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THE WORLD ALREADY LOVES HIM
legendary music producer, 

GORDON RAPHAEL
talks his musical background and his new Strokes memoir
The World is Going to Love This
 
by Majo Aguilar 

México City, June 15, 2022

Images Provided by  Gordon Raphael 

Gordon Raphael: rockstar extraordinaire. That’s the title I would give to him. A music man from head to toe, always so immersed in it. From the sound to the surroundings, there’s less than a handful of people I know who talk music as passionately as he does. On and off stage, he has contributed with his creativity, talent and innate artistic gift creating his own music and materializing others musical dreams. He is the man who saw grunge born and die and who was not only in the midst of the rise of a new wave of music, but even took part in its foundations. From the other side of the pod, Gordon talks with us about his learnings making music, his work as a producer and his latest book “The World is Going to Love This," a memoir on working with The Strokes in the 2000s rock scene.

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Gordon, thank you so much for your time. It’s a pleasure to have you in our magazine 

Nice to be here!

So, shall we start? Alright, let’s start from the beginning. I know that you’re originally from Seattle. Could you tell us about what got you into music and your first years making it there and all the things that inspired you? 

Well, I was born in New York but my family moved to Seattle when I was eight years old. And, I started piano lessons which I didn’t really like because they told me what to do and I didn’t like to be told what to do. My teacher told me to play quietly and I wanted to play loud, so that was one thing. Then I met a guy when I was thirteen years old and we started a rock band together and I really love playing music in bands and being onstage, so that’s really how I got my start. And of course, I was listening to records since I was ten years old, when I started finding albums like The Beatles, and The Stones, and The Doors and Jimi Hendrix, and all that music was hitting my head really hard and made me think that music was the most important thing in the world and the most powerful thing.

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"I was listening to records since I was ten years old, when I started finding albums like The Beatles, and The Stones, and The Doors and Jimi Hendrix, and all that music was hitting my head really hard and made me think that music was the most important thing in the world and the most powerful thing."

19 year old Gordon Raphael, around the time he played in band Medusa

Yes it is, I completely agree with you. 

So that’s why I wanted to do it, because it seems so important and so much fun to do.

Now that you mentioned when you starting playing, I read that you have had many different bands, which is so great. I learned that you were in this one band called Mental Mannequin and then you changed to another one called Color Twiggs I believe, am I correct?

Very good, I like hearing you say these band names! Not many people know about that, but that was the beginning of me writing music and going onstage and being the singer and the front man and making my music. It was a really fantastic experience, I have albums for both of those bands on the internet and some day I will release them.

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Pictures and Concept art of his band, Color Twiggs

How do you cope with change? How do you switch so fast between bands? As I’ve said before, you have been in many different bands so how do you manage switching musical styles so easily? Because for many musicians the end of a band feels like the end of the world, so how do you do it?

Well, the first time I got kicked out of a band it was heartbreaking, it was like breaking up with a girlfriend. It really broke my heart. The first time they said “no, you can't play with us anymore” and then I got my second band and went on for a little while and it just seemed natural to get to the next one, and the next one… sometimes it was like new styles in music would come along that would give me a new idea like, the difference listening to progressive rock where everything was very complicated and you had to be a very genius level musician and all of a sudden I saw Devo and The Ramones and suddenly you could play the simplest music and everybody still loved that so that was a new idea for me. So many times, a new idea would come and I wanted to follow the new idea to see what I could learn from it and the kind of music I would write in that idea, that’s why I changed bands so frequently. 

That's great, and I also think it’s quite fun to explore everything. It’s fun to explore every form of rock and roll.

That 's right, yes. And for me, everyone says “You are a guitar producer, you love guitars” and I go “Yeah, but I love synthesizers. I have a synthesizer collection” That’s my instrument that I know how to play the best, and they go “Oh! That's strange. Synthesizers and rock and roll? how does that go together?” and in my mind it goes together perfect.

After being so immersed in music, why did it take you so long to release music under your own name? 

Well, in the old days you had to have somebody, like some record label to discover you. And when I was growing up the only record labels were in Los Angeles and New York, and I lived in Seattle, so nobody was getting record deals or having to go on tour, it wasn’t until the grunge movement in the late eighties and early nineties that all the Seattle bands were getting signed and indeed, I was in Sky Cries Mary in Seattle and we got signed and we made seven albums and we toured all over the US and Canada. It was the beginning of a new phase for me where I was able to go into the world and play my music- a really great time. 

