When Dan Estrin calls for an interview, he’s neither a minute early nor a minute late. Punctuality is part of the guitarist’s work ethic and no small reason why his band, Hoobastank, is still making music almost 20 years after he and vocalist Doug Robb began writing songs together.
Hoobastank — Robb, Estrin, bassist Jesse Charland and drummer Chris Hesse — just released a new album, Fight or Flight, their first for record label Open E Entertainment. Estrin has no shortage of opinions when it comes to the state of the music industry, social media, the recording process and countless other topics. As he launches into a lengthy interview, the conversation somehow turns to media frenzies, the general public’s obsession with celebrities, and the open playing field of the Internet, where nothing is sacred or private anymore.
Does it give you pause that everyone has a camera device while you are out living your life, and anything you do could be caught by a mobile phone and posted online?
Seventy-five percent of me doesn’t care. I’m just a dude that plays guitar in a band. Yes, I have fans and I’ve seen creepy s--t out there with the Internet. Seeing people friend you, post pictures and tag you, you can see how close people get. I’m keeping my distance, but at the same time I don’t really get into situations. It’s not like there’s paparazzi in front of my house. They’re down at the Kardashians, you know? So I don’t really care. On Halloween I had people knock on my door when we were at the peak of everything and The Reason was the biggest it was. I’d give them candy, fill their parents’ cups with vodka and send them on their way! I’m super-nice to people, I’m a nice guy, but if you cross me, I’ll be an a--hole. I don’t want to offend fans. I love our fans and I appreciate everything that they do.
When Hoobastank was signed to a major label and broke quickly, which was thirteen years ago, the industry was so different. Labels had clout, record deals were the Holy Grail, radio mattered and consumers bought music — 10 million copies of yours. Now, five albums in, you’re independent. What did it take to survive the changes, and was there ever a point when you became nervous about the state of affairs?
First of all, we stuck with it because of the love for what we do. I think it’s the only thing that any of us ever really fell for or had this natural high about. But I remember the industry changing. I remember the first time I got a call saying that so-and-so was leaving a record company. It was the head dude, who loved us and was a huge fan. “No, you don’t have to worry, nothing is going to change. If the head of marketing leaves, that’s a different story.” Then the next person leaves, they’re going to other record companies, and that was in 2003 or 2004. I didn’t feel it right away because The Reason was big and successful at that point. We were selling a lot of records, tickets and merchandise and we were on the radio. The next record was more noticeable because by that time everyone at Island was different. They weren’t personally invested in us anymore. They hadn’t signed us, they were all new people and their ideas were different. They were, “What’s the next The Reason?” We were like, “That’s not all we do.’ It started to change and you could feel it. A friend from a different band would come backstage and say, “I didn’t know you had a new record out,” and we were still on this major label. You could feel that the record company would put so much behind you, but they’d throw the song at the wall and if it stuck, great, but if it didn’t, they went for the Killers, and if they didn’t stick, they had Fall Out Boy. It was just watching that and everything crumble. Meanwhile, we’re still touring all over the world, making a living, having a great time making music, meeting fans, but I think we were scrambling a little in our heads, not knowing what the future was, what the new model was and what we would do. Younger acts were coming out and we had been around for a good amount of time. We’d had success on both records and been big, and now not as big. You can bitch and complain and whine, or you can create music, try to do something fresh, continue to grow and do what you love to do. We did this before we made any money, and we’re in a different place now in life and we can make a living, but we try to be as humble as possible.
Fortunately, that decade or so allowed you to build a large fan base. How have those numbers been affected by social media and how the Internet has increased the amount of available music? It’s easier to reach people, but at the same time, it’s easier for everyone to reach people.
There is so much out there that it’s easy to get lost. It’s instant gratification; it’s a fast-food mentality. It’s hard to figure out what to do. You have to have content, you have to have videos, Tweet, update your pages and send as much current stuff out as possible, and that isn’t the world that I come from. I have tons of content of this band because I’ve been filming since day one, so all we can do is try to get as much content out there for people as possible. That’s how you get people personally invested in you. They learn who you are and they come back.
