|Jesse Charland, Doug Robb, Dan Estrin and Chris Hesse of Hoobastank at White Harte Pub|
22456 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills 818-224-3822
It can be a bit daunting, going to interview a band that has been together for almost two decades. It's almost like showing up at a dinner party where everyone but you has known each other for years. With all their inside jokes and various intricacies of relationships that have weathered all kinds of highs and lows, from reaching the top of the charts and selling 10 million albums to the departure of a forming member and parting ways with their record label, the four members of Hoobastank have only grown stronger as musicians, and as friends.
After spending just a few minutes with them, I feel completely at ease. Singer Doug Robb bonds with me over a quest for the perfect bowl of ramen. Guitarist Dan Estrin and I admit to our shared love for Palladia. Bassist Jesse Charland amazes me with his unique musical pedigree. Drummer Chris Hesse melts my heart with a tale of professing his adoration to his first-grade sweetheart. And they all light up when discussing their latest album, Fight or Flight, which hit stores in September via Open E Entertainment.
Their effortless candor with one another is immediately apparent when we get together at their local watering hole, White Harte Pub. We take a seat on the brick-lined front patio, complete with a traditional British red telephone box. With several California wines, 18 beers on tap and cocktails like the Liverpool Kiss (beer with cassis) and the Bee Sting (Guinness and orange juice), the British pub has a drink to quench every thirst.
It's clear the guys come here frequently when they see a friend sitting at the bar and know some of the staff by name. When Dan comes here, he plays darts and has been known to down some shots of Jäger or Patron. Today he opts for a Cherry Coke and his usual Turkey Burger. Doug also gets a Cherry Coke and says that he prefers the Bangers and Mash. Jesse gets his regular: a pint of Blue Moon and the Portobello Mushroom Sandwich. I try the Hoegaarden draft, and while Chris usually just drinks Grey Goose and cranberry at White Harte, today he tries their Fish n' Chips with a pint of Guinness.
"That seriously looks like it's in a commercial," remarks Dan, when Chris' perfectly poured Guiness arrives at the table.
Dan and Doug grew up about 15 minutes west of the pub, met while attending Agoura High School and formed the band in 1994 after recruiting original bassist Markku Lappalainen and Northern California transplant Chris.
"I moved here about three months before I met them," Chris shares. "The town I grew up in was about 14,000 people, and there wasn't a scene at all."
Chris' home town was definitely a far cry from Hoobastank's home base. After playing their first show in Doug's parents' back yard in 1995, the band started making the rounds of local venues such as Cobalt Cafe with fellow San Fernando Valley groups like Incubus and put out two releases, 1997's Muffins and They Sure Don't Make Basketball Shorts Like They Used To the following year.
After signing with Island Records, they released their self-titled debut in 2001, and it went Platinum with hits like "Crawling in the Dark," "Remember Me" and "Running Away." But it wasn't until 2003's The Reason that Hoobastank rocketed to the top of the charts with the title track and into the global spotlight. They released Every Man for Himself, which debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard Top 200, in 2006 and For(N)ever in 2009, while continually touring around the world. Through it all, the Valley has remained their home base.
|The bar at White Harte Pub|
"I can understand why people would want to live here in the Valley, but I also understand why people want to leave after growing up here. As I get older I think about moving, Chris and I have talked about getting a little place together," jokes Dan. "We've gotten to travel so much, and that's opened up my mind as well. Although I've lived here my entire life, since 2000 we've been traveling everywhere."
"The fact that I grew up here is the main reason that I still live here. Everything is so familiar, but honestly, if we traveled less there would be a greater chance that I wouldn't still live here," adds Doug. "My family is all here, so that's kind of an anchor – in a good way, it's roots. Because we've seen so much of the world, it's easier for me to stay here. If we didn't travel as much I would have more of an urge to go somewhere, you know, like Encino."
Everyone laughs, but then Doug gives a few sincere reasons of why he loves his neighborhood.
"I like that the beach is really close, the mountains are really close and that the city's not on top of us," he says. "It sounds so cliche, but you can't beat the weather."
Jesse, who joined the band in 2009, is originally from Connecticut and moved to Los Angeles about seven years ago, but he has yet to find a new tattoo artist in the area.
"I used to go to Oceanside to get tattooed. I used to go to a guy named Tod Bain, who worked at a place called About Face Tattoo. He was friends with my brother and does really good work."
Chris is also reluctant about naming an L.A. favorite concerning his passion for surfing.
"Where I grew up there was a place called Big Lagoon that was really fun. It was a heavy, good wave. There was the North Jetty and South Jetty, and I had some big days there. But down here, I honestly don't like surfing as much," he confesses. "I like surfing in Ventura or Oxnard, because some of the beach breaks get really good in the wintertime. But in L.A. it's so crowded that it's almost not worth it and I would almost rather not surf sadly."
