Rick Rubin Brings American Recordings to Universal Republic

7:15 AM PST 08/23/2012 by Jem Aswad, Ed Christman, Billboard

After a controversial stint at Columbia Records, during which he spent much of his time working with artists signed to competing labels, the famed producer starts a new deal with brothers Monte and Avery Lipman which will see him issuing three or four albums a year.

Rick Rubin has signed a deal to put the next incarnation of American Recordings through Republic Records.

According to sources, Universal Republic president/CEO Monte Lipman and co-president/COO Avery Lipman recently completed a P&D deal with Rubin, which will see the famed producer issuing three or four albums a year through Republic. Further terms of the deal, including possible involvement of the American catalog, were unclear at press time. Rubin's controversial five-year stint as co-chairman of Columbia Records ended in February.

The deal with Republic has been in the pipeline for some time, as its first releases -- ZZ Top's La Futura, co-produced by Rubin and guitarist Billy Gibbons, and the Avett Brothers' "The Carpenter," produced by Rubin -- are due in less than month, on September 11th. (A source says preparations for the releases were underway before the deal was finalized.) ZZ Top signed with American way back in 2008; the two labels are also reported to be close to a joint deal for highly touted singer/songwriter Noah Gunderson.

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The roster of artists listed on American's long-inactive website also includes Gogol Bordello, Howlin Rain and the late Johnny Cash; American releases have been few and far between for many years. Label staffing was unclear at press time, although Dino Paredes, who has worked with Rubin in various capacities since the 1990s, is the label's general manager and day-to-day contact for the Republic staffs.

Rubin's return to a more executive-producer-style role in the label world has been expected for some time. Despite being brought in amid major fanfare and expense by Sony's Rob Stringer in 2007, Rubin's hectic production schedule -- which saw him working mostly with non-Sony artists -- was a major cause of tension during his stint with the label. He rarely visited company offices and reportedly clashed with co-chairman Steve Barnett. His production of four tracks on Adele's 21 -- none of them major radio hits -- was a rare success on a Sony-affiliated project, and his departure from the label was a foregone conclusion long before it officially took place.

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In fact, Rubin has worked with artists outside of his label for most of his career, beginning with Run-D.M.C.'s blockbuster Raising Hell in 1986; blossoming with the Cult, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tom Petty; and in recent years with a sprawling list of dozens of major artists ranging from Metallica to the Dixie Chicks, Jay-Z to Slipknot, Weezer to Shakira, Rage Against the Machine to Justin Timberlake. His role in the recording process -- usually as a combination of executive producer and guru -- enables him to work with multiple artists at once. Recent or upcoming projects include Metallica, Linkin Park, Black Sabbath; sessions with Crosby, Stills & Nash ended in bitterness.

Rubin formed American -- originally called Def American -- in 1988 amid his protracted separation from Def Jam, the label he legendarily formed in his New York University dorm room in 1984 and, with Russell Simmons, steered to multi-platinum success with LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys and others. The label's successes over the years have primarily been with harder rock acts like Slayer, Danzig and System of a Down, along with several previously overlooked legends like Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond and Donovan. The Black Crowes and Sir Mix-a-Lot were rare label successes not produced by Rubin, although his A&R role has dramatically diminished since he began focusing on outside production work in the 1990s.    

"I always focus on the creative," Rubin told Billboard.biz in June of last year, as his Columbia deal was winding down. "I live in the creative and let the creative decisions carry what happens on the business side. I was asked to come to [Columbia] in a creative role, so that is really where my heart lives. I try not to get involved in the [business] side of things and leave that to the people at the label. And it's been like that my whole career, from the beginning of Def Jam to now. Things are no different now than they've ever been.

"My job is the same as it is when I'm in the studio producing a record -- to share my opinions, be honest and truthful," he continued. "Ultimately it is like the role of a coach. The artist, ultimately, at the end of the day, gets to do what they want to do. And the company, at the end of the day, gets to do what they want to do. I try to be the voice of reason and positive creativity and sometimes other people have other ideas, and it's all cool."

Additional reporting by Rob Figarola

Twitter: @billboardbiz

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