Transcripts > The Tim Ferriss Show > Rick Rubin, The Seclusive Zen Master
Guten Tag, my sexy little munchkins. This is Tim Ferriss in a very echo-laden, wooden room on an island and we will be hearing more about that in a few short episodes with Chris Sacca. But, in the mean time, I am so excited to present an episode that was very, very physically demanding.
This conversion that you are about to listen to is with, none-other-than, Rick Rubin. If you don’t recognize that name, the bio can seem almost fabricated. It is so impressive. He has been called the most important producer– that is music producer of the last twenty years by MTV. In 2007, he appeared on Times Most Influential People in the World list.
Why would he appear on such a list? Well if you could imagine, say in the book world, if you could name every author you could think of off the top of your head– all the name-brand folks– and then found out that one agent, and one editor was responsible for all of them, you would be dumbfounded.
That is pretty much the case when you look at the discography of Rick Rubin. He was the former co-president of Columbia Records. He was the co-founder, along with Russell Simmons, of Death Jam Records. He helped popularize hip-hop music by working with the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Run DMC; for instance.
I am not going to give the whole list because it is too long, but here are just some of artists that he has worked with: Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Beastie Boys (which I already mentioned), Johnny Cash, Slayer, Jay-Z (also appearing in the 99 Problems video), Danzig, Dixie Chicks, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Black Sabbath, Slip Knot, Metallica, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Lincoln Park, Weezer, The Cult, Neil Diamond, Mick Jagger, System of a Down. It goes on and on, and the genres span from, say, Lady Gaga to ZZ Top to Shakira, and everything in between– Kayne West, Eminem, you name it.
So he is a fascinating guy– very much a zen-monk in his temperament. I’ve gotten to know Rick over the last few years… he insisted that we do the podcast in his sauna, which is a barrel sauna that makes your head melt. It is so intense.
This was a very challenging episode. I hope you get some laughs out of it. What you will realize very quickly is that you have to listen intently to Rick’s answers. Rick has layers, beyond layers, beyond layers. He will tell you something and you will be like, “Wow, I am not sure I actually get what that means,” and then months later it will dawn on you.. Oh my god, there are so many different depths to that answer that I didn’t pick up on the first time around.
So… you will have to interpret and ponder a lot of what Rick brings up, but I hope you enjoy it. I enjoyed it, although I nearly had heat-stroke. So, without further-ado, here is Rick Rubin.
Well, almost without further-ado, folks, one more ado, I forget to mention that if you are interested in music be sure to check out the drumming episode of the Tim Ferriss Experiment, which is my TV show. It has been the number one TV season on iTunes now for some time, amazingly. But, if you go to iTunes.com/timferriss, you can see a bunch of bonus footage, all the episodes, including the drumming episode, where I am trained by Stewart Copeland, the founding drummer of the Police, widely considered one of the top ten drummers of all time. His teaching method resembles Doc from Back to the Future. It is an amazing experience and I only had a few days, with a gun against my head, to train to then play to a sold out auditorium as the drummer for Foreigner, which was nerve, break-down inducing, to say the least. You can check it out… iTunes.com/timferriss. And now here is Rick Rubin.
Rick, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me.
This setting is somewhat unique. I have been looking forward to it/fearing it ever since you first mentioned to me… Where are we right now?
We are sitting in a sauna.
We are sitting in a very hot, barrel sauna. I was told that this was one of the conditions for having this conversation. It’s such an impressive barrel sauna… it is indoors… that I wanted to get the specs for it when I first saw it. You have a heater that has to be four-times the size of the off-the-shelve heater that would go into such a sauna.
Yeah, it is a much bigger heater than for the size of the room.
I am sitting on the floor because I have such little confidence in my ability to withstand heat compared to you. But we do have the alternate, which is the bath just outside of this door. You and I have gone back and forth quite a few times, with this type of cycling. But.. what is right outside of this door?
A metal tub filled with ice.
It is a metal tub about four feet– um, three and a half feet– off the ground full of ice. Looks like, if you were to say, a horse trough times two, something like that….
Something like that.
It’s got to be maximum low fifties. Something like that?
I think it’s about.. today it is probably about 38 degrees.
Oh my God. Alright, so we have two mics on the floor, which I am hoping won’t explode or melt down. We have the H4 and the H6. We have water, ice, heat… nothing could go wrong. I am looking forward to it.
Rick, I was hoping we could perhaps start with a discussion of your physical transformation. I’d love for you to just describe to people… You’re in my mind just the picture of fitness in a lot of ways now. We’ve been paddle boarding before and you samarily whoop my ass every time we go out. I am always impressed.
There are a lot of things contributing to my lack of competency and fear there. But, where were you, and how did you end up undergoing this physical transformation?.. because you’ve lost how much weight at this point? How much fat would you say?
I’ve lost… at the peak moment, I lost between 135 and 140 pounds. I also thought that I was eating a healthy diet. I was vegan for twenty-something years– all organic, vegan, and very strict with what I ate. With doing that, I got up to 318 pounds.
I read a book by a guy named Stu Mittleman, who ran one thousand miles in eleven days. I remember reading that and thinking, “Wow, I can barely walk down the block, and this guy ran one thousand miles in eleven days.” It just seemed so inspiring.
In the book, he talked about a guy named Phil Maffetone, who I have never heard of before. In Stu’s book, he says that he meet this doctor, Phil Maffetone, and he changed the way I trained and he changed the way I ate– all these things. Then all of the sudden I was able to do all these things.
