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Gordon Raphael: Producing The Strokes

The Strokes' Is This It was many critics' choice for the best album of 2001, and has gone platinum in the UK. Remarkably, it was recorded in a basic New York project studio by a then-unknown producer.

DIFFERENT STROKES"One of the biggest drawbacks throughout my career has been my inability, in musical terms, to go anywhere that I don't want to be," says Gordon Raphael. "I've never been able to work with a band that sounds super-commercial just to get a record deal, even though there are many times when it might have been a lot more convenient for me to do so, and that's just my nature. I really believe in music."

A producer / engineer / musician who's been plying his trade for more than two decades, he's travelled a long and circuitous route with little in the way of financial compensation — but at last it appears that he is actually reaping some reward for his uncompromising musical integrity. Raphaelhas recently enjoyed his greatest behind-the-board success with New York rock band The Strokes. It was in mid-January of 2002, while Gordon Raphael was working out of a small basement on the Lower East Side with the intention of finding a locale for his next facility, Transporterraum 2, that I spoke with him about the production of Is This It, an album that was voted number one record of 2001 by Billboard, CMJ, NME, Time and Entertainment Weekly.

DIFFERENT STROKESGrowing up in Seattle, Washington, Gordon Raphael fell in love with an ARP Odyssey synthesizer when he was in high school, and so began his pursuit of a career in music. Quitting school, he spent the late '70s, '80s and early 1990s playing keyboards in bands ranging from progressive rock groups to purveyors of dark, industrial music. At the same time, Raphael was learning about recording by abusing a Teac reel-to-reel. During the early '80s, as word spread about his production work, Gordon Raphael was approached by plenty of local artists to record demos and indie singles, and one of his early experiments in this regard was a band named Green River. The singer in this outfit was Mark Arm, later of Mudhoney, while guitar and bass were played by future Pearl Jam members Eddie Vedder and Stone Gossard.

"I would meet and record a lot of acts who later became very well known," says Raphael. "Back then, they were little kids, practising in basements and playing at the local tavern, so at one point I had most of what became the early Sub Pop roster in my briefcase."

Down In Flames

In 1986, Gordon Raphael moved into a 1927 Seattle church which had a recording studio in the basement and a giant stage on top, with a view to making this a cultural centre for local musicians as well as the HQ for a record label. Just as Raphael started to get some productions going in the studio, however, the entire place burned down, along with all of his early tapes and uninsured equipment — not least a Hammond organ and the beloved ARP Odyssey. Following this disaster, Raphael moved to New York in 1987. There, he quickly became involved in the composing, recording and editing of art film soundtracks, before relocating to LA in 1990 and working as a composer and producer for World Domination, an indie label launched by Dave Allen, the former bass player in Gang Of Four and Shriekback. He wasn't there for long. When a demo tape arrived from a Seattle band named Sky Cries Mary, Raphael moved back to his home city and joined said outfit as a keyboardist and guitarist.

"Sky Cries Mary was not only a full-time gig for me, but also the first of 30 rock bands that I'd played with to release a record, get press and go on tour," he says. "It felt like something I'd been looking for my whole life."

Nevertheless, all good things come to an end, and around the time that the band signed with Warner Bros in 1997, Raphael met a singer named Anna Mercedes, who'd grown up around Seattle's famous Bear Creek Studios. After Gordon quit Sky Cries Mary, he and Anna hooked up to write and record at Bear Creek, before moving to New York in 1998.

"The Seattle scene, which had been so fertile in the first half of the '90s, went back to its completely quiet state," Raphael explains. "It was very difficult to get anything done or be taken seriously there, whereas when we visited New York City for Anna's 20th birthday and did a gig at a small club called the Luna Lounge, we noticed that we got a better reception and met more people than we did in our own home town. So, we moved here two months later. At that point, I had two main goals. One was to learn Logic Audio and the other was to learn Kurzweil, and within six months of getting here I found myself a partner in a studio that had both of these. I started really plugging into Logic and realising how much I could get done with that platform."

The Transporterraum Setup

It was on July 4, 1998, while he was still based at Chateau Relaxo, that Raphael was visited by a German producer named Moses Schneider, who was there on the recommendation of a mutual contact. Raphael loved the inherent innovation of the work samples that Schneider brought with him, and the result was that the latter's band Vandermeer wound up recording an album at Chateau Relaxo. What's more, Schneider brought some premium items of equipment to record the vocals, including a Manley Voxbox, and when Raphael was subsequently evicted from Chateau Relaxo, Schneider volunteered to help him set up another facility, utilising gear from his own Transporterraum setup in Berlin. Thus, Raphael named his new studio in honor of Schneider's, while creating a link between Berlin and New York — Transporterraum is a German word that can either mean the cargo hold of a ship or the Star Trek-like beaming of people to other places.

