long periods of time. Like you start living their thoughts and your own have to go on hold for a while. In many cases its very great and alright, but in some cases it can get a bit much!!!”

Struggles of being a record producer

“Just as hard as it is to make it as a human being. Just give either of those a try and see! How hard is it to meet cool people and talk to them? Find good friends? Work at a job? Pay rent? See what I mean – being a producer is something you feel like trying and go for it. Everything can be overthought to the point where it appears impossible, right? But I do believe in a strange magic that has somehow gotten me through a lot of impossible situations to being here now at a cool coffee shop in NYC writing these little memoirs!

I was stuck in Seattle for so many years recording my own freakish compositions and singing and playing my synthesizer, dreaming of London and New York. I felt jailed by the mountains and rain of Washington State, and never had any money to realise my dreams past what I could create out of my mind and heart each day in music. Now I have been to London, Paris,Thailand, Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Berlin, Mallorca and Tokyo this year. I am a space gypsy, an international homeless man!! I love it. Next year I want to tour with my band, performing in every country for the next 2 years. Hit the road.”

Inspiration

“Characteristics of faith, patience, love of music, understanding of the role of music in personal expression and how listeners and fans react and are driven by sound. I took all my biggest clues to life from the songs I heard along the way. Sunshine of Your Love by Cream really got me started, and the album Relayer by Yes, and Wendy Carlos – Clockwork Orange sealed my fate in music so completely hardcore. Hendrix is my daily medicine when things get rough.”

Advice

“Advice to those about to fill my shoes? Listen to your heart and learn to smile while thinking, “Fuck you!!!” when people tell you what is possible or practical or impractical or even risky. If you feel compelled towards something wholeheartedly – it may be your destiny and why you are here! I was the biggest fool, the most unemployed and hopeless pie-eyed dreamer till at the age of 33 my band Sky Cries Mary got signed to a record and publishing deal and I was basically free to really pursue my dreams full time and get paid. Before that I was pursuing my dreams full time, and stealing food, couch surfing, stealing friend’s grass, etc.

I had been in 30 bands (since 1969 when I was 13!) before I got to put out a record and tour and feel really cool. I always felt like I was a superstar; an outer space sound creator and mystic poet – it just took several decades to get a little bit noticed. Still no one really gets my own music, they think it’s really “out there, man!!”

Misconceptions

“That I’m mostly a producer, when in fact I only learnt recording stuff cuz I had to get my own songs created. I have written over 3000 songs and someday, one of them may be heard by human ears, minds and hearts.”

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Posted in: Music