I thought, “OK, I want to find Phil Maffetone.” I found him online and sent him an email. He was living in Florida and I asked if I could become his patient. He said that he had just stopped treating patients, and retired from being a doctor.
I thought, that’s terrible news. But the reason that he stopped being a doctor was that he decided to become a songwriter. I said, “Oh, that’s interesting because I am involved in songwriter and the music world. Maybe we can trade. Maybe I can help you with your song writer and you can help me with my health and fitness.”
He liked the idea. We ended up meeting a few months later, then meet again several times, became friends. He eventually ended up moving into my house. He lived in my house for about two years.
I did everything he said and got much healthier. My metabolism got turned on. The hours that I was sleeping shifted… For most of my life, I stayed up all night and sleep most of the day. When I was in college, I never took a class before 3PM because I knew I wouldn’t go.
And this was at NYU?
Yes, at NYU.
So, I am used to living a night life style. I remember, even in high school, I missed the first three classes of school so many times that, you know, it was really an issue. But, I just, learned to be a late night night person. It kind of suited the music life. It worked well with my life.
One of the first things that Phil suggested, when we got together, was… I slept with black-out blinds.. and I usually didn’t leave the house until the sun was setting. He said that from now on when you wake up I want you to open the blinds and go outside, naked if possible, and be in the sun for twenty minutes.
When he said it, I remember thinking, it would be the same as him saying, “I want you to jump off this ledge.” You know, it just sounded like the most terrifying… based on the way I lived my life… it just sounded terrible.
What time was he recommending that you wake up?
By the time we started, it kept moving down and it went from three o’clock to probably noon to eleven to nine… and it just sort of happened naturally. He knew that it if I immediately went in the sun that, naturally, my body would want to start waking up earlier, and going to sleep earlier.
It was the first time ever that my circadian rhythm was kicking in. I never knew there was such a thing, or knew what that was. He got me to connect to that.
I did everything he said. Changed my diet. Started eating some animal protein. I was, as I said, a devote vegan so eggs and fish were the first things that I would eat. Even then, I never liked eggs, and I never liked fish. So I ate them more like medicine.
Slowly, I got healthier, healthier and healthier… and more and more fit. But I was still very heavy… and I was heavy for a long time.
What age were you when you brought him into your house?.. Or how long ago was this?
Yeah, I am going to guess, probably, late 30’s.
And, if you don’t mind me asking, how old are you now?
Like ten years… twelve years ago. Something like that.
So you were changing your diet. What were some of the other things that he had you change?
He had me do twenty minutes of low heart-rate, aerobic exercise– aerobic activity… every day. He had me start wearing a heart-rate monitor. My heart-rate just walking up a flight of stairs would be an aerobic activity.
I had to really watch what I was doing to stay… I mean anaerobic activity. So I had to work hard to stay in the anaerobic space.
Or in the aerobic space you mean?
In the aerobic space.. (laughs)
(laughs) Below that is the anaerobic space…
It’s getting hot in here.
Yes, it is getting hot in here.
My hand is burning holding the mic.
I tried to wrap them in napkins. (laughs) You did mention that those might get hot… I digress. So to stay within the aerobic threshold you had to work very hard.
Yes. Again, my health changed, but I still stayed very heavy. After two years of time, I had probably lost a little bit of weight, but not much. But, I was much healthier, and much more alive, and much better than I was before. After that period of time, Phil said to me, you know, anyone else who made the changes that you made– out of anyone else he ever dealt with- 99 out of 100 people would have dropped all their weight.
For some reason, there is something else going on with you that is holding on to the weight. So I just excepted that was how it was. But at least I felt a lot better. My life was a lot better. I was a lot happier.
Then I mentor of mine, whose name is Mo Ostin… he’s the guy who ran Warner Bros. Records for 35 years… he worked for Frank Sinatra… a real inspiring guy in the music business. I went out to lunch with him one day and he said, “You know, Rick I am really worried about you. I know you watch what you eat, and I know that you walk on the beach everyday and exercise, but you are really getting big and I am worried.”
So he said, “I am going to get the name of a nutritionist, and I want you to go to my guy, and I want you to do whatever he says.” I said, “OK. Fine.” I knew it wouldn’t work because I knew that my whole life I had a weight problem. My whole life I tried every diet and nothing ever worked. But I would do anything for Mo so I went again open minded, but not believing that it would work.
Willing to try, but not believing it would work. The nutritionalist put me on a high protein, low calorie diet. I had never done a low calorie diet before. Over fourteen months, I lost 130 pounds… 135 pounds. That changed everything.
I will say that if I didn’t do the work with Phil first, I don’t believe that the diet would have worked. It was sort of a combination of things in order. It was like the metabolism got turned on… I started getting in tune with circadian rhythm… I was stimulating my aerobic system everyday… I built a base and then with the right diet was able to drop the weight quickly.
What is so interesting about that… and I have a couple more questions about what the nutritionist subscribed.. but is that, in my experience with, say tens of thousands of readers following various diets, including the slow carb diet, it makes perfect sense because you were adding things in in the beginning, opposed to having everything prohibited. You were adding element in, and once you added those lifestyle components, at that point you were able to change the diet and then experience the … wow, that is hot…
It is hot. (laughs) I was going to say that even with Phil, though, I changed my diet. It just was.. almond butter was something that I was allowed to eat because, in Phil’s world, almond butter is healthy. So I probably ate a third of a jar of almond butter every day.
Exactly. That is my issue with things like almond butter…. domino foods… you have some…
Exactly. So the idea of… Phil has the belief… and so many people have the belief that calories don’t count. I understand that. But, if you eat 10,000 calories a day, you are probably going to gain weight. You are not going to lose weight.
