Three Great Things: Ariel Rechtshaid

The producer and songwriter to the stars is enjoying reality TV, magic mushrooms, and drums.

Three Great Things is our series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. During the pandemic, those things have also helped them get by. Ariel Rechtshaid is a producer and songwriter who’s worked with some incredible names over the years, and who recently co-founded Heavy Duty Music Publishing, whose catalog includes copyrights co-written by its incredible roster. And he’s discovered reality TV recently. 
—Josh Modell, Talkhouse Executive Editor

1. Below Deck Mediterranean

Somewhere after the initial scare of Covid I started vegging out on TV, and I found myself glued to the Below Deck franchise. I’ve gone pretty deep on TV. How many months have we been dealing with this now? Seven months? My girlfriend enjoys Bravo, and I don’t really, but for some reason Below Deck Mediterranean caught me. I was intrigued and then became fairly obsessed. At some point when I ran out of Mediterranean, I tried to go back and watch the original from the beginning, but it felt like I was in the ‘90s, it felt too far back. I kicked off somewhere in the middle, but Mediterranean is a bit newer and easier to follow. I recommend starting at season two. And then there’s Below Deck Sailing. They started to go on simultaneously, and you can find cast members interchanging, like chefs you’ll see on various shows. If you’re a fan of a specific crew member, you might follow them into a spinoff.

Each charter in real life can be anywhere from one to like four days of chartering, so you get to know the guests a little bit, but you’re mostly following the crew. It reminds me of touring in a band a little bit. The work and hours are grueling, so there’s something more interesting for me in this than watching the Housewives or whatever. I have nothing against the Housewives, but this one is more up my alley. The mood-altering magic mushrooms might have something to do with this, but I like it.

It is a guilty pleasure. It surprises people that know me that I like it, but I do like it. I like traveling, I like food, I can relate to the hard work. There’s lots of drama, which is not normally my thing. But I got into it. I’ve tried to get more people into it. I feel like we’re on episode 18 or something. You can see the evolution of some characters, because some carry on from season to season and some don’t. It’s a lot to follow.

There was one cast member that was pretty controversial because she’s not super likable, but she was good TV. Her name was Hannah, and she was the Chief Stew. It’s kind of like Law And Order a little bit, because there’s interior crew and then deck crew—there’s two groups of people you get to know, like the police side and the other side. Interior is a bit more dealing with the guests. It’s a little more drama. The deck is more like impressive grunt work. But there’s a woman called Hannah who was the Chief Stew, maybe from season one. We’ve been following her for a while now. It’s a really intense job, and she’s an imperfect person who was sometimes hateable, but you grew to understand and sympathize, and then she got fired in this season. There was a bit of a mutiny. You could tell there were people on the boat who hated her, and snitched her. Stop me when I’ve given you too much. She gets snitched on for something, maybe like having unauthorized Valium on the boat? And a CBD pen. And then that’s it. She gets fired from the boat. 

Then there’s another guy who’s a real slimeball. Sometimes you feel bad for him because he’s misunderstood. And then suddenly in the middle of the season you just stop seeing him. You might see him in the background. And then we did some internet research, and he posted—the season’s been over for several months—and he’s just a shitty dude who posted some inappropriate stuff on social media, so they just start editing around him! He just disappears suddenly. There’s all kinds of twists and turns. It’s entertaining.

2. Chocolate Magic Mushrooms

This is kind of random, I could’ve said a lot of things, like Jibbitz for my Crocs. Just random things that have been more of a routine during this un-routine part of my life. I’m not really a big drug user. I’m up for anything, and I’ll try just about anything on a New Year’s Eve situation. I found myself with a little surplus of chocolate mushrooms, these heart-shaped chocolate mushrooms. If you’re eating half of one, you’re going somewhere. It’s a commitment. I think at some point out of boredom and desperation, I started nibbling on them and found it to be really fun. It’s not a groundbreaking idea; it’s sort of microdosing. The combination of always wearing a mask so no one can really see you — you’re kind of in your own world even if you are seeing somebody. A good amount of the first part of the pandemic was just me working on things by myself or not working at all. And at night, when I’m trying to go to bed and just disassociate with everything that’s been going on — there’s something horrific every day — I can just go to a better place and turn on the TV. That might have been helpful in easing me into Below Deck.

