Some producers are the platinum-hits type and then there’s some that could care less about record sales. Sometimes, in rare cases, a producer can be both. In the case of Ross Robinson, the classic and bestselling albums he has under his belt speaks for itself. The soft-spoken producer has produced genre-defining records like Limp Bizkit’s Three Dollar Bill Y’all, Korn’s self-titled debut and Slipknot’s self-titled debut, on top of many others that have paved the way for a new sound in rock and roll.
Now Ross Robinson finds his name on Tech N9ne’s first rock and roll project: Therapy – Sessions With Ross Robinson. The project was recorded at Robinson’s Venice beach house, (a serendipitous parallel to Tech’s favorite band The Doors, who recorded their first two albums on the same beach). We talked to the acclaimed producer (whose calm demeanor runs quite contrary to the audio chaos he’s known to capture) about the recording process, his time with Tech N9ne and the one thing that drives Tech N9ne crazy.
This is part one of our exclusive interview with Ross Robinson.
How did Therapy come about?
My friend Shawnee Demont hooked it up. I guess he’s been friends with all the Strange guys from other projects. He got Tech to be able to do “The House of Shock”, a song with Sid Wilson and Dave Lombardo and Gary Holt from Exodus. It’s not out yet but it’s really good. That was our first experience and it kind of turned into digging into Tech’s lyrics and songs. He writes about whatever’s happening at that moment and it was pretty heavy. He was kind of taken by my approach towards having those lyrics expressed properly and truthfully so everybody will understand and not just him.
Tech referred to that initial experience you guys had together in the studio, saying “He was like a psychiatrist.” Other than that experience did you know much about Tech before you took on this project?
I’m not totally into hip hop into the max. I appreciate it and dig it. I knew of him and once we started talking about working together, obviously I checked out his stuff and studied him. He’s really incredible. I’m blown away by 1) his history and 2) his talent – actually his talent more so than anything. He’s a freak of nature for sure.
What potential did you see for this project when you decided to do it?
Potential basically. I have this thing to where it’s a competition between the recordings and any live show that they might do. Whenever I see a band or singer sing a cut that I did and do it better, it really bums me out. I project that nature that if for some crazy reason they get way into a song live, I want to smoke that performance. I want to make sure that they take it farther than they can. When you’re recording it’s a private setting focused purely on the subject of that song to make it more real than it is. You know a show, all the songs are basically one performance. They’re not really separate where as in a studio you can really take the time and make each song a life form of its own. That’s kind of what I wanted to do with this. To give him that, you know? Just to have something to offer him that’s new and he hasn’t done yet.
In your time around Tech N9ne what kind of vibes did you get from him?
He’s a dude that really needs to provide. I don’t know – if somebody else pays for something it’ll drive him crazy. This girlfriend of ours that was around the studio, we played a joke to where she would run into restaurants near my house and he’d be in there eating. He’d be eating and she’d go in there and pay his bill without him knowing it and it would fucking drive him crazy. She got him a car to the airport, paid for it, he just freaked out. If you want to freak Tech N9ne out, pay for his shit.
What went through your head upon hanging out with Tech N9ne about what you wanted to get from him and how you would go about doing that?
You know it’s not a planned thing. For me, there’s a voice inside of me that will basically guide me into knowing which place to push. In essence it’s different for everybody, but for him I just listened to that voice in my head telling me “Okay, this is where you need to go” in that moment. It’s a sensitive subject and they need to feel listened to, comfortable, safe, understood. Yeah, just basically I want to know about what it’s about. Within that he reveals himself and a lot of things come up. I’ll share things about myself and just create a huge level of safety. Basically a dude like him or other people that I’ve worked with, everybody wants something from them, or they want to be in the room around him. There’s this thing that really puts a guard up. My deal is to create a safe place from that, a place that is more pure and more real. That’s all.
Soeaking of that, upon researching you and your work, I also looked up your mother (Byron Katie). For lack of a better term, she’s a spiritual guru. I’m wondering when you’re talking about making someone feel safe, being non-judgmental so they can feel comfortable, did you get a lot of those skills from growing up around her?
