When it was announced that Tim Armstrong and Travis Barker were doing a side project together, most people's questions were, who is this Rob Aston guy? Well, I recently sat down with the Transplants singer and lyricist to talk about how being in a band with such punk rock heavyweights has affected his life. Thanks to Hector at Epitaph for setting this up and to Rob for taking the time before the show to do this with me. This interview took place on May 4, 2003 in Boston, MA.
Sev: Let's just talk a little bit about you first. I know that you were doing the roadie thing for a bunch of bands first, including Rancid and AFI. But even before doing that, how were you involved in the scene in the first place?
Rob: Well, I've loved both of those bands forever. We became friends. I got into punk rock when I was in high school. I also grew up with some hip-hop, other oldies and stuff. I like a lot of 60s music like The Intruders, shit like that.
Sev: When originally Tim asked you to come up with the lyrics for the beats he had laid down, how intimidating was this at first?
Rob: Well, I had never been in a band or anything, and I've been a fan of Tim since Operation Ivy. He gave me a shot and he liked it. I don't know what he saw in me. He probably just wanted to give me something to do to keep me busy; something to keep me out of trouble. I'm glad he gave me a shot, because we were already close friends.
Sev: Writing down these lyrics for the album, having never written anything before, what were some of the things you were going through at that particular time?
Rob: If you listen to the record you can tell what I'm going through. I'm honest with what I say. If I want to kill somebody then I write about how I want to kill them. If I want to kill myself then I write song like "Weigh On My Mind." It's pretty obvious if you listen to the record.
Sev: Was it difficult to write lyrics or did it come natural to you?
Rob: It wasn't difficult for me. I just sit down with a track and write to it whatever comes to mind. It isn't difficult for me at all.
Sev: Seeing as the album was recorded over a period of 2 years, was it ever difficult to try and maintain some sort of momentum going?
Rob: No, we basically just worked when we could. We knew that everyone's got busy schedules and whatever. I'm actually glad it took that long, because I probably wouldn't like the record if we would have released the stuff we did 2 years ago. I'm glad we took our time and managed to achieve something we were comfortable with before releasing it.
Sev: What were you doing in between work on the record - while Tim was with Rancid and Travis with Blink, what were you up to during this down time?
Rob: Well, I worked for Rancid, and I still work for Rancid. I was also working for Kung Fu Records, and I had some other jobs. There's other ways to make money, but I don't want to get into that.
Sev: You have so many guests on the album. Did these people come into the studio at different times, or was it like this big party at the studio?
Rob: Every day is a party in the studio, even if there are no drugs and drinking. It's always a good environment to be in. People would come through. Eric Ozenne was in town with the Nerve Agents so he came through. It was just when everyone's in town - it was just convenient like that.
Sev: Did you plan it this way, like to have someone come in and do some vocals this day, or people just showed up and you gave them a part right there?
Rob: When Tim and I would write, we would think that so and so would sound good here, or so and so would sound good there. We would just ask these people if they wanted to be on it, and most of them were nice enough to say yes.
Sev: It's a little hard to tell from the lyrics, but does the song "Romper Stomper" have anything to do with the movie?
Rob: No, I didn't write it about the movie, but it kind of goes hand in hand with that, ironically. If you listen to what it's talking about, it's about betraying your friends and stuff. It's not a white power song, or a racist song, or any shit like that. It's just a song about you're either with me or against me, so fuck you.
Sev: The first song I heard from you guys was "Tall Cans in the Air," when Epitaph put up that free mp3. The first thing that struck out to me were the gangsta sounding lyrics, which is not something you listen too often from a punk rock band. What were you trying to convey with that song in particular, because that one has more of a gangsta feel than the rest of the album?
Rob: Maybe, that's possible. I guess that song is just my idea of a party song - just about fucking around. I guess it just depends how your party. I know a lot of people who party the way I talk about in that song. I just sing what I feel - that's what I'm thinking about. People can take it how they want, whether it's boasting or arrogance, but I'm singing about what I do and what I know. I'm singing about how to have fun. I'm better than people, and I don't give a fuck.
