The man, the myth, the legend–yes, we are talking about THEE Gordon Raphael. Producer, songwriter, and musician Gordon Raphael is known to stumble across iconic talents, such as The Strokes in a New York bar or Regina Spektor through word of mouth, and slingshot them into global sensations.
But recently, Gordon has been busy launching another unexpected rising artist onto a wider stage: himself.
Gordon has wasted no time in creating, producing, and prioritising his own creations; so mark your calendars, because Gordon’s new solo album, Sleep On The Radio, already has a release date: September 22nd, 2017!
Although Gordon says he loves producing, he notes that playing the guitar and writing songs is what he has always done. The Seattle-born artist clarifies that he is foremost a musician and songwriter.
Gordon has quite literally written over a thousand songs, but Sleep On The Radio is comprised of 12 numbers which he feels best captivates his lifetime of listening to music.
Among them is the single, View From Blue, which came to Gordon in a dream:
Intrigued by Gordon’s musical journey, we asked this luminary questions any musical connoisseur would want to know.
If being a songwriter and a musician have always felt most natural for you, how did you get so heavily involved in producing?
“There was a point where I had taken piano lessons for 10 years, but still I could not get it together to play music well! I was always getting kicked out of bands for being nervous with the rhythms and forgetting chords.
“I had this tremendous fire in me that felt that music was going to change the world and overthrow the oppressive government and social norms I was experiencing in the USA. I burned to write my own songs, but I truly could not put 15 notes on a page of paper without going into a rage and tearing it up the next day.
“At age 19 I joined a great band called Medusa in the scenic Skagit Valley near Seattle. The composer/bassist of that band, one Brian S. Phraner, took me in and literally worked with me until I was able to play my synthesisers and keyboards fairly well–he did that through hours of saintly patience!
“Then it totally dawned on me, if I could get in a room with all my keyboards, figure out how to use this tape machine thing, AND have no one was looking over my shoulder–observing my mistakes and experiments–then I’d learn how to write songs, sing, compose lyrics and even make crude parts on the electric guitar.
“When I was 20 I had the breakthrough I was looking for, and my first song was complete! From that day on, I literally tried to write one song per day. I learned how to create many layers of sounds and soon a bunch of cassette tapes were being filled with ideas and songs. My friends were seriously annoyed when I’d rush over, cassette in pocket and insist on showing them my latest inventive soundscape.
“I had never intended to use my recording techniques to work on other people’s songs, after all, I was maniacally busy obsessing in my own world of discovery and noises. After being in 30 bands, I moved to NYC in 1998 with Anna Mercedes Hadlock for our project called Absinthee.
“One year later I was literally down to NO money, as the costs of living in Manhattan were 10 times higher than where I had come from. Just as I was literally filling in job applications for supermarkets and clothing stores, a musician named Pamela Laws told me she’d heard about my recordings, and wanted to know if I would record her band. I said yes, and within 6 months I had musicians and bands coming into my studio (Chateau Relaxo) every day. This is how I fell into being a producer!”
Recently you have made a point to focus more on your own music. Are you planning on recording other acts still?
“I’m not a rock star yet, so I am grateful for all the bands and musicians that are still calling me for music production things!
“I worked with Hinds on their new album in March and recorded a cool band from Finland called New Silver Girl. I have been doing a ton of mixing for bands around the world this year. Usually, I do production work with 20 bands a year in one form or another, and so far, this is still the case.”
Would you say that a lot of your inspirations or ideas come to you in unconventional ways?
“How does inspiration come into a person? I guess mostly it comes from events and situations in life, that create a strong emotional response or love reaction inside of our beings! Heavy, right?
“If I am lucky enough to hear a song that blows my mind, whether at a show, on a car radio, while shopping–I always have to rush and find out what it is, and who is doing it. I have been collecting moments like that since I was about 10 years old.
“Maybe I’m a bit unconventional in that, films, poetry, books, paintings, clothing, hairstyles, acts of kindness, people, children (yes, I know children are just smaller people!), pottery and architecture can really inspire me intensely. In many ways, receiving an inspiration is probably one of my favourite parts of life, and I am happy to report that it still happens frequently.