There is a point where calories do make a difference.
Oh, for sure. There are cases where… if it is a question of between 4500 and 5000 calories then, ok, yes, bourbon calories, sugar calories and fat calories are very different. But if you are eating 10,000 calories of almond butter before you go to bed, which I will do if I have almond butter at my house, then best not to have it in my house.
When you lost the 130-140 pounds over that period of time, how many meals were you eating per day? How many of them were whole foods vs. liquid?
Did you alternative those, or combine them?
No. At first, I did only egg, and then the whey came later.
At first, I couldn’t tolerate the whey. For some reason, the whey made me uncomfortable. Once I lost a bunch of weight, I could eat the whey. So egg was first.
That also makes sense. Having any amount of lactose, or dairy, re-introduced after being vegan for such a long period of time… a lot of people have noticed, who try to re-introduce animal proteins feel sick, but it is because is they lack the enzymes that at that point, say after ten years of not consuming meat, to digest it properly.
Do you want to do an ice round? Or do you want me to do an ice round? Because I feel like I am getting close.
Yeah, I would say why don’t you do an ice round and then I’ll do an ice round because you are at a higher elevation. I am sitting on the floor for those people who can’t see me. (laughs)
It’s not even 200.
It’s not even 200… it’s about 190… holy crap… it’s about 195 degrees in here.
By the end, hopefully we’ll be up to 220.
Oh, good lord. 220… yeah, that’s a well done steak right there. (laughs) It is very well done.
Alright, I will hang out in here, and will see you out there in a minute.
I am holding both mics now, sitting on the floor with two containers of water. I have a Russian spa hat on. They make you look somewhat like the keebler elves. Mine has a lion on it. I have to only guess, the cyrillic says spa lion, which is appropriate because I think of myself as spa lion.
On a related note, folks, if I do die of heat stroke in here, it’s been lovely knowing you. I am going to press stop now to save my breath for the ice round. We’ll be back.
And we’re back. Refreshed after some…. thinking we’re getting colder adding ice.. but it was at about 44 degrees fahrenheit.
Rick, you had mentioned this gent or doctor or lady from UCLA. Who was that?
The doctor at UCLA who helped me lose the weight was Doctor Heber. Of everything I tried, nothing ever worked until Dr. Heber.
Do you still follow the general diet? Or have you been able to, after losing that weight, modify that?
I modified it in that I still eat a lot of protein and don’t have grain… no carbs. While I probably don’t restrict calories as much as I did in the weight lose phase, I am aware of it. I am aware of them and don’t let them get out of control.
Right, you’ve developed a sensitivity, an awareness…
For a period of time, I used an app… I think it was called Fitness Pal if I can remember correctly, where you put in all the food that you eat, and it tells you the calories, and just kind of keeps a log. What was just helpful about it is if you pay attention to calories for, let’s say, a year, you then really have a sense of where the calories are hidden. You just have better habits.
Oh, absolutely. Just like if you are trying to get into, say, ketosis, and are following something like the Atkins Diet, for instance, you develop a sensitivity to hidden sugars and carbs… and, sort of, net carbohydrate.
I would love to shift gears a little bit and ask you about music producing. Well, let’s take a step back, when people ask you what you do, how do you answer that question?
I don’t know how to answer that question.
You don’t know how to answer?
So what does a music producer do? For those people not familiar with…
Well, I don’t know what music producers do. I can tell you what I do.
OK. Let’s do that.
Which is… I help to get the best performance from an artist. Help them pick their material, or develop their material. Help set the course for the direction of what their doing creatively.
How did you end up initially becoming involved with that type of work?
I don’t know how you usually do. I guess you can do it in many different ways. Some people might start as a recording engineer and then graduate into record producer. Some people might be successful artists and transition into being record producers.
In my case, I was just really a fan of music. I come at it from the point of view of being a fan.
What did you study at NYU?
I started as a philosophy major and then, after two years, I switched to film and television because all of my friends were in film and television. It just seemed like more fun.
Was it more fun?
(laughs) I think it is Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks….
… has said, and this is paraphrasing, but that you let music be discovered and not manufactured. What does she mean by that? Or what do you think she means by that?
Well, we have a whole process and it is different for every artist. We try to go on a journey and let the artist discover who they are and in the process the best start comes from them. It’s like getting to be their true selves and trying to take away all of the…
There are so many things that get in the way of the artistic process. For example, any commercial considerations usually get in the way. If you are thinking about making music that is going to get on the radio, chances are that you won’t be using your own voice to its most potent… most singular… finding what your personal gift is.
That is one of many things. It’s getting closer to the source and not being distracted by any nonsense that would get in the way of the art being as good as it can be.
What are other things that get in the way of artists producing their best work?
Concerned about what other people think. Competition. Wanting to do better than someone else. Let’s see what other things… self doubt. Ego.
What manifestation of ego?
If someone thinks everything they do is great, they might not be willing to edit themselves enough, or work hard enough at… you know, if I could write ten great songs in five minutes each and those are the best songs and I am just going to record them and put them out. Those might not be as good as the ones you develop over a longer period of time, for example. There might be particular artists that think everything I do is great.
When you have the opposite; when you have an artist who is doubting themselves. How do you help them through that? Or what do you recommend?
Speaking personally, I have continuous self-doubt. (laughs)… as a writer.
I think most artists do. That is… more typically self-doubt is the case. I think if your goal is to be better than you were. If you are competing only with yourself, it’s a more realistic place to be.