I use her work to dig into people’s minds. It’s the most unbelievable tool anybody could have. It’s my secret weapon. It’s not a secret but it’s my weapon that most people, I don’t think they have the guts to do it. It’s safe and it’s beautiful, the things that happen. It’s just basically the inquiry on a hurtful belief. You can check her out at thework.com.
I checked it out.
It’s for the readers to see part of what I do. If there’s a producer out there that wants to like kind of trip out on my approach, they can use her tools like I do and really get in there. It’s pretty bad ass.
She synthesizes a lot of knowledge that entire books cover and does it in four questions of self-analysis. Just one of the questions alone was very helpful, personally.
It’s unbelievable, just the simplicity of it. It’s just cutting edge. People write legions of books to just get down to that one nitty gritty deal. It’s so simple the way its laid out. Make sure all this is in the interview! It could help so many people. Everything you’re telling me – that’s important.
For sure! To rein it back in a little bit, a lot of times an artist will get comfortable after a few albums and the creativity takes a backseat to the lifestyle or perks of success. For whatever reason, the hunger and desire to express yourself dwindles. Did you ever feel that way with Tech N9ne?
Actually, not really. It just seems that he has an internal realization going on to where he’s got the tireless energy for getting it on Tech N9ne-style. He’s inspired. That dude is inspired and with me working with him or anybody, he’s going to blaze man. That dude…he’s inspirational man.
It’s cool being in your position because I imagine that you’re inspired by a lot of the artists that you work with, and that’s what gives you the sensitivity and perspective that you need to bring out the best in them. You know what that’s supposed to feel like.
Oh yeah. I know what I’m craving as a person to be alive. These musicians, they’re instruments for me. So yeah. A guitar player, ripping a ripper solo – it’s kind of the same thing for me, you know?
Are there times to where an artist thinks that “That was it” and you’re like “No, that wasn’t it.” I imagine that happens often.
Yes, of course. A lot of people, they don’t want to go through the whole deal and they’re just like “I just wanna rock man!” It’s like “Yeah, but you’re rocking for no reason.” (laughs) Most of the time it works then I’ll run into the ones that are just hard-headed and not into it. They basically shouldn’t be in the room in the first place.
When it gets done right, does everybody feel it?
Oh yeah. Like something happens and also, whatever the song was, it slips into another mode and it turns into a completely different song in the way you hear it and the way you feel it. It’s totally different.
I know you want the artists you work with to be as honest as possible on a record. Tech is someone who strikes us and his fans as someone who doesn’t have too much of an issue being honest on the track. I guess my main question is, for this particular project, what did he have to get past the most to really come alive in the element of this EP?
You know it’s something that he came here knowing. After we did the other song he came in here knowing what he was about to jump into. So honestly there was nothing to get past. The dude was just going for it.
As far as Therapy goes, my experience with Therapy is that it’s the first and that he’s the one that has to make the recovery, not the therapist. So he was wide open and ready to rip.
Here’s a key point for this project in particular: as far as tracking it and tracking vocals, Tech is someone who relies on a precise rhythmic foundation so that he can explore different flow patterns that are very technically advanced. How was it recording him in a live setting, where the rhythm fluctuates? Was that ever an issue?
It is with him, but not with me. In my school, the more fucked up it is, the better. In his school, the straighter it is the better. There were some give and take on both sides. The album is basically him controlling certain things that he just couldn’t live with and me offering what I had to offer and everything just met in the middle. There’s things that I would prefer to have more messed up or wild and, you know, being from the hip hop world and doing it basically his whole life, I can’t expect him to go that far with it. His fans in the hip hop world, they’re also used to hearing it a certain way and I understand that.
Well the point of this record was for something different and from listening to it that was obviously achieved. I can tell in “Hiccup” especially that this was recorded over a live element. That sounds like it’s off the rails. When it came together like that, how did you feel?