“As for my own musical ideas, I like to invent sounds on old analogue synths and then let the sounds tell me what the story is going to be. I can also start off with a drumbeat or snippet of words. Then, if those really hit me, a song can be born and completed pretty quickly.
“In my engineering, mixing and producing, I am always looking for excitement, impact, imagination and fun. Working with the bands and singers to achieve this is incredibly interesting and satisfying.”
What would be your biggest piece of advice to anyone aspiring to enter the music world? Is it possible to have a balanced work life as a producer or a musician?
“Ha! A balanced work life, or a balanced life for that matter, is an elusive alchemy! I think we are alive each day primarily to have time to improve this equation so that balance can be achieved. A balance for one person is an insanity to another, this I have truly discovered.
“So achieving a balance just means you make time to do the things you are most interested and involved in. A lot of work related stuff, especially in music, is finding a road in which you are making the real music of your soul and heart, being completely and honestly excited by what you are creating- and then “happy accidents” (synchronicity) occur so that your inner imagination can co-exist in the outer world.
“We must find a way to eat healthy food and get enough sleep to have time and space to build your personal masterpieces! The only advice I have to give is that, if you really feel what you are developing, or making, is amazing and enflames your being, then don’t pay too much attention to those forces around you that are trying to stop you, belittle you, or tell you that “it’s hard to make it!”. Those are the voices of fear, and sometimes the voices of anger from those who gave up on their dreams.”
How would you describe your album, Sleep On The Radio? How do you think people will interpret it in comparison to how you yourself interpret it?
“Great question…really! I think of this album as a collection of some of the best songs I have ever made–a few of which have truly been with me for most of my life!
“I think it’s adventurous, containing parts that are nasty and aggressive, with moments of beauty and expansiveness. There’s some poetry in the lyrics, and the authentic part of all of this is that it came out of my imagination!
“Some songs are throbbing with wa-wa, fuzzed out, trippy guitars, while others have plastic string synthesisers and electronic melodies. So maybe fans of modern music might baulk at the intensity of the guitars, and the rockers may cough when they hear the Arp Odyssey synthesiser space-outs.
“The main thing is, I actually think that these songs have enough power and identity and attitude, that they are going to find love in the world and resonate with people’s minds, ears and hearts!
Tell us about working with The Strokes. What made them so exciting from a sonic perspective?
“I loved my times working with The Strokes, and there isn’t a day passing without someone saying something about those albums. I will never get tired of that, a real blessing.
“I learned quickly during the album sessions for Is This It, that they were five musicians and one guru who were all listening closely as if their life depended on it. They were all so extremely intelligent and had a lot to say about every moment of the music while it was happening.
“In the two main albums (and EP) I worked on with them, Julian had written most of the parts and the songs. As such, there is a freaky composer ability being shown in the way the songs are built. Most rock songs have chords and melodies, but those albums seem to have melodies on top of melodies, as in counterpoint. Vocals, bass, both guitars and drums all playing melodically!
“Sonically, since there was so much to showcase in the actual parts the band was playing, it was absolutely NOT necessary to double anything or ADD anything whatsoever! It was not done. There are no harmony vocals, no tambourines and no special guests!
“At the time, producers were all going crazy over the 64 audio tracks available in computer recording (Pro Tools). To look at The Strokes songs from Is This It, you only see 9 or 11 tracks being used on every song. People around the world could not believe this sound.
“Many young people had only grown up with glossy overblown examples of rock/guitar music and (rightly) hated it. Suddenly, this trim fighting sound comes out, and it really spread quickly. I remember many reviews at the time saying that I (as producer/engineer) had no idea what I was doing and sounded like someone that didn’t know how to use the microphones properly!
“I still get emotional when a song from those records comes on somewhere.”
For those of you who might be asking, “Is this it?” – pun intended – the answer is no, this is only the beginning for musical visionary Gordon Raphael. Gordon’s resiliently optimistic, big-picture frame of mind, is something that has clearly inspired, and will continue to inspire, anyone who listens.