From what you wrote in your page, it seems like your time playing in Sky Cries Mary and Medusa really shaped you. What aspects from these experiences left a mark on you? 

Even though I was in many bands growing up, I struggled with music. I really was trying. In my heart I always wanted to play music but I wasn’t a master, I couldn't really do it with a flair, I didn’t have my own style, I didn’t have a lot of power, I was struggling. And when I joined Medusa, the music was very complicated and the guy who made the music, Brian Franer, instead of being a strict teacher and telling you like “you’re not doing it right, get out of here," instead said “let’s do it again” and he patiently waited with me while I learned. So, when I was in Medusa, I had the experience to go from somebody that struggled with music to somebody that could make a solo that was really good, and I recorded some parts on his song that sounded great with really cool sounds, and this was the beginning of a new confidence. So that was a very important time, and because of the confidence, I was nineteen years old, I started writing my own songs, and this is another thing that would change my life forever. Now I wanted to write my own songs for the rest of my life, this was a great beginning. 

With Sky Cries Mary, this was the first time I was getting paid by a record label and a publishing company, and I don’t have to have another job, I can just come home and work on my songs and go on tour and get paid for the concerts and buy equipment and make more music… so this was a very big thing of going into the world and finding some kind of connection with the people in the world other than myself.

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Gordon and friends and bandmates from Medusa, 1977

"Even though I was in many bands growing up, I struggled with music. I really was trying. In my heart I always wanted to play music but I wasn’t a master, I couldn't really do it with a flair, I didn’t have my own style, I didn’t have a lot of power, I was struggling. And when I joined Medusa, the music was very complicated and the guy who made the music, Brian Franer... patiently waited with me while I learned. So, when I was in Medusa, I had the experience to go from somebody that struggled with music to somebody that could make a solo that was really good...and this was the beginning of a new confidence."

What aspects that you print on your music are very characteristic of yours? 

I discovered a pathway into music that’s very unusual. I became so familiar with my keyboards and my guitar that I basically would sit by myself -and I’m very good at improvising- so, whatever comes to my mind is what I play. And so I never think of what I’m gonna do and plan it out, I just sit down and start playing whatever I want and in a few minutes some new idea comes to me from the air, completely from nowhere- there’s now a melody and I record this melody and I listen to it and go 'Oh, now I’m gonna make some space noises with my synths and add them to this melody, and I’m gonna make some terrible guitar sounds and add them on top, and now I’m gonna sing some words. What am I gonna sing? I don’t have any words on my mind, so I hold the microphone to my mouth and start singing words that come out, and suddenly there’s a story, there’s a song, and I didn’t do anything other than make things up a little at a time.' So, this idea of making a song without any plan and having it all just appear from nowhere in front of my eyes and my ears and having it finished on the recording, is my style, and that’s what I have been doing in a thousand songs. 

You recorded your album Sleep on the Radio in Argentina, why did you decide to record it there? 

Well, I have a very big love affair with Argentina. There’s something that happens when I go there that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world, like, I’m actually more known in Argentina than in New York, even Seattle. If I go to Seattle, where I grew up, and I walk down the street anytime, nobody will know me, and nobody will say hello. If I go to every New York restaurant up and down the street nobody will know me, Berlin, London… When I go to Buenos Aires everybody knows me there, the people that work in the shop, all the people in the bar, all the people down the street, I just have a great reaction there. For example, I lived in Berlin for fifteen years and I only played two shows, I go to Argentina for thirty days and I play twenty shows, and I had an art show and a photography exhibit in there, so it is really a ground zero place for me, and so I have two different bands in Argentina and I recorded both of them and I made an album of the two bands together, that’s why I did it, because I have the best time and I play more shows and they have great musicians there.

Since we are talking about Argentina, which is in South America, I wanted to ask your opinion on rock music made in Spanish. You’ve worked with bands that sing in Spanish, there’s even one from my country, Fobia. You’ve also recorded with Los Outsiders from Perú and Los del Sol. What’s your opinion on rock in spanish?

One of my favorite groups growing up was a rock band from Italy called Premiata Forneria Marconi, but they sang in English and they had such a strong Italian accent and I just fell in love- they sounded so romantic when they sing in English with this accent, so I learned how to love great music even though its not in my language that way. So, it’s like rock and roll is a universal language. They all want the drums to sound a certain way, and they wanna hear the guitar, and they wanna make a harmony, and they wanna add a tambourine, this is the same in Argentina, México, New York, Seattle… everywhere. So in a way, we speak the same language and sometimes it’s more difficult for me when I don’t understand the words that they’re singing to really be working with the singers the same way I would be working with an English speaker, when I say like 'I can’t hear that word, would you say it again?' so, I would have to rely on their band members and the singer to tell me when they need to do it again, or Rocco Posca, another phenomenal singer in Argentina that I recorded who sang only in Argentinian Spanish. 