You know, if you say that I don’t want to write songs unless I can write songs better than the Beatles, it’s a hard road. But if you say, I want to write a better song tomorrow than the song I wrote yesterday, that’s a realistic… that’s something that can be done. If you write a better song than you wrote yesterday everyday then you continue to get better and better and better. It really is small steps.
Also trying not to think too much because so much of it is more of a… the job is more emotion and hard work than head work. The head comes in after to look at what the heart has presented and to organize it. But the initial inspiration comes from a different place, and it is not the head, and it is not an intellectual activity. It’s more inspiration.
The key first is really do whatever activities you can to tune into inspiration. Things like meditating help. Diving into art, in general, it doesn’t have to be even your modality, I mean, going to museum and looking at beautiful art can help you write better songs. Reading great novels. Reading great works of art. Seeing a great movie could inspire a great song. Reading poetry. Sort of submerging yourself in great art.
The more you can do to get out of the mode of competition, where you are looking at what other people are doing, and wanting to be better than them, or be inspired by them… The only way to use the inspiration of other artists is if you submerge yourself in the greatest works of all time. Which is a great thing to do.
If you listen to the greatest music ever made that would be a better way to work through to find your own voice… to matter today… than listening what is on the radio now and thinking, you know, I want to compete with this. So it is more about stepping back and looking at a bigger picture than what is going on in the moment.
Speaking as someone who is not very well versed with music. I don’t feel highly literate when it comes to music. I enjoy music, but hanging out with you and Neil Strauss I feel like I’m lacking, perhaps, vocabulary, and a lot of references. For people who feel like they are in my shoes, are there any particular albums that you could offer as a starting point? Not the end-all-be-all, but just as a starting point for appreciating good, world-class, contemporary music, meaning not necessarily classical music. Are there any recommendations that you could give?
Are there any particular stories that you have that come to mind of experiences outside the medium of music, say a specific film or specific trip or specific book, that catalyzed a breakthrough in the work that you did?
Let me think about that for a sec. Yeah, I wouldn’t say, “breakthrough,” because it is a more personal thing than that so it doesn’t come so much from the outside, but I get inspiration everyday from either what I’m reading… or watching the sunset… or noticing the amount of birds that fly overhead– what they look like and their different shapes… paying attention or hearing the sound of the waves. All of those things speak to me as if looking at the horizon. They all speak to me.
So much of the work we try to do is to create something with the natural balance that we see in nature. That is sort of the perfect version of… you know, if you can write a piece of music that take your breath away as much as a beautiful sunset, you have done well. Any opportunity to see dolphins swim or see something beautiful that’s not your run of the mill experience… or even could be a beautiful cloud filled sky… or a particular clear night when you can really see lots of stars.
Those are all inspiring things and help turn on the muse of recognizing a greater vision of either what’s possible or what’s beautiful more then something that you see in a magazine, like an advertisement, that is there to entice you to buy it.
Right. Can you talk a little about when you realized that you were good at working with musicians or music? When did happen and are there particular instances or artists where you were like, wow, I think I might actually have a knack for this?
Right from the beginning I started having a lot of success and I really made music as a hobby while I was in college. I thought I would have a real job and then I would make music as my hobby. I thought I would have a job to support my music habit.
Then, the first album I produced was by LL Cool J, he was 16 at the time and I think it cost us about $8,000 to record and it sold 900,000 copies. That was a good start.
(laughs) That was a good start.
The second one was Bestie Boys, which I think sold between nine and ten million. From then on, a lot of records sold a lot right from the beginning. I’ll say it took a long time for me to understand that that doesn’t always happen. It was an unusual series of events. But after a long time of working with a lot of artists and seeing a lot of success, it became clear that I could support artists in doing good work and people seemed to appreciate it.
What are some of the things, or characteristics, that make you different from other people who work with musicians?
It’s hard to know. I don’t know so well what other people do, but I don’t think we do the same thing. I think there are some producers who make beats for artists. There was a time when I did that; early in my career I did that. Still on occasion I will do it if it makes sense with the project that I am doing.
I think that it is unusual that I get to work in lots of different genres… and get to make heavy metal records, and rap records, and country records and spiritual records… all different kinds. I think that is unusual and just lucky… I think that might come from the fact that I come from it from that fan perspective, in that I like all kinds of music… I get to examine them.
The fact that I have been able to work on so many different kinds of music, over such a long period of time, gives me a good perspective because when I come into a new project it is rare that I am going to the studio to work on another of what I was just working on.
So, let’s say for example, I was a heavy metal producer and all I did for the last 30 years was produce heavy metal, I don’t know how fresh those records would be today. Now if I get to produce a heavy metal record, like the last one I did the last Black Sabbath Album, it was really fun because I hadn’t made an album like that in a really long time. It was a brand new experience.
13 was the last one, yes. That was a great experience– really fun, never worked with them guys before. We had a great time.
So I am not sure if I ever told you the first time I ever saw the name Rick Rubin was actually on the inside of an audio cassette, the first heavy metal album I ever bought, which was Raining Blood.
Oh, that’s a good one.
(laughs) I just remember.. this was pre-internet of course… I was just told by my friends that you will love heavy metal. You should listen to heavy metal and I asked what the hardest heavy metal was that could possibly be found and Rainy Blood came to the lips to those I asked. I just remember listening to Angel of Death, the first track on that, and going oh my god what have I gotten myself into. Just fell in love with that band.
How did you go from hip hop to say Slayer? Stylistically it is so different. It would seem. But how did Slayer come about?
