Rick Rubin on the music that made him: “My job is to listen.”

The Beastie Boys and Johnny Cash producer went in-depth about his influences in a new interview with the BBC.

Rick Rubin

Image: Frazer Harrison / Getty

Iconic producer Rick Rubin has opened up about some of the most meaningful music to him in a new interview.

Speaking to Lauren Laverne for the BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs programme, which sees venerable figures from the world of music, culture and beyond discuss the music that has most impacted their lives, Rubin pinpointed the music that has helped shape him and his career, citing a diverse array of music from the likes of Bach, the Ramones, Simon and Garfunkel, LCD Soundsystem, Roberta Flack and Neil Young.

“I’m not technical in any way,” said the Def Jam founder, known for his hands-off approach to the technical aspects of recording. “My job is to listen. I can listen in the deepest way if I’m relaxed and with my eyes closed.”

Speaking just after finishing tracking the next Strokes album (“on a mountaintop in Costa Rica… it was unbelievable. I’d never done that before”), Rubin began the biographical interview choosing The BeatlesAcross The Universe, a key childhood influence.

“It somehow imprinted [on me] what a great song is on a very deep level before I knew I was looking for what that was,” he explained. “I learned to meditate when I was 14, in part because The Beatles did that.”

Icelandic pianist Víkingur Olafsson’s …And At The Hour Of Death, a reworking of J.S. Bach, also featured on Rubin’s list. “If we’re going to play a variety of music, including Bach seems necessary,” he said.

The Ramones’ Rockaway Beach was also selected by the producer, who reflected on the importance to punk rock in his youth, and the way it paved the way for his immersion in hip-hop.

“To me, [hip-hop] was punk rock,” Rubin said. “You didn’t have to be a virtuoso to be a great rapper. You had to have a point of view, something to say.

Hearing I Believe In You by Neil Young for the first time, Rubin explained, was a key moment in his life. “I had an experience that’s hard to describe. I stopped breathing. I would say it was a feeling somehow related to dying. Everything stopped in my body.

“Even saying “I believe in you” now, I can tear up. The power of belief is so strong, it’s so important in my life and it’s so important when going to a studio; where you have nothing, believing something is going to happen, and that we have this thing in front of us. It’s always a miracle.”

You can hear the full interview here.


Get the latest news, reviews and tutorials to your inbox.


The world’s leading media brand at the intersection of music and technology.

Join our mailing list

Sign Up Now

© 2023 MusicTech is part of NME Networks.