Rob Cavallo, the son of veteran manager Bob Cavallo (the Lovin' Spoonful,
Prince, Paula Abdul, Alanis Morissette), had labored in virtual obscurity
in the A&R department of Warner Bros./Reprise Records until he signed
Green Day and produced the multiplatinum Dookie. With that breakthrough
success came a promotion and myriad new responsibilities.
As an A&R person and staff producer at Reprise. Do you feel like you're
wearing two different hats?
So there's a big distinction in your mind between producing and doing
Oh, yeahespecially because A&R these days has become more than just
A&R. I have to go to the marketing meetings now, and we strategize on
how we're going to break bands. Like, I'm sitting here with the treatment
for the next Green Day video trying to figure out if it's the right thing.
A&R has really become big-time, full-service stuff.
The A&R person seems to be the right person to initiate discussion
on certain marketing issues, because the A&R person is the expert on the
artist and the messenger of the artist's vision. Who else is going to
do that at the label?
You're right, I totally agree. I believe that the relationship between
the artist and the A&R person, and how pure that is, is really the basis
for the relationship between the artist and the record company as a whole.
How the A&R person and the product management person convey the essence
of a band to the rest of the building helps to determine how strong a
campaign is. For example, if you just go to the art department and say,
"We need to take the record cover or one of the pictures and turn it into
some advertising or publicity photos, and what's going to come out on
the next pro-CD"When you see cover art, advertising or whatever, you
always have to ask yourself, does it feel like Green Day, or does it feel
like that band? There is so much strength in that, so much personality
that has to be conveyed. What the band is all about has to come through
in that first introduction. Those communication channels, the wider they
are and the stronger and clearer they are, the better it's going to be
for the band in the long run.
I'm curious about what your job and your life were like before Dookie
The funny thing is that my life is almost the same as it was. There are
certainly some changes that are really fun and nice. You get to work with
a lot of artists. You have a lot of people knocking at your door. People
listen to you morethey think you know something. Like, "Oh, he sold
a lot of records. He knows something!" Well, actually, I know the same
amount as I knew when I hadn't sold one fucking record.
Even though I
was just an A&R representativewhich is sort of the low man on the totem
pole in terms of A&R statusthey've always treated me with a lot of respect
here. "Yeah, it's your thing. Do it. Turn it in to us. Make it be great."
Now I'm a Senior Vice President here of A&R andI don't know how to say
it, because I don't call myself the leader of the A&R department, because
I'm not reallyI think it would be fair to say I'm the highest-ranking
A&R person at Reprise, just in terms of title. Jo Lenardi is actually
the head of the department, and she's just starting to do A&Rshe was
the head of alternative marketingbut she's going to be a great A&R person.
But they've handed me some big artists to work withmy personal artist
roster that I'm supposed to A&R has increased a lot, by times four, I'd
say. When my old boss, Michael Ostin, left [to become the head of A&R
at Dreamworks SKG's new music division, joining his father, former Warner
Bros. chairman Mo Ostin, and former WB president Lenny Waronker], he handed
off some bands to me, and some other things were reassigned to me as well.
Let's talk record producing for a bit. How do you create the optimum
The Beatles' Complete Recording Sessions to me is like the Bible of production
and making music, because in the seven years that those guys were togetherthe
Beatles and George Martinthe positive creative energy they generated
together allowed them to come up with more new and better ideas than ever
beforeboth on a musical level and a technical level. Technically, in
the studio they would come up with a problem, and George and the guys
in the white coatsthe technicianswould sit around and ponder it, and
think about how to sync up two tape machines, or how to record a bass
direct, or how to get a better echo sound happening, or an automatic double
track. They came up with these things because of the musical problems
that were presented to them while they were there. The same thing happened
musically. The Beatles were breaking boundaries left and right in terms
of what they were doing musically. The thing that really struck me about
all of this was the fact that between the band and the producer, they
created an atmosphere of trustan atmosphere where you could try anything.
And that's what I try to do.
When you go in
with a band, you want to make sure nobody feels that they should be embarrassed
or ashamed to throw out any kind of an idea. The truth is you have to
throw out ideas and mix it up to go forward creatively. You have to not
be afraid to be naked and just let it go. That's usually where it's good
to have no egos, especially the producer. If the producer has no ego,
that means his one job is to sit there and go, "How can I make that idea
work? Is that a good idea?" It's also to help sustain that environment
where a band member can say, "Wouldn't it be great if we doubled the verse
before we got into the chorus?" Or, "I have this crazy sound that I can
get out of my bass that would be great for this transition into the bridge."
And the guys would go, "Let's try it." If it works, great. If it doesn't
work, no skin off anybody's noseyou just go to another idea. I think
that's one of the most important things you can doto create that open
kind of environment. Because then what you end up doing is truly getting
the best out of the artists that are in that room. You get it onto tape.
That's one of the most exciting things I can do in lifeto be in the
studio with the band and have creative ideas start to flow and to actually
be working and getting great stuff on tape.
It happened a
lot when we were making Dookieno doubt about it. I feel really blessed
that I got to make that record with them. Right from getting the drum
sound, everything seemed to click. We always knew it. Every time we had
a take that was the right take, it was like Tré would throw his sticks
and you would always hear them click hitting the floorand then we would
take a break. Tré is really a great drummer. The best thing about him
is his concept is so wonderful, because if you listen to "Longview," you
hear how much he is actually adding to that song. He puts in little things.
