Behind the Sound: Producer Ross Robinson
Mon, 29 Nov 2010 10:02:02
Every recorded album has a producer and a production credit. A producer can be a member of the band, but often isn't. It's his job to record the album and guide a band along the way, extracting the best possible performance out of each member while tracking. Some producers are hands on and get those same hands filthy by immersing fully in the process with the band, offering insight, asking questions, making suggestions. Others are a bit more standoffish, working more diligently to commit the music in the band's heads and on their demos to tape (or to a hard drive) and fashion it into a final product.
You probably aren't too cognizant of "what" it is a producer does, but that's what this "Behind the Soundboard" interview series aims to do: the deconstruct the mythology and mystery of the producer role with our in depth interviews with master producers in rock and hip-hop.
Ross Robinson is a producer who employs super unorthodox methods when manning the boards for an album. He becomes like another member of the band and works to get inside the heads of the lyricist and the players. It's an intimate and uncomfortable situation, but it often yields the powerhouse results. This is a man who left his fingerprints all over hard rock in the late '90s and early '00s; his resume is littered with names like Korn, Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, Glassjaw and At the Drive In. Those are all bands that made a meteor-like impact on hard rock fans and Robinson is more than just the knob twiddler of those albums. He knows how to extract the very best performance from those who choose to enter his lair.
Robinson spoke to ARTISTdirect.com's Amy Sciarretto, sharing a recording memory from key albums by Korn, Slipknot and At the Drive-In, as well as illuminating us about his approach to recording and the unconventional techniques and methods he uses and how the song is what guides the entire process.
You've worked on some seminal records with important bands of the '00s, like Korn, At the Drive In, Slipknot… to name a few. Can you share a memory of the recording process for each of those releases?
With Korn, we had so much humor going the whole time. I remember taking them all up to the studio in Malibu. I found it through a real estate company. By accident. They all loved being together, so living up there was heaven. [Bassist] Reggie [AKA Fieldy] had a busy mind back then, so the quiet freaked him out. [Former guitarist] Brian's girlfriend was pregnant so they lived in the vocal booth and isolated themselves in there for days at a time. He was always so funny, just a natural at being a comedian. I'd love to see the dudes all back together like that again!
At The Drive-In: I was talking to Iggy Pop about doing a record while working with ATDI. I asked them if they would like me to ask Iggy to sing. They laughed and thought I was joking. Iggy was so fucking cool that he came up to Malibu and hung out the whole day. It was a dream for all of us! I set up the vocal mics so they would face each other and rip it…and they ripped it!
Slipknot: I had the whole band staying with me for a bit when I started riding motocross again. One night we were on fire and I started my bike inside the house and smoked the tires in the house. Balls (Paul Gray) got so scared! I think Clown has it on video. I remember they would roll to Tommy's Burger and leave the nasty wrappers on the table and be all passed out from that nasty food 'til 1 PM. They are such an amazing miracle, and I miss Paul so, so much....
How do you view your role as a producer in the studio? What is the specific stance that you take and how do you approach the process?
My role is to expose the invisible tangible into the world of stuff that never holds true. Everything we hold on to falls away except music. That feeling tone of real players slamming to the same core expression is everything to me. I approach it with a knowing that I have no control and that the song is God, not us. We are the lightning rods when we take our stories about what we think we know away.
Do you have any tips/advice for aspiring producers?
Make it a higher purpose, not ego.
When you orchestrate a record, do you have any rituals or preparations that you do in advance?
If I have time to be useless, I usually go on a cleanse for 10 days or two weeks. Check it out The Cure", and Robert Smith read it once, called and asked me to do it! Dreams do come true!
You're a bookend for Korn: you produced the first Korn album and the most recent Korn album. What was the biggest difference in the two processes, besides a dozen years having passed?
[Former drummer] David [Silveria] and [guitarist] Brian ["Head" Welch] not being there. Korn are survivors and loving friends. We had to work like it was a second family; they have kids and heavy personal lives. Before, Korn was all they had. Life is good.
How did you know you wanted to be a producer?
I had a serious craving deep inside telling me to do it.
Do you have any signature techniques you can speak of or care to share?
Fearless, personal, mental surgery about the lyrics with the whole band, before tracking, to capture the highest level of vibe possible.
How do you approach new equipment and new technology?
I walk downstairs, let the dog out, then turn on all the gear. With great technology, I get to record at home in my sweet studio.
What exactly does a producer do behind the board?
Behind the board, they engineer. I've been doing that a lot on the passion projects I do. I am still learning.
Anything else you'd like to share about your craft and/or career, please do so now!
All good for now!
What's your favorite Ross Robinson record?
For our latest interview with Korn frontman Jonathan Davis click here!
For more "Behind the Sound" features, click here!