Just before the show in London, I caught up with vocalist Doug Robb and guitarist Dan Estrin and talked about the new album, the songwriting process and how stressful it is to have a big hit among other things. Read more below…
Hoobastank band pic
Hi, guys… it’s been almost 6 years since your previous album. What happened during these four years? Had you been working on the new tracks or what?
D: Yeah like when you put out an album, you usually do shows supporting that album for however long you can do that. So basically, about 2013, maybe a little bit of 2014 was mostly supporting that previous record which was put out at the end of 2012. But then, from 2013 to the next couple years it was just like spotty playing, playing here and there at shows. Spotty writing too. And then talking with the other producer who eventually did the record, a guy named Matt Wallace. We actually started pre-production in summer 2016 and we actually started recording in fall 2016 and we were pretty much done by 2017. So, the album could have come out literally a year before it did. It just kind of sat around and took a really long time to mix because of a lot of weird decisions that we made, but yeah, we weren’t in a rush to put it out. The record company wasn’t, you know, breathing down our necks; everybody was fine, and we could take our time. So we did.
You also signed to a new label, Napalm Records. What happened and you signed to a new label and did that thing give you a boost so as to come up with a new album as well?
D: No, they didn’t actually, the previous record was put out kind of in a partnership with a friend, err, from management. I guess our options were kinda open about which direction we wanted to follow as far as putting out new music. Our manager had a previous relationship with Napalm records and yeah, they just seemed cool. They didn’t ask us to do anything too specific musically or a time frame you know. So, yeah it was good, it was low pressure.
What does the album title “Push Pull” declare?
D: Well, the song is about the times when you have goals and you wanna achieve, so you get so fixated on the result that you don’t concentrate on what it might take to get the result. And that’s the push part like, when you’re like I want that and try to shove your way through a door or errr try to impress your girlfriend or whatever it is. Ermm, when in reality you kinda just go you know what, I am gonna work on me, I am just gonna work on myself. A lot of times your goal will come to you and that’s like the pull, like you would rather be on a pull side, you would rather be pulled into something rather than pushing, you know? That’s kinda what it means.
What has changed in your songwriting formula or the way you approached the songs this time?
D: I don’t know… I mean everything always changes just in time you know. An example of this was the other day when someone asked a very similar question. And yeah it’s similar in the way we write but it’s also different, I mean we have ways of doing it when we are separated, we are not together all the time, you have an idea that will later turn into a song and is created by one person. And there are times when there is a small little idea, that isn’t flushed out at all you know? It’s passed around or something like that, or we are in each other’s presence when it happens. I don’t know, I can’t really tell because it’s been a slow process and its been a gradual process the whole time so, I think that’s the case in this record too. In the past there had been some ideas that were just maybe more mellow song-wise, if you count all the piano songs. Whatever was mellow in the past might have gone; we would be like let’s do something to make it like a sing song, which means like more guitars or more singing. This record producer was really, errm, in favor of just letting the song be what it is. If you don’t think it sounds like you, then whatever, it doesn’t matter. if it’s not super heavy, fine, if it’s super heavy, fine. Don’t try to pull it back to where you’re comfortable, just let it go.
Which are the similarities and the differences among the new album and your previous releases?
D: Similarities? Ermm. I think one of the differences is, just kinda while there is a lot of layers of guitars and stuff like that on this record, it’s not so obviously a guitar driven record, like definitely the first two records or maybe three records which were literally guitar driven. The guitars is the first thing you are gonna hear and be taken aback from. I think this album takes a little bit longer to sink in.
Dan: Yeah I agree that the previous albums may have had some songs on that could have been one or two listens that you like or hate, you know. This one yeah, is not quite like that. You make the listener sample it a couple of times before realizing.
I think it’s a different animal, because I think if you are a fan you might hear it and question the sound. It sounds like them but it doesn’t sound like how I thought it was gonna sound. I mean it takes a few more listens to get it or I get it but I have had that experience with other bands before. Like bands I have listened to in the past and I have really liked. It wasn’t what I expected, and so I had to kinda start from scratch again and then listen to it and just listen to it for what it was. And a lot of times I kept going wow I should actually enjoy this for what it is rather than comparing it to anything else.
Not many people know about the album. The reason it took so long to come out was because we were very aware that there wasn’t this huge demand for it, so we could take our time. If there was all this attention on us, on this record, it would have been different, there would have been record company people, saying, we want this album on this level or whatever.
What are the kind of things the lyrics talk about?