When it comes to Dan sharing his favorite guitar shop in the area, however, there's no hesitation. It's Norman's Rare Guitars.
"I grew up with Jordan, who is Norm's son. Doug and I went to the same high school as him," he says. "I really like going there because I like their stuff, and they take care of me. I like hanging out there and playing some guitars. It's cool because they lend me stuff, too. They'll let me take stuff home and mess around with it. "
Doug likes to take his mother, who is Japanese, to new restaurants and watch her critique the cooks, and he also doesn't pause when naming his favorite places to go eat.
"I really like this new ramen place, Tamashii. I'm a fan of Hurry Curry on Sawtelle [in West Los Angeles]. I like the Counter for a good burger," he lists before mentioning a restaurant that the entire band agrees on, "an Indian place called Anarbagh."
"It's delicious," raves Jesse.
"I've had some really good Indian food in Thailand and Malaysia, and this place has some seriously good food, but I leave so full because I eat so much," continues Doug.
"I always have leftovers, enough for a full meal for me and my wife the next day," interjects Chris.
Dan says he likes to order, "The Chicken Tikka, with the Naan and some rice."
The one thing they crave when they're on the road and away from Los Angeles:
"Good Mexican food," says Chris.
Doug "We're always say we're not going to try the Mexican food in certain places because they're too far from Mexico. Some of the most awful places were—"
"Jacksonville, N.C.," says Jesse.
"Chevy's in New York City," adds Dan. "But even at LAX, I got that burrito that was horrible."
"Yeah, that was the worst Mexican food I've ever had," Jesse agrees.
"Don't you think they should have movie theaters in airports, for people with long layovers?" ponders Doug.
"Strip clubs would be better," Chris chimes in.
On that note, I decide to ask Doug about his first L.A. concert experiences.
"My first concert I went to was around seventh grade: David Lee Roth and Poison at the Forum. My friend's parents dropped us off, and we sat in the nosebleeds," he recalls. "Then, my first show that wasn't a seated thing was at the Palladium. I was in high school, and it was Alice and Chains. It was a whole new thing for me, participating in the show rather than sitting. That's what I thought shows were from sitting in the nosebleeds, that you would just stand up, cheer and sing along. I went to a few of those type shows before the Palladium where you were up against people, moshing around. It was terrifying, but awesome."
Dan didn't go to many concerts when he was young, but he spent a lot of time exploring his dad's record collection.
Jesse was surrounded by music from a very young age, but you might find his first instrument to be a bit surprising.
"My first instrument was cello; I started in third grade. My grandfather was a violist, and he played in the local symphony where I grew up. My mom is a professional cellist; she played on our acoustic album [2010's Is This the Day? release in Japan]. So, I studied with them," he says. "I switched to bass when I was in high school and college, and it was really only orchestral stuff. Electric bass was something I only did on the side for fun, until I moved here and started doing it professionally. My dad was a blues guitarist; he was really good. My whole family was steeped in music. I'm kind of just following footsteps."
Chris also started playing when he was still in elementary school.
"I started playing percussion when I was in fifth grade, in the school band. I played snare or bass drum in marching band, then I started on a drum set around my freshman year," he shares. "When I was really young, like 5, I would record songs off the AM radio. I had a cassette recorder and would put it up to the clock radio and press record anytime a song that I liked came on. I remember playing air guitar in front of the mirror and thinking that this was what I wanted to do and really didn't stray from that until I was in my teens and got into surfing and smoked a lot of pot. I always played music, though. Maybe it wasn't my first love, but it was the only thing that I wanted to do."
He can't wait for his own children to start pounding on the drums as well.
"I sat my boy up on one of my kits two days ago. I put the sticks in his hands and tapped a little on them. He kind of got it, he's too young, but they will eventually," he says.
Doug also has a young child, a daughter named Magnolia, who has a song named for her on Fight or Flight. Although Doug didn't always write lyrics or poetry growing up, he would jot down imaginative stories.
"OK, maybe I wrote a little bit of poetry, but I was only trying to impress chicks," he laughs. "It didn't work."
"When I was in first grade, I actually wrote out a sign on a piece of cardboard and attached it to my bike. It said, 'I love Amy Harrison,' because that was my girlfriend in first grade. I definitely made a statement," offers Chris.
"I used to make a lot of home movies, direct funny videos. Even at a very young age, I liked that," says Doug, who now spends a lot of time singing to Magnolia. "I make the songs up as I go, depending on the situation. If I'm trying to get her to brush her teeth, then it's the brush your teeth song. If it's time to eat, then it's the time to eat song. She loves the song 'Magnolia,' but only up until the first chorus and then she gets bored with it. She likes to sing, she sings songs she doesn't even know. She'll make up the words."
"Life's a musical," interjects Dan.
"She sees me singing all the time – 99 percent of the time just jokingly – but she's seen our videos, and she goes to shows. She watches Disney movies a lot, and they're always singing. She sings on her own once in a while, and it wouldn't surprise me if she thinks you can talk to people just by singing," Doug laughs.
"Magnolia" is a touching snapshot of Doug and his daughter and includes a literal memento of her being in the womb. The pulsating rhythm at the beginning of the song is an ultrasound recording of Magnolia's prenatal heartbeat.
Doug says, "It was totally an accident—"
"I don't believe in accidents," Dan interrupts.
"It was accident that it lined up? I thought that they edited it," says Chris.
"No, I had sent them the mp3, and they called back and said, 'Did you edit this? It lines up perfectly,' clarifies Doug. "That's weird, right?"
The entirety of Fight or Flight is what the band has called "musically and emotionally intense." The album not only marks their new partnership with Open E Entertainment, it is their first effort without Howard Benson, who produced their last three, at the helm. The quartet opted for a fresh perspective in Gavin Brown (Metric, Billy Talent) to push them out of their comfort zone, which he succeeded in doing. Take for instance, Fight or Flight's initial single, "This Is Gonna Hurt," which explodes with energy from first note, contrasted with the melodically hypnotic "A Thousand Words."
"What's funny about that song, the line 'a thousand words trapped inside me' is an old, old line, and the music is four years old," shares Dan. "It's a piece of music and a lyric that were separate at one point, and we weren't going to complete that song until I played something for the other guys in the car. I feel like sometimes it takes somebody else, whether it's one of the other band members or a producer, to say, 'That is special.'"
"Different ears always hear different things in a song. You may think you've already heard all there is in a song, then somebody listens to it for the first time and is blown away, so you decide to push it further," adds Doug. "I think that's how things get written."
You're also only as good and as current as your record collection. If you're constantly listening to classic rock then you're going to write classic rock songs, because it's just in your brain. But if you're looking for new music and listening to new music then that will come out in whatever music you write," says Jesse. "There's a lot of good music out there, you just have to find it and have the patience to sit with it for a minute."
"There is a lot of good music out there, but I don't realize how much I like it until I see them play live," says Dan. "I TiVo shit on Palladia all the time. I saw something live, and I had heard the song before and thought it was hook-y, but I had no idea what the band looked like. It's like when you hear a radio DJ, you know them from their voice and make up what they look like in your head. When you finally see them, you think, 'whoa, that's nothing like I pictured them to be.' I don't remember who it was on Palladia, but I saw them performing and thought it was fucking dope. As a band, they weren't doing anything that was necessarily groundbreaking amazing, but they all believed in what they were doing. It was passionate; it was cool."
Those are the same sentiments that Hoobastank hopes audiences come away with after their performances, as well.
"What I hear often from people is that we're heavier live than we are on the albums. A lot of times we get people at shows who haven't been to our shows before who say, 'Wow, you guys aren't the band that played 'The Reason,'' tells Chris. "We are, but I think that they see us for once as a rock band."
"They finally get a visual of the band aside from the video of 'The Reason.' They see the band, they hear other songs. They might see us play 'The Reason,' but they also see energy and see us enjoying what we're doing," adds Dan. "On that last tour we did with Stars in Stereo, I remember some bands who were younger than us saying, 'Dude, I grew up listening to you guys.' It made me feel old, but at the same time it made me feel really good, too, that these other bands were stoked that they were playing with us."
Dan says that the fact they've stuck together for the past 18 years and are still going strong is something that often surprises people.
"The other day I was hiking and some chick that I had met before jogging stopped to say hi with her friends. She said to them, 'Do you guys remember Hoobastank?' and asked me if we were still together. I get that here and there, 'Are you guys still together?' For a second I used to be like, 'YES we're still together. Now, fuck off,' but, honestly, it's pretty rad that we're still together," he says. "I think it's rare, and we've been together for a long time. Think of some of the other bands that came together when we did, whether it's AWOLNATION's previous bands or the Tourists/Audiovent, everybody breaks up."
Hoobastank are even more of a tight-knit group than ever, and one thing that will most likely always remain a mystery about this band is the origin of its name. Typically, the members come up with a new story about how they came up with the moniker, which was originally Hoobustank – everything from it being a street in Germany to a joking play on 'who's butt stinks.'
"Hoobastank, the name, killed your dad. That was the craziest lie I ever told," laughs Jeese.
"They're all stupid stories," says Doug. "Maybe it's time to make up a crazy lie that makes everyone go, 'No way! Are you serious?'"
Even if the word originally was a nonsensical term that Doug and Dan made up in high school, it has come to represent one of the hardest working bands to come out of the Valley, and from the sound of Fight or Flight, Hoobastank is here to stay.
Fight or Flight is currently available. Hoobastank performs on Real Music Live Dec. 22. For more information, visit hoobastank.com.