Sev: Do you feel that you have "more honeys than anyone else"?
Rob: No, fuck no. Things happen on the road, but fuck all that.
Sev: Were you involved in any gangs?
Rob: U.S. Thugs and Wolfpac - 2 gangs right there. People get fucked up all the time because they think of gangs and think of North and South. That's definitely a big thing, but there are gangs in every part of the world, in every city, and it's not necessarily a color thing. But I definitely come from a street background. I didn't come from a broken home and I wasn't in poverty or nothing like that. I have a great family and I have great parents. I was never well off by any means, but everyone makes decisions in their lives and everyone does what they need to do to get by. I don't regret anything I've done. Actually, what I do regret is not paying enough attention in fucking high school.
Sev: Did you finish high school?
Rob: Yea, I graduated high school, but I was fucking up all the time, I'd be loaded in school, and I wish I would have paid a little more of attention in some of my classes. But all the other shit I've done, I don't give a fuck. You live and learn.
Sev: Did you go through any more schooling after that?
Rob: Fuck no. As soon as I graduated high school I was done. I couldn't really see myself going to college. Most people go to college for like 4-5 years, so I sometimes think that I would have been done by now and could be doing this or that, but at the same time, I'd never get to do what I'm doing now. Never in a million years did I think I'd be having my record out, and now I've got 2 record deals. That's way out to me, and I still don't understand how that happened. I'm just thankful everyday that I have what I have going for me, and I try to stay focused and try to stay positive.
Sev: Vic Ruggiero from The Slackers is in like half of the songs of the album. Was he involved in the writing of the songs as well?
Rob: Yea. Tim called him up, he came out, and played the B3 organ. He's an amazing person, an amazing keyboard-piano-organ player, whatever you want to call him.
Sev: Were all the parts written for him already?
Rob: Well, I don't know how to fucking play those keys, but Tim had some ideas. We fucked around a lot in the studio. Tim would plan the track and just tell Vic what he thought sounded cool, and Vic is a great musician so he really gave a lot to the tracks.
Sev: Have you done any videos for any of the songs?
Rob: We did a video for "Diamonds and Guns" and a video for "DJ DJ."
Sev: Have those received any airplay?
Rob: MTV2 played them a couple of times at 3AM I think. What are you going to do?
Sev: Why did you choose those songs in particular?
Rob: Well, "DJ DJ" was released as the first single, and so it only made sense that we make a video for that. "Diamonds and Guns" is going to be the next single. We basically shot them both in like a 48-hour period so it was kind of crazy. "DJ DJ" was just us at this hotel in LA where they filmed True Romance at. We basically rented the whole hotel and it was all of our friends, bitches, and beer. It was a party all night long when we played. We set up a stage over the pool, and it was fun. It was a huge party with all of our friends. The next day we fucking shot the video for "Diamonds and Guns." It was me, Travis, and Tim driving on the old car, and it was performance and stuff. It was cool.
Sev: I saw you when you played "DJ DJ" at the Jimmy Kimmel show a few weeks ago. I didn't know that there were going to be so many people there. I thought it was going to be like in the studio.
Rob: Yea, I didn't know what to expect. I'd never been on a show on TV, so it was kind of crazy. I thought we'd be there on a stage next to him like at the studio or something, but they had us set up outside. It was kind of like a Warped Tour type thing.
Sev: Right, there were people dirt biking and shit.
Rob: Yea, there were these crazy motor cross dudes, doing all kinds of shit next to us. It was insane. So it definitely felt more like a show than actually being on TV. You just try and forget the cameras are there, and it was fun. The kids would be singing along and shit - it was a good time.
Sev: Did you do more songs than the ones that were actually shown on TV?
Rob: Yea. On TV they aired "DJ DJ" and "White Riot." I didn't see it though; I wish I had.
Sev: It was great. It seemed like everyone there was having a blast.