Like with “Hiccup”? I thought it was cool! It’s mixed how Strange wants it mixed. I wasn’t involved completely in that part but I just basically was there for him to throw down and for me to do my thing here and Strange took it and did what they believed was the best way. It’s a mix between all of us coming up with this cool ass album for people to trip on. For me to get my way is not normally. My way is not the best way because if I had my way I would be a rock star in a really terrible thrash metal band. (Laughs)
The EP is perfect in that it’s what it is, it’s perfect in that I did my part and Strange did their part and it’s meeting in the middle. I’m proud to have my name on it. I know I contributed a lot to it and the energy of it. There’s a lot of things that I think are really cool.
What would you say was your biggest contribution to this EP?
I think the mindset. The mindset. He has a knowing of what I like and stand for and really went there. It just bent his art a certain way and that’s really cool because he can keep putting out the same structured albums he’s been putting out and it’d be cool but he’s a growing artist and it’s inspiring for him. I think I contributed inspiration mainly.
What was the vibe like between you, Tech, and everyone else out there during the recording process?
Just having a great time. Just fun, everybody had an excellent time. Everybody really loved each other. That was it man. We just had a great time. There was no drama, no heaviness, no ridiculous anything. It was just a bunch of pros hanging out and making some cool stuff.
No chairs being thrown.
What was the biggest challenge between you and Tech? Was there ever a time where you said “No man, you need to come at it like this” or “You need to try this“? Was there ever a resistant point between you two?
Just in the tracks, that’s all. There’s a feeling in the tracks that I thought were, you know when it was more rough, I thought those would penetrate the heart deeper, but you know what? I learned something that in hip hop, that when the tracks are gridded out and so straight, there’s no swagger and HE gets to be the swagger. The vocal is moving and floating and being bad ass but if you have a band with so much swagger, then the vocal doesn’t stick out as much. I think discovering that on this project, I was like “Oh my God…okay.” The swagger sticks out ten times harder when the track isn’t flying and swaggering out. It turns into a full force when everything is swinging and swaying where as in hip hop tracks, the vocals sticks out crazy and the track is just flat. That’s my huge realization and I understand it.
Are you wanting to do more stuff with Tech in the future? Tech has also said that hopefully this is just the beginning.
I love Tech, are you kidding? I’d work with him however. He’s awesome.
What are you favorite things about him as an artist?
He’s a good person and he works and he knows how to write honestly and come up with these great melodies. Vocally, singing-wise, he’s a great singer. He writes sweet, killer lyrics that make sense and are intelligent and cool and then he lays it down the same day that he writes it and then he’s good. I’ve never seen anybody do that before in my life. The talent is unbelievable. I’m so impressed with the guy and I really, genuinely like him as a person and a friend. He’s killer. Why wouldn’t I want to work with that dude?
For sure. He somehow has still retained this hunger to create even though he’s been doing it for like 15 years. In your experience do you see that often?
Nope. I sure don’t but I’m one hundred percent there for the artist that’s willing to go there. To me it’s my life. It’s my life. I don’t have the family and all that stuff. This is what I do. It’s what I love and people who don’t do music as if it’s the most important thing, it’s kind of doing it as a job. I’m not in it for that, so when I get to work with someone who matches where I’m at with music, it’s heaven. I love it. I’m a slave to that kind of artist.
You were talking about his vocal ability. You’ve worked with some of the greatest rock vocalists of the past twenty years, how does he stack up?
His ability is up there with the top, top, top. He’s all the way at the very top with like, Robert Smith, in his genre. Absolutely. He’s amazing.
Is there anything you want to say before we wrap this up?
If we get to work together I think this is just the beginning of something that will go much deeper. It’s just scratching the surface and it’s a really sweet start. For me it was a great time and super-fun and enlightening and I’m just so happy that they wanted to do it. It’s dope. On an artistic level and a human level, everything was satisfying and sweet and it’ll expand and grow like it’s supposed to.
Stay tuned for part two of our exclusive interview with Ross Robinson.
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