Walking through the drum room, we enter a large garage filled with motocross bikes and then a full, working auto shop stacked high with gear prominently featuring Robinson’s name and endorsement. This is a side of Robinson most people don’t get to see. He climbs on a bike and stares straight at me. “I know why I’ve been put here on this planet,” he says, gripping the throttle of the bike. “I’m here for the sole purpose of reminding these artists why they do what they do. I’m here to light a fire under their asses so that they create the medicine their listeners need. I am an instrument for that exact purpose.”

He is absolutely right. It is quite rare to find anyone who has even an inkling of why they were thrown onto this stone, but before me stands a man who not only knows his purpose but fulfills his destiny by gripping the throttle with everything he’s got and accelerating to the max—criticism, self-consciousness, and doubt be damned. I’m suddenly grateful that he has created the body of work he has. I feel lucky that in the shameful, misdirected, confused world of the music business, here stands a man who remembers that the purpose of art is to feed hungry souls. It is at this moment that I feel lucky that there is a Ross Robinson.


It seems that everyone who creates music has some other passion outside of the musical realm, and for you, it is obviously motocross. What do you think is the correlation between riding and producing?

Well, moto is a lifestyle that only a person in that field would fully understand. It’s all family-oriented;  you can’t do drugs and get all wasted to do it—unless you have a death wish, and there are certainly people in both moto and music who have a death wish. I think it’s all about knowing what it’s like to go over the handle bars off a 75-foot hit, knowing that you’re going to crash and that there’s nothing you can do about it. You learn not to panic and you actually get used to it. It’s a level of definite surrender, and that concept of surrender is what I crave in music. Motocross is just as violent and beautiful and connecting as music. It’s gravity and it’s earth.

I also love that there’s no click track on motocross and there’s no drum grids on dirt bikes. The best riders on earth make mistakes and that’s a direct correlation to music. These musicians get paid and they have all of their toys and objects that they’re so concerned about and they forget why they’re here, who they are and what they’re supposed to be doing.

        I think the greatest thing about motocross is that you are holding on to this bike for your dear life, dodging obstacles and leaping through the air at high speeds and all to win a piece of plastic--a plastic fucking trophy. I’ve broken so many bones that people think I’m crazy to even get back on a dirt bike. But it’s like, Am I not going to risk loving so that I can stay safe? Am I going to risk closing my heart up as a musician to maintain an image and a safe outcome? These are the things I’m able to give to musicians—an insanely extreme, safe place of comfort to open up their soul as if their life depended on it. Living every second for that music--breaking ribs to pour every ounce of themselves into a vocal booth and out onto a record. And all for a little piece of plastic.


Bands that you’ve produced have told us that you make them sit down and explain the purpose of each song and each lyric. Explain this process.

I use my mom Byron Katie’s methods for the most part with that. (Check her out at www.thework.com). Basically, I know how to do some serious mental surgery. I get in deeper and deeper and pull out the reality of it. When you hate someone, you hate yourself, when you love something, you love yourself. I find that in the bands and I find it in their songs. I’ve gotten really good at finding the “self” in the projection that the person is creating as their image, and a big way to do that is to expose my stuff first. It’s pretty fucking brutal.


And does that drain you pretty badly?

Every single time. But it’s the music they make that builds me up again.


You’re known for invoking and embracing anger and emotion from bands. There’s lots of stories about you smashing drums and throwing things at your artists as they record. What’s that all about?

It’s all about craving from the depths of my being. When you see your favorite band live, you feed off of that energy for days or even months. But when you listen to their albums, a lot of times, you’re like, “Eh, another boring studio performance.” Sometimes musicians need to feel certain things to emote, and a lot of times, that thing will come out with a little coercing. So sometimes it comes in the form of an object being thrown at their head while they’re tracking.


What was one of the most intense moments you’ve had in the studio?

When I recorded The Cure, they flew me out to England, brought me into their studio, and hired me to record their album. The pre-production sessions went well, but when they actually started playing the first song for me, I stopped them after the first three or four bars. I just exploded. I looked them all in the eye and yelled, “Who the fuck do you think you are?” These guys are music icons and easily one of the greatest bands in the history of the world, and they just stared at me. I yelled, “You guys are my favorite fucking band of all time, of all eternity, but these guys standing in front of me are not it. What the fuck? Stand the fuck up. Are you too legendary to spill yourself into your music now?” I pointed at Robert [Smith] and said, “Look at this guy, look at this fucking guy.” He was just standing there with his cobweb hair and his ruby red lipstick. He’s just lived, born, breathed, and died Robert Smith and I thought he had lost that hungry pulse.

