DB: What did you do once you stopped working with Bob Ezrin?
DR: A lot of things fell apart around that time and I said, “OK, I’m taking a break.” I realized I had to come at music in a different way and I spent a year not playing gigs, but going to the library six hours every day and writing lyrics. I went to the library so I’d have no instruments around me so I couldn’t noodle on my guitar, because lyrics are the most important and hardest thing. I churned out songs.
It was like a good workout, and eventually wanted to get back to playing live. I recorded a solo album, Songs from the Black Market, at the house of Chuck Reed, who’s in charge of Interscope Studios. I got a job at Interscope as a studio runner, and also started learning about engineering.
DB: Interscope is where you hooked up with Timbaland and Polow Da Don. How did that come about?
DR: Timbaland got signed to Interscope and one night he was in the studio while I was there and needed a guitar player, so I wound up playing on “Timothy Where Have You Been?” I hit it in one take and he was impressed. I got in with Timbaland and his crew and realized from hanging out with them that I understand what it takes to produce pop songs.
I wanted to give it a go so I wrote a song called “Dance With Me,” which I imagined as a David Bowie/Lady Gaga duet (laughs). It was an exercise in songwriting and I didn’t expect it to do anything, but one night at the studio Polow da Don came out at 4 AM to use the bathroom and I said, “Bro, I wrote a dance song.” He gave it a listen and said, “You wrote a classic people will sing in 50 years.”
DB: What did this lead to?
DR: This started my relationship with Polow da Don; he started seeing me on a different level. He asked for a bunch of songs. He took one of them, “Angel,” and put (R&B singer) Lloyd’s voice and some strings over the tracks I produced in my bedroom. I got coproducer and cowriter credit. It was my first major label song and the first single off the King of Hearts album.
DB: Was there a smooth progression from playing and recording with jambands to working in the pop/R&B world?
DR: Actually I had a night of wrestling in my head. Being a Pink Floyd/Neil Young/Led Zeppelin/Frank Zappa freak, I asked myself, “Am I selling out?” I was thinking I’d have to adapt my style to make it more urban, but Polow da Don came to me and said, “Whatever you do, don’t change anything that you’re doing. I don’t know what it is but I dig it. Make it psychedelic, make it crazy, I can make it commercial. This could be the next thing everyone else is trying to copy.” That was a liberating moment.
DB: You recently spent time in Nashville working on the upcoming Bubba Sparxx album. How did that come about and what was that experience like?
DR: Bubba and Polow are good friends from Atlanta. While Polow was at Interscope, Bubba came in and we hit it off as buds. Polow left Interscope and went to the Record Plant, and one night I went over and asked what Bubba was up to. Polow said Bubba was down in Nashville trying to forge a country/hip-hop scene. He looked at me and said,” Dude, you have to call Bubba right now. It would be ridiculous.”
And it has been ridiculous. It’s been magical. I worked as a producer and writer and we knocked it out of the park. I think the album will be something very special. Something that will be a monster.