When you have to put content out so often and constantly update, and people want more and more, how do you pace yourself so that it doesn’t become overkill? Also, when are you supposed to have time for your art when your time is spent updating statuses?
It’s baby steps, I guess. We hire people now to edit our footage. We have tons of stuff. We just finished a new video for “Can You Save Me” and I’m getting credit for directing it because a lot of it is my footage and I went through it all with the production guys. They know how to edit and make a story out of the footage. You don’t want to flood it too much and force-feed it down people’s throats, but we’ll post on our Facebook page and Twitter and so on as much as we can and we try and keep it up to date, but sometimes it’s hard. People have families, we’re doing other things, and when you get home from a tour you want to think about your normal life.
You’ve been vocal about your opinions regarding record production. What is a producer’s role when he’s in the studio with Hoobastank? Would you consider producing yourselves?
A producer’s role, to me, is to be there, inspire the band and be that fifth member. I want him to come in, inspire, advise, suggest and have a different perspective. We’ll put the songs together, but it’s being created from us. We’re coming up with the music. It’s us, in our rooms, recording and putting it all together, and then we move on to meet the producer who hears it with fresh ears, not the way that we hear it. We were dissecting it and we were there for every second of it. This person can now come in and say, “This is great,” or “This sucks.” I think back to producers that inspired me and got me to do certain things. Howard Benson is a great example. He’s a great producer. We have a song called “Out Of Control,” and when I wrote the music, I gave it to Doug, he wrote his lyrics and melody, we went in the studio with Howard and recorded it as is, the way we wrote it. Howard took what we did, went home with it, and in Pro Tools, which is kind of his instrument, he found certain hooks that he liked that were already there and he exploited those hooks. I say that in a positive way. The bridge of the song is what you hear now, but Howard also made it the pre-chorus, which we never thought of. It made us grow as songwriters and from then on apply that same way of thinking or putting a pre-chorus in. To me, that’s really creative. He moved things around and played it back for us. We were a little taken aback at first, but it made sense and it was cool. I feel like I grew as a musician and songwriter just from that little thing he did. To me, that’s producing.
Yes, I do think about producing. I have done it before. I just wrote a song with a Japanese artist on Universal. I produced a lot of the music and I will get credit for co-writing and arranging. It was a lot of fun and I’d love do more of it. I enjoy it. I used the same techniques that Howard Benson used. I took my music and the vocals that this artist sent me and I started cutting, pasting and moving things around. I sent it back to him, he loved it, and we re-recorded it that way.
We’ve always co-produced Hoobastank, we’ve just never taken credit for it. We should have had our name on every single record of ours — whoever the producer is … and Hoobastank — but in the contract we never did it, and legally we couldn’t at the end of the day. I tried so hard on this last record. I called our attorney, “Could it be ‘Produced by Gavin Brown and Hoobastank’?” It’s like directing a movie almost. The producer of a band is like the director of a film, in my opinion. We’re producing music, it’s our stuff, and then it’s produced more by a producer. In the future, I don’t know if I want to produce our stuff. During the first record, during The Reason and during Every Man For Himself, I had these ideas on guitar, drums and bass. I wrote a lot of songs in my room, recorded them all with drum machines myself, had production ideas in the studio, and we never took credit for it. We didn’t think about it at the time and I wish we did. I’m not taking anything away from the producer that produced our records. Jim Wirt did the first record and I learned so much from that guy. As a producer and a musician, he’s amazing. Howard Benson produced the few records after that and I learned a ton from him. He produced; he should definitely get credit. Same with Gavin Brown. He produced this new record and he did a great job. Like you said, I do have my opinions, but I think we could have been more vocal about getting credit.
You are a Gibson and PRS man. Let’s talk about those guitars and why you prefer them.