Argentinians have a very particular accent, so yeah I understand you, I bet it’s not easy.

And so is the Madrid Spanish, it’s also very different. Barcelona and the Mallorca Spanish are different, Mexico is different, so it all works so nicely with music.

You have worked with bands in the studio but you also spend some time curating a club in London called The Basement. Many early shows of bands like Bloc Party and Regina Spektor took place, even your own band, so can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to curate the club? What exactly happened? 

First of all, did you know I wrote a book recently?

Yes I do! I also wanted to discuss some of that 

Okay! so, the whole story of how the club came about is in the book very clearly, but I’m gonna tell you. I moved to London in the year 2002 because it was the best place for The Strokes fans, and because I recorded The Strokes, London was like my playground. They loved me there because I did The Strokes record, and I met a sixteen year old guy named Toby L and, he’s very smart about the music industry and he knows all about London life, and so me and him started The Basement club together- so you can imagine me in my forties, a New York producer, working with a sixteen year old young guy from London, we were a team, and he’s got his eye on all of these young bands like Bloc Party. He said “They’re gonna be big, we’re gonna get them," “The Libertines, they're just starting out, we’re gonna get them” The Cribs, The Suttons… all of these UK bands, Toby knew them and got them to go to the club and when they heard I was part of the club, of course they wanted to come! So we were a team, and I think it ran for seven or eight years, it was a very great event.

The kid had a great ear for music! 

Yes! And now he’s a record label president, producer, manager, filmmaker, he’s done it all, he’s like a kingpin now in London and of course he developed that.

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NEW YORK CITY        2001

Collage by Gordon Raphael 

So now that you’ve started to talk about the book, there are some questions I want to ask, of course I’m not going to go very in-depth to avoid spoilers for people who want to read it. So first of all, how did the idea for the book emerge? 

Everywhere I went in the world for many years, in the quiet moments at lunch, or in between work, they all ask me the same question, they say: “Hey Gordon, what was it like working with Julian Casablancas?” or “How did you get that vocal sound?” or “How did you make the drum sound of Hard to Explain” Everywhere I go for twenty years I tell the same story, and so I knew one day I would probably write all these stories down in a book and people will be interested in it, but I didn’t think I would ever write the book because I don’t like to sit down, I don’t like to be by myself, I like to walk down and go to a coffee shop or record shop or go to the city. Well, when Covid came I had to stay home, and I didn’t have anything to do and I couldn't go to work, so what did I do? I said “Okay, maybe I should write that book now” and that’s the idea of the book, and the stories are stories I’ve told a million times to people and now everybody knows. 

The name of the book comes from when I met Regina Spektor, I didn’t know who she was, and a friend of mine introduced me, I said “Hi! What do you do?” She sat at the piano and she started to play Poor Little Rich Boy. I met her in two minutes, I said “Hello, How are you? What do you do?” and she sits down, she takes a drumstick from her purse, she starts hitting a chair with one hand and playing the piano with the other hand and singing these great words looking me straight in the eye, and I thought: Oh my god. The world is going to love this music. I have to record it right now. And so, that phrase, I wrote it in the story and my publisher saw it, and told me “This should be the name of your book.”

The book takes place in an eight year period, it starts with the end of grunge and the beginning of the rock and roll revival in the early 2000s. You talk about a very interesting time period. I don’t know if people recently started to notice this era again because some time has already passed and it covers a very interesting variety of music, and you know, there’s also this great book that talks about New York City called Meet me in the Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman, and people suddenly started to be drawn towards the NYC music scene, but they seem to forget that it was also happening in the UK. You talk about both, what’s your view on each music scene? 

