This interview originally appeared in the April 17, 1997 issue of Rolling Stone
You knew he was tall, but when Ric Ocasek walks out of the Blue Room at the Chung King House of Metal, in New York, you realize he’s impossibly tall — and reedlike to the point of being wispy. The man whom those over 25 know as the former leader of New Wave icons the Cars (and those under 25 know as the producer of Weezer and Nada Surf) is here recording his fifth solo album; Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan is producing a few tracks, though he’s nowhere in sight.
Ocasek shakes your hand and gently holds it while he scans the studio for a place to talk. Leading you into a private room, this rather soft-spoken man proceeds to fold himself into a very small space on a leather couch.
How do you know when it’s time to make a new album? Do you break out in a rash or something?
A bit of a mental rash, actually. I put it off until I feel like it’s been too long and I’m just inspired by everything in the moment. I haven’t done that in about three years because I was in so many productions. So I just waited, and I wrote a lot in the meantime — maybe 60 songs. It’s hard to choose which ones will end up on the album, so I ask friends and family and see what they like.
How did Billy Corgan get involved? Did you meet when you produced one of Hole’s singles?
No, I actually met Billy at a gig. It was at Roseland a year ago. I went backstage to say hi, and he comes to New York frequently, so he called me, and we’d go out. Then it was just: “Do some songs with me, if you would.” I love his music. I think he’s just such a musical genius, and I love his perspective on arrangements.
What a convoluted arrangement: “Ric Ocasek is a friend of Billy Corgan, who dated Courtney Love of Hole, whose single was produced by Ocasek, who’s being produced by Billy Corgan….”
Yeah. But it’s no different than in the Forties, where big bands had lots of members who went from group to group.
Is this Billy’s maiden production voyage?
You know, I’m not sure. I mean, he’s certainly competent in the studio….If I’m his first outside project, he’s doing a darn good job.
Tell me about the cavalcade of stars appearing on the album.
I was just trying to put a band together to rehearse, and I wanted to use some musicians from bands that I worked with. So Melissa Auf der Maur of Hole is playing bass. I also used Ira Elliot, the drummer from Nada Surf; Brian Baker, from Bad Religion; and Greg Hawkes, my old keyboard player.
What are going to be your favorite adjectives to describe this album?
Troublizing, which is a made-up adjective and the title of one song. Hmm…I guess certainly different than past records. And crazy. [Laughs.]
When you produce, do you shape the band’s sound, or are you more like the wind beneath their wings?
I basically want a band to feel like they’re not going to get the wool pulled over their eyes, and feel that what they want is what they’ll get, and not because I have an idea about shaping their sound or whatever. It’s like: Don’t read your poems to somebody who isn’t a poet.
What do you say to people who predicted that your marriage to supermodel Paulina Porizkova wouldn’t last?
[Laughs.] Oh, we used to laugh about that. We were the perfect couple not to make it [laughs]. But we’re as happy as you can imagine, and we have a beautiful three-year-old. We act like we just met a couple of days ago. We’re still having fun and ready to have another baby — well, I mean, there’s none in the womb, but we’re thinking about it. Maybe we’ll shoot for a girl this time, if one can shoot for things like that.
Do you want your sons to follow in your footsteps?
I just want them to feel inspired to live on the planet and not get discouraged with life, and make sure that they pursue what they feel they ought to. If they want to collect stamps, make sure they collect stamps 100 percent of the time for 25 years. I think the most important thing is to try to find work or something that you love, but it’s also probably the hardest thing. Life in general is more generic and less artistic. It’s a hard thing to pull your mind away from the shit and feel positive about where things are going. It depends on how much TV news you watch.
With all the regroupings, people must be offering you tons of money for a Cars reunion.
People have in the past, but I think they’re tired of asking me. I don’t even respond, because I have no interest. I’d rather paint, or write, or do anything else. It’s something that was already done, and those records are already locked away. I’m going into the future. As a rule, I’d rather live in the future than the past. If I had a choice between going a thousand years in the past or a thousand years in the future, I’d pick the future, without a doubt.
You know something? You look amazing.
Oh, how sweet! It must be all my wife’s creams — they’re really working.
How on earth did you invent yourself?
You know, I didn’t, really. I think I just came out this way. I don’t know why. I just grew up in Baltimore and went through funny times and made some decisions to go a certain way. I’ve always been viewed as sort of a weird person, but that kind of rewarded me later.
You’re respected as a weird person.
Yeah! Old weird Ric — that’s me.