So you feel that your dharma as a producer is to make the musicians drop their assumed pretentiousness and remember why they started making music in the first place?

That’s all I do. That is the most important thing to me—for people to reach through what we see and feel and into the fourth dimension so they can grab the expression of “it” and shoot it out of their chests. And when they do that, it’s not your ears that hear “it,” something else does, something way more important. And it’s at that point that your soul says “Yes! Thank you!” or “I remember now—I’ve been here before!” When you hear someone give it up and really, really, really be honest, the world just falls down to it’s knees and says, “Thank you.” And it is my job to make that happen on every record I produce.


So at what point do you know that you’ve captured “it”?

Goose bumps. Chills. Trembling. There’s been times when I’ve been copping vocals and I’ll just burst into uncontrollable tears, just sobbing because, ugh, it’s just so powerful. I just know it’s going to happen to people listening to it, too. When they stop listening to it, those moments don’t just go away from them—they stay with them.


Exactly. And I would assume that those not so in tune with that dimension of emotion feel it, too. I would imagine that it would be even more gratifying to hit them with it.

Definitely. We’re hypnotized into believing in objects and our image and our need and want. This is an attempt to break people out of the trance that we’ve all been put in and make them remember who and what they are and where they came from.


So do you have to be relentless with some artists to get them to that place?

It turns into a war! I’ve worked with some people who are just blocked and no matter what I say, they’re going to go off and do their blow and get shut down even more. They’re so huge and famous that it frightens the shit out of them. That is when we go into battle, and I haven’t lost a war yet.


So how does the process go from the moment the band walks into your studio?

Well, we set up and get right into pre-production. The bands have been moving into my house with me, which is great because we live together and we experience everything together for the time that they are here. Then we start working on one song at a time. The song is never the riff or the beats, it’s what you’re giving. Then we start getting into the purpose: Why did you write this? Why are you here with me? People don’t realize what their life’s purpose is, but while they’re here, they’ll fulfill it, at least for a moment.

The producer was still gazing into the distance, so lost in thought that for a moment, I regretted my pitiful attempt at small talk. Finally, he spoke.

“It’s cool, man, but to be honest, it’s all very temporary,” he said. “We don’t take this stuff with us when we go, so I just enjoy it while I have it. But it’s really nothing that I freak out about.” I could tell this visit was going to be different, and I smiled.

Ross Robinson is one of the most groundbreaking producers of the past 20 years. He has a reputation for being a lawless orchestrator in the studio, throwing drumsets, guitars—anything he can get his hands on—at his clients. This may not seem impressive until you realize that his clients have been some of the past century’s most influential musicians.

Robinson’s tireless quest to wring every last bit of emotion from his artists has created some of the most unique and honest sounds in rock and metal. This is the man who sparked the explosion of nu-metal and left it behind just before it became commercial and cheesy. He then went on to impact post-hardcore and progressive-experimental rock while still allowing his roster to grow in many shades of abstract. This is a man who never checks the Billboard charts, radio, the social compass, or the fame of his clients. This man is pure integrity and unbridled intention. In other words, this man is powerful.

“Please feel comfortable in my house,” says Robinson as we explore the bedrooms and immense art on the walls. He thinks for a moment and turns to his staircase. “Cedric and Omar of the Mars Volta came here to record At The Drive In’s Relationship of Command, and they got so weirded out by the scale of this place. It was like their perception of me immediately changed upon arriving and it made them retreat inside their shells,” he begins. “Without them saying anything, I figured out what was going on and said, ‘Come on fellas, it’s just me—this is just my house.’ That didn’t work, though, so I did what I had to do: I just started hocking loogies down the spiral staircase. I must’ve spit over most all of my house before they realized my intention and came out of their shells.” We all laugh, assuring him that we can skip that treatment, and then make our way through the rest of the tour.

We get down to the studio on the ground level and check out the endless gear, including the impressive equipment that mixed down The Cure’s comeback album and the vocal booth where Darryl Palumbo and Corey Taylor spilled their guts while screaming their lyrics as Robinson stood by, conducting. The energy in the room is electric.

Holy shit. How did they react to that?

The bassist, Simon (Gallup), threw his bass on the ground and stormed out of the room, and the rest of the band said “fuck this” and left, too. It was scary for me, but I’m not going to change my ways or my being because of somebody’s celebrity. Robert stuck around, though—he got it. He really, really opened up and gave all of himself to me. He is amazing, he was directing things and keeping things together. He knew what I was doing, and he knew that I was love and not hate.


