Rick Rubin's Shangri-La Studios

Comment Malibu, California

In 1991 Red Hot Chili Peppers dropped their album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, produced by Rick Rubin. As a little girl who listened to a lot of KROQ, this album became a favorite in my early youth and one that I have enjoyed revisiting as an adult. In 2018, twenty-seven years after its release, the track Breaking the Girl hits me harder than ever. Over the years I realized that if you grew up in Southern California during this time, there’s a big chance that you too hold this project close to your heart. As I aged into my pre-teens and teens, with a subscription to both Rolling Stone and Spin, learning about producers became increasingly important to me, and Rick Rubin was a name that was continually lauded, often being spoken about as a guru or a god amongst men. 

It was an overcast October day with the smell of Malibu sea foam in the air. As I drove up PCH to Malibu, I was overcome with emotion thinking about the afternoon I would spend at Shangri-La Studios, for an intimate listening party celebrating Nils Frahm’s upcoming album, All Melody, graciously hosted by Rick Rubin. Before even listening to the project, I knew that it would be something special–it had to be if Rick was opening up his beautiful space for us to experience it.  I pulled up to Morning View Drive and my first vision of the compound was a charcoal black studio that could've easily been confused for a cool church, its cross window overlooked the front lawn. Its appearance reminded me of the thousands of black metal albums I use to sift through at Amoeba every Sunday when Asael and I would look for rare Norwegian cuts. We had arrived at Shangri-La. It was a beautiful sight to take in. I had dreamt about this moment and now here I was. I had the privilege of inviting my two favorite music heads, Martine Syms and Jane Shin, to join me on this special afternoon, which blossomed into a day that none of us will ever forget. 

We ascended up the driveway and walked onto a path that wrapped into the backyard. I was overwhelmed experiencing the energy at Shangri-La Studios. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time a musical experience evoked so much emotion from me. Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, Gossip, Gogol Bordello, Kanye West – these are but a few, some personal favorites, that Rick Rubin has produced for, most of who I’ve seen live. Gogol Bordello at the Key Club in 2006 and Kanye West at Made in America 2014 are still two of the best shows I have ever been to.

I walked through the doors dividing the house from the yard and I was enveloped in the luxurious smell of incense, which was burning throughout the space, even boasting an artfully constructed table for the sole purpose of holding sticks of incense. This was living. There were pianos at every turn, which further sparked my curiosity to explore. As a multi-instrumentalist I wanted to poke my head in every nook and cranny to see what kind of equipment I’d uncover. On my exploration I found myself in Rick’s main recording area, bouncing atop his yoga ball in front of the motherboard. Every inch of the studio was left open for guests to experience and interestingly among all of the music supervisors and corporate music bros, it was the 3 WOC (us!) who were nerding out over every piece of equipment. True music lovers. Martine, Jane, and myself converged in the giant studio, in awe of the moment, when Rick came thru and greeted us with a warm welcome. After we were done tripping out, it was time to get some fresh air so we headed outside. I made my way into Bob Dylan’s former tour-bus-turned-recording-studio, casually parked in the backyard. It had been restored and made into a cozy studio perfect for the most intimate moments. Had I been followed with a camera crew you would’ve seen the pure joy wash over me as I played with mini pianos in the bus and snapped photos with my friends. 


We got word that the listening party was about to commence so we made our way back inside to take a seat. Nils stood before us to briefly introduce his new project, All Melody, which was recorded in the Berlin studio he spent two years building and perfecting. He now calls Saal 3 his music home, which is part of the historical 1950s East German Funkhaus building beside the River Spree. Our listening session would be broken up into two parts, with an intermission that allowed us to stretch our legs and inhale some more of the perfect Malibu air. 

It was when we returned for the second half of the listening party that the music began to hit, more so because I ditched the uncomfortable chair I was sitting in and laid myself on the floor but a few feet away from the speakers, much like my adolescent days of listening to punk records on my bedroom floor at maximum volume. The three of us cozied up in our own separate areas of the room ready to absorb all of Frahm's genius, and I am not using that word loosely. I was completely unfazed by everyone around me in this moment; I was there to embrace every sound and to feel the music.  The speakers, which were provided by The Audio Salon, emitted vibrations I had never felt before. The $56,000 Wilson Audio speakers (each), having been measured in the room for both distance and height, brought my ears to a whole other level of listening. It was a full-body experience, transcendent even. I took the opportunity of talking to the owner of Audio Salon after the session and he was happy to share every single detail about the speakers in addition to familiarizing me with his work, which included installing the sound system in Rick Rubin's bedroom. Speakers make the experience and I feel incredibly blessed to have listened to Nils Frahm's masterpiece on this equipment. The music penetrated my skin and spirit. All three of us were brought to tears we'd come to find out when we reconvened conversation post listening session. Nils spoke on his process and the importance of taking one's time to produce quality work–what an idea! It was refreshing to hear someone speak on being thoughtful in their work pushing back against this idea we must always be churning out something to be relevant. He was inspiring. His music was incredible. And when having the chance to speak with Nils, I was completely blown to pieces by his sincerity and genuine push to create good art in this world. Nils Frahm's All Melody LP is out January 26, pre-order here.

When it all came to an end, it felt like a personal beginning. There was gust of wind on my neck and I looked back to see Rick opening a window behind me; there was an exchange between the two of us and in that moment I knew I was on the right path. Thank you again to my friend Julian Schoen for inviting me to experience the most unforgettable music moment of my life.