Studio-less at the time of our interview, Raphael is nevertheless still in possession of the gear provided by Moses Schneider, as well as some of his own classic items. This, he asserts, will form the basis of his next studio, Transporterraum 2. "Right now, I have a Soundcraft Ghost 32-input desk, the Tubetech Pultec EQ, an SPL Gold Mike preamp, and a lot of plug-ins," he states. "I'm also a huge collector of vintage synthesizers, and I have several very interesting guitars and basses. Basically, my main instruments are the ARP Odyssey, a Solina String Ensemble, a Hammond with Leslie cabinet, a Les Paul Standard, a Gibson SG, a Stratocaster, a 1974 Fender P-bass, some Moogs — Mini, Source and Micro — a Rat distortion, DDL, tape echo and phase shifter. Then there are two pieces that I found in a pawn shop in New Mexico — a rackmounted Castle Dual Phaser and Dual Chorus Flanger. I also have an MXR DDL and MXR flanger, a Prophet 10, a Jupiter 6 and a Korg M1.

"Hands-down, my two favourites are the ARP Odyssey and the Minimoog — the Minimoog delivers the most pure, earth-shattering low-end sound known to man, while the Odyssey is capable of inventing an infinite number of new sounds, as well as strange sounds that seem to have a life of their own, not just flutes and weird, whistley synths. With the 'sample and hold' section on that thing tied to pitch, envelope and filter, there are so many crazy sounds that can be made. I've had an Odyssey since '76, and I never tire of it. I use it as on many productions as I can."

Didn't Gordon Lose His ARP Odyssey To That 1987 Fire?

"Well, let's do the history of my ARP Odysseys," he offers by way of explanation. "The first one I had was burned up in a fire. The second one I had, someone gave me because he was very sympathetic that the previous one had burned up in a fire, but I traded it for drugs. Now I have a third and fourth one: a white-face one with first-generation Moog filters in it, which I got in San Francisco, and a beautiful black, standard one that I got in Seattle. So, I now have two ARP Odysseys, and I'm not about to trade them for drugs or let them burn."

A Relaxed Environment

The first studio that Gordon Raphael had in NYC was called Chateau Relaxo, located on the Lower East Side and co-owned with Scott Clark, who provided much of the gear and also served as Raphael's Logic Audio instructor.

"I got this place expressly to work on my own music and the music of Anna Mercedes," Gordon says. "Then, just as I was about to hit rock-bottom broke — no gigs, no jobs, no income whatsoever while living in expensive New York — a friend of mine hooked me up with a vocalist named Pamela Laws, who asked me to record her. From that, within about two months, every single day someone was coming down the stairs to do a recording with me — often four a day! First, it was Pamela's musicians doing their individual projects, and then it was all of this other work through word of mouth. The rates were very inexpensive, and because I was using Logic in a small studio, people could get a lot done very quickly.

"The main thing that these artists had in common was that they were all struggling and unsigned... with one exception. One day I got a phone call from a guy who asked me if he could come to my studio to overdub vocals onto a cassette tape. I thought, 'Oh my God, I've worked with struggling artists, but this guy's got to be totally desperate! He can't even afford to put his music on the computer first!' Anyway, I put the cassette on my computer and set up an SM57 mic at this guy's insistence, and then when he started singing behind me as I was engineering this track I recognised his voice. I said, 'Oh my God, are you Ian Brown from the Stone Roses?' and he said, 'Yes, I am.' I said, 'Why did you pick my studio?' and he said, 'Well, it's the closest one to my house, and I'm on my way to the airport.' He was making a demo for 808 State. So, we put the cassette across into Logic and he did two takes — one pass and then a double of his voice — absolutely bang-bang, perfectly. Then I mixed it and he was out of the studio in about 45 minutes.

"I like to set up all the gear before the artist gets in, because when I was paying for a studio with my hard-earned money it really made everybody nervous to just sit there while some clown took two hours to get a kick drum sound. It would put us in a bad mood for the rest of the day, and that's what you'd get to hear on the tape. That was an important lesson."

