Featuring Rob Aston of Death March, Blink-182’s Travis Barker and Tim Armstrong of Rancid, The Transplants have been known for mixing elements of hip-hop with punk rock since their formation thirteen years ago. Having taken some time off following the release of 2005’s Haunted Cities, the band have just released their third studio album, In A Warzone, and Killyourstereo.com caught up with frontman Rob Aston to discuss the new record.
With the new album out soon, have you been paying attention to peoples’ reactions to the songs you’ve released from it?
I don’t want this to sound weird or like I’m an asshole, but I don’t really care what people are saying about it, if they like it or not. And it’s not because I don’t appreciate the support or the feedback whatever, I’ve just learned you can’t get caught up with what other people think of your music and your art and stuff, because if you have people telling you, "Oh this is the best, this is awesome, this is wonderful," and then you have one person saying it sucks, you find yourself getting fixated on that person who doesn’t like it, as opposed to everyone else who does like it. And vice versa, like you can have everyone telling you, "This sucks, this is your worst song, this is bullshit," and one person’s like, "This is fuckin’ great," and then you think you’re king shit all of a sudden (laughs). So you know, I write songs and we make songs and we do it because we like to do it. We don’t do it because there’s a cheque at the end of the day or there’s any promise of anything at the end of the day. We do it because this is the type of music we love, and this is the type of music we create and it’s just second nature to us to make this stuff. But at the same time, I have heard a lot of positive things about the songs from people I’m in contact with on a daily basis and stuff, and these are people who would honestly tell me, "Rob, this is bullshit, fuck this song." (laughs) But all the feedback’s been really positive so far, so it’s pretty cool. I’m excited for the album to come out and for people to hear the whole thing.
Were there any particular themes you focused on for this record?
This time, I was a little more conscious of what I was writing about. You know, with our first two albums and stuff, it was just having fun and a lot of the songs maybe didn’t have too much depth to them lyrically and stuff, and that’s kind of embarrassing, and maybe it’s just because I’m getting older too, but I think if you’re in a band, especially if you’re the frontman or the singer, you’ve got a responsibility, especially in a punk rock band. I’ve sung plenty of songs about drinking and partying and smoking weed, and drugs and this and that, and whatever, that’s all fine and dandy, but I think there’s more responsible stuff I could be talking about. Like I said, maybe it’s just me getting old, but there’s things that are more important to me than just drinking tall cans of beer. So this time around I’m talking about the destruction of the earth and global warming and war and crooked cops and politicians and fuck the president, and a lot of the same stuff that we’ve been talking about on our other albums, but maybe just a little more focused this time around.
So as you said, you’re essentially a punk band, but there are a lot of other elements in there as well. Does that make it easier or harder to write?
Maybe easier, because anything goes with us. We’ve been like this since we started thirteen years ago, and we’ve never let anyone tell us that we can’t make a certain type of song, or that we can’t do anything. If we want to do something, we’re going to do it. If we want to make a song with a thousand guests on it, we’re going to do it. If we want to make a song with just a kick drum and a flute, we’re going to do it (laughs). It’s ridiculous, but if that’s what we want to do, we’re going to do it. When you open your world up and open your mind up to different things and other ideas and other types of music, I think it’s easier to create, because you have so many different avenues to travel down, whereas if you’re just making one type of music, I don’t know, you’re limiting yourself, and it’s kind of sad, because you could have a song that might never come to light because you’re not allowing yourself to bring it out. I don’t know if that makes any sense to you or not, or anyone who’s going to be reading this, but if you’re not willing to venture out of your comfort zone and try something different, then you’re not really growing at all. You’re not really expanding what you can do. You’re not experimenting with your potential. I encourage everyone to experiment with different musicians and artists, because there’s a lot of good stuff out there that you might not normally know about because it’s just not your thing, but there’s nothing wrong with giving something a listen just because it’s different and foreign to you. You might love it, who knows?
Yeah, absolutely. So it’s taken you a little while to finish this album. Was that mainly because of everybody’s other commitments?
Yeah, I mean, everyone has other projects and stuff. Tim has Rancid and he’s been producing for a lot of people like Jimmy Cliff and all that, and Travis has Blink, and he produces for a million people, and I have my other band Death March, and we stay as busy as we can and stuff. So it’s never hard for us to get together and write the songs and record the songs, it’s just a matter of when can everyone be together at the same. Because two of us might be free but one of us might have a show to do or something, so it’s a lot harder than it sounds sometimes to get everyone together to write and record, but once we do finally get in there and get it going, it moves pretty quickly. We’re lucky like that, especially having that time off for those couple of years, when we went in to start recording, we were like, "Oh fuck, is it going to be the same, is it going to be difficult?", but shit, honestly, it was like we didn’t even miss a beat, we just picked it up where we left off. It was like nothing had ever happened. It was nice.
And how does the process usually work when you get together?