Just hitting the high hat for a second before the start of each verse
is a great little touch. The way he mixes up the pattern on the tom feel
during the verses is actually really interesting. And then just the fury
and energy that he plays with on the chorus is great. He likes to live
on the edge, so a lot of times he comes up with putting on the final touches
of the concept when we're actually sitting there putting the song down,
which is a great thing. Sometimes it may take him more takes because he's
going for something or experimenting with something. It still was quite
One of the things
that was amazing was all Billie's lead vocals were done in two days. And
the B-sides. He sang something like 16 or 17 songs in two days. We never
comped. He would do one take, then another take, and it would either be
take one or two. Sometimes he would do another take and go over take one
so take three would be there. Then we would just use one of those. And
that was it. Sometimes he did one take and we kept itthere was no need
to really belabor it.
sign of a good band: They know when they've communicated the thing they
want to communicate. They know when they've had that magic. It's not necessarily
a huge struggle for them to get it. They just know that if they basically
open their heart into that microphone, that is pretty much all there is.
I know a lot of bands really get hung up on getting the "magic" take and
killing themselves. Well, you do have to kill yourself, and you do have
to get the magic take, but more importantly, you have to know when you've
done it. You have to know how to get yourself there, and it's not anything
that should ever stress you out. You don't get there by stressing yourself.
You get there by being patient and being good to yourself and having a
little bit of silent confidence that you know you can do it.
What acts have you signed?
Like most A&R peopleor at least somethe first few things I signed
didn't really pan out. But I certainly got my chance at bat two or three
times and learned the ropes. I started to see that, really, you sign peopleyou
sign people that you think are going to make it. You sign music that is
obviously greatsomething that turns you on immediately. Why sign anything
that isn't? I'm not saying everything has to be obvious hits. I just produced
a band called Jawbreaker, who are on Geffen. Their music is not obviousyou
have to get into it to really appreciate it. But I think it's great. I'm
just saying that it has to be obvious that it is good, quality music.
After you know you have that, then you look at the people. Do they have
a way of winning? Do they have a vision in their head? Do they have an
artistic vision as to how they are going to present themselves? Because
really the great artists always do.
I'll never forget
when Green Day said to meit was so coolthey said, "We're going to
be a great band." And they knew it. "We're going to be a great band no
matter what Reprise does for us." They already could draw 1,000 kids in
a good 10 or 12 cities across this country, and they'd already played
Europe three or four times. These kids were 21 years old. They knew what
it took to be successful in the music business. They never had jobs. They
made their living being a band by the time they were age 16 or 17. They
were like, "We think we need the help of Reprise to realize our potential;
however, we are fully confident that we are going to do it on our own
anyway. So you're going to take the record that we make and you're going
to send it to radio stations for us. So when they hear it, they're going
to like it and they're going to want to play it." That was the way they
thought. They didn't think like a lot of other bands, that go, "Oh we're
on Reprise now, so that means people are going to like us. You're going
to get our record played on the radio because we're on Reprise." Well
no. That doesn't work at all.
You get your
record played because it's a good record; because you know that the content
of that record is going to be something that is going to work. No matter
what we do or how much money we spend, or whatever kind of silly things
that labels do to get stuff on the radio, if it's not a hit, there is
no such thing as a "made" hit anymore. Kids have to respond. Let's say
you could go buy a radio station. If you could buy a radio station and
say "You will play this record"like old-school payolaand let's say
they play it three times a day for two weeks. If that record doesn't respond,
if the kids aren't buying it, if the kids don't call in and say they really
like it, and if it doesn't research or whatever it is they do to figure
out what radio knows, you're not going to have a hit, no matter what.
The only thing that brings kids and music fans into the stores to actually
buy a record is that they are interested in what the band is saying, and
doing, and playing, and what that's about. I know that's probably a real
elementary thing to say, but I'm saying it as advice to the bands out
there who are trying to figure it out. Unfortunately, I meet too many
bands that just don't seem to know that. Again, the goal is not to get
signed; the goal is to do great music.
I think some bands are under the misconception that signing with a
major is an end in itself, rather than the beginning of the real challenge.
In my own A&R experience, I've seen a number of artists who allowed themselves
to be victimized by becoming passive during the process of getting signed
and being on a label, rather than continuing to initiate their own career
It's funny that you say "victimized," because the truth is that the artists
are victimizing themselveswe're not doing it to them. Any good record
company will always say to a band, "What do you want your record to sound
like? What do you want the cover to look like?" Look at Perry Farrell
of Jane's Addiction, for example: We couldn't have ever "manufactured"
him or helped him in any wayother than being supportiveto do his art.
No, we're a vehicle to help get that art exposed; we can't help you make
the art. A producer does help a band go into the studio experience and
try to help them get their best stuff on tape, but again, it's not like
anybody is writing the songs for them. It's the band's visionthey have
to do that themselves. The stronger the band's vision of what they want
to do, the better it's going to be and the greater the chance for success.
Every good band I've ever worked with knows what they want to sound like.
I keep trying
to make this point and I digress every time: I'm in this new position
where I've got a ton of bands to work with, tons of producers to find,
and I want them all to do well. At the same time, I can see how hard this
is. But experience is the greatest teacher, and I'm going to do everything
I can do to help these bands, obviously. This is my day-to-day workI
go in and A&R bands. Help them make it so they can increase their odds
for success. That's where I'm coming from; that's really what it's about.
I'm trying to fix the problems.
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