Even though most people didn’t hear the name Kevin Rudolf until his hit song “Let It Rock” two years ago, the producer/musician/songwriter/artist has been toiling away for more than a decade.
Rudolf’s first real brush with potential stardom came in 2001 when his band, Binocular, signed with Madonna’s Maverick label. The album flopped, but Rudolf went on to work with Timbaland, playing guitar on records for the Black Eyed Peas, Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado and many others.
But the lure of being an artist remained. “Let It Rock,” from his debut album “In the City,” sold more than 3 million copies. On June 15 Rudolf returned with his second album, “To the Sky,” which features Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Flo Rida, and his Cash Money label boss Lil Wayne and others.
The first single is called “I Made It.” When did you know you’d made it?
I think that making it is something that you do in stages. There’s a certain feeling of ‘I made it’ when you have a hit on the radio for the first time and people are feeling it and buying it and reacting to it at shows. But I’ve also set new goals since then too for myself so it’s like, I think the ‘I Made It’ feeling is something you get as you achieve new goals.
I’m sure you felt like you’d made it when you signed the record deal as Binocular. What did you learn from that experience?
I learned that you can’t depend on anyone. It taught me more as an artist, as a producer, that I have to be in control…I turn in my albums completely finished. On this new album, that’s exactly what it is. It’s like a mix tape. It’s just whatever I wanted to do over the last two months … there’s people I had over to my house, like Rivers Cuomo, when I was working on Weezer and he jumped on a song. Then I was working with Flo Rida and I said, ‘Check this out. Do you want to hop on this?’ And he did. I had a song that was left over that Wayne and I did, like a secret track, and I put that on the album.
What is Weezer’s River Cuomo like to work with?
He’s like such a cool, sweet, gentle person. Really open, really creative. Wants to try anything, everything. I love that about him…He can be very shy, but he’s a good guy. He’s got a great vibe to him. You don’t have to convince him to try something new and that’s what I love about working with him.
After Binocular ended, you started working with Timbaland. What’s the most important thing he taught you?
You have to go with your gut, you have to work quickly and you have to be the best at what you do. I loved the way he put his drums together and made tracks. He’s a genius at that so I would just watch and soak it up like a sponge…If it’s not working right away, don’t keep going with it. He does a lot of records, he does them very quickly. That’s what I do to. If it’s not magic, go back to the drawing board.
You did this record in two months.
Entirely, writing and everything. I probably did it in less, I was just doing so many shows in between, it drags it out.
What happens to you when you’re not inspired?
You know what I learned? Inspiration is like a muscle. You can work it. Like going to the gym. You don’t have to feel like going. You sit in front of your keyboard or guitar and you have to just write, you have to experiment and get the juices flowing.…The greatest songwriters—Diane Warren to Billy Joel—they all have a scheduled time when they go sit in front of their instrument and they work. Every bad song you write is closer to a great song too, so you kind of can’t lose with it as long as you’re willing to do the work.
What is the difference between working with a Leona Lewis vs. working with a Lil Wayne in terms of what you bring to the project?
With Lil Wayne, it’s very easy, all you have to do is give him a great beat and let him be himself and let Wayne do Wayne. With Leona Lewis, it’s different because in that case I came in with a completed song and it was about getting a great performance out of her and then going back and finishing the production.
Who are you dying to work with?
I’m a huge Jay Z fan, I’m a huge Sade fan although I don’t think Sade is going to do another album for another 10 years. Personally, it would be a dream.
You’re not mentioning many rockers.
I’m not as interested. I mean, I’d love to work with Eddie Vedder, but he’s his own thing. He doesn’t need me.
Let’s talk about working with Lifehouse. The band’s Jason Wade talked about how you build songs differently than he does. What was that day in the studio like?
I didn’t know what to expect. I was always a Lifehouse fan. I got into the room and set up my keyboards and we just started to vibe. I thought we’d come up with something really good just because I know [Jason’s] a great songwriter and when someone’s great at what they do like that, it’s very easy; you just have to point [them] in a certain direction or help execute the vision really….honestly, [it was] probably No. 1 experience for me as far as best experience working with people. I love him.
What’s something we would be surprised to know about Lil Wayne?
He really knows what he’s doing. He’s very intelligent. I know he sort of comes off as if it all just happened, you know, and he ended up as Wayne, but he created himself in that way. Very intelligently, by the way. He created that persona and now he’s living that life and I think he’s way more aware of it and more intelligent than people may know.
What do you mean when you say he’s living that life? He’s in prison.
I wasn’t referring to prison. I was referring to his persona, his aura that he’s created for himself where he’s really turned himself into a superstar.
I think most people do not realize how cynical a song “Let It Rock” is. If you just listen to the chorus, it sounds like a party song, but you’re very bitter in that song.
You’re absolutely right. It is really bitter. “Let It Rock” came from an angry place; it didn’t come from a party place. It came from a place where I was frustrated with the world and my life and trying to make it, trying to make something happen, being frustrated with my situation. It’s about hypocrisy. Basically that song is about sticking your middle finger to the world and saying, “when I come through, I’m going to bring truth; I’m going bring something real.” When I say, “let it rock,” I’m saying “F-You.” I’m not saying put your hands up in the air.
What’s the biggest way your world has changed in the past two years?
Well, I’m not broke. That helps. I’d say that the best thing that’s happened is I’m in the game as an artist, as a writer and as a producer. That I can actually have the freedom and power to make the music that I want to make the way I want to make it, deliver it and get it out into the world.