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Producer Rick Rubin has 8 Grammy Awards, is the co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, the founder of American Recordings, a music lover, and a near life-long wrestling fan! He explains how he met Jim Cornette and came to be the financial backer of Smokey Mountain Wrestling, why Ric Flair is his favorite wrestler, how he ended up working for Bill Apter, and why he still watches a solid 8 hours of wrestling per week to this day. And of course, Rick talks music! He shares some incredible stories about filming the Hulu docu-series “McCartney 3, 2, 1” with Sir Paul, working in the studio with everyone from AC/DC to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Black Sabbath, and System of a Down. He remembers the making of “Wildflowers” with Tom Petty, Johnny Cash’s reaction to Rick’s album proposal, and walking to Electric Lady Studios in New York as a college student to produce The Cult’s “Electric” album. Plus, Rick speaks to the conceptual art of music production, the impact technology has made on the process, and the sheer magic of songwriting and chemistry.
Rick Rubin: I was thinking about how the most interesting documentaries are ones that focus on one aspect of a person as opposed to trying to tell their whole life story.
And I don’t know if you know this fact, but there’s more written about The Beatles than anyone other than Jesus, so there’s the most information out about The Beatles.
There’s an endless amount of documentaries, there’s an endless amount of books, we’re flooded with information about The Beatles.
That said, if you would make a list of the 10 best bass players in the world, many people wouldn’t put Paul on the list. He belongs on No. 1, but you don’t think of him as a bass player because he’s a Beatle, and The Beatles transcend music in some ways.
All of the reasons we care about them is the music, we think of Beatlemania, and we think of the songwriting. Again, both of which incredible, but we don’t think of the musicianship so much-
And I thought – as much as has been written about The Beatles, it’s somewhat of a disservice for people not to know what great musicians they were.
And I called Paul and said, ‘I have an idea – a documentary about you as a bass player, you as a musician. We don’t really talk about that. We talk about the songwriting, we talk about Beatlemania, but we don’t talk about the bass playing…’
And he said, ‘Sounds good, let’s do it.’ And that’s basically how it happened.
I’ve also heard that your series with him might be his last in-depth interview, and I don’t know if that’s true or not, but you guys touched so many great things.
Rick Rubin: I have endless questions, and when we heard the tracks individually together, it sparked memories in him that he hadn’t thought about.
If you think about it, there’s no reason – I don’t know if you ever go back and watch your old [wrestling] matches but I never go back and look at anything I worked on.
I might hear it somewhere at a party, I’ll recognize I produced that song, but I don’t go back and listen to my old work, as I’m always making new work.
And same with Paul – he has no reason to go back and listen to it unless maybe he’s going to go on tour and he’s teaching the band a song they haven’t played before, they listen to it together, but he’s never analyzed the tracks, that’s why. Why would he ever do it?
This was also the first time that the master recordings ever left Abbey Road in history, so that was a big deal.
We were listening to the individual tracks, and I could see his surprise, and again, we take it for granted because it’s The Beatles, and he was there in the room, but even for him now looking back, it’s miraculous – he is miraculous.
You’re one of the greatest producers of all time, but now you turn into a fan asking questions, and there’s a great scene where there’s a piece of masking tape hanging from your finger as you’re talking to Paul, and you don’t even notice it.
Rick Rubin: We were definitely present in the moment, and we set it up where we didn’t really see any cameras, we didn’t see any lighting, it really was just this big dark space with a recording console in the middle, and I liked to think of it as a recording studio in Paul’s mind.
The space doesn’t give you any cues to any kind of reality, it’s more like just an imaginary space, and the whole thing really did feel like a dream to me.
I was always a Beatles fan, and I had a poster of The Beatles over my bed when I was four years old, so going from there to standing next to Paul talking about the music, it’s still hard for me to believe that it actually happened.”
How long did you guys record? Was that over the course of a few days, one day…?
Rick Rubin: It was two days. It was supposed to be, originally, when we were setting it up, and it was after Paul agreed to do it, we were talking about the schedule with his manager, and I said, ‘I was thinking maybe we would film for a week.’
And he said, ‘Paul likes to do it in one day, and he’ll commit to one hour.’ It’s like, ‘OK…’ So anything you want to ask, I would try to ask it in the first hour because chances are, that’ll be it – because that’s typically what happens.
We did the first day, we ended up doing about five hours, and at the end of the first day he said, ‘Let’s do it again tomorrow.’ So we ended up recording a lot to get what you saw, but it was unusual the way it happened, and it was. It’s like, we followed his feeling of what he wanted to do.
I asked to start half hour earlier today because in case it goes longer, I have the extra half-hour before, and I know once we’re talking about music or wrestling, it’s probably be going on for a while.