As I said, because I was coming about with no technical skill… it’s not like I knew about hip hop or I knew about heavy metal… I was a fan of music and I loved heavy metal and I loved hip hop. So it was more of that coming at it from this appreciation.
As a fan, knowing what I wanted to hear. Especially in the case of Slayer. Slayer were an underground metal band who had two albums out on an independent label and were kind of considered the heaviest band in the world. When we singed them, there was this terrible fear that Slayer now doing their first album for a major label that they were going to sell out….
Yeah, which happens all the time. The album that we made, Raining Blood, was much harder and worse than anything that anyone ever heard before. It really did come from that I always liked extreme things and they were extreme. I wanted to maximize it. I didn’t want to water down.
The idea of water things down for a main stream audience. I don’t think it applies. I think people want things that are really passionate and the best version that they can be. Often the best version that they can be is not for everybody. The best art divides the audience. If you put out a record and half the people who hear it absolutely love and half the people who hear it absolutely hate it, you’ve done well because it is pushing that boundary. If everyone thinks that that’s pretty good, why bother making it? It doesn’t mean much.
Lost in the slip stream of time almost as soon as it comes out.
I’m going to do a round of ice if that’s alright.
Absolutely, alright. Let’s do some more ice and we’ll be back.
OK. We are back. I would love to talk a little bit about, say, for instance, LL Cool J vs Slayer. Is the way in which you work with those two groups of creatives, or in the case of LL Cool J I don’t know how many people were involved on his side, but is there a different approach when giving feedback, when trying to cultivate their ability?
It’s really different with every single artist. You spend time with the artist. You get to know them. If you listen to people… if you really listen to what people say… usually they tell you everything. If you really listen and pay attention to what people are saying, they will let you know a lot of stuff.
I just really pay attention to what people say. Through that I can then reflect back thoughts that they’ve told me about themselves that they don’t know about themselves, and allow them to unlock those doors. I get to the places that they want to go artistically.
Are there any particular examples of that? Or a story that you could share?
The first story that comes to mind isn’t related to my music work, but it’s related to our friend Neil. The journey that lead to his new book that’s about to come out. It started through him complaining about something going on in his life that he thought was something that he wanted in his life. I don’t think that he knew that the thing that he wanted was making him unhappy. Through that conversation, he decided to examine that. So that would be an example.
It would be the same thing as that. That is the first one that came to mind maybe because we both know Neil.
Right. You seem very philosophically minded, very calm. I should thank you, also. You and a friend named Chase Jarvis– he’s a world-class photographer– are the people who got me into meditation consistently with TM. So thank you for that.
Have you always been very calm? You seem very unperturbed, very unfazed by anything that I have observed. Is that an illusion? Or have you always been that way?
I’m very lucky in that I learned to meditate when I was young. I started meditating when I was 14. I meditated a lot for a long time. Through that, even though I am not always calm on the inside, it has at least given me an ara of calm and made me, comparative to other people, probably calm. I know sometimes internally I can get disrupted.
What do you do when you get disrupted?
I try to do something like… often times exercise will make me feel better. Meditating will make me feel better. Ice bath is greatest of all.
King of mood elevators?
It’s just magic: sauna, ice, back and forth. At the end of the fourth or fifth or sixth round of being in an ice tub, there is nothing in the world that bothers you.
(laughs) It’s true.
It’s like the world’s great place.
What are the types of things that disrupt you? Are there any particular patterns?
I would say usually work things, or politically-type things related to work, could really bother. They don’t fit into my realm of the way I look at life. I get surprised by those things and…
Just having to manage, say the various relationships within the label, or something like that?
Yeah, I would say more like dealing with business people. It can often be like, “Wow, you really think that. You really want to do things that way?” It can be surprising.
(laughs) What are some of the ways in which you have designed your life, to say, not have to contend with as much of that as possible?
Well, I always really try to focus my life around art. So, I consider my job, even though there are other parts of my job… I consider my real job, the reason that I am here, is to sit with artists, talk to artists, help artists be better at what they do.
If I am not doing it with artists, I am doing it with something else. My goal is to make things as good as they can be whatever it is to the point of where I’ve gone to visit friends in their office and I rearrange the furniture in their office because I am insane.
You know it would really look better if you moved this things this way and you could see the sun coming in through the window here… and if you opened these blinds and turned this around, this place would feel much more comfortable.
When you think of the word “successful,” whose the first person that comes to mind?
It’s not such an easy question to answer because so many things go into what makes someone successful.
What are some of those things?
I would start with somebody who is happy. I know a great many people who are financially successful and not happy so I would rule all them out to start with. It’s not coming so easily. I’ll have to think about that and we’ll come back to it.
We’ll come back to it.
This is a big question, but I’ll ask a very self interested question. So I’m 37. Of course we have both spent a lot of time around Neil.
I’m not going to spoil the secret because Neil would go into epileptic shock. But the next book I am looking forward to…
Oh, I just thought of a couple examples of people who are successful.
Let’s do it.
A good example of someone who is successful is Don Wildman, our friend from the beach.
Ah, whom I still have not met.
He’s 80 years old. He did 23 pull ups on the beach the other day. He’s in the Senior Olympics. He retired in his 50’s because he wanted to spend his days enjoying life and exercising. He’s one of the most inspiring, uplifting, great, successful people on so many levels… on so many levels. He would probably be the first one I would think of.
Laird is another great example of someone who I would think of as successful. He is a successful human being.
For those people who are not familiar with Laird, uncontroversially thought of as the king of big wave surfing, among other things.
It is not uncommon to hear him referred to as the greatest athlete on earth. So many athletes, of so many disciplines, think of him as the best athlete.