When we signed the record deal in 2000, thirteen years ago, I was way younger. You’re at a different place in your mind, all you’re thinking of is getting signed, making a record, touring the world, equipment, and that was the guitar at the time — the PRS/Mesa Boogie thing. Looking back on it, I bit the carrot that was dangled in front of my face. I should have been more of an individual and played what I wanted to play, but I got hooked up, they took care of me and they were great. They’re great guitars. I still use Mesa. I love Mesa. But as I got older I didn’t want to be limited to the Paul Reed Smiths. Plus I’ve collected guitars for a long time and I have a ton of guitars. Before we had a record deal, before you had ever heard of us, I played a 1982 sea foam green Jeff Beck Strat, one of my favorite guitars. I still have it. I bought it for $700 in Guitar Center. That’s all I played for years until we got a record deal, and then I could get endorsements and I got hooked up with PRS. I had a rep who really took care of me and could custom-build things if I needed it. So I had my camouflage one built in 2003, and I had a hollow body built a couple of years after that. Then my rep left and the new rep was hard to get in touch with, so it was easy to split.
I bumped into a dude from Gibson one day and he was really cool and started taking care of me. I don’t just play the Paul Reed Smith and the Les Paul. I have other guitars out there with me. I have a Music Man, a new one, the Reflex guitar that the Ernie Ball guys hooked me up with, and I use it accordingly for the song I need to use it on. I bring a Strat out with me. I have a black SG. I used to bring my Gibson 137. I take different things out sometimes. It’s cool to have an endorsement, call your people when you need them and have them have your back, but it’s also nice not to be tied down to anybody or anything and just do what’s necessary for the music or for that song. For every guitar that I mentioned, I usually have a backup. I use my camo PRS on one song, “Running Away,” because there’s acoustic in the song and I can blend the two together. I also bring out the hollow body Paul Reed Smiths for a couple of things. I need a guitar with a tremolo for “This Is Gonna Hurt,” which is the first single off of this new record. I don’t have a backup for that, but Doug plays the Music Man guitar, so he’s got a couple of backups in case I need one. I’ve got two sunburst Les Pauls, identical guitars. They’re not the most expensive ones, but they sound cool and play nice. My tech sets them up and makes sure everything is in working condition. I bring my Strat out and I use that on a couple of things. When the band is rehearsing, I go to storage, grab guitars and that’s what I take out. I have a Nash telecaster, which is awesome. I love it. I’ll probably start taking that out on the road and I’ll probably always have the Les Pauls and the PRS’s with me.
Mesa and Vox — interesting. How did that come about?
Here’s the deal. I collect instruments. I went to a guitar shop in Japan with my guitar tech and I ended up buying this $200 Fernandez with a speaker built into it. Ugliest guitar I’ve ever seen, but it played nice. I can play it in the dressing room and I can warm up with it. I like having different things. The Vox was another one of those things. There’s a famous guitar shop by me, Norman’s Rare Guitars, and they’re like family. I grew up with Jordan, Norman’s son, and I’ve known them since I was a kid. That’s where I get all my guitars. Chris and I went in and the Vox was there. They were showing me some limited-edition Fender amps that were made in the 1990s. Dave Grohl keeps coming in and buying them, so I thought, If Dave Grohl is buying them, let me hear this thing. I listened and I wasn’t really into it. I had one of the guys who’s really, really good play through it and it sounded like early ’90s Orange County punk music or something. I wasn’t really into it for what we do. Then I saw the AC30 and I asked to hear that. It sounded more like some of the tones that we were using for the new record. Gavin had an AC30, an old one, and I’ve used them on every album, blended in with other things. So I bought it. In Canada, I bought a Gibson Marauder. Just plugging that into the Vox, I’m inspired to write something based off of the tones I’m getting. I try different amps and the same chord and finger positions as I would on the Mesa, but it somehow sounds different. I’m inspired differently and I create something that way.
Are both going on the road with you?
