When Rancid leader Tim Armstrong teamed up with longtime roadie and touring titan Rob Aston, the punk community clamored with excitement and waited with baited breath to hear the final results. Yet fans' curiosity was piqued even more when Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker was added to the fold, making the trio known as Transplants a super group of sorts. Despite the name recognition generating tons of pre-publicity, the guys proved they were more than just a sum of its parts come 2002's self-titled debut, along with time supporting the Foo Fighters on tour and as guests on Snoop Dogg's "Doggyfizzle Televizzle." Considering those incredibly different means of collaboration, plus members own assorted backgrounds, it was unclear what direction the gang would turn come 2005's Haunted Cities. But the guessing games ended come last summer's Warped Tour when the trio revealed what was up their sleeves, and as Aston indicates to Livewire's Andy Argyrakis from the road, it's even more urban and experimental than before.
By Andy ArgyrakisLivewire: What were the initial stages of getting the band together?
Aston: When we first started, me and Tim were working on beats and goofing off, but then we got more serious about it and thought about putting a record out. But in order to do that, we knew we needed a real drummer and he suggested Travis because he's one of the best out there. We called him up and he loved the idea right off the bat.
Livewire: What were some of the rumblings from fans of the other guys' previous bands as your first record was released?
Aston: We didn't really know what to expect. We had some people say they loved it and others said they hated it. Those were the fans that didn't understand or get it, but we began not caring what other people thought. We're not for one type of person or fan. When we make music, we don't set out for a radio hit or to appeal to the masses. We just make the stuff we want to make no matter if everyone likes it or hates it. A lot of bands get lost trying to please everybody too much. Life's too short not to have fun with it.
Livewire: How does Haunted Cities measure up to the debut project?
Aston: The new one takes off where the last one left off. It came out almost three years ago and I'd say all of us- me, Tim and Travis- stepped up our game. This one's a lot more hip-hop influenced with lots of special guests. We've got Boo-Yaa Tribe, Rakaa from Dilated Peoples, B-Real and Sen Dog from Cypress Hill to mix it up a lot.
Livewire: How did you decide on the direction and get interested in all those other artists?
Aston: We all listen to every kind of music and that rubs off on us when we're in the studio. I found that when I do vocals, they don't really ring, so most of the time I'm rapping. It's the stuff I listen to a lot. I'll turn the other guys onto artists I'm listening to and we just learn from each other and work together. There's a good chemistry in our band and ideas are open for discussion. No one is shot down. Everyone gets a fair chance. If the idea doesn't work, it's probably wasn't the best in the world to begin with.
Livewire: What can we expect from you as a songwriter this time out?
Aston: I talk about the stuff in my life and what people around me are dealing with, some of which isn't the most popular stuff. It's an honest record about violence, death, drugs, this, that and the other. At the same time, people can really identify what I'm taking about and know they are not the only ones it's happened to. They realize they're not the only ones with drama in their lives.
Livewire: Was it your goal when you first worked on the road to become the front man for a band?
Aston: I never thought I'd be doing this. I was always cool doing the roadie thing and touring, getting a pay check here and there. For me having two records with Transplants and having dudes come up to me telling me they're listening to it is unbelievable. I couldn't be happier.
Livewire: How do you respond to those that call you guys a "super group"?
Aston: It always kind of makes us laugh because we wouldn't consider ourselves all that super. We're just doing what we do! When everyone first started referring to us as that, they all thought the first record would be Rancid meets Blink, which it sounded nothing like. I think that trips people out since a lot of them expected something more familiar, but we try to be different from everyone else.
Concert review - Vans Warped Tour - Milwaukee, WI June 19, 2005