Also king of steam rooms. (laughs)… and ice baths.
I first started doing sauna and the ice with Laird.
Successful is someone who enjoys their life, is great at what they do, is curious, and continually pushing forward, and wanting to be better than they were yesterday without beating themselves up about it.
Don. His name has come up so many times. What are some of things that you have learned or picked up from him and adopted for yourself?
He just seems so positive and it seems like nothing gets to him. He can push through anything that is in his way, all the time with a smile on his face and a positive outlook.
And his curious nature… I don’t know how many people that are 80 that every time you meet them they teach you something about something new they have learned because they are so curious about a great article or this great book… and you have to read this book and you have to go see this movie and you have to do this. We just came back from snowboarding in Alaska and you have to go see it. It was unbelievable. Just, he’s got a wild life.
That’s inspiring. In the last three or four years, particularity after my health scare last year with Lymes Disease and everything that came with that, tried to surround myself not with the extremely young athletes and performers, but, first instance, this polish gentleman and his wife, both of whom are world record holders in olympic weight lifting… but what’s so fascinating is how relatively injury free and mobile they still are and they are in their early 60’s at this point.
I’ve really tried to spend more time in the last few years modeling what those people do. Do you have a book, or books, that you have gifted often to other people?
There are many. The first one that comes to mind is the Tao Te Ching, the Steven Mitchell translation of the Tao Te Ching. What is great about it is that it is 81 short pieces that could be looked at as poems. If you were to read the book today, you would get one thing from it and if you picked it up in 2 years and read it again it would mean something entirely different… and always on the money. Always what you need to read at that period of time. It is a magic book in that way in that it always fits.
I actually took… god, this is bringing back a memory… an entire class on the Tao Te Ching at Princeton when I was an undergrad in east asian studies. It seems on some level that that book does what you do for musicians meaning that it, sort of, reflects back truths that they were not aware of themselves. Or that they could not verbalize themselves.
Any other books come to mind?
Another one that is really nice is a book about meditation called Wherever You Go, There You Are, which is by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It’s a great book if you’ve never meditated, and if you’ve been meditating for 50 years. If you read this book, either way you’ll care more about meditation, become a better meditator… it just gives insight into why we do it and what the benefits are.
Do you have any favorite movies or documentaries?
I watch lots of documentaries. Let me think of what’s a favorite. I just watched one the other night that was spectacular. Nick Cave, the english– well I guess he is Australian, who lives in England– musician has this new documentary, which is an unusual documentary because it is part documentary and part, I guess, not. You have ot see it but it is called 20,000 Days on Earth.
20,000 Days on Earth.
So that was the last one that I was just, “Wow, how great is that.”
Have you had any points of overwhelm in your length… In your length? (laughs) That is not a question. I think the heat is getting to my head… in your career?
The heats getting to you? (laughs)
The heats getting to me. (laughs)
I just switched hands because my hand is burning.
(laughs) Do you experience overwhelm, or have you?
Yes, I definitely experience overwhelm. Too much going on at one time. Or often it’s self imposed. I make it a point to always be there as best as I can be for the artists that I work with, and sometimes their needs can overtake my own needs. Then I feel overwhelmed because I want to be there for them and then I feel like I am not taking care of myself. So finding that balance.
What do you do in those situations? When you come to that realization.
When I’ll realize it, I’ll usually talk to the artist about it and explain the situation. Look for a… I would say any situation that feels sticky usually through talking about it with the person that it feels sticky with almost always it easy very quickly, and usually brings you closer together.
Do you explain the situation the way that you just described it to me, or what is the actual?…
It just depends on the case, but I might say that I feel really overwhelmed now, this is what’s going on with me. Can we talk about this later? You know, can we address this, is that ok?.. usually talk about.
How are you feeling?
It’s getting hot.
(laughs) You tell me. I’ll let you call the rotation of the guards when we go to ice. But, I’m very curious, I remember seeing your…
Ouch. I just burned myself.
(laughs) I think this is a fine idea. I will say that I will absolve myself of responsibility for hot objects. But, your cameo in 99 Problems, how did that come about?
I had produced the song for Jay, and then when it was time to make the video, a friend of mine, Mark Romanek, who’s a great video maker, made the video. I think it was Mark’s idea. He said why don’t we get Rick in the video. Jay agreed. Then they called and asked if I would come. I love Jay and he is a really great guy and I thought it would be fun.
What are you proudest of as it relates to that track?… If it comes to mind. I know you have worked with a lot of tracks.
I think that… just the fact that Jay is one of the most important artists in the world and that’s one of his most popular songs and we got to do it together. It’s really great.
How did you become involved with that song? Or were you involved with the entire album?
I was involved with that song. We went into the studio together. It was his last… it was going to be his last album– the Black Album, his retirement album. He asked his 10 favorite producers to each do one song. We went into the studio– that is the first time we worked together– and we spent a week in the studio trying different things. Eventually we came upon this track in experimentation and he loved it.
Then the words came to him sort of magically. He sat in the back of the room, listening to the track over and over and over again, and after about an half an hour jumped up and said I’ve got it. Ran to the other room and did the vocals… without writing anything down.
So I’ve heard this about him before. At some point I heard a story that he wrote basically gibberish down on a piece of paper because someone who was trying to supervise him earlier in his career was so worried that he wasn’t taking the recording session seriously, but, when in fact he didn’t write anything down at all. It was just to put them at ease. Then freestyle the entire thing. Is that generally how he operates.
That’s how he does it. Yeah.