And how did the rest of the band end up responding to your techniques?

They responded so well. They got it eventually, but the band kinda hated me. They gave me some bad press and stuff. I didn’t take any offense, though—it was just a reaction of the ego. I was just this crazy, younger, American “Beavis” who came in their studio and tore them up until they decomposed into what they really were, what they used to be.


Did you ever get physical with The Cure?

Oh, man—I would just grab a lit candle in the middle of a song and chuck it against the wall and it would just explode all over their expensive, vintage gear. I must’ve chucked about a hundred fiery candles at them through the process, but the more violent I was, the better they would play. I had to get pretty ugly to get them to that place, but that’s a sacrifice I was willing to make. I no longer have an ego to be tarnished.


Were you able to sidestep being starstruck even though they were your favorite band of all time? You never pinched yourself, or backed away from your normal tactics?

No. I needed to feel something from that place they had found, and I know there were millions of Cure fans who needed that place, too. When we get comfortable, like “been there, done that,” we forget. The intention of something that huge, as huge as The Cure,  needs to be intact. My whole purpose for being here in this life is to pour gasoline on that intention and light it on fire so everybody can feel its warmth.


It seems like that “hunger” you’re speaking of typically comes out easier in bands that are either younger or desensitized to the game of celebrity. Do you think that any band at any stage can feel that hunger?

Everybody has the potential to become either Hitler or Gandhi at any moment. That hunger never leaves us because it was here long before we existed and will be here long before we are gone. We just borrow it. Just one person can change the face of the Earth— one. And the fact that most people don’t understand that is the most ignorant thing I could possibly imagine. We all have that power, and because of that, there is nobody higher or lower than any of us. Everybody has that hunger somewhere.


What are some of the more physical episodes you’ve had with a band in the studio? I know that at 2:06 of Glassjaw’s song “Pretty Lush” you can hear something crashing...

I just chucked something at Darryl in the recording booth to get a reaction out of him. The booth’s glass was actually plastic, so it just exploded everywhere. It made a really loud sound that was actually in time with the song, so we all decided to leave it in the mix. I can’t remember what it was I threw—like I said, there are a lot of things thrown in my recording sessions.


Is there some sort of withdrawal that comes at the end of these intense times in the studio?

God! The thing that sucks about it is that I open these guys up, the record is created, and all of those feelings are so raw and so real. And then they go out into the world and they’re fucking raw without continuing the process of what we do here. There’s a healing and a closure that needs to take place. While we’re recording, it’s like a honeymoon here because you have permission to feel all these things and it feels so good and everyone’s on the same energy wavelength. It reaches some sicko highs. But then there’s always a comedown, and it always feels like I’m connected to the comedown. A lot of these artists think that they don’t want to feel those feelings anymore. A talented band can make killer riffs and killer songs, but they can’t go on so well after they’ve exposed everything. It gets too intense for some people, and that’s where there are problems—leaving the studio in that emotional state.

Is it hard to be the absorbing factor in that exit transition? Is it like the same “break-up scene” playing over and over in a movie?

It sucks, man. It’s a total drag for me. I’m still here (in this house) when the record is done and they have to move out and go back to their tour bus. Everybody gets really attached to each other and this place and this process. I do stay in contact with the ones who I’ve made insane connections with. Jonathan Davis [Korn], Wes Borland [Limp Bizkit, Black Light Burns], the Norma Jean guys, the Idiot Pilot guys—it doesn’t have to be through phone calls, or texts or verbal communication, we stay connected. Man, I connected with the Idiot Pilot guys so much, but I had never made a more miserable record in my life.


How so?

They were going through such shitty stuff and I took so much out of them. We took their pain and turned it into something so beautiful. It was the hardest record I’ve ever made, but also the most gratifying. It doesn’t matter what the album sells, it’s just about the connection you make doing it.


So you don’t pay any attention to Billboard charts or record sales?

I don’t even peek at them. It’s not mine; the music doesn’t belong to me. I’m just someone who thinks they created the power to make the album (laughing). Just like no parent owns theirs child, music is its own life form—it breathes and it moves and it gives. And besides, those charts don’t define the best music out there. They never have.


In your ideal world, what would someone say after hearing a record you produced?

