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Rick Rubin routinely keeps his production plate full — even now he’s juggling the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ just-finished I’m With You (due Aug. 30) and upcoming projects by Metallica, Linkin Park, the Avett Brothers and possibly ZZ Top and Kid Rock. So it doesn’t leave a lot of time to bask in his successes.
But Rubin is taking a moment to enjoy the success of British singer Adele‘s sophomore effort 21, an album for which he produced five tracks, including her remake of the Cure’s “Lovesong.” 21 has been certified double-platinum and has logged 10 weeks atop the Billboard 200 and 15 weeks at No. 1 in the U.K. as well as chart-stopping stints in nine other countries. It’s the top-selling album in the world so far this year at more than 7 million copies and made Adele the first living act since the Beatles in 1964 to have two U.K. Top Five albums and singles simultaneously. Her success, Rubin says, has far exceeded what he and his fellow executives at Columbia Records, where he has been co-chairman since 2007, ever expected.
“No one ever has any thoughts like that, ever,” Rubin told Billboard.biz. “Our whole goal is just to make something that we really like and that we think is really good, and then you hope that other people like it, too. But you can never predict what anyone else is going to like.”
Rubin chalks 21‘s success up to the Adele being “an incredible singer” and the fact that the music is “the real thing, and at a time when so much music is made through a more manufactured process, she is a self-contained, real artist who writes her songs and sings her songs and uses her vocal instrument in way we don’t get to hear a lot.” He also said he feels that 21 benefited from a bit of creative restraint during the recording of the album.
“There was a moment in time where there was some discussion of us going into the studio sooner,” he recalled, “and I really fought for us to push off the recording for probably an extra six or nine months until most of the songs were written — just to really go in with the strength and power of a good body of work. So a lot of the talk was just about the songwriting part and really getting in tune with the best possible material and taking our time and not being impatient and having patience and caring about quality.”
As for the album’s future, Rubin said, “We think there are probably five [singles], so I think it’s just beginning, really. I think it’s got a long life, and she’s barely toured at all, so it really is in the baby stages. It’s a beautiful album that we’re all really proud of and it’s amazing that it’s connecting with people the way it is and we just hope it continues to do so.”
21‘s success, of course, is not only a triumph for Rubin as a producer but also in his role at Columbia. Though his deal allows him to continue to produce artists on other labels, this is one for the home team, as it were — though Rubin is quick to explain that his reward comes more from being in the production booth than the executive offices, a role that has caused some controversy over the past couple of years.
“I always focus on the creative,” said Rubin, whose album with the Avett Brothers will be released by Columbia. “I live in the creative and let the creative decisions carry what happens on the business side. I was asked to come to the company 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,” Rubin 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.”
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