Every real punk knows that nothing screams anarchy like a back beat and a bit of barroom piano. OK – so maybe it’s not the most traditional stuff, but The Transplants are definitely a punk rock band. They’ve stripped pretensions out of the genre, opting instead for a quick and dirty sound, unburdened by pop sensibilities. The band’s singer, Rob Aston, is more likely to be listening to the new Snoop Doggy Dogg record than thumbing through last month’s issue of Maximum Rock and Roll. But don’t be too quick to question this guy’s credibility. He’s got some big punks backing him up.
Punk rock’s patron saint Tim Armstrong, famed for his presence in contemporary punk act Rancid and his role in the infamous Operation Ivy, grabbed this former roadie up to work the mic for the Transplants in late 1999. Blink-182’s drummer Travis Barker was also persuaded to come along for the ride. Starting with a few beats in the studio, Armstrong and Aston built the band’s self-titled debut, adding Barkers hammering rhythmic touches in one five-hour recording session.
Aston, a former roadie for AFI and Rancid, makes his musical debut on the record. Aston is nothing special – he’s just a kid with a decent voice that’s gotten really lucky. He’s a former skinhead kid, of the non-racist variety, who has a love for street punk, affectionately referred to as oi!, and a streetwise attitude.
If you’re a Mariah Carey fan you might not care, but if you know anything about punk rock you’ve got to raise a fist for this guy. He’s a working class kid with no aspirations, and as he himself stated in a recent Hatchet interview, he’s living in a punk rock wonderland.
Hatchet: You were never in a band before The Transplants?
Rob Aston: No, this was my first one.
H: What made you think you could be a singer then?
RA: I didn’t think I could. Tim (Armstrong) thought I could. I never had any aspirations of doing it or nothing.
H: I’ll bet that scared the shit out of you.
RA: He’s kind of “the shit.” But I wasn’t gonna fuck up that opportunity. So, I did my best and he liked it and then we just kept working and decided to put a record out.
H: I heard Tim gave you a nickname, “S. R.”
RA: Yeah, that’s for skinhead Rob.
H: How’d you pick that out?
RA: I just shave my head all the time. I was a skinhead in high school. Not like a white power skin, nothing like that.
H: I definitely see a street element in the lyrics. I figured maybe that was where some of it was coming from. There is a very oi! element to some of the lyrics.
RA: Yeah, when I got into punk it was mainly oi! that I listened to.
H: Really, who were you in to?
RA: Like, the 4-skins, Cock Sparrer, The Last Resort. Then all the bands you’re not supposed to listen to because of all the politics and everything.
H: What bands weren’t you supposed to listen to?
RA: You know, like Condemned ‘84, Brutal Attack, that stuff.
H: No Skrewdriver?
RA: I mean, I listened to Screwdriver. I don’t agree with the lyrical content but you can’t argue with it musically.
H: Some people are big fans of the early stuff.
RA: Yeah. I mean I don’t give a shit. I’m not a Nazi, I’m not a communist. If I hear a good song, I’m gonna like it, not matter what the content.
H: A lot of pop-punk bands have been doing trivial girl-driven lyrics. This record is obviously not that.
RA: Yeah, I don’t write about chicks. Whatever. They’re there, but I’m not gonna write a love song.
H: But that kind of lyrical content is kind of what the big explosion is right now, so what I’m wondering is how well your sound will be embraced?
RA: I don’t know. When we started we were like ‘…who cares if no one likes it.’ I would write crazy shit and Tim would love it. He’d be like ‘Just say it …Who cares, it’s a fucking song, and it’s my fucking life. I’m not telling people to do what I do. Everyone’s got an opinion about shit. People should just keep their opinions to themselves.
H: I’ve heard that you’re a big hip-hop fan. How did you merge hip-hop and punk?
RA: We didn’t really have a plan like ‘we’re gonna incorporate hip-hop and punk and this that and the other thing.’ However, we felt that day, was how the song came out. We didn’t have some master plan. We just work off each other. Tim listens to a lot of hip-hop too. A lot of people don’t know that. Travis is the same.
H: Is it tough having to work around the other guys’ schedules? I mean they’re obviously pretty busy.
RA: It gets kind of frustrating. But we all knew the deal going into it. We all know that everyone has other bands. I can’t sit and dwell on it.
H: Do you feel overshadowed by the other guys? My fear would be that people wouldn’t notice my contribution.
RA: Tim is known for Rancid, Travis is known for Blink and Boxcar. That’s just part of it. They’re obviously gonna get attention, and that’s fine. It’s nice for random people to come up and say ‘I really liked your record.’ But I don’t give a shit if we’re walking down the street and someone recognizes one of them and not me. It’s kind of better that way.