INTERVIEW Magazine , FEBRUARY 2000 ISSUE Interview by Evelyn McDonnell
Ric Ocasek was already a twenty-nine-year-old rock 'n' roll veteran when the 1978 eponymous debut by the Cars went multiplatinum. Six foot two and 150 pounds, the Baltimore native enjoyed a geek's fantasy revenge: He was an early MTV icon and married a model, Paulina Porizkova. Since the Cars crashed in 1988, Ocasek has released the occasional solo record and produced artists including Weezer, Bad Religion, and Guided By Voices.
EVELYN MCDONNELL: Does it seem like thirteen years ago that you were on the cover?
RIC OCASEK: It seems like five, maybe.
EM: Do you miss those days at all?
RO: I don't really, because I'm still involved in music. I don't miss the traveling every day. I don't miss the attention, either. It's nice for a good period of time, then it becomes overwhelming. The good thing about it is that you get a bigger worldview because, well, first you travel the world. And then you get a different perspective about people. Our success lasted quite a good span of time, twelve years of chaos. I like all that insanity. I still look for that.
EM: Not very many musicians make the transition to production. Why did you?
RO: It wasn't really a transition for me; it was just an extension of what I've done since 1980. I had a studio in Boston as early as the second record of the Cars, and I basically lived in the studio. I love the process of making records, of putting down the performances and melodies.
EM: Now you get to watch other bands go through the chaos and insanity.
Ro: Exactly. I feel very sorry for new bands because they don't have the same opportunity that we did. Now they have production companies that write albums and do the music, and the bands come in and sing. I don't even know if they're bands, really. Record companies used to sign a band and say, "Go and do your record, I hope it's cool, If it's not, we'll get it on the next one." Now it's like, "I don't even want to hear a tape unless you have five singles. And if you don't have the five singles, we'll get them for you."
EM: You worked on the upcoming album by Hanson. How much of your observations are based on that experience?
Ro: That was the most interfering that I've ever had. Of course it would be, because they're such a big band. And I didn't even mind. But when I was hired, the premise was, "Now we'd like the Hansons to do their great songs that they've written, and we'd also like them to play a lot on the record," which is different from what they did on the first. And then the A&R person who hired me got fired, and another guy came in and wanted to rehire everybody.
EM: How do you choose records to produce?
Ro: Every week I get about ten tapes from labels and bands, and I go through them and listen for something different and adventurous and good. It doesn't matter if it's signed, unsigned, big label, small label.
EM: You're producing a new record by Bran Van 3000 now. How is that going?
Ro: That's one of the favorite records I've ever done. Jamie Disalvio has a good circle of people. He'll get the Montreal Symphony Orchestra to do two songs and a Cuban flute player from Miami to do one.
EM: It sounds very different from Hanson.
Ro: Totally. The only similarity is the part that I like the least: the Pro Tools part, the computer part. Looking at a TV screen when you're doing music, that just doesn't fit with me. I'd rather have my hands on the faders. I'd rather not be looking at five vocals where one vocal is blue and another one is red and another one is yellow, and which one do you want, the yellow one or the green one. I don't want the yellow or the green one; I just want the one that sounds good.
EM: What's going on in music that excites you, that you think is an improvement since 1987?
Ro: Well, certainly the sound of music on a technical level is a hundredfold better. As far as general music goes, I don't think it's any better than the '50s, because any old Buddy Holly song is as good as any song today.
EM: With all the emphasis on celebrity and videos and charts, do you find that artists aren't paying attention to writing?
RO: Yeah, I do. Performers not only copy music, they copy the way people act. They copy the way people hold their hands, they copy the way people dance, they copy jumping up to the camera and looking into it. Every video is the same.
EM: Strangely enough, I turned on MTV this morning and they were playing the "You Might Think" video, because it's number 25 on their Top 100 Videos countdown.
RO: That won the first [MTV Music Video Award]. So I'm permanently attached to a fly [the video shows Ocasek's head on a fly's body]--people send me flies; I have fly pins. That's what I got out of the whole thing: I became a fly.
EM: You and Paulina have two small children. Do you find it hard to have energy for them?
Ro: No. I still have an incredible amount of energy. It's funny: Mentally you feel the same your whole life. You think when you're twenty or twenty-five that when you're forty-five, you're going to feel like a different person, more mature or something, but damn, I've found that I just don't think any differently. Maybe it's because I'm in this kind of business that I just keep going forward, but I don't think you change. And having kids makes me want to stay in touch. You have to help them along, so you want to just keep going.