By: Curtis Sindrey (@SindreyCurtis) –
Since the release of their 2002 self-titled debut album, California-based rap-rock trio Transplants’ co-lead vocalist and songwriter “Skinhead Rob” Aston has grown up.
From taking on a “street thug” persona that loved nothing more than to party, evidenced on tracks like “Tall Cans in the Air”, from Transplants’ self-titled 2002 debut album, Aston developed a worldly perspective, which resulted in a broader lyrical scope on their third album, In a Warzone. The album, out June 25 via Epitaph Records, has a strong eco-conscious focus, specifically on tracks like “Exit The Wasteland”, reflecting on humanity’s environmental destruction. It’s this subject matter that hints at Aston’s personal and musical transformation.
“You have to be responsible with the shit you say,” Aston says. “You can either write about dumb shit, like I have in the past, or write songs on the new album like ‘Exit The Wasteland’, which talks about how as humans we are fucking killing the Earth, and maybe I’m getting old or something but I think that there’s more important stuff to talk about than getting wasted.”
Aston says that it would have been wrong for them to try to replicate past songs and instead they had to grow up with their fans that have been with them since 2002. With the sound that they’ve achieved with In a Warzone, it couldn’t have come any sooner for Aston.
“Transplants was always supposed to sound like the way we do on In a Warzone,” he says. “Because the music that we make now is what we should have been sounding like from day one. After taking a hiatus you can’t come back with some silly shit because nobody wants to hear that and if anything we owed it to our fans to make this kind of album and just give them us.”
Creating In a Warzone
Transplants took a very spontaneous approach to writing and recording their new album, which they chose to record in drummer Travis Barker’s (Blink-182) Los Angeles studio. The chemistry that the trio had cultivated over two studio albums allowed the writing and recording process to produce nearly 30 songs, which never made the final track listing. It often took only a guitar riff from guitarist and co-lead vocalist Tim Armstrong (Rancid, Operation Ivy) or a drum beat from Barker to get Aston’s creativity to flow.
“We’re all really honest with each other when it comes to recording and no one gets their feelings hurt and that’s nice because I know a lot of bands that don’t have the respect for each other like we do,” he says. “We just wanted to make a stripped-down punk rock album. I don’t really like writing songs that you can’t pull off live and we didn’t want to use a bunch of samples and loops this time around and punk is where we come from and it’s the type of music that we make best together.”
If you’ve ever looked closely to the album artwork of a Transplants release, you’ll notice the strong sense of imagery and detail that goes into it. This bold punk rock aesthetic heavily influenced Aston, citing iconic punk bands like Crass and Conflict as visual inspirations.
“The music and lyrics are most important but the visuals are important too because growing up music was huge to me and looking at albums and the liner notes, that was as much a part of the album as the music itself,” Aston says. “With the Crass logo you know that it’s Crass and when you see Conflict you know it’s them and when you see Transplants’ gas mask logo you know it’s us and the imagery also identifies us and what we stand for and this time around we had Usugrow from Japan draw the album cover and he nailed it and it’s important for a band’s imagery to be strong and to be able to reflect the music and vice versa.”
Before joining Transplants, Aston served as a roadie for Rancid and AFI. As he developed as a songwriter and a frontman, Aston began exploring other musical avenues outside of Transplants, including a solo career with the song “Show Me”, along with a variety of appearances on songs by the likes of Rancid, Strong Arm Steady and Paul Wall. Recently, Aston formed a d-beat punk band called Death March with Jimmy and Freddy from Societys Parasites and have since released a new 7” in April, which features the track “Fuck Your Fucking War”.
“D-beat punk is my favourite type of music,” Aston explains. “And my friend Jimmy, who plays drums, used to come with Tim all the time to the studio when we were recording Transplants and his brother plays guitar and we recorded a bunch of songs and we’ve got a couple more 7”s on the way and hopefully we’ll be able to head overseas to do some touring soon.”
Impact of Travis Barker’s Aerophobia On Transplants’ Touring Plans
The 2008 plane crash that claimed the lives of four people still has a profound impact on Travis, who was only one of two survivors, (the other being DJ AM). Today, Travis’ aerophobia affects all aspects of his life, especially touring overseas with his bands—earlier this year, Blink-182 toured Australia without the vivacious drummer.
Aston asserts that he would never pressure Travis to fly and that family always comes first. However, Aston doesn’t rule out the possibility of Transplants playing shows abroad at some point in the future.
“The fact that he’s even playing at all anymore is amazing to me,” Aston says. “If he chooses to fly one day I’ll be right there next to him but if he never does than that’s just how it is. As much as we’d like to play shows all over the world, it’s my brother’s health and sanity that is more important to me than anything. But not to say that it’s ruled out, maybe one day we can [play shows abroad].”
Success isn’t important to Aston, who claims that he has neither fame nor fortune. What counts, Aston stresses, is that he does what makes him happy.
“I am successful in the fact that I do what makes me happy and I get to make music with my friends. Success is a mind state, it’s in your heart,” Aston explains. “There was a point in my life when I felt like I needed to have this fucking car or whatever, but it doesn’t define who you are as a person.”