Possibly. That’s what I’ve used most recently when we’ve done some television shows. I’ve been using the Lonestar and the Vox at the same time. Sometimes on my Mesa I need to switch to Channel 2 for the heavier stuff, but it doesn’t switch on the Vox. That’s intentional, and it’s blended so you have a cleaner, grittier sound blended in with the distortion tone and it’s really cool.
What is on your pedalboard?
I use multiple delays, I have a couple of overdrive pedals, and I switch stuff out of there. I have a Boss Space Echo that emulates tape delay. I really like it. If you hold your foot down on the tap tempo, it speeds the tape up. I use that to make noises and weird, trippy sounds. I have a Dunlop MXR Phase that creates such cool textures, whether it’s in a breakdown or as I’m doing a lead part. That’s some of the stuff I have on there. I move stuff around, but I have to have my delays. The Line 6 delays are convenient because everything is right there in front of you. You can have three presets right there. I have a Boss tuner, a Digitech Whammy, an MXR Micro Amp and an MXR EVH Flanger that I use on “Crawling In The Dark.” When we’re working on music, I set up everything and try everything.
Does Hoobastank fulfill your creativity or is there a guitar album waiting to happen?
There’s no guitar album waiting to happen, but Hoobastank does not fulfill me completely. Maybe a wife and kid might fulfill me a little more. I don’t know. There are a million other things in my life that I’d like to do. Musically, I’d like to produce other artists and write with other people, whether it’s for a country artist or any artist. It might be Doug and I, or me and my drummer, or me and the Japanese dude. I want to get out there, work hard, learn and grow. If I’m naturally creating and it’s not going to end up with Hoobastank, I still think that the music could be used for something and that would feel great. I like music, not only rock music and not only the guitar. Guitar is my main instrument, but I play and love other instruments, so if it’s country music and people like it, that’s cool. If it’s a pop song, that’s cool. I love music.
What does it take to retain that fulfillment? Twenty years with the same people — at some point, you look across the table and realize that you really cannot stand the way someone chews his food.
It’s already happened. You have to communicate, and men are f--king horrible at that. It’s hard. We communicate all the time and I’m probably the one who’ll get things started as far as, “We have a problem. Let’s talk about this.” But we all know how we feel about each other personally, and if you can’t talk about it, you’re not going to last. That’s probably why nine out of ten bands don’t last or haven’t been together as long as we have. One thing I really found interesting about the Red Hot Chili Peppers was their camaraderie, how they communicate with each other and their friendship. I try to go back to that with Doug. We’ve had it out before. We’ve had to have a manager get in the middle of us and talk to each other. Not like, “I f--king hate you,” and “I f--king hate you,” but like, “Dude, we need to have this talk and this and that.” He’ll come back and say, “But you said this,” or “You acted like this.” I have to look at it and say, “Holy s--t, I did.” I think when you’re flying high during The Reason days and “Crawling In The Dark,” you get caught up and cocky and “F--k you, man,” but I think it’s a part of growing up, getting older and realizing that you have to have respect for each other if you want it to work. We love what we do. I love making music with this band, but there are times when I want to kill people and they feel the same way about me, but we make it work.
We’re tight. We’re all really close. Doug had a birthday at the beginning of January and I helped his wife set up a get-together. The band was all there and we were hanging out. We have a lot of friends in common. We’re in the same area where we grew up, so we have a lot of family, friends, and we’re close to everybody.
Sometimes it’s really easy. I’m a homebody and I don’t like change all that often, which is good and bad, and that’s probably kept me going. And I love what I do. It’s times when we’re in Japan or Singapore or wherever we are, when I’m onstage, I look to my left and I see the other three guys and think, This is a f--king trip. I’m where I am with my friends from when I was a kid. It’s pretty amazing to look out, whether it’s 1000 people or 20,000 people. We’re touching them and our mission is complete, it’s working, it’s great.
Read more of Dan Estrin's interview here: http://www.guitarworld.com/interview-dan-estrin-hoobastank-talks-songwri...