D: Let’s see, it’s always just kind of things that are just happening in our lives at the time. I know the first song on the album “Don’t Look Away” is kind of a little bit of a social commentary about society’s fixation with social media. I am not attempting to break any ground on that but it is my take on it, I am not saying I’m not guilty about it. It is pretty much that, it is awful, it’s advertising, all those great pictures you see online, and how everybody’s lives are. How happy everybody is. Those people don’t even really look that way anymore so there is a lot in that song saying, you know, that we can’t really look away from this shit, but it’s all a lie, it’s not real.
What are your expectations from the new album?
D: I have zero expectations. That has nothing to do with the album itself, I just feel like if in a month from now we put out another album, it’s ok. If something becomes popular, it’s wonderful, if it doesn’t, that’s okay too. I would love it if had the awareness, like you said; the opportunity was out there for people to hear it. Because I think people would enjoy it, but a lot of that is out of our control though, like we can only do that much.
What are the band’s future plans?
D: Errmm, fire everybody that works for us, erm let me start over. No I’d say, I don’t know. We are trying to figure that out y’know, honestly all of us just want opportunities to go do shit. If we can get offers to go to places, a lot of people ask us: when are you coming here, why don’t you come back here, why is it taking this long? And that’s fuck dude, if money wasn’t an issue we would be everywhere all the time. We are having such a great time on this mini tour, we don’t even wanna go home err, I don’t know man, what do you think?
Dan: Yeah, it is kinda what you said. We don’t even know what the plans are yet. There have been general plans. We want to be able to keep touring as much as possible this year. I think the whole band would agree that at some point I want to start talking about writing stuff. But that would be even more general, not really on a lot of people’s radar, just because this album’s only been out for a few months anyways.
How have things been on the road so far and what’s your fans response to the new tracks?
D: This? We have been out for like two and a half weeks. It’s been awesome. It’s been great. I, yeah I don’t necessarily, I don’t want to make it sound like oh man the show’s been amazing. What I mean is that we are really enjoying ourselves and having a really good time, on stage and off stage. I was pleasantly surprised, though. In Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, we were only playing two or three new songs. I was surprised at how enthusiastic they were, and that they knew the fucking words, you know, to the song. I was really surprised by that. So that was cool.
Dan: I think that too, those were our own shows that for the first two weeks of this tour. So people that were there, weren’t there to see anyone after us, they were there to see us. You can obviously tell, I am not saying that it is bad, because Buckcherry plays after us tonight, and this is fucking awesome because we get to perform in front of an audience that normally wouldn’t see us and some of ‘em really like it. But the Germany stuff, the Belgium, the whole of the Netherlands and France were fucking awesome. I mean they were just great, I was just surprised with France, too, with Paris. And it was just, yeah, such a great welcoming back after so many years. It was nice.
Did the big hit that you had with “The Reason” cause you any kind of stress on your next releases? Did you have in mind to re-create the specific song formula or did the labels/managers ask you to do so at some point?
D: Did we have that in mind for the next release? Yeah, it was totally stressful, it creates stress even now. Not so much as it did back then. Yeah cause first of all, even if we never put pressure on ourselves, there was a lot of pressure from the record label, the management and the public in general. You feel that and then try to put it aside but there is a bunch of pressure on us, you know. At that point in our careers, the trajectory, it was always kind of going up and then it hit this thing, you know. And so you tend to over analyze everything for that point as if you did something on purpose and that’s how you did it and you go back and forth. What kind of beat was it? What kind of tempo? What did I write about? What perspective was it about? What kind of…
Dan: You know who else does that? Sports people. There is fucking, 8 games that they played, they can run wearing that particular pair of socks.
D: I know and it is funny that you say that because I used to be into a lot of sports and a sports commentary like that… I can’t even watch it anymore. Because I hear them and I go, you’re just saying the same shit over and over again and none of it matters. It’s just all. It’s all just gonna come down to what happens, at that moment, when it happens. Just like the songs, it happened. When we wrote it, we weren’t in the fucking board room trying to figure out what it is. It happened, and it happened at the right time and for whatever reason I sang. He wrote what I sang. We were trying to make this thing, so then it happens and afterwards you try to recreate that, but with the mindset of recreating it and that’s never gonna happen. Like you almost have to disconnect and roll the dice again. Each song is a fucking roll of the dice you know, and we happened to hit it really well on that one. We don’t start to analyze it commenting on what shoes I was wearing that day. It’s just not gonna happen and you just have to let it go, which is hard because with something that successful there are so many opportunities and so many cool things that happen in your life. You want them to keep happening, but so much of it is out of your control, and yet you think it isn’t, like it happened because of this and there is no real answer.