Rob: Cool, thank you. After that we did "Diamonds and Guns," "One Seventeen," and I think maybe one more. But Jimmy Kimmel was a cool dude. And that one chick Julienne Barberi who was on, she's hot. Then the next day, we did this show with Snoop Dogg. He's got a new show that's coming out on MTV, and she was the guest on that too, so it was kind of random.
Sev: Snoop is the host?
Rob: Yea, he's got a new TV show coming out. We were lucky enough to be on it. Jesse, the guy who directed our video, the Snoop show is his thing too, so we did "Tall Cans" with him and he did a verse with us - it was cool. I think it airs in June or July.
Sev: Is it mostly a hip hop show?
Rob: Oh man, the show is the best thing in the world. It's Snoop Dogg, and it's not a video show. It's mostly sketch comedy, and it's hilarious. It's the best thing that's going to be on the network - I can tell you that right now.
Sev: You just finished a big arena tour with The Foo Fighters. What did you take away from those shows?
Rob: It was great. The response was good for the most part. Their fans were receptive to us. We definitely play a very different type of music. Cave In opened part of it, and Special Goodness opened part of it. It was good, we did what we did, and it as a good time playing in front of all those people. I think we walked away with a couple of new fans, and maybe even some new enemies. But it was good shit.
Sev: How were the Foo Fighters guys?
Rob: They're amazing. Aside from being one of the best live bands I've ever seen...they're great. They're super tight live. All of them are really nice guys, and none of them are rockstarish or anything like that. They're all really great guys.
Sev: Was it intimidating to go out there in front of those big arenas?
Rob: It's cool - I don't get weirded out by that. A lot of people will get freaked out by seeing 10,000 out there, but it's cool. I look at everyone in the eye. The thing is that the lights are so bright that you can't see anyone past the first 10 rows. It's rad to play shows that big, but it's so fun to play a small club. You know, you're right there with the kids in front row and everyone can sing along.
Sev: Well you haven't done that many tours yet.
Rob: Yea, this is our second tour. We did that first tour last year opening for The Distillers, and now this one we just finished with the Foo Fighters. I can't say I really prefer either - it's just a different type of fun. I like it when you have a couple of hundred kids and they're really into it because they're there to see you. That's better than playing at a big arena with people basically just waiting for the next band to play.
Sev: Did you have to act in a more professional manner on this last arena tour?
Rob: No. I mean, once it stops being fun you stop doing it. Everyone is going to have their days when you're not really feeling it, or you have a bad show, but when it stops being fun, it's when you stop being in a band. But right now it's too much fun for everyone. All of us stay busy and we do our thing. As far as stepping it up professionally, all of us have been doing this or been around this for years. It's not like we're some savages that let loose in the back of some arena and everyone runs for cover.
Sev: You signed a solo deal with Warner Bros. That's going to be more hip-hop heavy stuff than Transplants?
Rob: Yea. Well, me and Tim will still make more tracks together, but I'm going to get some other producers too. I'll basically treat it the way I treat Transplants - anything goes and I don't give a fuck. Anyone who likes or doesn't like me, fuck them. This is my fucking record.
Sev: Was this something that you've wanted to do for a long time, and maybe Transplants gave you the push and confidence you needed?
Rob: Not really - like anybody else, I thought it would be cool to have a record or be in a band. Then all of a sudden I'm in a band with Tim Armstrong and Travis Barker. Tim gave me a shot, it was kind of unexpected, and I'm grateful he gave it to me. I'm just trying to stay focused and stay busy because everyone else is always working. Tim and Travis, those guys have this ridiculous work ethic. They're always nonstop doing something - whether it's in the studio or with other bands. I learned from them to make it happen while you can.
Sev: How did Warner approach you?
Rob: I guess they heard that I was going to do a record, and they showed interest. That was it.
Sev: Was it originally going to be on Hellcat?
Rob: Well, it's still going to be Hellcat/Warner. I'll always be part of the Hellcat family. But I'm looking for more exposure, more distribution, more money - I'm looking for everything. People get bummed when they read that stuff, but I don't give a fuck. I signed to a major label, and I don't give a fuck. I'm trying to make money. The more people that can hear my record and want to go buy my record, that's fine with me. I don't give a fuck what label's it's on, as long as I'm available to do what I want and someone wants to release it. If someone's interested in me, then I'm stoked. I'm going to do the best I can, and hopefully they'll push it. Who knows what will happen.