My view is that the London scene made the New York scene happen. There really wasn’t the New York scene, there were some bands here and there, but the way that the London press wrote about it, the NME, was like “Go to New York and you will see The Strokes walking down the street, and here come the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and there’s Interpol having a beer with these guys…” They made it seem like rock n roll heaven, and it came true because they wrote about it, they printed it, it was very interesting. And of course I wrote a lot about the UK, and I live in the UK now because the UK also launched the grunge scene even though the music was from Seattle, the UK is the one that recognized it and it blew it up. They had Tad and Mudhoney go over there, they had Nirvana go over there when they were still playing small clubs in Seattle, they were touring in the UK, and also, Jimmy Hendrix. He was not doing well in the USA, and someone took him to the UK and instantly he had a great career overnight, literally overnight. There’s a very magical thing that happens between the US and the UK for rock and roll that I like to talk about a lot.

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What major undertones made each scene different?

Oh, that is very interesting… The culture. The culture is completely different and everything is completely different, for example, The Strokes could be getting a record deal and putting out a single and putting out the album and it takes a long time for the United States to catch up and go “Oh, there’s a band called The Strokes that makes cool music.” It’s very slow because there’s a lot of people that are like cowboys and farmers and all kinds of people who don’t really care for that kind of music. And in England or the UK, it’s a small territory, someone could play a concert and the next day it can be written about in the newspaper, everyone can be having their breakfast reading about something new that happened, and the idea spreads faster here, it can happen very fast and it always happens very slowly in the US, so I think that’s one thing: the speed and intensity. When you get the US to be your fan, there’s way more people and a lot more money, you can play more concerts and spend more time touring because it’s so big, but the speed is very cool in the UK. And also the experience growing up, and the way Americans talk and think is completely different from the way the British musicians talk and think. Just like young people in Mexico, you know? Their mind and possibilities and dreams and the way they do things is just different than someone in New York. Even in Argentina they think very differently from Mexico, Argentinians dream of coming to Mexico City to play their music, they dream to someday play a big concert, and also Mexican bands dream to play in Argentina. It’s funny how it works the same way and it’s very different.

"The Strokes could be getting a record deal and putting out a single and putting out the album and it takes a long time for the United States to catch up and go 'Oh, there’s a band called The Strokes that makes cool music.' ...In England or the UK, it’s a small territory, someone could play a concert and the next day it can be written about in the newspaper- everyone can be having their breakfast reading about something new that happened, and the idea spreads faster here... so I think that’s one thing: the SPEED and INTENSITY."

I understand that you live mixed the sound of the shows The Strokes made alongside The Vines and The Libertines, is that correct?

Well, the truth of the matter is that I went on the first tour of the Libertines in the UK, I was their sound man because they wanted me to produce their album so I went on tour to learn their songs and to do sound with them, and for part of the tour they were supporting the Vines, so I didn’t do the sound for the Vines, just the Libertines, and on that tour they also played two shows with the Strokes. 

How was it? Having those two bands together.

It was toxic.

Why!

A bad mixture. I don’t know why. There’s a story in my book, one of the best stories, I’m not gonna spoil it, but Pete Doherty asked me “Please Gordon, will you introduce me to The Strokes?” So I bring him into the dressing room and say “Hey everybody! this is Pete, he’s from a new band, the Libertines” and then I go outside for a few minutes and all of a sudden Pete is thrown out of the dressing room, he was kicked out of the dressing room and I don’t know why.

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The Libertines, c. 2002

So… I didn’t want to ask you much about the Strokes because, you know how press is, they always ask about them. But I find it almost impossible not to make at least a question.

I love the Strokes! I love them.

Me too! And,  people are always calling them rock and roll saviors. As it happens with many bands, people tend to make myths, so now I want an honest and objective opinion of the man who helped shape their sound. What's your take on the band that you saw rise?

I think people who make powerful music that builds your heart and blows your mind and makes you wear different clothes so that when you’re alone at home you put it on and you feel like you have a best friend- and it’s the record and it’s the songs-I think is worth mythologizing. Look over here for a second: I have vinyls, I have CDs, DVDs, record players, speakers, I have another set upstairs… all of those people are my mythological heroes, those Beatles and Bauhaus and Rolling Stones and Cocteau Twins and Kraftwerk, they’re all mythological, they’re all gods! They made the music that shaped my mind, so, without being religious about it, there is something beautiful about how an artist can go into our heart and make a little place to live there, and so it makes me happy that people think that way about the Strokes. It makes me very happy that people think highly of them and that they’re important and that they did something that changed the way that people make music, and how people dress and the way people talk and what they talk about in parties. All this stuff is beautiful and magical.

Did you go through the same sound mixing process or did you try to take a different direction while mixing their second record? 

