Transplants in Meanstreet
"I hate our first record with a passion," says Rob Aston, vocalist for the Transplants. "I pick apart all my performances on the first album, but with this new one, we all brought a little bit more to the table. This one is a whole lot better."
Ironically, most bands criticize their previous album only if it was a commercial flop, but the Transplants' 2002 self-titled bow actually performed better than anyone expected. The band - featuring Aston, Rancid's Tim Armstrong (co-vocals, guitar) and Blink-182's Travis Barker (drums) - scored rock hits with "D.J. D.J." and "Diamonds and Guns," the latter of which was even licensed for a Garnier Fructis TV commercial (because nothing says "clean hair" like a guy from Rancid!). Ultimately, what started as a side project to express other musical influences turned into a legitimate radio-rockin' headliner.
As one might expect, the Transplants' forthcoming Haunted Cities (in stores June 21) boasts much higher expectations, especially since the disc will feature major label distribution through Barker's own WEA-affiliated La Salle Records. Nonetheless, the band didn't let such distractions affect their headspace.
Explains Barker, "We knew it would be more anticipated and analyzed, but we just roll with it. If they like it, they like it, and if they don't, they don't. At the end of the day, no one's opinion - whether it's from a radio station or a video channel or a magazine or even a friend - can change the way we write a song."
At the same time, the band circumvented any outside pressure by making Haunted Cities entirely by themselves. "We recorded this album on my dime and didn't have a deal in place "'til after the disc was done," says Armstrong, who released the first disc on his own Epitaph-affiliated Hellcat Records. "We always knew it was going to be on Travis' label. We just make music and take one track at a time, and we don't think about expectations. We are proud of our music."
Surprisingly, when Atlantic Records set up this interview last month, the Transplants still weren't officially signed to the major label parent. The band didn't want label interference, so they actually recorded the album first and discussed terms later. In fact, the contract was solidified just days before the actual interview took place.
"We recorded the entire record and brought it to them a week and a half ago," explains Barker. "Until then, they hadn't heard shit. They were on us saying, "'Get us a copy of the songs,' but we didn't want to play them anything until we were ready. They got mad and all that, but we wanted it to be right the first time we played it for them. Once it was done, we flew up to New York, walked into a boardroom of about 50 people, and we just pressed play and kept turning up the volume. Collectively, we were really stoked about the album, so it didn't matter what anyone else thought."
Though the label could have passed on the album with no financial reimbursement for the band, the risky gamble fortunately paid off as the Transplants got to make the exact record that they wanted without anyone in a suit second-guessing them. Barker continues, "It's like showing a painting that's half finished. It sucks having to explain how rad it's going to be. No, we wanted to be like, "'Here's our shit finished, and we hope you are happy with it.' No matter what, the Transplants would always have a record deal with La Salle. No matter what, whether we got a label or not, we were going to keep making shit, and luckily we got support."
In the end, what type of album did the Transplants make? Though Haunted Cities displays a tremendous range of influences and styles, the disc most prominently merges punk and rap. The hip-hop infusion resonates in Aston's MC vocals and Barker's percussion, but it also comes through guest appearances by the Boo-Yaa Tribe, Dilated Peoples' Rakaa, and Cypress Hill's B-Real and Sen Dog.
Explains Armstrong, "I think that the hip-hop elements come from our influences. I love hip-hop and rap. I've been listening to that kind of music for many years. We always have the punk element [because] that's who I am. "'Not Today' is a full punk song, but our deliveries are all rapping in a weird way. It's one of my personal faves on the album. It shows punk and rap at its best. Working with Boo-Yaa on "'What I Can't Describe' was a dream come true. Those guys are amazing and have such a great work ethic. It was an amazing experience."
"With other bands, I think they might be scared to approach certain types of music," adds Aston, "but with us, everything is on the table. We just mix it together and make it work. We've been fortunate to do our own shit. No one's telling us you can't do that, and we basically do whatever we want."
Barker especially loved the musical challenge of fusing punk rock with hip-hop. The drummer, who recently added reality TV to his resume (MTV's Meet the Barkers), is a versatile stick man having played the skins with so many groups, a list that also includes Feeble, the Suicide Machines, the Aquabats, and Box Car Racer. Still, Haunted Cities lets him take his experience one step further.
"I don't like to repeat myself," explains the heavily tattooed drummer. "I don't like to record the same record twice. Even the last Blink album was a departure from Blink. We thrive on being original, and, I don't know, it's sincere when we do it. I have been trying since age nine to make myself sound as much like Run-DMC as I can Alex Van Halen. That was my goal then, and that's still my goal now."
With the new album coming out and the lead single "Gangsters & Thugs" lighting up radio, the Transplants look forward to hitting the road as one of this summer's headliners on the Vans Warped Tour. Currently the longest-running festival tour in existence, Warped kicks off June 18 in Columbus, Ohio and makes its final curtain call August 15 in Northampton, Mass. The Transplants' members, who have done the Warped rounds with other acts, are anxious to get started.
"I can't wait because we never toured for nothing!" exclaims Barker. "We've only done like a tour and a half, and most of that was on the Foo Fighters tour. The Warped Tour will be the first time the Transplants will be playing for people who know the last record and who are looking forward to the next. This band is like our brainchild, the kid we never got to show, and this tour will be our time to shine."
"It'll be cool for me because I worked on the tour with a lot of bands, so I'll be going from loading gear to actually being up there doing it," adds Aston, who used to work for Rancid and before that AFI. "I'm also looking forward to it because we know a lot of people who work on the tour and who are in the different bands. In some ways it's a reunion for a couple months in which people just hang out and have a good time."
Now in its 11th year, the Warped Tour continues to bring punk fans the very best, and with the Transplants, the kids get to see a live show that many have waited years to see. Armstrong notes, "I think it's a great tour because you can see 30 bands for so cheap. It's good to have a tour that features amazing bands and doesn't cost $70 to see."
by David Jenison