There are about four people within American punk rock who can basically do no wrong, one of whom is Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong, who, after founding and destroying Operation Ivy in the ‘80s, created the seminal crew with former Op Ivy bassist Matt Freeman. You remember them from when they scored a huge hit with the 1995 single “Time Bomb”—and if you stopped listening there, you’re doing it way wrong, because Rancid released several more successful and influential albums, including the ska-reggae-influenced Life Won’t Wait, the hardcore self-titled LP.
But in between all that, he also found time to release a solo reggae album and collaborate with blink-182 dummer (and former Rancid and AFI roadie) Rob Aston to create a punk-hip-hop genre in the Transplants, using loops, dub beats, samples and a mess of guest singers—Eric Ozenne of the Nerve Agents and B-Real of Cypress Hill, to name a couple—to create an unmistakable sound. You probably heard their hit “Diamonds and Guns” on Garnier Fructis shampoo commercials, too, but please, don’t hold that against them.
PW spoke with the Transplants’ Aston, aka Skinhead Rob, ahead of their Electric Factory gig opening for Rancid, about how the project has changed over the years and what to expect from their third album, In a Warzone, dropping June 25.
PW: How did the recording for the most recent album go?
ROB ASTON: This time around, it was all of us: Travis [Barker], Tim and myself. We would meet at Travis’ studio in the morning and work all day. And then usually we would walk out of there with a couple songs done each day—or at least the skeletons for songs almost done. Everyone’s always open to hear suggestions and constructive criticism. No one gets their feelings hurt in this band when it comes to that.
How would you say that the third album fits into your catalog?
It’s more straightforward punk rock. We only have [hip-hop] guests on two songs. The rest of it is pretty much straightforward punk. There are no sound effects or loops. That’s what we wanted to do when we started to record and write this album. We wanted to strip it down, with no bells and whistles.
Why did you decide to go that route, being as the first two albums are so hip-hop oriented?
How this album sounds, looking back, is kind of how I wished the other albums sounded. I guess the other albums played their part. People still like those albums and songs on those albums, but it’s not my favorite work. I wish I had spent a little more time on some subject matter. I would have changed a couple things and some stupid lyrics. There are some songs that I hear where I’m like, ‘Ugh, I should have said something better here,’ where I thought I should have written about a topic a little more important than just getting hammered. At the same time, people want to have a good time, and people want a song they can get shitfaced to.
You seem to have come up in the grassroots punk rock scene. You worked for Rancid, right?
Before I worked for Rancid, I worked for AFI, back in the ‘90s. That’s how I got my foot in the door with everything. Through the AFI guys, I met the Rancid guys [and] I ended up working for them. We ended up writing music for the Transplants before I went on tour with them.
How do you guys find time to write—or even practice—with all of the projects you have going on?
Out of all of us, Travis is a monster. All of us stay busy, but Travis stays the busiest. He is always working. He is always in the studio. He is always practicing or producing. Tim also. He stays busy with Rancid and other acts he’s producing. I have got my Death March thing to keep me busy. We all like to work and make music. It’s what we do. Whether it’s us working on Transplants, or us working on whatever projects we got going on. It’s true when they say, “the devil has work for idle hands.”
Sat., June 22, 7:30pm. Sold out. With Crown of Thornz. Electric Factory, 421 N. Seventh St. 215.627.1332. electricfactory.info
PW's Music Issue 2014