Rick Rubin was featured on 60 Minutes to support his new book The Creative Act: A Way Of Being. In online excerpts of his interview with Anderson Cooper, the icon producer shared some memories of working with Johnny Cash and LL Cool J, in addition to turning his NYU dorm room into Def Jam’s office and recording studio.
Regarding his process, Rubin said, “We’re trying to tap into a feeling. We’re trying to tap into something that makes you wanna lean forward and pay more attention.”
Back in October, Rick Rubin was interviewed by Lauren Larverne for BBC Radio’s “Desert Island Discs” show, and during their chat he revealed how he got Johnny Cash to record Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” for his 2002 farewell album, American IV: The Man Comes Around.
According to Rubin, when he first suggested the cover, “Johnny looked at me like I was insane.” He adds, “The Nine Inch Nails version of the song is very noisy, aggressive. Johnny was wary,” Rubin said, though Cash would agree in the end. “I think I did a demo where I had a guitar player play it, and I said the words the way I imagined [Johnny] saying it, and then when he heard the lyrics, and he heard the format of what it could be, he said, ‘Let’s try it.’”
Later in the conversation, Rubin added, “I thought of the image of Johnny Cash as the mythical Man in Black, and any song he sang had to suit this mythical Man in Black. And one of the ones that seemed to have resonated with people after we did it was ‘Hurt.’ If you listen to the words, it’s like looking back over a life of regret and remorse.”
For his part, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor was also as skeptical of the ideas as Johnny Cash was. He recounted the tale to Alternative Press in 2004. “Rick Rubin has been a friend for a long time, and he called me asking how I felt about Johnny covering ‘Hurt.’ I was flattered, but frankly, the idea sounded a bit gimmicky to me. … A few weeks later, a CD shows up with the track. … It sounded… weird to me. That song in particular was straight from my soul, and it felt very strange hearing the highly identifiable voice of Johnny Cash singing it.” Once Reznor saw the video, however, he was convinced of the new version’s power.