I played a recent project for a friend of mine who is a movie director, and he said, “What is that? I can’t stop thinking about that! What is that? That’s awesome.” That’s the golden ticket—making someone feel something they know but can’t describe. I want people to hear a new sound recreated with a new power, a new energy to breathe life into it. And luckily for me, I get to be there to facilitate it. I’ve been so fortunate to be there for these things. So I guess that’s what I want people to say—“What is that?” And it helps to be working with these avant-garde artists because when someone doesn’t understand something, they’ll leave you alone. That’s actually the theme of my career: “I don’t know what this is you’re showing me.”

How long does your studio process typically take?

I like to have three good months to hash everything out from start to finish.


What components do you feel it takes to make a “complete” album?

Just your chest cavity, cut completely open and your guts spilling everywhere, with total love-intention that exposes everything. That’s all.


Seems reasonable. So what compels you towards heavier music?

You know, I think it’s just a place that I understand really well. I grew up angry, always angry. I’m not anymore, but now I understand it so well, so I love working with bands that have an uplifting twist on all that insanity and chaos. I want somebody to hear whatever it is and say, “Wow, they hit this level and I know I can do it too because I relate to all of it.” It’s the most important job in the entire world to help end suffering of any sort. Heavy music usually comes from an angry, hate-filled place, and I know that place, so I can redirect it and turn it to love.


What do you consider the ultimate purpose of music?

It is just a reminder to us all of the things that we’re so quick to forget. When it hits and clicks, it takes you to that place where you’re in absolute remembrance of absolute love. Love is a sissy word to some people, especially meatheads, but just fill in the blank. It’s a total connection to the thing that beats your heart and breathes your lungs. That’s music.


You’re often referred to as the “purveyor of metal” and “the king of nu-metal.” Do you mind those titles?

At the peak of nu-metal, I was out doing Glassjaw and At The Drive In. At the peak of those genres, I was out doing The Blood Brothers and Norma Jean. I never stick around in a genre when it becomes oversaturated. I got out of the nu-metal the day Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie” came out. During every genre phase, it’s absolutely conscious and alive, and the second that dies it is nothing but noise. The good bands, however, always evolve, and you can hear it in every album and every song they put out. It’s like the air between the songs is so powerful, so absolutely badass. It breathes creation beyond the fiber of music.

Back in the early ’90’s, you actually had to be a good musician to survive—before auto-tuning and drum-gridding, that is. Who the fuck would be that stupid to try to control something that is trying to speak and exist? The song should be the leader and the band should follow it, not some fucking producer who sits and pushes buttons to align everything perfectly. People who grid drums and auto-tune vocals to make the music “perfect” are lazy fucking bastards who want to rape music of its purpose.

Uncompromised music is all of the good and love in the world that is trying to come through these people’s instruments and hearts. I want to give producers who grid drums a big trophy with a big pile of shit on it with a card that says, “congrats.”


So it’s the imperfections that make the music what it is?

It’s the character, the personality, and the human being that is behind the channeling of this energy coming through. No one is perfect and that is beautiful. It’s what makes iconic rock stars no better than the kids who are worshiping them.


What have you been working on lately?

I am just wrapping up with a French band called My Own Private Alaska. It’s an obscure, extremely violent trio of classical piano, radical drums and insane vocals. They’re a three-piece who sit down the whole time. I also finished Norma Jean’s The Anti-Mother not too long ago. That was a very interesting one that I was very happy to make.


How was it working with Norma Jean for a second time?

It felt a bit more hectic because of their change in drummers after their previous one Daniel [Davison] quit, but it went well because they know that it’s about creating a life form, and they know that I need to be ruthless and honest to get it out of them. The subject matter on that album was so brutal, so the record absolutely had to live up to its maximum potential. 


Yeah, the album definitely explored the darkness of self-destructing nature. Did that lyrical content make it easier to get the emotion out of them?

It did, but it still took some persuading. People like to write music in a moment by themselves in a place where they’re alone and safe. Then when you get them to put it out there where the songs are explained, realized and felt, they tend to freeze up and retreat inward. People don’t understand that nothing is original and that every emotion is experienced by every single human being the same, just with a different color or label on it. The person that opens up and gives it all away to the world, however, is original.

That was a harder record for me, too, because I had just found out that my dog had cancer. That dog had been with me for nine years, and it had truly became part of me, a part of my being. I went crazy trying to heal him with my knowledge of herbs and grains, but time ended up running its course. The dog made it through the whole duration of the record, though—it was amazing. I made Norma Jean run around on the beach everyday to get warmed up, and he was running right along with them every time. It made me so happy I could’ve cried.