Sev: Did you record that one already?
Rob: No - I get started on that next week once I get home. I'll start writing all those tracks. But anything goes. I'll be fucking around in the studio and see what happens. It'll be focused, but it'll be different. It won't be for everyone - I know that.
Sev: As a band, have you been writing any new material for Transplants?
Rob: Yea, we just recorded a new song a couple of nights ago in the bus. I think it's the best song we've ever done too. I love it.
Sev: Is it similar to what's on the record?
Rob: Yea, but it's different at the same time. Every one of our songs is different, but it's still got that same feel to it, if that makes any sense. When you hear it, you can definitely tell it's us - just because maybe it's so bizarre. I like it a lot. But we'll definitely be doing more records, more touring, whatever the schedule allows.
Sev: So you guys will be taking a break now for the summer?
Rob: No, we'll never take a break. I mean, while me and Tim are out with Rancid on the Warped Tour we'll be doing stuff. We'll be putting a DVD together, so it never stops. Even if Travis is on tour with Blink, I'm in the studio with my own record, and Tim is doing something with Rancid, it's still Transplants all day every day.
Sev: Are you going to be doing some Warped Tour dates?
Rob: No, unfortunately. I wish. Hopefully next year - I'd love to do the whole thing. We could have a lot of fun, so hopefully next year we can do that.
Sev: Do you have any recent crazy tour stories?
Rob: No. Nothing too bad, nothing too good. It's just hectic all the time. If it isn't one thing it's the next. There really isn't any time to indulge. It's a lot of work but it's all positive. I'd rather be doing stuff like press, meet and greet in-stores, or whatever.
Sev: Rather than playing video games in the bus?
Rob: Yea, exactly. I'd rather stay productive, keep pushing it, and keep moving. I just want to keep it going because nothing lasts forever, especially a goddamn band. Like I said, I'm just trying to have fun with it while I can and stay busy.
Sev: What are 3 bands that you think should be getting more attention than they're getting?
Rob: Kelly Osbourne - that's an amazing record, hands down. It's one of my favorite records of last year. Fuck, that's one of the best records of last year. I think people tend to overlook her because she's Ozzy's daughter or she's on The Osbournes, but that's a good fucking record. So that right there is one. Two, Necro - he's a rapper. He's been around for a long time, and he's nothing new, but he's just been slept on too. He's underground, but he kills it. Three, people need to go back and listen to Robert Johnson. That's, in my opinion, the best blues artist and guitarists. Not a lot of people know about him just because it's so long ago, but it's an amazing blues record. A lot of people don't like blues, and that's cool, but like anything else, I think a lot of people tend to get too caught up in one type of anything - whether it's music or fashion. I think people get too focused on genres. "I'm only going to listen to this because it's English punk from 1981," or "I'm only going to listen to this because it's west coast gangsta rap." There's so much good shit out there and it's a shame that people don't want to expand their horizons and try something new. That's all we did with this fucking record. It wasn't going to be an album, it wasn't going to be a release, there wasn't going to be a band, and there weren't going to be any shows. It was just us fucking around with all types of different music that we like, and trying something different. We're not trying to change the world, and we're not trying to change the scene. We're not trying to do anything - we're just doing what we do. We don't care if anybody likes this shit. That just shows you - for anyone reading this or whatever, or some kids who wants to start a band, it's ok to do something different.
Sev: Ok, final question. You've been doing all these interviews these past few months. Anything in particular that you hate about them or that you don't want to hear ever again?
Rob: Well, I guess just because it gets repetitive sometimes, but it's all good. It comes with the territory. This interview is fine right here. I'm not complaining at all about this interview.
Sev: Cool. Anything you want to add that we didn't cover?
Rob: Go buy the new Dropkick Murphys album. For everyone reading, go get that shit. That's definitely some good stuff.