While receiving the Grammy for best hard rock performance, Dave Grohl thanked Nick Raskulinecz, calling him the "greatest rock producer around." Coming from an artist who's worked with Tape Op favorites like Tony Visconti, Steve Albini, Barrett Jones and Butch Vig, this was no small compliment. But who is this Raskulinecz character? And why haven't we heard of him before? The poster boy for hard work and persistence, Nick started as a bass player for the Knoxville rock-thrash group Hypertribe. The recording bug bit Nick early. In the late '80s he got his own gear and began cutting demos. The band moved to Los Angeles in search of national exposure. To pay the bills, Nick snagged a gofer job at Sound City Studios. Management and artists alike took notice of his enthusiasm and affable nature... He assumed more responsibility, earning engineering jobs and eventually serving as a producer's assistant. During his tenure at Sound City he worked with (and cooked for) the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Tom Petty, Danzig, Rancid, and longtime friends Superdrag. In the late '90s he met Dave Grohl and the Grammy countdown began. Since then, Nick has produced Fireball Ministry, Rufio, The Reunion Show, Motorhead's Lemmy, and Soil, to name a few. His latest efforts include recording Velvet Revolver, engineering the new Rancid CD, mixing PROBOT and producing Grohl's drumming for a Killing Joke album. We caught up with Nick during a rare moment off as he prepared to begin work on the new Ash album.
What made you want to shift from being an engineer to producing? How did it transpire? Was it gradual or sudden?
I kind of feel like I've always been a producer. Even when I started back in 1988 with my first 4-track. I did it to record my own band. I immediately started producing.
It had to have been a Tascam Porta 01 or Porta 02.
It was actually a Tascam 688, the 8-track model. I still have it and use it all the time.
So, out of the gate you had a predisposition towards arranging, guiding, and all those amorphous things producers do that is the glue for the whole project.
I always felt like I was a producer, but I needed to learn how to be an engineer.
Now that you've paid your dues as an engineer, do you feel that makes you a better producer?
Totally. Definitely. Because I understand the recording process and can communicate with both artists and engineers. An artist can describe to me how they want something to sound and I can do exactly what they want because I can engineer as well.
Can you give me an example when this has happened recently?
Actually, it happened today. I'm doing some mixing for Dave Grohl right now. He came in today on a mix I just did, and he's describing to me what he wants his drums to sound like. In my head I instantly knew what two pieces of gear I was going to hook together to do it with. I did it. He loved it. It was perfect, exactly what he wanted. So it was cool as the producer of the project to be able to do that. I spend a lot of years working on my engineering. I mean really, really focusing on my skills. Spending time on how to record different types of sounds. It's hard. Ask anybody who does this. It can be tough to make a whole recording sound good.
On the records you've done there seems to be a similarity among the bands' styles. Do you have to like the band's music to work on their project?
I have to like it. I can't put one hundred percent into something I don't like. I mean, I can't put a hundred percent into something I have to listen to for fifteen or sixteen hours a day! I have put myself in that position in the past [of not liking the material.] All that does is compromise the whole project. Maybe you think you can 'make something' out of it in the beginning, and sometimes you can, but usually it doesn't work that way. For me, if I don't get a vibe from something from the first time I listen to it, then I usually know that it's not going to work.
So, do you feel you should be a 'fifth Beatle' where you sort of participate and contribute to the sound and direction, or do you take the Albini approach, kind of like the Star Trek Prime Directive of "I do not interfere, I just translate the band's vision to tape?"
That's kind of a tough question. It kind of depends. For example, for a young band like The Reunion Show, I essentially joined the band for two and a half weeks. For a band like Foo Fighters, I don't have to go in and 'join' the way you would with a younger band. You don't need to be a member in the same way. Those guys have experience. They know how to make a record. They've done it before.
The Reunion Show was a whirlwind project [the album Kill Your Television].
The Reunion Show. I love that album. That's a good record to talk about, man. I mixed it all in two to two and a half days. It was a tornado! We spent twelve days recording that record. Drums, bass, vocals, everything was done that fast. Then I spent two and a half days mixing. We did it all in the same studio.
How do you keep your ears fresh in that kind of situation?
I listen really quiet. When I'm mixing, I mix for...