The Modern Age

New York rock band The Strokes had formed in 1998, with a lineup comprising singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr, bass player Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti. Gordon Raphael's work with the group began in typical fashion, as just another demo session for an unsigned band: "As a studio owner and musician in New York I'm always hustling for work, looking for ways to make money and keep my studio going. Well, I got a clue from a promoter named Kerri Black that this band called The Strokes could use a producer. So, one night in August of 2000, I went and saw two bands play at the Luna Lounge. One was called Come On and the other was called The Strokes, and afterwards I went up to both and hustled them, saying 'I have a studio two blocks away. Let's make a cheap demo, guys.' Come On, which was actually the band I liked that night, didn't call me back, but two days later Albert and Nick from The Strokes came over to interview me and check out my studio.

"Four days after I first met The Strokes I was due to go to a Sky Cries Mary party in Seattle, and I needed some quick cash, so I made them a deal. I said 'Listen. I don't have a lot of time, I don't even want to spend a lot of time, but let's make a real down-and-dirty demo. We'll do three songs in three days, and it'll be so cheap that you'll love it.' They said 'OK,' and so we came in and set up all the instruments, because I wanted to do a live recording, or at least as much live stuff as possible. I even wanted the vocals to be live at that time, so I set Julian up to sing alongside the band.

"I only had one 888 interface, so I only had eight inputs for that entire recording. I put three mics on the drums, plus one each for the guitars and bass, making six in total, together with one for Julian and one room mic. I also had Julian singing through a really small and crappy keyboard amp, so that the boys could hear it and maybe some of that din would get in the room mic and add some mysterious element.

"With most of the bands that I'd recorded up to that point, I'd maybe recorded the drums and bass together so that I could put more mics on other things, but I was also very inspired by my friend Moses from Berlin. One of the things that he'd shown me was the old-fashioned technique that he'd learned at Hansa Studios, where you use very few mics, but they're the right mics with the right placement, so you get a very warm, classic sound that appeals to people. I thought, 'Well, why not try it?'

"I had recorded many bands live like that, with one 888 and as many mics as I could get going on eight inputs. Then again, for The Strokes session, as time was of the essence because we had three songs to finish in three days, I didn't want to fuss around and neither did they. From what they'd told me, they wanted to have a real, honest, rock-band-playing-in-a-room sound, and so it just made sense to do that. We did three basic takes in one day, vocals and mixing the second day, and fixing and correcting a million details on the third day. When I made the deal with them, I had no idea that a) these guys would be able to perceive so many details, and b) they would hold me responsible for them. You know, 'Can you brighten the hi-hat in a mix with three mics, and not make the snare pop out?' Things like that. They really were giving me the treatment. In fact, at the end of the third day I said, 'I've already worked this many hours, and for the deal I gave you that's all I want to work, so no, I won't do that!'

"Still, I learned a lot about them during that process. Julian, especially, surprised me, because I formed a bit of an opinion about him being the quietest, most background member, who maybe didn't know much about the music. I thought he was just there to be the singer and a personality, and when he said a couple of things during the mix, I tried to give him the line that I know better and this is as loud as this instrument should be. Well, he would say 'Will you turn the vocal up one point for me, just so that I can hear it?' It was like 'Do me a favour, just humour me,' and when I did that and found he was right, it made me have a very open mind and a great attitude about working with them. You know, I would listen carefully to what they were asking and saying, and try to implement it, rather than automatically assume that because I had been around, I knew better than them.

"Nothing was unusual about the procedure of working with The Strokes. It was just one of a million small demos that I had made since coming to New York. But then, not long after the record was picked up and released by Rough Trade, the band called me and told me they'd just been selected as 'single of the week' by NME. That, to me, rang a big bell. I'd been working since '76, and this was the first time someone had written anything about one of my productions. So, my ears perked up and I thought, 'This could be interesting.'"

The Buzz

On the strength of some rapturously received gigs and their Raphael-produced demos, released in the UK as The Modern Age EP, The Strokes had become the hottest new act around. Although they hadn't yet signed a record deal, it was clear that they soon would, and they set about recording an album. When the question of who would produce it arose, Gordon Raphael naturally assumed that he would be out of the picture: "After the band returned from the UK tour, they came back and had a meeting with me, at which time they said that Rough Trade was advising them to work with a top British producer on their next three-song EP, a guy named Gil Norton. Well, The Strokes took me to dinner and they said 'Gordon, if you tell us that you're a better producer, we will go with you. But if you don't, we'll take Rough Trade's advice and go with Gil Norton.' They liked me and I liked them, and I couldn't sit there and tell them that someone who'd never sold any records was a better producer than someone who was known to be a multi-million-seller. I said 'I really liked working with you, we had a great rapport, and we've got some reaction, so we should work together, but I can't sit here and bullshit you.' Well, they wound up working with Gil Norton on the next three songs, and right at that time, on the strength of the buzz coming back from England, I saw them appear in Rolling Stone. No unsigned bands ever appear in Rolling Stone, and I was very upset.

