Q & A: Producer Ross Robinson

Ross Robinson’s Public Pursuit of Intimacy

By Devon Wendell

Last week, I met with legendary rock/alternative producer Ross Robinson and the band Repeater at his studio/compound in Venice California. Over the past two decades, Robinson has produced such notable artists as The Cure, Korn, Slipknot, At The Drive In, Glassjaw, Norma Jean, and dozens of others. This Zen-Like craftsman is currently lending his expertise to a young group from Long Beach, Repeater (Steve Krolikowski, guitar, vocals, Alex Forsythe,guitars, Victor Cuevez, bass, Rob Wallace, keyboards, Matt Hanief, drums). The band has access to Robinson’s home and studio while recording their sophomore album. Together, Robinson and the group have formed White Label Collective, an independent company allowing artists more creative freedom from outside sources. Robinson has also teamed up with Ustream.TV, giving Internet fans a rare behind-the-scenes view of Robinson and the group during all phases of production.

rrobinson with repeater
Repeater with Ross Robinson

DW: How were you first introduced to Repeater’s music?

RR: They sent me a friend request on Myspace.

DW: You’ve worked with some of the most innovative groups in the rock/alternative world such as The Cure, Korn, Slipknot, and many more. What was it about Repeater that got your attention?

RR: The open feeling of raw emotion. I always like that.

DW: How would you categorize Repeater’s music, or do you dislike those labels?

RR: I’m stripping away a lot of influence and pushing hard to get actual personality to breathe as new life being born through intense inquiry of the lyrics through each player. This works like a charm but it takes guts.

DW: There are some particularly fine lyrics on Repeater’s tracks; “Killing Without Question,” “Some Girls Leave,” and “Carved in Shadow.” Do you think younger music lovers are less focused on that aspect of the music?

RR: No. If you feel the truth that speaks to your deep inner voice, you listen. This band has some issues to deal with.

DW: What would you say is your main objective with White Label Collective?

RR: The objective is to rise up and show more strength through giving back to what makes my day amazing — music.

DW: From my experience, most producers are very closed and private during recording sessions, but with your current partnering with Ustream. TV, you’re inviting millions of people to witness the entire process online. Can you explain your motives behind this and does it ever make you feel overly exposed or self-conscious?

RR: Motives? Get the music out there, and it’s not me that people see. It’s the process of me working to get the core source behind the players’ minds to play the instruments. I keep my image separate and focus on the vibe.

DW: A lot of producers are set on making their own presence known on a project. Do you find it hard to walk that fine line between bringing out a musician’s unique sound and putting your own distinct production stamp on a recording?

RR: If fire is my stamp, great! That’s all I want to feel, the sonic is so not important. I’m purposely working to see God through the fire in the players’ tracks.

DW: You’ve always been willing to take risks as a producer. Do you find that with the economic pinch bringing many major record labels down or in dire straights, that there is more freedom to make bolder moves as you are doing with White label Collective and Ustream TV?

RR: Nothing is different for me except that I work harder now with my own studio at my house. My choices were to always go against the obvious and be competitive with whatever was manufactured and popular — to try to bring in something different and inspired.

DW: Along with Ustream TV, you are very much involved with “social networking,” Myspace, online blogging, etc. Do you find that the anarchy that exists in those mediums gets in the way of selling a band’s product? Or does open up more avenues?

RR: It’s still chaotic, let’s see what happens!

DW : Now that artists are having to work harder independently, having to think of packaging, sales, budgets, and those “non-creative elements,” do you feel that it’s hurt the music or added some great, fear-driven edge?

RR: “Fear- driven edges” = major labels needing hits to feed more fear, while holding on to nothing, as fear driven bands say “Yes!” to some very sick and insane people who never tried to play an instrument. I think it’s great, It gives fearless honesty a huge window to shine! The people will show up to help if you’re great. That’s just the law of the universe. Greatness also needs the clarity to ask for help.

DW: If you hear another Radiohead rip-off band, will you be forced into early retirement?

RR: I will be forced to still not care about them.

DW: Many of the groups you’ve worked with such as The Cure, Korn, Slipknot, and now Repeater are delightfully bleak to a certain degree. Does this say something about your own personality?

RR: I guess I relate love with tragedy, woo hoo!

DW: There’s seems to me to be a “drone” element to a lot of your work. Is that intentional?

RR: Really? Weird! Cool!

DW: Would you ever venture outside of the Alternative/Rock genre and work
with say a jazz, hip-hop, or klezmer music band?

RR: Yes, with pleasure.

DW: Aside from producing, you’re also considered to be an A&R person. There seem to be a lot of negative connotations associated with those words today. Why do you think that is?

RR: My thing is to simply find bands I would like to be in and help them get released. I have nothing to do with pimping out bands and turning them into jaded, fear-driven prostitutes.

DW: What do you look for in new artists?

RR: The feeling of “YES!” inside my body.

DW: Do you find that rock music as a whole has become less self indulgent, like maybe we’re finally past the days of the 20 minute guitar solo?

RR: I don’t know, let’s see. It’s in between phases right now.

DW: Do you insist on doing most of the engineering on a recording project yourself?

RR: No, budget does.

DW: I know one of the many challenges for producers is reaching that point of finality, whether it’s during the pre- or post-production phase. There’s that impulse to want to keep exploring. Is it ever hard for you to say “Okay, that’s perfect” and step away?

RR: No, it’s easy to know when to stop. I just know without knowing what it’s going to end up being. It’s leaving it up to the song to decide rather than myself. Kind of woo woo-ish.

DW: What were some of the first recordings that made you want to become a producer?

RR: The Beatles, early ZZ Top, Eagles, etc, and tons of metal.

DW: Did you start out as a performer?

RR: I was a thrash metal guitar player and a full-on Beavis.

DW: Where do you see the record industry in five years from now?

RR: Making more money than ever before through the same source that is making it bigger than ever before. I love this cleansing process, It gives clarity. But the detox can be a little painful.

DW. Thanks for your time Ross and your insights. It’s been a real pleasure.

4 thoughts on “Q & A: Producer Ross Robinson

  1. Great interview! I love both the questions and the answers. Both informative and innovative. Also an in depth discussion and look into the life of such an amazing producer! Wish I was there to witness it! LOL


  2. It’s obvious you put in the time to ask provocative questions and thats what makes this style of review interesting.
    Keep up the good work, man.

    Like to meet this Ross Robinson cat in the alley of the backstreet scene moving to Main Street or staying hip & cool, like a song I wrote once, “Outside The Walls of Rome!


  3. Great website and great information. You are very knowledgeable about this topic and i can’t wait until we come back and visit your website again!


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