Audioslave, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and System of a Down are among the artists recording peace songs for a compilation produced by Rick Rubin.
"Typically, when I record an artist we'll do a song for peace, and I've been collecting them up," Rubin said Wednesday from his Los Angeles studio. "It's something I feel good about."
Rubin, one of the most influential producers of the last 25 years, began the project after leaving the 2003 Grammy Awards enraged by warnings he claims were given to artists about speaking out against the war in Iraq.
"Before they went out to either present awards or play, artists were threatened that if they mentioned the Iraq war, they would not be invited back to the Grammys, ever, under any condition," Rubin said. "This really upset me, and it made me realize that while a single artist can talk about a subject on his or her own, it's rare for artists to get together and talk about a single idea. The Grammys were a place where a lot of artists gathered together who probably had similar feelings about the war and probably could have spoken with some unity, but that right was taken away from them. That was my impetus to create a space where a group of artists could stand together for something they believed in."
The Recording Academy has denied imposing restrictions after the 2003 Grammys and continues to do so.
"We believe that the proliferation of misinformation can be much more damaging than a publicly expressed opinion," Ron Roecker, the academy's senior director of communications, said in a statement. "The academy has time and time again supported and featured artists who have a variety of political or cultural perspectives, despite protests and backlash. We've included controversial figures on Grammy telecasts because it was the right thing to do."
Sheryl Crow, who silently protested the Iraq bombing at the Grammys through her "No War" guitar strap, wrote a track for Rubin's compilation. Johnny Cash also recorded a song before he died in September.
"He did a '60s political folk song called 'Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream,' " Rubin said. Simon & Garfunkel, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, among others, have recorded the Ed McCurdy song. "It's a dream about a world where legislation gets passed declaring war no longer something we do and how the world changes," Rubin said. "It's certainly beautiful, almost like a nursery rhyme."
The song begins, "Last night I had the strangest dream/ I'd ever dreamed before/ I dreamed the world had all agreed/ To put an end to war/ I dreamed I saw a mighty room/ The room was filled with men/ And the paper they were signing said/ They'd never fight again."
Rubin's as-yet-untitled compilation will feature both covers and originals. It will include contributions from artists he has already worked with and others who will join him specifically for the album. In upcoming months, the producer will log studio time with Weezer, the (International) Noise Conspiracy and Semisonic's Dan Wilson.
Rubin is so casual about the compilation, he hasn't even thought about when to release it.
"It's not on the schedule," he said. "We'll just decide when it all feels right and put it out. It's a timeless, beautiful message, and it'll come together in the right way in the right time."