That’s mind boggling.
He’s super talented and just a great person. Really one of my favorite people.
What do you like about him?
Everything. He’s humble. He’s honest. He’s a deep soul. You know. He looks at things deeply. Understands them deeply. Is caring. He’s just a first rate person.
I think I am going to get in the ice.
Alright. Time to move to the ice and we’ll hit pause.
That was a particularly chilly ice bath. It’s now lower than the minimum measurement, which is 40 degrees. I feel like all my skin below my neck is contracted by 30 percent. It’s a good feeling.
You had mentioned this briefly when we were coming in, but who’s the person that introduced you to using a sauna?
The first sauna that I was ever in was a local friend of ours, Chris Chelios, whose a hockey player. He had the longest professional hockey career of anyone ever. He continued playing professionally until he was 48 years old. All the people on the other teams he was facing at the time were in their 20’s. He is really an unbelievable athlete.
He has done sauna everyday of his life for the last… since he has been playing. He believes the reason that he had the longevity in the sport, and the reason he never got sick, and was able to never miss a game, and to play for such a long career, was all due to the sauna every day.
And he used a hot sauna? He was not alternating between hot and cold?
He did hot and cold, but he wouldn’t always necessarily use an ice bath. He would do cold showers if not. But he would do 15-20 minutes in the sauna, cold shower, 15-20 minutes in the sauna, round and round.
And how were you introduced to the ice baths?
The ice baths came from Joe K whose my girlfriend’s nephew. He bought an ice tub for Laird because Laird started doing the sauna after Chris started the sauna. With our group, we’d do on the beach. Chris has a sauna on the beach. So we would do the sauna in the winter time then jump into the ocean. That was how we would do the hot and the cold.
Then Joe K suggested we start using the ice tub. Then we started doing that. It took it to a whole new level.
And you’ve done some very unusual training that sounds terrifying to me– underwater. Right? Do you continue to do the underwater training with weights?
Yeah, that is something we will do with Laird. We’ll do like 50 pound dumbbells, 14 feet underwater. It’s an interesting experience. It’s a lot like getting into the ice bath. If you are not used to getting into an ice bath, most people if you were to say get into a tub of ice, they would react negatively. (laughs)
They’ll panic. When you’re underwater holding weights, your brain goes crazy. It’s like weight underwater, you die. It’s like cement shoes. So we do all these different exercises with weights underwater and it’s really interesting.
Keep in mind folks: don’t do this without supervision. Talk to your docor.
What is the technique look like?
Laird has a pool where you can start in the shallow end and walk down into the deep end and then up the center of the pool there is a staircase underwater. It started with holding heavy weights, walking from the shallow end into the deep end… Obviously, there is a point where you have to take a big breath and hold it. Then you walk down to the deep end and then you turn around and walk up the stairs and make it before you run out of breath.
Each time we do it, you make wider and wider circles and get used to being under longer and longer. Then we started adding, once completely submerged, maybe curls or shoulder presses and doing those under water. One day, after we had been doing this for about a year, Laird came into the gym the next day and he said that he had a dream last night that if we used lighter weights they’ll be heavy enough to keep us down, but light enough where we could jump up to the top.
In the deep end?
In the deep end. So now instead of doing one wrap and recovering, which was all we could do before… you know, you could do one round basically and then be in the shallow end and recover. We started doing these exercises and jumping. So we would start with maybe 15 pound dumbbells and you would hold two 15 pound dumbbells, jump into the deep end, sink to the bottom, and jump as hard as you can, throw your arms over you head, and then kind of do one stroke, pulling your arms down to your side while holding the dumbbells.
It was just enough to get your head out. You’d gasp for a breath and then you would sink. We’d do that over and over and over again. At first, maybe a good goal would be to try to get 10 in a row. It would be a really big deal if we could do 10 in a row. Then over time we worked up to being able to do 100 in a row. Then doing it with heavier weights. Since then Laird’s come up with maybe, I don’t know, 50 different exercises we do with weights underwater– either underwater or in water. It’s wild.
He dreams up some really fascinating, not only exercises, but devices. For those people who haven’t seen the foil board..
The foil board is amazing.
People can google, “foil board.”
He invented standup paddling really. He invented towing surfing. He’s got an amazing analytical mind.
Did he develop that in a particular way?
The analytical mind.
I think he’s very mechanical to start with. I think it starts with that. Very curious and very hard working. He’s willing to try things and fail at things to get to be able to do something. The first day I went to his gym I couldn’t do one pushup. Really it was through his belief and his inspiration that I was able to learn all the different things that I was able to learn with him.
I remember he showed me one exercise and I couldn’t do it at all. I said I can’t do that, and he said don’t say you can’t do it, say you haven’t done it yet. Then he said let’s divide it into 3 pieces. Do the first third of the exercise and I could do the first third. Then I would do the last third of the exercise and I could do that. Then I would do the middle third by itself and I could do that. Then he was like could I put the first 2 pieces together and I could do that. Then put the second and third piece together and I could do that. Then eventually I could do the whole exercise. But, at first it seemed impossible. But he walked me through it…
… and broke it down for you.
Yeah, just taught me how to see past the limitations I put on myself.
What was the exercise? Do you recall what that was?
That might have been a… like a burpee with weights, where you would like do a shoulder press and then you would put the weights down on the ground, then hold the dumbbells and jump back into a push-up position, then jump up and slide your legs forward and through…
Then jump up into a squat position and then lift up. That would be one round.
That’s an intense movement. (laughs)
What are some of the physical experiments that you are doing these days? Or training protocols that you are experimenting with?
