Hoobastank is back with the brand new album Fight or Flight, continuing their two-decade long stint in the modern rock music scene. Recently I chatted with vocalist Doug Robb about the band’s departure from record label Island/Def Jam, the musical and lyrical content of their new music, balancing being a successful band with family life, and more. Read on!
It seems like this album, Fight or Flight, was sort of like a comeback, especially with leaving Island Records. What has it meant for you personally or as a musician to end that decade-long relationship with the label and to switch gears like that?
Doug: I think it was a freeing type of feeling. I don’t wanna give the impression that we hated those people, but we were ecstatic about all the possibilities, y’know? And for having that control over everything, it’s really exciting and it’s worked out for us really well. As far as the album goes, we’ll see.
That sounds great. I’m confused – are you guys with Open E Entertainment (EMI) or independent now?
Doug: Open E Entertainment is independent; it’s kind of a joint venture with bands and these other companies to start a record label. Distribution is through EMI, but Open E is still on its own.
How is that working out with regards to the band’s goals?
Doug: It’s awesome. You kinda forget how many decisions have to be made to put a record out – the marketing, the artwork and everything. A lot of those things are made by record labels where all the band needs to do is sign off on it but with this, everything has to start off with us. This and this needs to be done, who needs to do it, how do we get it done…
It must be great to have more creative control over everything, on the other hand.
Doug: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s not like we didn’t have creative control on Island Def Jam, but we definitely did run into some occurrences where we wanted to do something one way, and they wanted to do something else. It’s not like they said “no”, but they would definitely send out all their guys to try and persuade us to do things their way, y’know?
Check out the song: “This Is Gonna Hurt”
Got it. Let’s talk a little bit about the album. I’m really excited about the release, and it sounds absolutely great. What I like about it is the songs are about different things, lyrically and musically, so it’s a really versatile album, but is there any sort of unifying theme for the album, especially with a title like Fight or Flight?
Doug: Hmm… I don’t know. It’s definitely not a conventional record where there’s a theme running through the entire thing. I think Fight or Flight signifies much of the band’s history – we’ve had a lot of success on the road, things have been really hard at times and really awesome at others. We’ve taken every opportunity to decide that we’ve had our fun, so it’s time to get out and keep up that success and longevity. It’s not always the best times or the worst times, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
It sounds very different from previous works too – Every Man For Himself, The Reason etc. – chords where I though, “That’s a side I haven’t heard before from Hoobastank.” What would you ascribe that change in sound to? Having matured musically? Perhaps working with Gavin Brown versus Howard Benson?
Doug: I think it’s probably a combination of those two things. We wanted to do things differently on all levels. If I were writing a melody that sounded good to me, then we’d all sit around and reevaluate it. We wanted to get out of what we were comfortable with. Also, this is the first record since The Reason that we wrote as a band! Our third and fourth records, we wrote pretty much just me, lead and probably the bass during the writing process, and when we’d record, we’d have the studio guy come in. We write a song as a band, but when we play it in rehearsals and keep playing it, things change. Guitar parts change, drum parts change. It gives me a little bit more room to change vocal things and make it sound better. So we kinda got back to the “old” way (and probably the proper way) of songwriting, where everyone comes together.
And I’m sure after working together for so long, you guys have great chemistry. Are you guys mostly on the same wavelength, would you say?
Doug: I don’t know if we’re always on the same wavelength, but we respect each others’ input. We’ve known each other for so long that it’s easy to be honest with each other, to say, “Hey man, can you sing this instead?” It’s definitely great for keeping our egos in check.
You have a pretty iconic voice – it’s really recognizable. Who are your influences as a vocalist?
Doug: First, thank you! I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before. The first band I was really into was Van Halen and indie rock bands, although I don’t think indie rock shows up in my singing at all. And honestly, I’m a big fan of a bunch of other bands and singers, Chris Cornell for instance, and those bands have had a lot of impact on my life, especially in my teenage years.
I mean, I realized how recognizable your voice was when I heard the track “Not Strong Enough” with Apocalyptica sometime last year. I was like, “Wait… that voice sounds familiar.” How did that collaboration come about? Did they approach you?
Doug: I’m not sure if I remember. Oh, actually you know what it was, it was our producer Howard Benson – we still maintained a relationship friendship-wise even though we didn’t work with him on this album. He called me one day and said, “Hey you wanna do a song with Apocalyptica?” I said, “Yeah, let’s go!” So I went over, sang it… I think later on, we were in Toronto recording this record and I had a couple days off to shoot the video. So yeah, it was really simple.
Back to the album, Magnolia, the song about your daughter, is my favorite song on the album so far – it’s adorable and I think it’s really fresh to have that kind of literal meaning to a song. What gave you the idea for that song? How old is your daughter by the way?
Doug: She’s going to be 2 years old. And I dunno… the subject matter, I think, is kinda obvious. When you have your first kid, or even tenth kid I guess, it’s a big deal in your life. It’s a new experience, new emotions, new everything, so these powerful emotions are so great to write about. As far as letting it just be “Magnolia”, that was more the band’s idea. Everybody knew what the song was about. They said, “You should just be singing the name straight out.” It’s a good name to sing – it’s unusual and it works with the melody.
How has family changed your experience with the band? Obviously, it’s different from coming out onto the young SoCal hard rock scene. Does it give you less time to be on tour and that sorta thing?
Doug: Honestly, this is going to be the first real tour with the family. I’ve been married for a few years, y’know, so I don’t think it’s that different from when I wasn’t married. My wife would come out every once in a while when she was my wife, and she used to come out every once in a while when she was my girlfriend. Actually, tomorrow, my wife and my daughter are going to come out, and it’s my daughter’s first time too on the road. It’s a little too early to say how it’ll affect me.
Check out the song: “The Letter ft. Vanessa Amorosi”
That’s excellent. I just think it’s so cool that when she (Magnolia) grows up, she can be all, “Yeah, my Daddy wrote this song for me, no big deal.”
Doug: We’ll see! [laughs] She’s too young to know that yet. Every time the song comes on or when I play it on my guitar, she dances around.
Aw man, that’s adorable. So what’s next for Hoobastank? You guys are still on tour, and I suppose promotions for the new album will be going on for a while?
Doug: I don’t think there’s anything else unusual we’re going to do. We’re going to promote and tour as much as possible and we’re gonna work as hard as we can, get the music out as much as we can.
Speaking of promotion, did you guys really have the Hooburrito at Denny’s?
Doug: We did! I don’t think it’s there anymore. It was a promotion we did where we went to Denny’s and basically concocted this burrito and had it on the menu. It was supposed to only be for a Summer, but it apparently did very well so they ended up keeping it on for a year.
That’s a really unique promotion strategy; I haven’t heard of that before!
Doug: Yeah, I think it was supposed to be like, y’know, you go to concert late at night and you get out, where do you go to eat? So we weren’t the only band to have menu items at Denny’s but I think ours lasted the longest.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Doug: Check out hoobastank.com, our Facebook and Twitter page and all that good stuff!