"By just trying to be honest and open, I'd lost this group that was getting so much attention, and I was really bummed out and trying not to think about it too much. Then, about a week later, I got a call from Julian, saying 'Gordon, we are scared.' I said 'Why are you scared, Julian?' and he said 'We don't know if we'll ever be able to get our sound again.' I suddenly realised that they were thinking of the EP that we'd done as 'their sound', and Julian said 'Is it OK if we come back to your basement and try those three songs again?'"

So was it just the sound of Raphael's basement that made The Modern Age sound the way it did? "There were a lot of elements," admits Raphael. "There was the sound of The Strokes, which can stand up on its own; there was the way that I think about sound and what I consider to be important in a recording; and then there was the basement configuration, not only for the sound of a band playing together in a small room that isn't covered with cosy wood and sound baffles. It had brick and concrete, with some home-made baffles here and there. However, in addition to all that, a very important element was the actual physical vibe of the studio. My studio wasn't set up to impress corporate ad executives — I didn't have a wraparound Neve with a lot of beautiful Trident modules on display. On the other hand, not only had The Strokes been working with Gil Norton at a major New York studio, but I believe they'd also had three previous experiences at major New York studios. For some reason they just felt that because of the way my basement was presented, which was pretty comfortable and pretty funky, that was where they wanted to party and make music."

This Is It

DIFFERENT STROKES"Before the album was made we had a nice listening session," says Gordon. "Albert and Julian actually brought me things to hear, to show me the tones and energy that they liked. The first time we met, I think it was Julian who said 'We want to sound like a band from the past that took a time trip into the future to make their record.' Maybe some producers would be thinking about what they need to do to make something radio-friendly or make sure that the A&R guy loves the way it is mixed, while presenting the band with the most professional, state-of-the-art approach. I think I like to identify what the most interesting and important sounds are, and make sure they are heard loud and clear. The Strokes had already announced to me that they wanted to take what was happening in music and go in a completely different direction, doing something that wouldn't sound like it was made today. That was one of the prerequisites mentioned in our first meeting."

As befits a basement studio, the basic equipment used to record Is This It was fairly limited, the core elements being a Pro Tools Mix Plus system, Logic Audio, an Avalon 737, and four rack-mounted API preamps without EQ sections. None of the multitrack recordings used more than 11 audio tracks in Logic. When the projected three-song session turned into an album session, Raphael pushed the boat out and rented a second 888 interface: "I thought that if I could put a bottom mic on the snare, my life would be better," he laughs.

Although the studio was otherwise unchanged, making an album with a massively hyped new band presented different problems from recording a demo with an unknown rock group. Time and money were no longer pressing concerns, but the pressure was on. "We would be taking a lot longer, because suddenly the negotiations had turned from making another three-song EP into doing an album. They said 'We're going to come to make the EP,' and then we started talking about it, and within an hour they asked 'What does your month of April look like?' I showed them my blank studio schedule and they said 'Can we have every day?' I said 'It's gonna cost you,' and they said, 'Well, we think we can do it.' At that point they had no deal. They might have had an acceptance for a licensing agreement with Rough Trade, but they certainly didn't have an American deal and they didn't even have a product out in America.

"The approach was very much like the demo, with two big exceptions. In the six or seven months since I'd seen them, they'd all made incredible progress as musicians, especially Fab the drummer. Even though we did the EP with a click track, soon after that record came out he started hearing himself speeding up and slowing down. So, he came up to me at the very beginning of the album sessions and said, 'We have the time to do this album right. We still want to keep the live feel, but I don't want to hear one moment on this record where I'm speeding up or slowing down. I just don't want to hear it, and I want you to help me with that.'

