Rick Rubin tells about his love of Tuscany and how he met Jovanotti
A colloquio con il produttore musicale più importante degli ultimi 30 anni
In the midst of a white and soft cloud of long and thin hair and of a beard falling down to his chest are two amazing mountain lakes, calm and piercing, which you will hardly forget. It’s the Rick Rubin effect, by a living legend of music. A record producer halfway between a guru and an entrepreneur, an uncommon human specimen in Italy, which has the climate, wine and the hills in common with California, where Rubin lives for a long time, but not that kind of understatement. He makes himself comfortable on a sofa of the JK Place, sipping a cup of spicy coffee which Claudio Meli, the hotel’s GM and his Tuscan guardian angel, prepared for him and, barefoot, he starts talking as if he were the high-school pal you haven’t seen in years: he knows everything about you and listens to you. This is Rick Rubin, who works with artists like a psychoanalyst would, identifying the weaknesses to overcome and the strengths to embrace, with an incredible instinct, manic attention to details and legendary powers of persuasion.
He’s the man who in the early eighties sensed the potential of rap working with the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and Run-DMC, but he also collaborated with artists from all genres: Black Sabbath, Metallica, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Mick Jagger, Sheryl Crow, Adele, Kanye West, Justin Bieber and many more. Red Hot Chili Peppers is the band he worked with the most, but he went down in the history of music by collaborating with Johnny Cash in the nineties on the American Recordings series of albums, which revitalized the country music icon’s career. The only Italian artist who crossed his path is Lorenzo Jovanotti, for whom he produced the latest album Oh Vita!, recorded one year ago in the outskirts of Florence.
Is that when you succumbed to the charm of Tuscany?
We were staying at Villa Le Rose, and every morning I went outside and toured the countryside around Siena, a fun adventure which allowed me to find my buen retiro.
Do you remember your first time in Italy?
Ah, let me see, the first time I came was, maybe twelve years ago, something like this… I was visiting friends, riding around the Amalfi Coast, Capri. I had never really felt a connection with Europe before, I’d spent time in London and I liked Paris a little more than London, but I didn’t want to be there anyway…and Rome, I loved it, but it was too big and crowded and busy.
And in Florence?
Seven years ago. That’s when I felt like: “Oh, I’ve found my home”, this place is like home. At first, the plan was to stay in the designer Ermanno Scervino’s house for a month, but after being there for a few days, I didn’t have a car and the work that I was doing was in short bursts, so I had all day and I’d never spent time here before and I thought: “It might be better to be staying in town instead of going there for the amount of time I have to work, and see Florence”. And that’s why I went to the JK for the first time.
What do you love most about Florence?
I like material things: crafts, fabrics, colors, style, which are harder to find in the USA. I like details and taste which, when you think about it, are related.
What is your favorite Italian song?
Volare by Domenico Modugno. I love Italian melodies.
Where did you meet Lorenzo?
In Sicily, at the Google Event. Actually, I wasn’t invited to the event, I was with a friend. Brilliant people who change the world spoke. The first person who performed and spoke was Lorenzo Jovanotti. I didn’t know Lorenzo, but that day we became friends. Two years later, he came to the United States to play songs for me and I told him his music wasn’t good, two years were necessary to make the music good, and that’s what happened. Lorenzo has a great soul. I’m proud to have met him, he made my life better.
Do you ever think about what the audience wants?
Never, in my artistic decision the audience comes last. I do my best and hope. I can’t read anybody’s mind. When I create something, I hope people will like it, but I don’t change anything just to please the audience. Changes made just to please an audience are only popular for one season.
Your best professional quality?
I listen to the artists a lot and I don’t impose myself on them. I want to bring out the best in them.
And your worst quality?
I feel down sometimes, not in a good mood. If I’m not in a good mood and an artist wants me to listen to new songs, I may not be able to think clearly, I have to pay attention to do my job in the best way.
Is there someone who truly changed your life?
It was a doctor who suggested meditation when I was 14 years old. The biggest influence on my life was meditation. It was like a magnifying glass to see, feel, hear what others didn’t. Everything in my life has happened by chance. I was exposed to rap at NYU (New York University). I came to Florence for business and I fell in love with this city. The situation shows me the path to follow and I follow… I don’t feel any control on the situation, it’s like “ I’m surfing the riding wave”.
You are a living legend of music. How can you be so successful and keep your feet grounded at the same time?
My work is devotion, a spiritual practice, an offering to God. What has to be done is our very best. Commercial interests don’t count. When I was young, I never thought music could be my job. I imagined I would be using money from a job to get music. I believe in myself, without expecting anything in particular. Whatever is happening “inside” allows me to do my job.