We had a different studio, a bigger, more professional studio, but we really wanted to have the same kind of strokes. The Strokes' sound was new, they only had one album and people loved it and they didn’t want them to become a new band, they wanted to progress. They wrote some different songs but they wanted people to have the familiar Strokes sound also, so it is a combination of what elements do we keep. Both records have these in common: there’s no overdubs, there aren’t two guitars, everybody played one guitar, there’s no harmonies or double vocals, there’s no tambourines, there’s no backing vocals, they're just them on both records. Just the band playing and one guy singing. 

What’s your most beautiful memory of any of the studios? I mean the basement and the second one. What’s your most beautiful memory with the band?

Oh, I love that question! I know what it’s gonna be for Room on Fire. For Is This It, I guess there’s two things for that one, one is Albert Hammond Jr playing his guitar solo for Take It or Leave It, that just blew my mind! it was so great when it happened, I’ll never forget what I thought when I heard that for the first time, how powerful it was and how it hit my heart and mind so strongly. The second thing was Fab Moretti was so nice to me, and so friendly and so warm, almost cuddly, and I have a very strong memory of how beautiful and kind Fab was to me during the making of Is This It. Now for Room on Fire, Julian sat in a chair next to me when he sang all his parts, he didn’t go to the big room like before while I’m in the control room, he made everybody go away and he sat in a chair next to me and we both wore headphones, and he is like sitting right next to me, on my shoulder he’s right here, singing all the songs one by one for Room on Fire next to me, that was beautiful!

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"I think people who make powerful music that builds your heart and blows your mind and makes you wear different clothes so that when you’re alone at home you put it on and you feel like you have a best friend- and it’s the record and it’s the songs-I think is worth mythologizing."

Setup where the Strokes recorded Room on Fire, TMF Studios, NYC

From all the things that you’ve done in your career, both as a musician and as a producer, what do you feel the most proud about?

Wow. In a way I’m proud of so many things. I was watching the Strokes in Glasgow some days ago in front of fifty thousand people and I was on the stage looking at the people sing every word, even the guitar parts, every note of it and the vocals and I was like, Oh man, this is twenty one years later and it is like day one and people love it. This made me very very proud of everything. I think I’m also proud that I love music so much that I knew I needed to go into it even though it was hard at first and it wasn’t an instant success, something in my heart was calling me to do music and now here I am and I’m still doing music and working on my songs, and recording young bands and going to Glasgow to see the Strokes and I’m proud that music called me and took care of me.  

Will you release all your music?

I’m working on an idea right now of twenty one songs to come out very soon and very fast. I will release one song a week, they are my best songs, and after that I’ll release the album where those songs are from. 

Any band that you would like to suggest to our readers?

Yes! A few of them please

Yes of course.

I recorded an album for a band called Cab Ellis. They’re American, I recorded them in Seattle, they’re from LA and NY, phenomenal new music. I’m working with a British rock band called The Lounge Society who are from the village where I live, and I want everybody to hear that music. And one more, a band from Berlin called Ponte Pilas, with four musicians from Ecuador and one from Scotland and they all live in Berlin. Magic!

There are two bands I think you might like, but there’s a very high probability that you already know them, I’m almost sure it is impossible you don’t. The bands are Dry Cleaning and Fontaines DC.

Yes! I don’t know them yet but I tried to meet them in Glasgow cuz they played there, I went over to try to meet them but I couldn’t get to yet. And the band that I mentioned, The Lounge Society here in my town, they love Fontaines DC. I have seen videos of Dry Cleaning and they are amazing. 

Gordon, thank you so much for your time! It was so fun.

Thanks for having me in the magazine!

Epilogue 

As this article said on its very first line, Gordon Raphael deserves the title of rockstar extraordinaire. Most might assume the obvious, the title is due to his work in music, but the truth is it goes a little farther beyond that. It has its origins in his lively way of being, it goes back to what every musician is first of all: a music lover, a seeker, a curious soul.The true spirit of rock and roll has its origins on conviction, a quality Mr. Gordon Raphael possesses. True rock and roll comes from inclusion and energy, and most of all, of the balance between the fluctuating and the constant, and you must have guessed it right, Mr. Gordon Raphael has it. With a charisma like that of few and a generous openness, Gordon Raphael gives us creative and above all passionate work. He gives voice to the sounds of others and explores his own. This is not it for him, and after creating music that so many enjoy, the world already loves him.

Hey! Thanks for turning this then awkward twelve-year-old who felt totally uncool into a now totally new and loud seventeen-year-old. All she had to do was play take it or leave it on the record player!

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