I’m a social drinker. Sometimes I go through periods of drinking wine on my own, but I’m not a tequila or mescal sipper. It doesn’t calm me. In periods when I’m not working so much, I might be out on some kind of vacation and drink and have fun. But I could drink every day for two weeks but then when I’m home I could go two months without taking a sip — and not because I’m making a concerted effort to not to, but because I forget to. Same goes with recreational drugs. It doesn’t calm me when I’m trying to be creative. But during this era I have been out of boredom, I guess. I don’t know if boredom is the right word. It’s like trying to go somewhere else when you’re stuck at home.

I do therapy once a week on the phone, and sometimes I’ll say, “I had trouble sleeping” or whatever, and my therapist will say, “Well, it’s a very stressful time for people right now.” I’m like, “Yeah, I guess it is!” I don’t feel that stressed. I’m extremely displeased with the world at the moment, but maybe I am in general. A lot of stuff that’s been coming to light, on some level I was kind of happy that things were being addressed. It’s cyclical. Again, we’re having this conversation about how broken the police system is, or maybe the system in general. All these things are not new to me or new to anyone, but it’s coming to the surface. On some level that’s a relief, because maybe something good can come of this.

3. Buying Drums

I’ve been buying instruments on this application called Reverb. I’m left-handed, and I grew up in a little bit of purgatory because of that. Any time I went to a guitar shop, finding a left-handed stringed instrument was extremely rare. I had limited access to fun instruments like a 12-string guitar, or a mandolin, or really anything other than a very standard electric guitar. Ever since I got a bit more successful and I could spend money on things like that, it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. Reverb has instruments from all over the world; you can have access to any musical instrument that ever existed. I’ve really been bugged out on drums. They’re such a good value — they’re inexpensive compared to guitars. Just before the pandemic I finished building a studio that’s a tracking space. I always had a home studio, but now I’ve got an old fashioned tracking space where there’s a grand piano, a couple sets of drums — a place where people can really play together, which is something I never had before. I’d go work at studios like that, but you’re on the clock and it’s a certain number of days. Now that I have space, I’ve been filling it up with stuff I’ve never had before, and one of those things is drums.

I’ve been revisiting Karen Carpenter and what a badass drummer she is. I’m also fortunate to have a girlfriend who’s a drummer, and who doesn’t care at all about gear. She also plays guitar, and she doesn’t care at all. When I get something, I can get her to play it, and I can record it and sort of experiment with it sonically. Concert toms, various size kick drums, different eras. There’s so many different things. As a producer I’ve always been obsessed with drum sounds. Tunings, styles, etc. Maybe it’s been out of boredom, but I’ve been on a rampage of just buying drum sets and cymbals and snares. Of course we’re in our pod together so I can go to my studio with her and experiment and record stuff. That’s been occupying my time. 

I’ve bought at least three full drum sets during this era, and then concert toms, roto toms, timbales. I look at old videos of Hal Blaine and he was using timbales for his toms, just tuned differently. I’ve been inspired by early Pink Floyd when he was playing Premier drums. Keith Moon also played Premier drums, and I never had a set. And I’m looking for a bargain. For $600 I was able to buy a ‘70s Premier drum set with five toms and two kick drums and the snare drum. You can’t get the shittiest guitar for $600. Relative to guitars, it’s pretty affordable. I wind up making my living off of sound, so it feels like not a completely guilty purchase binge. I can charge it to the game. [Laughs.]

As told to Josh Modell

(Photo Credit: Ashley Beliveau)

Ariel Rechtshaid is Grammy Award-winning producer, engineer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. He’s worked with a diverse roster of artists, including Adele, Haim, Sky Ferreira, Vampire Weekend, Charli XCX, Brandon Flowers, Madonna, Tobias Jesso Jr., Usher, Carly Rae Jepsen, Cass McCombs, and Justin Bieber among many others. Rechtshaid co-wrote and produced Usher’s 2012 single, “Climax,”, which won the 2013 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance. In 2014, he was nominated for a “Producer of the Year” Grammy and won for his production on Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City, which was awarded “Best Alternative Music Album.” And in 2017 he won for his production work on Adele’s 25, which was awarded “Album of the Year.” More recently, Rechtshaid won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album for his production work on Vampire Weekend’s Father of the Bride and he produced Haim’s latest and critically lauded and career-defining new album Women In Music Part III.

(Photo Credit: Ashley Beliveau)