A Guest Session With Legendary The Strokes Producer Gordon Raphael

Posted by Sylvia Gozdek on 6/12/2016 in Catalyst

We recap all the wisdom our Guest Session with legendary producer of The Strokes, Gordon Raphael.

When asked about his musical stylings, legendary producer of The Strokes, Gordon Raphael said he had a “wide range” encompassing everything from “cat food commercials to dog food commercials.” It was obvious that he’s a funny dude, but what you might not know is that he originally planned to become a star.

However, the music world had a different career in mind. We invited him to dBs Berlin [now Catalyst] for a guest lecture to hear about his rise to producer demigod status, his love of synthesizers, and share some stories of working with The Strokes.

Gordon finished his very first song back in January of 1980, and he hasn’t stopped since. On the docket for his visit was sharing some of this lesser known work. The first one of these was a recording he completed in his home-town of Seattle on an 8 (or 16) track tape recorder. It was played by a university radio station, comically titled I sleep on the radio, and is still considered a work-in-progress by Gordon.

The second track was a collaboration between Regina Spektor and Julian Casablancas from The Strokes. Recorded on a farm on the outskirts of Seattle, Gordon was actually trying to sell the band on the studio located there for their next record. His description of the event was quite picturesque: they sat together in a field with a dog between them. This atmosphere was nicely juxtaposed by the punky spirit of the third track he shared from a band called The Satellites who hail from the island of Majorca. Each of the pieces reflected his appreciation of a “rebellious spirit of discovery,” which we here at dBs Berlin [now Catalyst] definitely vibe with.

His career got started via word of mouth. While living in New York a young woman approached him and asked if he recorded things, to which he responded yes. From there he got lucky with an amazing living/working arrangement where he had access to high quality studio equipment and was able to charge clients minimal rates. Once he stumbled upon The Strokes, he basically never had to ‘look’ for work again. The success they would go on to achieve together wasn’t something Gordon predicted either. In his mind, and based on what the music industry looked like at that time, people didn’t want to listen to guitar music anymore. According to him, being wrong is something you have to reckon with every now and then when working with creative minds and the ideas for their projects.

It was interesting to hear about his ethos as a producer, in that he is a firm believer in listening very intently to what the musicians want their music to sound like. “It’s very rare that what someone from a band wants, sounds bad,” is something he took away from working with Julian on his signature voice effect for their demo. Before working with The Strokes, Gordon was deep into industrial sounds and tended to maximise distortion. This style didn’t fly with Julian however, because he was looking for something more akin to “worn-in blue jeans.” Gordon’s drive to be an intentful collaborator was greatly rewarded and we should all be thankful because this kind of a mindset is pretty divine.

Guest Session cheat sheet

If you don’t have time to hear the full lecture above, definitely check out these highlights:

  • 0:02:32 – I sleep on the radio
  • 0:07:50 – Regina and Julian
  • 0:12:44 – The Satellites
  • 0:58:00 – First time he got fired
  • 1:04:00 – Future plans
  • 1:09:40 – Preferences for analog vs. digital
  • 1:13:30 – General geeking out about synths