Even though he produced an eclectic mix of artists (from Regina Spektor to Mexico’s pop-rockers Fobia), it was his work with the Strokes (especially Is This It) that put the name of Gordon Raphael onto the musical map.
The Raphael-produced The Modern Age EP (2001), which contained earlier versions of three songs included on Is This It and started a label bidding war, was released originally only in England on Rough Trade Records. After Is This It was released in the same year, Beggar’s Banquet Records started pressing copies of the previous EP in America. But it was that first full-length album that turned the Strokes into a major force that influenced virtually everyone, especially bands like the Arctic Monkeys and the Libertines in England.
But the story of Raphael and the Strokes has elements of both mutual respect and sudden goodbyes. After The Modern Age EP, the band started working with British producer Gil Norton, but they called Raphael back soon after. For the second album, Raphael was waiting for a phone call that never came.
“I went to visit them at their office in New York, and I saw `Radiohead producer` Nigel Godrich’s name on a blackboard, and I knew what the game was,” Raphael says. “I was sad, but there were no hard feelings. Just to show you: while they were working with Nigel, they wanted to use my bass guitar because they loved it so much from the first album. `Bassist` Nikolai `Fraiture` called me and said, ‘Even though you’re not producing the second album, would you send us your bass?’ I said yes and mailed them my best bass. I love those guys.”
But things with Godrich didn’t work out, and the band soon called Raphael back. Room on Fire was a worthy follow-up. But that didn’t stop the Strokes from inviting David Kahne (Sublime, Fishbone) to “help” Raphael produce 2006’s First Impressions of Earth, the band’s third album so far. After Raphael worked on the album for a year, he got “laid-off.” Kahne took over production, finished it, and First Impressions was the least critically and commercially successful album in the Strokes’ career.
“The band said, ‘Do you hate us for doing that?’ ‘No, boys, it’s your music!’ They’re very, very interested in realizing their artistic vision. I’m a musician, and I want things done the way I want them, too. They weren’t mean to me, they didn’t treat me badly. They just wanted to go another way and asked me if it was OK, and I said, ‘Of course! Pay me for the days I worked, and no bad feelings.’”
But when you say Strokes, you think of the albums Raphael started and finished. NME chose it as the best album of the decade, and Rolling Stone as a decade runner-up, below Radiohead’s Kid A.
“The first reaction I got `to the selections` is to get a big, big smile on my face and say, ‘I’m so happy, that just makes my day,’ and that means people are going to call me all year long to work with them!” he says. “Then, the next reaction I got is that many of the bands that `the press` champions and talks about I don’t really care for. So I don’t take it seriously and I don’t believe the hype, but I’m very proud to have the recognition.”Read about Gordon's work with the San Antonio music community and watch an exclusive video interview with the Current