Gordon Raphael is a name that should sound familiar. He’s a master producer that has worked on the first two Strokes records, Regina Spektor’s Soviet Kitsch, and a myriad of incredible artists. While he’s still producing music, most recently for The Britanys and The Sulks, Raphael continues to be a musical vanguard.
However now he’s more on the frontline with his very own cosmic sound. His newest video, Mannequins On Parade, is a testament to that sound and the video is a technicolor dream. Performed with The Half Full Flashes, the track was originally written for his Seattle band, Mental Mannequin, and as luck would have it Raphael has added the track to his repertoire. Listen to the spellbinding tune and try not to get entranced while watching the video below.
GATR Naomi: Tell us a day in your life…
Wake up in my little apartment in Mitte Berlin, flip over whatever record I out on my turntable on my way to sleep. Ride my bicycle to Daluma for some “I want it all” superfood breakfast with an inspiringly crafted Flat White. Things start to become instantly clearer. Then there’s an hour walking on Weinburgs Park with Tiva, the ultra-playful, handsome dalmatian that lives at my house for the time being. Read a bit of my book of the moment- Willard and his Bowling Trophies by Richard Brautigan, and A Freewheelin’ Time by Suze Rotolo. Check the digital realm for new bands that want to record or mix with me soon, and then after that, I fret about how I’m gonna make a splash with my new album and the strange self-made lo-budget videos I have been assembling to show the world. Perhaps I do take some proactive steps such as calling intelligent savvy friends to bombard them with questions or post the latest distorted photo of me, or one of my aesthetically questionable artworks in strategically hidden spots along the interwebs.
That brings me easily to lunch at Dolores Mission Style Burritos in Hackescher Markt. From there I’m gonna visit my friends Sarah and Graeme Maguire and have hilarious exchanges with their 3-year-old son Francis Lorca, or carry their 9-month-old daughter Phaedra Moon around their apartment showing her works of art and portraits of Leonard Cohen on the walls.
Late at night, I’m gonna mix several songs for Ned Dylan, a precocious 17-year-old musician from Northampton UK as we prepare to release his new blend of electronica and politically enflamed rock. His lyrics and songwriting are so cool, that this work is really highly enjoyable! Around midnight I like to watch a nice documentary (loved The Defiant Ones on HBO recently, as well as an amazing film about Whitney Houston) before taking Tiva down for one last walk around the block.
Do you begin to write your music with instruments or does it start with lyrics in your head?
I like to initiate songs in a variety of ways:
Turn on Arp Odyssey synthesizer and run it thru phase shifter pedal and echo-machine, then discover a new sound such as Space Cats, or Chirping Underwater Birds- make a few choice melodies with these, and then layer more sounds and words. Or, sometimes walking around a city my footsteps will make a good tempo that I can sing words to, or make up a story for a song. Or I can use my 808,909 or DMX drums to make heavy beats, and after stringing a few together, make a song that way. Finally, there’s the trusty Stratocaster thru Rat-
Fuzz and octave divider, that when turned up loud enough, practically writes a song by itself. All good and trusted methods!
You have produced many incredible albums for great artists, do you prefer being a producer or being an artist on the forefront?
Had you asked me many years ago I would have said that being a performing musician is way more fun and dangerous and thrilling because it’s really the frontline! You cant re-do stuff, or philosophize endlessly about how things could go! In the studio, one can really take time, and polish up those gems until they explode with light! However, I now think that both are brilliant and have extraordinary potential for creativity and human interaction. I value so much spending time producing bands in many cities and getting to know them through their music. My big struggle has been how to balance my time working on other people’s songs as a producer, and still being really in-tune with my own creative side, developing and inventing my own new ideas for music and art. The fact that I have my own album coming out soon, some shows to play with my new band The Half Full Flashes, and 6 new videos is a step in a wonderful direction!
Does being both, producer and artist, make it easier to get into the headspace for creating or does it make it more difficult?
I learned how to write songs once I understood tape recorders, effects pedals, and synthesizers. So really the door to my highest and most exciting musical creativity came from knowing that as soon as I could think of something or play it— I could record it to keep forever. In fact in the 90’s when I started using and collecting a great deal of keyboards and recording equipment I realized that the flashing rapidly between left brain pure creativity, and right brain technical engineering was actually a way to get a deep natural high. What makes creativity easy for me is when I do it often and get into that world. When it gets difficult is when I spend too much time away from making art or music, and then it seems to be an abstract world that I “used to live in, but don’t know if I can get back to!”.
Your song Savage is a kaleidoscope of sounds, what inspired the intergalactic track?
