What does a record producer do, anyway? The answer: it depends. Some are really hands-on, helping the artist re-writer and/or re-arrangement the material into something more coherent and commercial. Others are more chill. Rick Rubin (Slayer, Chili Peppers, Weezer and a billion more) falls into that latter category.
Fader has this conversation with whom they call “music’s greatest vibes manager.”
About 15 miles into Malibu’s advertised “27 miles of scenic beauty,” the Pacific Coast Highway bends to the right and delivers you to storied Zuma Beach, a Southern California landmark namechecked in songs by The Rolling Stones and Leon Ware. A little up the hill, overlooking Zuma’s white sand and dazzling blue ocean, is Shangri-La, the musical headquarters of producer Rick Rubin. The studio was originally built in the mid-1970s by The Band and Bob Dylan, and the bus they once used to tour the country is still parked in the grass, its insides turned into an auxiliary recording space. Rubin bought Shangri-La in 2011 and had nearly every surface painted white, save for the pastel pink tile countertops in the kitchen and bathroom.
Shangri-La seems to be a perfect fit for 52-year-old Rubin at this stage of his career. The hirsute, leather-jacketed Long Islander who started Def Jam from his NYU dorm room, brought a traditional pop song structure to hip-hop, and served as a bad influence on the Beastie Boys is now 30 years older. These days, Rubin walks around shoeless in a white T-shirt and black shorts that don’t make it to his knees, his long hair completely bleached out by age and hours spent in the Pacific Ocean. He is tanned and tranquil in his isolation.
Before he settled in Malibu, Rubin had produced music for acts including Slayer, Johnny Cash, Jay Z, Tom Petty, the Dixie Chicks, and Justin Timberlake. More recently, under Rubin’s stewardship, Shangri-La has hosted sessions for superstars like Eminem and Black Sabbath. His work as the executive producer of Kanye West’s Yeezus, where he helped reduce several sprawling hours of material into a minimalist 10-track album under severe time constraints, has brought him a new wave of notoriety. He’s continued to work with developing artists along with legends—recently, he hosted James Blake for the first album the singer will record largely outside of his home studio.
Rubin is a nontraditional producer.
Yeah, no kidding. Keep reading.