If you could picture anyone to do a podcast with social psychology writer Malcolm Gladwell, you would probably never come up with legendary music producer Rick Rubin as a logical choice. Maybe that’s why the pairing is a perfect choice and why their podcast, Broken Record, is entering its second season with a diverse and intriguing list of guests that includes David Byrne, Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, Mary Gauthier, and a two-and-a-half-hour conversation with The Roots’ drummer Questlove.
In an interview with Vanity Fair about the podcast, Gladwell broke down the thing he realized makes Rubin such an in-demand and game-changing producer, which might not be what you expected. Sure, Rubin’s got a gift for going against the grain in resonant ways and plenty of experience working with the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Johnny Cash, LL Cool J, Run DMC, and Slayer, but Gladwell credits his “generosity of spirit” as “what it means to be a great producer,” saying: “He listens to things — he never prejudges anything. He’s intensely interested in what other people want to do and how he can make it better.”
They are joined in the endeavor by Gladwell’s childhood friend and fellow journalist Bruce Headlam, who plays the other music expert to Gladwell’s relative inexperience in the space. Gladwell says this arrangement works out because “I get to ask the dumb questions. It’s very liberating to come into the conversation as a layman because I’m totally unself-conscious about the fact that I may not have heard that piece of music or . . . I haven’t heard that name before.”
He also expressed a twinge of jealousy that musicians can so freely crib each other’s notes and styles, whereas writers must strive to be original, lest they be accused of plagiarism. “One thing that bothers me about writers . . . they tend to think it’s illegitimate if you reveal that you were inspired by someone else. They have this false ethic of originality,” he said. “I love how open [musicians] are about the fact that creativity is a collective enterprise. I’m waiting for writers. I want writers to be able to talk that way. Why isn’t it O.K. for me to say that?”
Broken Record‘s eight-episode second season will be released March 26 and continue weekly through May 14.