Skinhead Rob talks Transplants, Tim, Travis and hardcore roots
As a roadie turned frontman, 'Skinhead' Rob Aston has paid his dues in spades.
The rapper-cum-hardcore screamer spent years lugging gear for other bands, before eventually forming his own. That band, The Transplants, saw him join up with Rancid's punk hero Tim Armstrong and drummer turned hip hop devotee Travis Barker.
A decade on and the supergroup is still going strong, with album three about to land. In A Warzone is a snarling statement of intent, 30 blistering minutes that return the band to their deepest hardcore roots while retaining the pop hooks that made their debut single Diamonds And Guns a hit.
Musicradar spoke to the unflinchingly honest Rob about the band's work past, present and future...
Transplants is a mix of punk, rap, hardcore, and even pop – does that reflect your listening tastes?
"I grew up listening to everything from rap to punk to metal to country. I always loved Black Sabbath, Slayer, Pantera, Ice-T, Public Enemy, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash. I was never really too close-minded when it came to music, if it sounded good and had a message I could relate to, I'd listen to it. I think that goes for all of us in the band and it shows in the kind of music that we make.
"On the punk rock side of town it was always bands like Blitz, Discharge and Last Resort. When you have a broader spectrum of music that you listen to, you tend to be more open minded in general through life. That's because you're getting so many different points of views and opinions, whether you agree with them all or not. When you alienate certain genres of music you're also alienating certain types of people."
How did you get your start in music?
"I started out as a roadie for AFI a long time ago. Some of the best years of my life were spent on the road working for other bands. I had no plans on being in a band. I met Tim and the Rancid guys through AFI and that's how me and Tim built our friendship.
"I moved not too far from where he lives, we'd hang out and made music all of a sudden. I never thought I'd be in a band, let alone a band with Tim Armstrong and Travis Barker. Even though it's been a long time it's still sometimes kind of crazy. I stop and think, 'Damn, I'm a lucky mother f***er!'"
Has your background as a roadie helped to keep you grounded?
"For sure. I'd go out and do it again. I'll go out and set up, I'll help set up merch, why not? Some of the best years of my life were spent on the road working for other bands."
It sounds like the band came together very organically...
"When I first moved down to LA me and Tim lived maybe a mile away from each other so we'd hang out all the time. We were at his studio one day and he played me some tracks and asked if I could write some lyrics for them.
"I was kind of trippin' because I'd never written for anyone. I also thought I'd been listening to this dude's music forever so I could do it. It was nothing forced, there was no plan for an album, it was just for fun."
How did Travis become involved?
"We decided to record but we needed a drummer. We figured why not go for the best one there is, so we called Travis Barker and the rest is history."
Those guys must be inspiring to work with
"Oh yeah. Tim and Trav are both ridiculously inspiring. They're both great at what they do, they're always both creating whether it be songwriting, producing or whatever. Travis makes amazing beats and Tim just won another Grammy for the Jimmy Cliff album. Both of those guys are constantly working so it's hard not to follow suit. You can't just be a lazy piece of s*** while everyone around you is working! I'm inspired by Tim and Travis on a daily basis."
How does the writing process work for Transplants?
"For damn near the entire album this time we were in the studio together starting from scratch writing songs together every day. Everyone had a say in it and I think that's the best way to make an album.
"I think it worked out in our favour, this is my favourite album that we've done. We should have been making albums like this from the start. It's a more straightforward punk album, that's what we do best."
Going back to the early writing sessions for the first album, was that a daunting prospect?
"For sure. Even though we're friends, I'd been listening to him for years and I'm a huge fan. It was crazy but I had to give it a shot. When I went in to record for the first time it was at Tim's studio and Lars Frederiksen was there staring at me, just what I needed those guys looking at me while I did my first vocal!"
Has it become easier with time?
"Definitely. Now it's second nature to sit and write with everyone and record. All of those guys are so good at what they do, a lot of the time I have to sit back and take it all in and be grateful for everything."
And how about live, was that a similar story?
"Our first show, I was nervous. I was up there with some heavyweights. Backstage Lars came up and told me, 'Look pal, don't be nervous. There's a reason you're here and you're going to go up and it'll go by like that.' Sure enough, the first song kicked in, I remember it and then I don't remember s*** until the end when I wanted to go out and do more. It was the best feeling ever."
Did you record In A Warzone at Tim's studio again?
"We did the majority of it out of Travis' studio. We started out working every Tuesday then it was every Tuesday and Thursday and then whenever we could we'd get in there. We recorded a little bit at Flea from the Chili Peppers' studio. He offered it to us for a week so we took him up on that. Sometimes it's cool to get some different scenery. You draw inspiration from all different types of stuff, at least I do."
As you mentioned earlier, the album has a definite punk feel...
"That's where we come from. I think that's the type of music that is natural for us and the music that we make best. This time around we didn't want to use a bunch of samples and loops. I'm a firm believer that you record songs that you can play live. We're not taking a keyboard player out with us, it's just the band."
It has a hardcore vibe stamped through out but there's still pop hooks.
"I think that sets us apart. We've always done what we want to do, we've never stuck to a blueprint. I mean, f***, we mix all types of s*** together in one song. It's not for everyone, some people like it, some people hate it, but who cares? It's what we want to do.
"With the new album we still have that mindset, we make whatever the f*** we want. If no one likes it, who cares? Some people in bands might want to play hardcore punk and not necessarily want to have a chorus or melody, that's fine, I listen to a lot of music like that, but we do what we want and what we see is fit for each song."
Are Transplants writing sessions fluid collaborations between yourself, Tim and Travis?
"We'll get in there and start writing musically, something will catch my ear and I might put a chorus to it and we'll build a song from it. Everyone is real open to every one else's ideas. It's ever easy or fun to work with people that are control freaks. Not everyone's ideas always work though, I've had a million ideas shot down but you can't take it personally."
Coming on to your vocal delivery, who are your biggest influences?
"Oh wow, I've listened to some many different genres, everyone from Phil Anselmo to Ice Cube. Lots of guys have made an impact on me growing up from listening to them over and over."
Where do you think you'd be today without music?
"If AFI never gave me the shot to be a roadie I have no idea what the f*** I'd be doing. After high school I didn't go near college. I have no skills with pretty much anything. You only have so many options when you're like me. I wouldn't be doing anything that we'd be talking about!"