DIFFERENT STROKES"Therefore, what we did that was different from the EP was to spend as many hours or days as was necessary to do a live take of a song where everybody played amazingly well. The result was that the takes were much more rock-solid and studied than on the EP. Some were comped and some were straight, and they even had two different types of songs on the record. They wanted the majority of songs to sound like The Strokes playing live, whereas they wanted a few others to sound like a weird, in-studio production with a drum machine, even though no drum machine was used — it was the drummer playing all the parts. Those songs were done track-by-track and sculpted into non-standard rock sounds. The most notable is 'Hard To Explain', and another one is 'Soma'. I just spent a long time sculpting the drums and processing them so that they sounded like a machine. I was taking real sounds, opening up the plug-in box containing compressors, EQ and amps, and messing around until something real sounded like something fake."

Underground Experiment

With the time and budget to experiment, Gordon and the band were able to try out a number of different techniques. "My background in industrial music played a very large part," explains Gordon. "What I really enjoyed performing that music was just destroying sounds — taking sounds, disintegrating them and then bringing them back. Often, with the music I was making, a lot of things would run through Rat distortion pedals and overdriving amps or preamps. The sounds that I liked were obviously completely debilitated and messed up, and that was a fun approach. I would destroy things and then orchestrate them so that they were audible. I'd add a lot of elements, so that things were left completely raw. The first time I ever really got to take my own hard-earned money and go into a studio, I remember spending days working on the snare track. I would have six different tracks of snare — one through Rat distortion, one with backwards reverb, one with a top mic — all of these different things that I could mix in and out for variation. I'd route a Hammond organ back through the board, through a Rat distortion pedal and really metallic, ringing flanger, so it'd sound like some weird guitar.

"However, whenever The Strokes would hear a sound like that they would just shake their heads and say 'Why is it so wrecked?' They just wanted things to be slightly stressed, and there's a huge margin between destroyed and a little bit stressed, so I had to really learn what that territory was like. Even with the school of production I came from, everything had to be readable or obvious, but they wanted something a lot more subtle. They didn't want anything to be so heavy-handed.

"Throughout the entire Strokes process I was always improvising off the reactions that I got from them, and there are a lot of different processes that I now know to try. One of the best things about music is, even though you know techniques, the results are always different. There's always something unusual that happens, or you get an unexpected result when you go down the path of experimenting. So that was very much a part of what I did. They couldn't tell me that they wanted the voice brighter and it wasn't making them happy. They would just have big frowns on their faces and I would start turning the knobs on every piece of equipment until the frowns began turning into smiles. That was technique of working with The Strokes."

The natural result of this approach to the production was that unsuccessful experiments would have to be abandoned: "There was a song called 'Alone Together', on which we did three almost-full productions, with different methods and a different approach each time. One was to do it all live, one was to do it with the drum kit by itself, and one was to do it with a drum machine. In each case we recorded all the tracks, built the production, and halfway through the vocals Julian would say, 'No, I hate the way this thing sounds!' My job was to really make all of them happy with their music — I wish someone had taken that approach with me when I went into the studio as a musician — and so if they heard a song back and said 'Ooh, this doesn't feel right,' I would say 'OK, then let's try another approach. What do you suggest? What doesn't feel right?'"

Thrills & Spills

The contents of Gordon Raphael's mic cupboard were anything but esoteric, but his experimental approach extended to the drum miking. "I used a Shure Beta 58 on the kick drum, a 57 top and bottom snare mic, and then often just an Audio-Technica 4033A running through my Avalon 737 in front of the kit, achieving a compressed, explosive sound without too much cymbal wash. Also, going into that room mic would be all the bleed from the two loud guitars as well as all the rumble from the bass. I didn't try to eliminate the bleed, because of something the drummer told me. He said, 'We're not really interested in the individual instruments sounds. We just like the way they dance together in the air.'

"When I'm setting up microphones and doing basic tracks, I'm always listening to the sound and asking myself 'Does this sound amazing?' If there's too much woofy bass coming from somewhere, I've got to find out out where it's coming from and turn it down on the mic or in the amp, or tune the amp away. However, generally speaking it was not too hard for me to get good sounds using the approach that I've described with The Strokes. It was a very medium-sized room — a 25' x 25' box, about 12' high — and on every song I was experimenting. I'd put a mic in a place where I'd never put a mic, just to see what it would sound like, and it would always produce surprising results. Just the fact that it's travelling 12 feet to a compressed mic suddenly gives you a weird stereo image where the drums sound wider and more exciting. Crazy discoveries were made by putting an important mic in a place that I'd never tried before. One was six inches from the ceiling and as far away from the drums as possible, while another was two feet in front of the kick drum, and both produced great but completely different results. To get a proper drum-machine-gated snare on 'Hard To Explain', we had to put the hi-hat on the other side of the drum kit, and that was Fab's idea: 'Maybe if I put the hi-hat four feet away from the snare mic, I can still play it with another hand and keep time, but there won't be any bleed.' That was a great move, because we had a coherent, live sound, not an overdubbed hi-hat."