Unfortunately, my intensity threw me into this hyper-spiritual, psychotic, workaholic, give-me-everything-you-have rage. Thank god it leveled out a bit through the recording process—I was on a shitty path. The Monster Energy Drink endorsement I had recently received didn’t help at all, either (laughing).

What was it that snapped you out of that place?

Doing my maintenance of meditating and healing.


So what music do you listen to?

I pretty much just chill in the 70’s. Of course I love Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Cat Power, anything that vibes hard. The bands that get it you know, I mean, come on, Radiohead shoots lightning bolts of energy into anyone who listens to them.


Are there bands you haven’t worked with that you’d like to?

Hmm. There’s a few, but I don’t want to say for some reason.


Understandable. Well, the bands you have worked with are truly innovating. At The Drive In’s album Relationship of Command is one of the defining records for this indie/alternative generation. What was it like working on that?

I was just absolutely grateful to be a part of that. I would thank them on a daily basis for being here and existing, what to speak of working with them. Cedric’s lyrics are so abstract, but they mean a lot if you decipher them. He was hard to crack, but I did my thing and he laid it all out in the vocal booth. The first time I saw them live, I just started sobbing in the crowd. I just stood there and cried for most of their set. They took me out, I was done. Because of that, I knew that they couldn’t get away with just making a badass album, they had to go through the dimensions, and they did. They were at a huge level of intensity, but there’s always another level to break through to and they found it.


And what was it like working with Glassjaw on their last two records?

It’s always so much fun working with those guys. Darryl is one of the sweetest people I’ve met and he just gets it, you know. Those guys are just family to me and they would truly listen to all of my suggestions, even if they didn’t work out. We really created a genre making those albums.


I absolutely agree. Worship and Tribute is definitely one of my favorite albums of all time.

Dude, can you believe the fucking rip-offs that happened when that album came out? It was like every album that came out after that sounded like a shitty attempt to recreate that record. But looking back, I guess it was our job to do that, to influence the others. I have goose bumps right now just thinking about them. Those guys are my brothers. There was so much fun and laughter that went on, but really we went into battle together and the results were devastating. I want to work with them again so badly—those guys kick so much ass on so many levels.


What was your favorite experience recording an album?

The first Korn record I did on my hands and knees asking for help. I was just absolutely thanking the universe for every moment of doing that project. It was a lot of growth for me--growth and the transition of letting go of old ways and belief systems. I learned that it was a good thing to have the skills that develop from having a traumatic upbringing. We all have certain survival skills and when they stop working for you, you really have to go in and rewire your brain. That album is documentation of me doing exactly that.


When you listen to each album that you’ve produced, does it take you right back to that period of your life?

Oh, man—I can see it, smell it, breathe it, and live every little facet of it. These albums are time machines for me and I can transcend to those times at any given moment.


How did you get into production in the first place?

I was a serious guitarist and I just quickly got deeper and deeper into the production side of things. I was kinda the “hate everything thrash metal guy,” and producing really helped me snap that. I started off with a four-track cassette recorder and just took it all from there.


And what’s coming next for you? You’ll be working with Korn again soon, right?

Yeah, I want to get started with the Korn sessions as soon as possible. I want this next record of theirs to be like their first two records, when it was all of us in a room together, just hashing everything out. I’ve never jumped into the world of overabundance; it gets really overwhelming to be on that side of success. Success feels so deep and current because it happens in a moment, but that moment is always taken away just as quick as it was given. I have a lot of tools now that will decompose them back to what they were when they were just young, hungry musicians. It’s not even about me saying, “I knew you guys when you were nothing.” It’s more like, “I knew you guys when you were everything—no money or attachment to possessions.” They had a knowing back then that they were the maddest motherfuckers on the planet and because of that, they were. This coming album isn’t even an ego-breaking thing—it’s more of a welcoming them back home.


Do you think it will be difficult without original drummer David Silveria?

David is such a crucial part of their sound. The perfect, technical drummer means nothing to me—I want the creative, passionate drummer. People think he had bad rhythm and tempo, but what they didn’t realize was that he was following Jon’s vocals instead of the guitars. Duh! Fuck these people who try to make every aspect of the music perfect and every drumbeat in its perfect place. Clean, polished drum tracks have no place in my studio, and if you don’t get that concept, then you don’t belong in my studio either. People like David get that, and they play from the place where creation is just waiting to jump out. The other lifeless players play from a place of image and desire and they are the reason why I throw things at people’s heads in my studio.


                                                                                                            -GX-

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