This time around, we would all show up at Trav’s studio and we would all start writing music from scratch every day, whether Tim would have an idea with a guitar riff, or Trav would have an idea with drums, we’d start from there, or I’d have a vocal idea and we’d build off that. It kind of changed with every song, but the process was the same every time – we’d all sit in a room together with the instruments and just create from scratch. I think that’s the best way for us to write songs and record songs, you know? I can’t change the past, but I would have liked to record our previous albums the same way too, because I think we work best this way.
Oh, how did you record the previous albums?
Previously, a lot of times we’d get in there and we’d do everything together, but a lot of times too Tim would work on something in his studio and email it to me and Trav, or Trav would work on some of his and send it. But I think when everyone’s together in a room, the communication’s just so much better. You’re not waiting to send an email to see if they read it and hit you back or call you back. I’d rather be in a room with you and tell you my idea. Let me hear how this sounds while I’m here (laughs). It just works better for us when we’re all together, it’s more natural.
So in the past you’ve featured a bunch of guests on your albums, but there are only a few on In A Warzone.
This time we only have maybe three guests – Bun B and Equipto, and Paul Wall is on one song. It’s kind of funny because the record for the most part is a straightforward punk record, but the only guests we have are three rappers (laughs). That’s kind of what you get when you get Transplants. We’ve always liked to put people on our songs who maybe you wouldn’t think would be on our songs and I just think it’s better like that, because why do something typical or something that people expect? I don’t want people to expect us to have whoever on our record, I want to keep people guessing with each album and keep it exciting, you know?
And are they people you reached out to or people you already knew?
These are all people we know. Anyone we’ve ever had on any of our albums are people we’ve been friends with before, but at the same time, we’re fans also. This time around it’s Bun B, Equipto and Paul Wall, and we’re fans of all those guys, and we’re friends also, but it’s also nice when the people you work with, you admire and like what they do.
So how does the process work when you’re collaborating with a guest?
Usually when it’s a guest, we let them do their thing. We give them the song and usually I’ll have my vocal part done, Tim will have his done, the song itself will be done, but there will be their verse open or whatever. And everyone’s so good at what they do when it comes to our guests and stuff, that we never really have to guide them on how to go or how to approach it. That’s why we’re getting them on the album, is because we like what they do and how they approach songs. So everyone’s worked out really well so far.
So I know that you met Tim while you were working as a roadie. Was being in a band something you always wanted to do or was it just something that kind of happened after meeting him?
No, not really, I never had no plans on being in a band or doing anything associated with music actually. I was a roadie for AFI and that alone was awesome to me. I was grateful to do that because I never even thought I’d be doing that, and that’s how I met Tim and how I met the Rancid guys, and when I moved to LA from Fresno, I ended up living only like a mile away from Tim, and we’d hang out all the time, and one day he played me some tracks he’d made and asked if I could write lyrics to them, and I’d never been in a band before. Besides being friends with Tim, I grew up listening to his music – Operation Ivy, everything, so I wasn’t going to pass the opportunity up. So I was like, "Yeah, I can write to this," and inside I’m fucking shitting myself (laughs), because if Tim Armstrong’s asking me to write lyrics to a song he wrote, I better be able to do this shit. And the next thing you know, here we are today. I guess everything happens for a reason, you know? But I never thought in a million years I’d be doing this. You couldn’t have told me growing up as a kid that I’d be in a band with Travis Barker and Tim Armstrong, I would have told you you were fucking crazy.
(laughs) Yeah, that is pretty crazy. So what’s going on with your other band Death March at the moment?
We just play as much as we can out here. Most of our shows have been in Southern California. We just put out our first 7-inch, called Fuck Your Fucking War, and it’s on Durty Mick Records, and it’s just raw punk, d-beat… I mean, I love playing d-beat, I love that type of punk, it’s the most fun for me. And we just play when we can, and we’re getting ready to put out a couple more 7-inches, and hopefully go on tour and go overseas with it and see what happens.
Just to finish up, I know it’s kind of tough with Travis and everything, but do you have any plans to come to Australia?
I don’t know, it’s kind of a tough call. I know we all would love to very much, I know we’ve got a lot of love and support from Australia and all the fans there, and we’re very grateful. It’s just, when Trav got in the plane accident, things kind of changed, and people have got to understand what he went through. Losing Chris and Che and AM, and he had fucking crazy burns and had to get skin grafts, and that’s a lot to go through for someone. I’m behind Travis one hundred percent – if he doesn’t want to get in a plane, I ain’t going to force him to get in the plane. If he doesn’t want to get in a boat, I ain’t going to force him to do that either. If one day he decides he wants to get in a plane, I’ll be in a seat next to him. So hopefully the fans down there and everywhere we haven’t been can understand, or try to understand, what Travis has gone through, and put themselves in his shoes before they judge him or judge us for not coming over there, because there’s a lot more to it than just getting on a plane.