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Interview with Genya Ravan - Head of Production @ CBGB Records
By Holly Day
(more articles from this author)
1999-07-13
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Genya RavanIn 1964, Genya Ravan made musical history as Goldie of Goldie & the Gingerbreads, the first all-girl band signed by a major label (Atlantic). Along with Carol MacDonald, Margo Crocitto, and Ginger Bianco, the group toured throughout Europe with The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, and the Hollies, among others. Their first single, "Can't you Hear My Heartbeat?," stayed at the top of the charts for weeks in the UK before Herman's Hermits recorded their own version to chart in America.

It's only now that Goldie and The Gingerbreads have been getting the recognition that they deserved from the music industry-most recently, the Touchstone Award from Women in Music in recognition for their contribution to "breaking down barriers and for laying the ground work for women musicians everywhere."

Of course, this is all after the fact. Genya Ravan left the performing side of the industry years ago and moved to the other side of the glass-to become one of the first major female producers in the United States. Currently, she's head of production at CBGBs Records Ltd. in New York, but her credits include production work on over 40 records for RCA, 20th Century Fox, Sire/Warner Brothers, Polygram/Phonogram Records, Roadrunner, and Combat-the acts she's worked with have been as varied as the Dead Boys, Tiny Tim, and Ronnie Spector.

[Holly Day] When did you go from being a musician to being a producer, and what brought that on?

[Genya Ravan] Well, what brought that on was my own frustration of producers walking in and trying to put their stuff on me. The days of Phil Spector walking in and giving bands the Phil Spector sound was over. It was like, "This is my sound. I know what I sound like, and I like it."

Now, by then, I had become pretty experienced in being in the studio. Number one, I always said that I was never produced-I was always seduced. These producers would walk in and immediately start making moves on me, and if they didn't succeed in doing that, they'd give me a very hard time in the studio. Number two, given if they didn't try to seduce me, they'd give me a hard time in the studio as well-it was always what they wanted to hear from me, how they wanted me to sound, not what I wanted. And I finally decided enough was enough. And so I started to produce myself and my friends' bands, basically, in London-I played a gig with Georgie Fame and he was on a track I did, and I produced a single with Long John Baldry and Ron Woods, among others. And I went in and started producing my own stuff, and that lead to producing other people. It was something major.

When I came back to the States, I befriended Hilly Krystal from CBGBs, and he thought that I would make a great producer because I had been on stage. RCA gave me my first shot as a woman producer in this country, when there were no female producers around at all. I did a group called Rosie for them, then, of course, Hilly had me produce The Dead Boys. I also produced The Shirts-I worked with a lot of the groups from CBGB at the time. And slowly but surely, I decided to do my own two albums-the 20th Century Albums were the best things that I think I ever did. My writing flourished at that point, my choice of songs were perfect for me, my musicians were perfect for me. I was just one of those people who knew what I should sound like.

[Holly] What was it like working with The Dead Boys?

[Genya] It was very cool, actually. They were very nice. They listened to me, they knew who I was-especially Stiv Bators. He had read about me while he was growing up, and knew exactly who I was. I got a lot of respect from them.

You know, when they came to me, they didn't have a bass player, and they wanted to do a rock album without a bass. And I said, "Absolutely not." Do you know who's really playing on there, on "Young, Loud, and Snotty"?

[Holly] No.

[Genya] Bob Clearmountain, the engineer that does the Rolling Stones albums? Bob Clearmountain was a frustrated bass player, and I said, "Come on in and play with these guys." And they never gave Bob the credit on the record-which, of course, later on they wanted to kill themselves for that, because Bob Clearmountain got so big.

[Holly] What do you do as a producer for the bands you work with? How do you hook up with them and get them in the studio with you?

[Genya] Usually, they come to me, or somebody will call me and tell me about this group I should go out and listen to. Sometimes I get a tape in the mail and if I hear something that I like, I call them and set up a rehearsal. And that's how we start.

There's this big question here: a lot of people outside the music business don't know what a producer is to a record. I simply say it's what a director is to a film. The producer's the one that chooses which songs go on the album, chooses which takes should be used, that helps rearrange the songs to make them work, picks the studio. The producer is supposed to be the band's audience during the actual recording, keeps their enthusiasm up, and helps pick out the album cover and the inside artwork. It's everything. It's everything that has anything to do with the actual record.

As a producer, I become the audience for the bands I work with, because it's a very, very sterile place to play live music. It's very difficult for a group to keep their "edge" after four or five takes. So I become their cheerleader, in a way-while at the same time, I'm trying to find a middle ground with the engineer, trying to find out how to make the band sound its best, without throwing the band off or making them feel like they're doing anything wrong. It really is a major, major job-even when I was producing myself, I always looked to one or two other people for feedback, because you become so vulnerable when you're in the studio-it's a whole other ballgame when you're the one that's performing. You've got to have someone out there that's leading you the right way, and there's got to be a lot of trust.

[Holly] After your experiences as a musician, do you consciously try to not change a band's "sound"?

[Genya] I definitely do not change a band's sound. Every band has their own sound-or they should. It's like casting. Certain bands might sound better with this particular engineer I know, or this group might sound better in a different studio, because I want a more "live" sound from them, as opposed to a tight sound. Every group has its own sound, and I do not give them the "Genya sound." There is no "Genya sound." They come in with their own sound, and I try to magnify that.

[Holly] What do you think about all the attention you've suddenly been receiving for things you did 20-30 years ago?

[Genya] I say it's about time. I guess if you just wait long enough, and you live long enough, you'll get awarded for it.

[Holly] While you were doing all this, did you ever stop and think about the paths you were opening for women in the music industry?

[Genya] I didn't have time. It was a fight all the way. When I was recording my 20th Century "Urban Desire" album, it was a fight all the way. There were no Pat Benetars, there were no women doing any kind of hard rock, and I had to fight against those stereotypes all the way. When I had Goldie and the Gingerbreads, I never thought, "Oh, gee, I'm a powerful example"-I wasn't that smart. I just did it because it was a way to make a living, it was a job for me. Goldie and the Gingerbreads used to do gigs at an airforce base-I used to be able to come home from those and buy a car. I couldn't spend the money fast enough. It was not about stardom, it was work-we used to do five shows a night. We really worked. It was a full-time job. Today, it seems like everybody's just looking to get signed right off the bat, without going out there and learning the ropes of the business. I'm always telling people, "Go play, go learn your craft. Forget about getting signed-get yourself an audience first."


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