*Laughs* Haha! That song Savage has a funny story behind it. I wrote it a long time ago in Seattle.
Were you channeling any other artists, if so, which artists?
I’ve made rock guitar music combined with outer space synthesizers since I was about 16- and one day I was in my basement studio thinking how cool Gary Numan was. I was in love with his album Replicas, and honestly, in Seattle, I knew about 10 people in total who had even heard of him. So I (very mistakenly) thought he was some obscure guy who made a few brilliant records but no-one knew about him! I thought that was so sad, so I wrote Savage as a tribute to him. 6 years later I moved to London, and was introduced to him by our mutual friend Dirty Harry and he was totally holding court at a club and I realized he really exists, and that he’s a huge, huge star. I think Savage has some of my best synth melodies (done on Jupiter 6 synth) and space sounds still!
At first listen, I Sleep on the Radio reminded me of the great and unexpected experimentation sounds in The Beatles Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band. Do you prefer to experiment and cultivate music over what’s currently being put out? (I Said and It’s So Sleepy in This Noisy Chair are perfect examples.)
The songs on my album are actually a reflection, looking back at my favorite songs I’ve written all through my life. They are brand new versions of the songs made with some outstanding musicians in Argentina I was playing shows within 2014. These are the songs I think really define me and my musical journey up til now. I don’t like experiments just for the sake of being unusual, but I rejoice if I discover some chords, sounds or words that feel very special or important to me. I can’t think about what is happening now, or what people expect, or what their standards are- for I don’t know how to keep up with that or deliver to those specifications at all. What I learned how to do, and what’s kept me in music since I was 13- was the discovery of what I could find, and what I could create that was really unique to me. I was always told my whole life that what I was doing was pretty irrelevant, and not really musical! I learned to laugh about that and just completely enjoy the process of making a song out of the infinite possibilities that our minds have access to. The fact that I heard Sgt Peppers when I was 10, and “We’re Only In It For The Money” by Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention- certainly helped me along on my path!!!
Asking an artist if they have a favorite track on their new album is similar to asking a parent, who’s your favorite kid, however… I’m intrigued to know if you have any favorites?
Right now my favorite song is Deep Psyche (Melty Version), the last song on the album. Its a variation of the first song on the album and the thing I love about it is, I worked for 3 years on the rest of the songs just making sure that everything was as golden and good as I could possibly do. That last song I wanted it to sound completely messed up and out-of-it’s-mind! And so it was one try with my drummer and me, and one tries for the guitar solo, and the voice— and a few minutes of mixing- done. I wanted to recreate the feeling of trying to stare at a wall long enough to see through it or looking at your hands until strange colors and forms begin to appear. You know?? (Yes, somehow we actually know what you mean and we totally dig it).
You moved away from NYC/London and now live in Berlin, how does Berlin affect your music and how does it differ from NYC and London?
Berlin for me is a quiet town where it’s great to drink coffee, and ride your bicycle, meet interesting people and plan your life of traveling to other cities do music projects! I had great studios in New York and London, but in Berlin, a laptop seems to be the most popular form of studio around! It’s much much less expensive to live in Berlin than other cities- and one of the best things: I feel it’s far far less violent than most cities I’ve lived in. That is an amazing psychological freedom.
Do you still give master classes like you did in Mexico and Argentina? Any promising students?
I do give talks and masterclasses in Berlin, and recently in Hamburg too. I really enjoy doing them, as I usually only care about finding out what the people there want to know, and telling funny or (hopefully!) interesting stories that specifically illustrate what they are interested in. I like seeing a room full of people who want to be artists, musicians or producers. That’s a great energy.
Has another artist ever made you nervous or anxious?
Good question! I have been nervous and anxious occasionally working with Mr. Julian Casablancas in the early days, as he was very particular about what he was looking for in terms of sound and accuracy! Most of the time it was a joy and a thrill collaborating with him but a few times it was majorly tense! Haha.
I was nervous meeting Sparks randomly at Berlin’s Tegel Airport because I wanted to tell them how much I loved Kimono My House but didn’t want to terrify them!
If you had to do it all over again, would you still choose this career?
Yes, I would choose music, because it’s been a fabulous and exciting adventure, as I hoped it would.
Would you do anything differently?
If I could change something, perhaps it would be to work harder to have less doubt about myself, my abilities and the things I create. I do have quite a bit of confidence, but I had a mountain of insecurity to cross on the way!
Do you have any words of wisdom for up and coming bands or artists?
Spend more time doing what you love, and being around people who give you energy. The less time spent with people who try to limit you or deplete your energy, the better!