There are so many. I have to think about what is new and different. (laughs) I’ve been doing hyperbaric oxygen and I really like that.
That’s in a chamber?
He’s a fascinating guy.
Yeah. He is really into ice.
(laughs) I’ve never seen anyone more tolerant of ice. I think he has the world record for sitting in a box, basically a cube, of ice.
And I think didn’t he climb Mount Everest only in his swim trunks.
He has some incredible thermo-regulatory capabilities. It’s very impressive.
And ran a marathon in the desert with no water. That was another one. Just the two extremes of the heat or the cold…
The guy’s a monster. I really want to get him on the podcast at some point.
He’d be a good one…. Let’s see, what else…. Those are the ones that come to mind at the moment.
How do you, just as Laird did for you, when you are working with an artist who believes they can’t do something or is just hitting that wall, what are some of the ways that you help them get past that?
Usually I’ll give them like homework… like a small doable task. I’ll give you an example. There was an artist that I was working with recently who hadn’t made an album in a long time and was struggling with finishing anything. Just had like a version of a writer’s block, but it was a… I don’t know. It’s hard to explain what it was.
But I would give him very doable homework assignments that almost seemed like a joke, like tonight I want you to write one word in this songs that needs five lines that you can’t finish. I just want one word that you like by tomorrow. Do you think you could come up with one word? Usually, he would be like, “yeah, I think I can do one word.” Then very quickly by breaking it down into pieces like I learned from Laird… and chipping away. One step at a time, you can really get through anything.
Yeah, breaking it down into manageable bites.
On the beach we had a zip line… not a zip line, you know the beam that you balance on…
Oh, a slack line.
A slack line. Laird was pretty good at in the beginning, but had never done it before. He would work for hours. He would just be there hour after hour after hour, falling off and getting back on, falling off and getting back on. Then, of all of the group of people, he was by far the first one who was able to do it. And it wasn’t because he was just naturally gifted at it. He knows that anything he sets his mind to learn to do… if he focuses and just continues to not mind falling off and not thinking that he is suppose to be good at it out of the box… learning to be able to do it. That’s how you learn things.
I also will say that after having the weight problem that I had for so long, and then finally finding the solution, and making the change, it really makes me believe that anything is possible. You know, we can learn and train ourselves to do absolutely anything.
It’s really just getting the right information. If we get the right information we can learn to do anything, whatever it is. Now it doesn’t mean we can necessarily be the best in the world at something, but we can be our best at that thing.
Right, the best version of ourselves.
Yeah and do things that we never dreamed of as possible for us.
What advice would you give… and I’ll ask this for a couple different ages.. but I’ll start with your 20 year old self. What advice would you give your 20 year old self if any?
Try to have more fun.
Why do you think you weren’t having as much fun as you could have at that point?
I think I was more driven and, I don’t know, I want to say almost like I had something to prove. I don’t know if I did have something to prove, but I felt like doing the work was the most important thing in the world, as opposed to doing the work and enjoying the process… being able to step back and see what it was. Not just be so deeply into it that… You know, I feel like I missed a lot of years of my life because I was just in a dark room working on music, seven days a week for probably like 20 years.
Wow. That makes me think of a story from Neil Gaiman, the writer. I think it was with the success of Sandman and he was in a huge line of readers who wanted signatures and fans who wanted to tell him stories, Steven King pulled him aside and just said enjoy it. And he didn’t. He was too caught up in the flow.
What about your 30 year old self? What advice would you give your 30 year old self?
I guess I would probably tell myself something that still might apply to me today. I wouldn’t have known at all then, but I know it now. It’s just not second nature. To be kinder to myself. I think I’ve beaten myself up a lot. Because I expect a lot from myself, I’ll be hard on myself. I don’t know if I am doing anyone any good by doing that.
Yeah, that’s advice that I need to give myself as well. When do you tend to beat yourself up?
I’ve made somewhat of a sport of it it would seem.
Yeah, it can happen anytime I can come up with anything that I could be doing to further something and didn’t already think of it and didn’t already do it. I might beat myself up about why I had not done that.
Something that I struggle with that I would love to get your two cents on and is related to this. On on hand, I don’t want to beat myself up, on the other I feel like the perfectionism that I have has enabled me to achieve whatever modicum success I’ve been able to achieve.
I have heard stories, and you can correct me if I’m wrong about, for instance, ZZ Top and La Futura and how they worked on it with you from like 2008 to 2012, something like that. How they realized the value of you wanting the art to be as perfect as it could be, or the best that it could be. And taking whatever time and pains necessary to make that possible.
I would love to hear your thoughts on that because it is something that I continually struggle with. I want to be easier on myself, but I worry if I do that I will lose whatever magic, if there is such a thing, that enables me to do what I do.
I think that’s a myth. And I think your take on things is specific to you and it’s not because… It’s almost like you won the war. And to accept the fact that you’ve won the war. You’ve broken through to now you have an audience. People are open to hear what you are interested in, what you’re interested in learning about, and what you want to share.
You can do that without killing yourself. Killing yourself won’t be of service to either you or to your audience.
I have to get in the ice…
Alright. You know what let’s… this has been great. I need ice as well. Let’s call a close to this.
Are there any last parting advice or comment that you would like to make before we sign off?
I think it’s too hot for me to know what’s even… I don’t know what’s happening…
What’s up or down? (laughs)
Yeah. I am very confused at the moment. But I know that this ice bath is going to change everything for the better. (laughs)
Alright. On that note, thanks so much, Rick.
We will both get some ice. I’ll let you get out first