As a lad, I spent many afternoons locked in my room, listening to records and dreaming that Eddie Van Halen would ask me to be the lead singer of a new band he was planning on starting. Eventually, Sammy Hagar would replace David Lee Roth, and I was left to swallow the bitter reality: shit like that doesn't happen.
I was wrong: it happened to Rob Aston. The 26-year-old roadie has been crowned lead singer of The Transplants-the first band he's ever been in-which happens to also include guitarist Tim Armstrong of Rancid and drummer Travis Barker of Blink 182. On its self-titled debut album, the Transplants display an eclectic mix of punk, hip-hop and rock, seasoned with the occasional thump of barroom piano, and with a bevy of scratches and samples thrown in.
If he weren't such a nice guy, I'd be jealous of Rob. We're the same age, yet, Rob's in a band. Rob just made two music videos (for "Diamonds and Guns" and "D.J. D.J."). In addition, he has a solo hip-hop album due out at the end of the year, and an upcoming tour with his fellow Transplants opening up for the Foo Fighters. And he still works as a roadie for Rancid.
As for me, maybe Eddie will call soon. In the meantime, I caught up with Rob in Los Angeles, while he was driving to the post office with his "homeboy" Nick 13 of Tiger Army.
JB: Going to the post office?
RA: I heard there are chicks at the post office.
JB: Yeah, that's always been my experience. Before I ask about the band, I'm really interested in your personal story. It's like a movie. How did someone with no experience get to be lead singer of a band with Tim Armstrong and Travis Barker?
RA: I used to be a roadie for a band called AFI, and at that time I met Tim and all the Rancid guys. I'm from Fresno originally, and I moved to LA in December of 1999, and I lived kind of by Tim. We were driving around one day, and he played me a couple of tracks that didn't have any vocals on it, and he asked me if I could do lyrics to it. And I said, "Yeah," cause I didn't want to pass up an opportunity to work with Tim Armstrong, and we just kind of went from there. I mean, it wasn't going to be a record or a band or nothing at that point. It was just us fucking around. We just worked whenever Rancid had a break, and Tim had some time. And then we called Travis in cause we needed a drummer, and he knocked it out.
JB: I imagine you were pretty nervous about the whole endeavor.
RA: Of course I was nervous. I'd never done it before, and there I am with Tim, and Brody from the Distillers, and Lars from Rancid, you know, people I looked up to in the business. But everyone was real supportive and totally receptive to my ideas. It's good working around these people.
JB: The support of such established musicians must have been good for your confidence?
RA: It's weird to think that people like that, like what I do, you know? It's kind of crazy when I think about it. Because I never, ever, ever pictured myself doing this. Like, I never really had any aspirations to. It's like, someone gave me a shot, and I took it. It's crazy.
JB: So when you were working for Rancid, you never looked out at the stage and said, "I could do that shit?"
RA: Not really. I mean, I was happy working for bands, and staying out of trouble. And getting paid to go around the world, you know?
JB: Was there any jealousy from other roadies that you ended up in "the boss's" band?
RA: Fuck no. Everyone is real proud of me, real supportive. People have seen me go through it all. It's all love.
JB: Being your first attempt, how'd you approach writing the lyrics?
RA: He'd put a track on, and I'd just sit there and write to it. I figured it works best for me if I just write and record right in the studio. I'm not really into taking tracks home and sleeping on them for a long time.
JB: The first Transplants' show was at the House of Blues in Anaheim, with the Distillers, and Pressure Point. What was going through your mind? I would be shitting my pants.
RA: It was crazy. It was sold out. It had a big curtain, and you know, that big curtain can be intimidating as a motherfucker. So, I was nervous as hell at first. But then we got into the first song, and I was fine from there.
JB: Describe the Transplants to someone who hasn't heard them?
RA: To tell you the truth, I have no idea. I've had problems trying to describe us from day one. I can't really compare us to anyone, because we don't really sound like anybody else. The Transplants are just The Transplants. We don't really fit in any section of the record store. The record definitely has a punk backbone to it, but it's more than a punk record, you know. We just took all of the music we like, threw it in a fucking blender, and put a record out with all that shit on it.
JB: So who did you listen to growing up?
RA: I didn't listen to punk rock until I was in high school. Growing up I listened to hip-hop and oldies. I grew up on Ice-T, Low Profile, Grandmaster Flash, Run-D.M.C.-all that stuff.
JB: What's in your stereo these days?
RA: Recently, I've been listening to a lot of DJ Quik, Queens of the Stone Age, Pink Floyd. The Kelly Osbourne record, I like a lot.
RA: Yeah. And 50 Cent.
JB: I saw 50 Cent on TV last night.
RA: Yeah, he's killing it. He's got so many tracks, it's amazing. When he drops that record on the 11th [of February] he's gonna take the crown.
JB: The Transplants' album was recorded in Tim's basement. Was that a conscious decision to get back to punk's roots, or was it a matter of convenience?
RA: Both. Cause he's got everything we needed at his house for recording. It was just better, because we weren't pressured for time at all. I mean, it took two and a half years and shit. We could come and go as we please, and didn't have to answer to nobody. It was a little more laid back than a regular studio environment.
JB: How do your friends and family like the album?
RA: Everyone likes it so far. Except for my friend Brant, in Denver. He hates it. [Laughs.] But that's cool. And my mom gets kind of bummed out on some of the lyrics. But it's cool. It's not for everybody.
JB: Well, hopefully your mom will never read this interview, because I want to ask you about all the drug references on the album. Since I don't have a band of my own, I have to live vicariously through you. I'm always curious about what goes on backstage. Do you guys party a lot?
RA: Tim is sober. Travis and myself party. You know...[laughs]. We do our thing.
JB: Have you gotten a lot more girls since becoming a lead singer?
RA: Not really. I mean, kinda. People recognize you, or whatever. But it's not on some crazy level or nothing like that.
JB: Now you're going on tour with the Foo Fighters. Is that a band you listen to?
RA: Yeah, definitely - all of us. It's gonna be cool. I haven't had a chance to meet any of those guys yet, but I heard they're really nice. It'll be cool to watch them every night, because they're a fucking great band.
JB: Being that Travis and Tim are both in the studio with their bands, and you're working on a solo album, how often do the Transplants get together?
RA: We were all together a couple weeks ago when we shot two videos. Everyone's real busy right now, so we don't get to spend as much time together as we'd like.
JB: You've been doing a ton of interviews for the band. How'd you get so lucky?
RA: I have no problem doing it. I enjoy it. If someone is willing to take time to talk to me, I'll be damned if I'm not going to talk back. That's what I do with fans, too. When people write to us, I answer everyone personally. I mean, if someone is going to take the time to sit down and write me a letter, you've gotta write them back. It's only right.
JB: Any advice for fledgling rock stars?
RA: Be patient. Keep fucking plugging away at it. Everything's going to happen for a reason, whether it's beneficial or not. Keep your eyes open. The business is a motherfucker. It's fucking scandalous. But, you know, it's the best job I ever had.