Gordon Raphael is a musician and record producer best known for his work on The Strokes’ ‘Is This It’ and ‘Room On Fire’, plus Regina Spektor’s debut ‘Soviet Kitsch’.
As a visiting lecturer for BIMM Berlin, Gordon helped our students to record and produce the BIMM Berlin Album, as well as delivering some sessions and working with some of the students as artists in their own right.
We caught up with Gordon to find out more about his latest ‘Fuzz-Rock Elektro’ track ‘The Big Stuff’, his life in Berlin and what advice he would give to those wanting to go into his field.
BEHIND THE SCENES OF ‘THE BIG STUFF’
What was the inspiration behind your track? I’d just started living in London, and bought a little recording studio to put in my bedroom. In a very short time I had a whole new circle of friends, and I wanted to show them ‘what I was made of’ as a songwriter and musical performer.
What did your songwriting process involve? There was a fantastic second hand musical instrument shop up my street called Blue Audio Visual. Every time I went in there, I found some little gem that I would bring home to explore. One day I discovered the Novation Drum Station, and a Japanese-made Fender Jazzmaster guitar. ‘The Big Stuff’ was written while spontaneously trying to learn about these two instruments. First I made the relatively simple, hypnotic drumbeat and then I rocked out a few transitive guitar. The third step was to try to turn the piece upside down by adding highly mechanical sequencer action and synthesiser sounds. The final action was to set up this new Rode NT1 condenser microphone and improvise some strange poetry over the top. When it was finished, I considered it quite charming, and so I’m happy to share it now.
What do you do differently to other bands and producers? One of the things I do differently to many bands is that I record all the parts myself on most of my songs. I like the freedom of working by myself, and I’m able to concentrate and be spontaneous and inventive – and very present within the moments of music. I also try to use improvisation and stream of consciousness techniques as much as I possibly can. It’s very rare for me to have any kind of ideas before I start recording something.
Have you channelled any artist in particular on this track? A little bit of The Psychedelic Furs vocally… mixed with T. Rex and Kraftwerk… in my dreams.
LIFE, BERLIN and MUSIC ADVICE
What’s the best bit of music advice you’ve been given?
The brilliant Berlin-based music producer Moses Schneider once challenged me not to use reverb or delay on any songs for one year. At first I was completely outraged thinking “how the hell am I supposed to make things sound as big as the Grand Canyon and like they’re floating in outer space without those effects?”… but I took his challenge and that’s where I discovered room mics and compression to create a sense of space that’s more transparent and more useful in the mix.
What advice would you give to students who are wanting to head in the same direction as you?
I think the main thing that helped me, looking back, is that I was very focused on the music and creative art that inspired me the most. I only wanted to explore techniques, lyrics and sounds that really spoke to me. Even when people told me not to get too focused on one thing, or to prepare a ‘Plan B’, or even to try and learn to make music that sounded like which was already popular, I just didn’t want to! So my advice is to be honest with yourself, and spend your time developing the skills and processes you believe will take you towards where you want to go.
In your experience working with BIMM Berlin, what is the advantage of studying there?
The administration and the teachers are all from the world of music, so it’s like being around creative people all the time, and they understand where you’ve been and where you want to go. Not only that, but they can all play and sing really well!
Photography: Marco Magnago and Kelly Mercier
Link to Track: