For a guy who claims he doesn't listen to the radio or watch MTV, Hoobastank's Doug Robb has done remarkably well for himself. For example, his band's last album, 2003's The Reason, sold more than 2.3 million copies in the U.S. alone, and the title track was the second-most-played song on radio last year (all of which is probably news to Robb).
In February Hooba took home the Favorite International Rock Act award at the MTV Asia Awards, and in March they scored a high-profile gig opening for Velvet Revolver (see "Velvet Revolver Return To The Road In March, Write New LP In Transit").
The point is this: Robb has become a fairly successful rock-and-roll frontman without really having any clue about what's going on in rock and roll. When he starts discussing Hoobastank's new album, he winds up talking about stuff like the NHL lockout, "Lady and the Tramp" and Italian restaurants.
"I don't listen to music. I don't watch MTV. I don't listen to any FM radio. I'm pretty detached from the music world," he laughed. "Which is why writing songs is so weird for me. I mean, writing The Reason was weird. That record — as proud of it as I am — I don't really ever go back and listen to it. I look at it and see all the things I could've done. And I'm hoping with the new album that one year from now, I'm not looking back at it and thinking the same thing."
Here's to hoping. After all, he's been writing new tunes with Hooba guitarist Dan Estrin since January, after spending most of December recovering from a severe case of bronchial pneumonia (see "Hoobastank's Doug Robb On The Mend, Already Talking Next Album"). Add to that some hard-core writing sessions during the Revolver tour, and Hooba were suddenly left with almost two albums' worth of songs, all of which they put into the trusty hands of producer Howard Benson, who twiddled the knobs on The Reason.
"Writing this one was a whole process for me. On The Reason I wanted to have everything perfectly laid out before we'd demo a note," Robb said. "This time around we kind of demoed the songs and left them as skeletons. We let most of the songs' development happen in the studio. And some of the songs changed just a little bit. But others, they became almost unrecognizable."
Some of those "unrecognizable" songs might just leave longtime Hoobastank fans scratching their heads. Take, for example, "Born to Lead," a stomping, hard-riffing tune that features an honest-to-goodness Marine sergeant barking out orders ("We brought him in, and I had to give him direction," Robb laughed. "It was awesome"). Or the likely first single, "Inside of You," a "flirty," horn-addled number that's about sex — and that's it. But perhaps strangest of all is "More Than a Memory," which could be heard bumping at Olive Garden restaurants from coast-to-coast in the near future.
"That song went in as a standard rock song, and it turned into a song that sounds like it's something out of 'Lady and the Tramp,' " Robb said. "It's got accordion and jazz flute on it. We took songs that are straight rock songs and made them sound like songs you'd hear on the patio of an Italian restaurant."
The album's centerpiece, though, is a song called "If I Were You ... ." Robb said the tune, which may end up being the title track, was written from a couple of seemingly unrelated experiences: watching ESPN and touring with Velvet Revolver.
" 'If I Were You ...' was really inspired by, um, the NHL strike. Not like 'Oh, I'm going to write a song about hockey!' but watching all that — and going on tour with Velvet Revolver — you see all these guys who have so much and don't appreciate it," he said. "They seem to have forgotten where they came from. Actually, let me rephrase that: Four of those guys were the coolest ever, one of them is just in his own world. And I'll leave it at that."
As long as he avoids a pummeling at the hands of Velvet Revolver, Robb said Hoobastank will be finished in the studio later this month and the new album will be in stores in November or December. And after that, he said, it'll be more of the same, which for the first time in his career, he actually seems OK with.
"I always feel like with every CD we put out, we have to start back at square one. We feel like we always go from arenas back to small clubs. And we feel like we always have to prove ourselves," Robb sighed. "But whatever. You can't make everyone happy, and if you are, you're probably doing something wrong. And at this point, I'm happier with this record than I've ever been before."