Featuring Rob Aston of Death March, Tim Armstrong of Rancid, and Travis Barker of Blink-182, The Transplants are daring in that they unabashedly mix punk rock with hip-hop plus lots and lots and lots of other styles. The result is an entirely unique sound that challenges most of the tenants of the aforementioned genres and makes the band really, really divisive among the punk rockers.
In order to get the scoop on the new album, Punknews’ John Gentile rang up Aston and talked about mixing punk with hip-hop, good d-beat records, and reevaluating one’s younger self.
Now, Rob, you grew up as a fan of a lot of the classic sounding punk bands like 4 Skins, The Business, and Cock Sparrer, correct?
Yeah, as far as the punk side of town, there were a lot of Oi! bands. There were also a lot of Dis bands and d-beat bands.
Actually, Disfear is one of your favorite bands, right?
I love Disfear! That’s one of my all-time favorite bands ever. I actually am coming out with an album of d-beat. Tomas Lindberg of Disfear is my favorite lyricist. His style influences a lot of my own writing.
But, you also grew up listening to hip-hop, right?
Oh, yeah. Lots and lots of hip-hop.
Did you ever have any difficulty with one community accepting the other, or feel like an outsider because of the kind of music that you liked?
You know, I’ve had my fair share of scrapes and scuffles over the years. I tend to surround myself with people who are open minded, no matter their culture or genre or sub-genre, or what type of clique that people are in. There are always people who don’t understand what you are doing. “He’s too hip-hop” or “That’s not punk” or “Why do you fuck with those dudes on your record?” Who cares?! I make the music that I want and I associate with whom I want.
What I like about The Transplants is your daring choices when merging various styles.
I grew up listening to a variety of music. I think that comes through on our records. All of us came up through a variety of music. We’ve never really wanted to pigeonhole ourselves. If we are in a fucking mood one day and want to make a type of music, then we’ll make it. If we want a certain person on our record, then it’s whatever goes with the music. D-beat is my favorite kind of music, and we do that, but we don’t feel bound by any certain style.
I think that results in making The Transplants have a very unique sound. Really, no one sounds like your band.
Thank you! That’s kind of… well… it’s not what we necessarily set out to do. But, from the beginning, we did wanted to do something different. We just go with whatever. Who cares what people think? It’s just to have fun and to try something different. There’s a lot of artists and rappers who listen to different types of music that they don’t make. Maybe some people are wary of experimentation or committing to it. With us, it’s always just been “fuck it!”
Do you structure your ideas before going into record, so you know what type of experiments that you are going to try beforehand, or do you just play around and see what happens?
We usually just go into the studio and just show up and start from scratch each day. Most of the time, say Tim has a riff, he’ll play it, or Travis will start, and come up with an idea, and the rest of us will work off of it. It varies with each track. We never go into the studio with a plan mapped out or a blueprint or that “we have to have a song about this.” Fuck that, you are just setting yourself up to fail. We just go in and however we feel is what we make that day. We’re really lucky in that we can make three or four songs a day. Not that they are all kept, but we make them pretty quickly.
The first single is called “Warzone” and the cover has sort of a Crass motif. Are you more interested in making a political record than in the past?
There are more songs on this album that are politically driven… or anti-politically driven. It’s like, maybe I’m getting older, but I think that if you are in a band, you have a responsibility. You can take your time and write about dumb shit, and I’ve written about dumb shit before, but this time, I was like “I’m going to sing about stuff that matters.” Not that every song is “fuck war” and this and that. But, there is a lot of that because that’s how I feel. I’ve written enough songs about getting drunk and getting high. Who cares? I don’t any more. I still feel the same as I did before, but I do feel like I should have been singing about this stuff all along. It matters to me more than “Tall Cans in the Air.” Those songs do play their part, but I think that I could have been more responsible.
It’s interesting that you mention those ideas. I was just talking to Blag Dahlia of the Dwarves, and he essentially said to me that the reason that he puts naked girls on the covers of his albums, and sings about having sex and fighting, is because he’s just being honest because he likes that stuff. He argued that people that avoid sexual topics in their music are really just repressing their own thoughts. So, from his perspective, it’s not a bad thing to salute the base instincts. Do you agree with that position?
I respect that view, for sure, because he’s being honest. He likes that type of shit and you have to respect that. A lot of people don’t have the balls to be that honest. A lot of people are like that, but they are too scared to put imagery like that in their music.
You’ve said before that you write from your own personal experience. What singular personal experience do you write about on the new Transplants record?
There’s a lot. “Back to you” is a good one because it talks about how you have to be careful who you talk to, how you treat people, because it all comes back to you. I’ve been stabbed in the back many times. Shit happens. Some people could say that I’ve stabbed them in the back. You have to learn from your mistakes. You have to learn who you are and move with it.
Without question, The Transplants are a divisive band. A lot of people love the band and a lot of people have negative things to say. Why is the band so polarizing?
I think a lot of people get confused because when we came out, people said “It has Tim on it so it will sound like Rancid” or “It has Travis on it so it will sound like Blink-182.” But, we just sound like The Transplants. I’m not saying that it’s bad to sound like Rancid or Blink, but we want to sound like we sound like. When people hear our music, they are like “why do they have a rapper” or “why is there scratching?” A lot of people get closed minded, and that one of my favorite things to do is to challenge that. I think that one of the cool things about The Transplants is that we get guests that people wouldn’t expect or understand and we make the music we want to make, without worrying about whether people will get it.
You once performed with Mix Master Mike of the Beastie Boys! That must have been a huge thrill!
Oh yeah! Mike is the greatest. He’s not just a legendary DJ; he’s a great human being. To be able to rock with that dude on any level was amazing.
Any last comments?
The new Transplants album comes out June 25. My d-beat band, Death March, has an EP out and hopefully another one out soon. Thanks for your time!