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Producer Rick Rubin Offers Fascinating Insight On Working w/ METALLICA, SLAYER, SYSTEM OF A DOWN and more

Posted by on February 5, 2015 at 2:48 pm

It's not a stretch to say that Rick Rubin is a musical genius. The man's influence of varying musicial genres has been well documented by others and now Rubin has decided to document it himself. He launched an official account on music annotation website Genius, where he offered insight into some of his most famous collaborations from Metallica and Slayer to the Beastie Boys and Kanye West. We'll just focus on the metal stuff here.

On the page for Metallica's "That Was Just Your Life," Rubin explains the game plan with Death Magnetic:

The idea is to allow an artist to see themselves as greater than they thought. Or break down any pre-conceived idea of what they think they’re supposed to be. That’s a big part of it. Take away the self-imposed limitations that artists have for whatever reason. A lot of them are like, “Well this is really what I like because I’m gonna do this because this is what I think someone else is gonna like.”

Sometimes it’s the opposite, where artists have gotten so experimental that they’ve lost the core of what makes them them. And then in those cases, I’ll try to redirect them back. The example might be Metallica. They were kind of lost before and we helped get them back to being Metallica.

On label troubles after Slayer recorded "Angel of Death:"

I signed Slayer to Def Jam. Columbia Records was the distributor, but they refused to put it out because of “Angel of Death.” That was how I started my relationship with Geffen records, because Columbia refused.

On working with Slayer again on God Hates Us All:

I can remember Tom from Slayer coming up to me after we’d made a few albums together, and I didn’t work on one or two of the albums after that, and he said: I really don’t know what it is but you do, but whatever it is, would you please come do it again?

I think he liked the records we made together better than the ones he made without me, and he wasn’t sure why.

With them, it really is about, it’s so specific, what they do, that really so much of the job is just not getting in the way. As long as you don’t interrupt them being Slayer, it’s probably gonna be good. They have a flavor. It’s like the Ramones.

On Reign In Blood:

Reign In Blood was recorded in L.A. at a place that’s not there anymore. It was on Pico Boulevard, I can’t remember what it was called. A little tiny studio that’s now a flower shop.

In terms of writing, I’d say the Reign In Blood album was pretty close to complete when they came in. I think we just stepped up the recording from what they had done independently before that. It was really more the engineering.

Andy Wallace did it, which is what later got him in with Nirvana, absolutely. A hundred percent. It was insane. It was punk energy but with a precision that punk rarely ever had. It was much tighter than punk.

I love the way the last two songs on Reign In Blood — “Postmortem” and “Raining Blood” — go into each other. I can remember feeling “It can’t get any harder and faster,” and then the next part would be twice as hard. It just gets so insane.

And the solos. I really love the solos on that record because they have nothing to do with music. It’s just about speed. How fast can a guitar, or how fast can anything play? We’ll use this guitar, because we have these, but it has nothing to do with guitar playing or music. And also the fact that they had two lead guitar players who would trade off these guitar solos, neither of which made sense. Like: “This thing doesn’t make sense, and now I’m going to out not-make-sense you. You think you can do that? I’ll do this.” It’s so insane. There’s one where I think its like five back and forth of just insanity. Unbelievable.

On working with System Of A Down on Toxicity's title track:

You’ve got this unbelievable band that don’t sound like anyone else, ever. They’re four Armenian guys. I went to see them live, and every label had passed on them. They were at the Viper Room, it was packed. It was the funniest show. I couldn’t stop laughing. It was intense. The problem with hard music is that it almost all sounds the same. Heavy metal has very strict guidelines. The beauty of System of a Down is that it’s so weird and so groovy but hard as fuck. And the singer is great.

For “Toxicity,” Serj didn’t have words for the bridge. We were at my house doing the vocals and working on the idea, and I remember the idea of the father happening and then us trying to make it biblical in that way. It’s really heavy.

I don’t know what it means, but I know how it makes me feel. It’s like a lot of Neil Young songs, where the lyrics don’t necessarily make sense, but they give you this feeling of something going on. This does that. And it goes from that wackiness of the verse to the epic sadness of the chorus. It’s so weird. And listen to how much harmony there is. Vocal harmonies — no one has vocal harmonies.

On Kerry King's contribution to Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Til Brooklyn":

Kerry King did the solo right here, much to the dismay of Adam Yauch. He hated Slayer. He didn’t like metal.

On convincing Johnny Cash to record a cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt":

For all the records we made together, he would play me songs and I would play him songs until we got to the point where we both liked the songs. There were always hundreds of songs in play, not necessarily recorded but discussed.

You can usually tell which ones I brought to the table. “Rusty Cage” was mine, “Hurt” was mine. He wouldn’t have heard those. Something like an old Jimmmie Rodgers song, chances are he brought it.

There are some exceptions. He brought in a Sting song, a modern Sting song, “I Hung my Head” which is really good. He brought in a Springsteen song, although I don’t know if we ever put it out. He brought in some modern stuff.

There were a lot of songs that he needed to be convincing about. Eventually, he trusted me enough that if I felt strongly about something, he’d do it. I would send him compilations of CDs of songs to listen to, and I remember that on several compilations in a row, “Hurt” was the first song. There’s just something about it. I imagined him saying those words being very powerful.

What I came to realize about that whole Johnny Cash experience was that he was a great storyteller. The song didn’t matter — all that mattered were the words. All that mattered was if the character of Johnny Cash — the mythical Johnny Cash, the man in black — would say those words. If that’s what you would want to hear him talking about, then that would be a good song to do.

So it was never about like melody, it was just about if the lyrics were right.

Check out all of Rubin's annotations over at Genius.

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