Whereas creating the album's unusual drum sounds involved extensive experiment with mic technique and Logic Audio editing, capturing The Strokes' equally distinctive guitar sounds was a simpler matter: "Albert and Nick both go through a signature signal path — they each use Fender DeVille amps. Albert uses his favourite white Strat, while Nick has a semi-hollow-bodied Gibson with this old single-coil P90, which their guru, JP, suggested would create what he calls 'the guitar that Gibson forgot to make'. It has a real unusual sound. I used a Sennheiser 421 dangling in front of each of their DeVilles on opposite sides of the room, directly into an API preamp with no EQ, and that setup remained for the entire month of tracking."

Loose Ties

One of the most distinctive features of Is This It is the sound of Julian Casablancas' vocals, which are curiously distorted and compressed from beginning to end. "There were two techniques," explains Gordon. "One consisted of an Audio-Technica 4033A mic going through the Avalon 737, and I would usually work with Julian for an hour just to get the voice tone. Until the final result was achieved he would be extremely suspicious and unhappy, and invariably the final result would have some kind of messiness or not-quite-rightness about it, at which point he would smile and say, 'This is great.'

"So, that was one technique, and then the second technique was something that Julian had discovered on his own at home while making the demos. He liked to sing through his Peavey practice amp, which is about eight inches tall, and I'd mike that with a Neumann TLM103, so he'd still be singing into the Audio-Technica (Julian found the Neumann distasteful!), but I'd be Neumanning it in order to get the exact details of what this horrible little amp sounded like. He wanted it shitty, but not too shitty. He would always say things like, 'This sound needs to have its tie loosened.' Those were the kind of technical descriptions I would get every day.

"On the EP, two of the tracks have live vocals, whereas on the album he knew from the beginning that he wanted to be in the control room with me while they were tracking, just concentrating on that and leaving the vocals for later. The band played to a click track."

Instant Mixing

Gordon favours his Soundcraft Ghost mixing desk.Gordon favours his Soundcraft Ghost mixing desk.It's not unusual these days for albums to be tracked and mixed at different studios, by different engineers and producers: but Gordon Raphael was determined to retain control over The Strokes' album until the final mastering stage. "I always like to mix as I go along," he says. "For one thing, thanks to digital audio, all of the settings can be recalled, which makes it a lot different to the old days where you'd always get an approximate tracking mix to try to suggest a vibe. You see, I feel that if the band members hear themselves sounding like a finished record as soon as they've done the basic track, they'll have a lot more trust in me and it'll also make them feel more confident about what they're doing. It's kind of daring and it's really explosively fun if you can do something that you're going to be committed to. When it works, it's glorious. A lot of the sounds on the Strokes record are really unusual and powerful, especially that song 'Take It Or Leave It' at the end. For me, the fact that that much din and assault got to go out into the world and listened to is a really happy thing."

As though working with the most hyped band for years wasn't creating enough pressure, Gordon Raphael also had to cope with the threat of impending eviction from his Transporterraum studio. Meanwhile, an additional complication was that The Strokes did indeed sign a record deal after a week and a half's production, meaning that the results from then on came under the watchful eye of an RCA A&R man. "Having RCA America, a major label, coming to see The Strokes recording in a basement with Gordon Raphael, the untested producer, was a very eye-opening and interesting process," says Raphael. "From the get-go, they wanted it out of my hands. They did not like the sound of the EP, they did not think the album was going to be professional enough, they were very worried. They actually got to hear the new recordings after they'd signed the piece of paper, and what Julian did was have the A&R guy come down and play him the material on a boom-box in the waiting room. Then I watched the A&R smile and put his arm around the band members, and he shook my hand and said 'Good job,' but I felt the vibe of 'Oh, what are we going to do now? How are we going to get this turned around right?' I could feel that from the moment that we met."

Fortunately, the success of Is This It has entirely vindicated the approach of band and producer. So if he could go back in time and face the comparison with Gil Norton again, would he still say the same? Gordon Raphael is unhesitating: "Yes, unfortunately! I have to be honest about myself and honest about the music. That's just the way I am."