In the music industry, drummers usually have a steady but hidden place in the band. The timing of a song lives and dies by the beat. So what would happen if a drummer attempted to step out from behind the drum kit to become the focus of the audience?
Well, the worst case scenario is that the drummer doesn’t step out, but brings the microphone in. I’ve seen plenty of local bands where the drummer was the lead singer, and the result would make me listen to any other music at full blast to clear my ear canals. Yes, even a Barbara Streisand album. Either the singing was horrible, or the drum beats were in line with a leaky faucet.
The middle-case scenario is that the drummer would take over the band after their lead singer ran off to sing about sledgehammers and still draw a bigger fanbase than his old band. This usually leads to very generic beats, something even hair bands weren’t doing in the ’80s. I’m looking at you, Phil Collins.
The best case scenario is that the drummer steps out, becomes as big, if not more, of a success than his former band, and does it all with enough musical know-how to make us all almost forget that he played drums in the first place until he goes ape-s#!t behind a kit for Tenacious D. Dave Grohl, we salute you.
Now comes Ilan Rubin. You may not know who he is right away. He is the drummer for such bands as Nine Inch Nails, Paramore, and Angels and Airwaves, banging away behind the kit to give the music he is involved in an echoing pulse that reverberates through the listener: the beat. He is also much more than that.
Rubin is the mastermind behind The New Regime, a solo project of his where he steps out from behind the drums to write the music for the other instruments as well. Splicing together the genres of rock, classical, and anything else that fits, Rubin has made The New Regime a concept of music that is constantly evolving as each piece of the puzzle is fitted.
We sat down with Ilan Rubin to discuss music and the latest piece of his musical puzzle, Exhibit A.
Patrick Emmel: You’ve been involved in some pretty inspiring acts: Lostprophets, Nine Inch Nails, Angels & Airwaves. What made you step out from behind the drum set?
Ilan Rubin: I had always played other instruments, probably since the age of 13. That was when I started taking guitar and bass seriously, and 15 or 16 was when I started playing piano. The thing that made me really start writing music seriously was when I would be in the middle of an album process, say, with Lostprophets. The drums are always the first thing to be recorded, so once I do my part I’d be sitting at home while everyone else was finishing up the album, and that could be months and months and months.
So I kind of just got tired of waiting on other people or having to rely on other people and I thought it was a bit of a shame that I could play these other instruments, basically a whole band’s worth of instruments, and not sing because I was too shy to. So I pushed myself to get over that, and at about 18 or 19 years old is when I really started writing seriously. The first 10 songs I’d ever written ended up being Coup, the first album. For me, there isn’t anything quite like coming up with an idea, seeing it all the way through to a finished song, and really just completing everything myself from top to bottom. It’s pretty addictive.
Patrick: I bet! That kind of plays into the video for “Remission of Guilt”…
Patrick: It’s just you playing every single instrument and then it’s all spliced together. With The New Regime being a solo project, is it hard to find band-mates that will work cohesively with you, or would it be easier to get a cloning machine?
Ilan: It would definitely be easier to get a cloning machine, although it would be a bit more expensive, I’m sure.
It is difficult, but for more reasons than you’d think. First off, it is hard to find the right group of guys to just play everything right. I’ve had good luck in the past, but even from [live] videos on Youtube, the lineups are always a little bit different. A big factor with that is scheduling. People do different things. Whenever I’m ready and able to do something, it doesn’t mean that everyone who played with me last time is ready and able. It’s pretty difficult but it always seems to work out when I need to get a band together.
Patrick: Do other band-mates usually get a good feel for what you are trying to accomplish? Because, obviously, you play all the instruments. You know how you want everything to sound. Have you had a few times where you’ve been, like, “What are you doing?! This is how it’s supposed to go!”
Ilan: Well…I’ve been through about three drummers, I’d say…
Patrick: That’s pretty ironic…
Ilan: (laughs) Well, you’d have to think that the thing that would stick out to me the most would be the drumming. I’ve had a scenario where I really had to tame somebody and have them tone it down, but not in the sense that things need to be performed note by note exactly the way that I did it. For example, my brother Daniel plays bass for me and he knows what I like. He’s a very good bass player. He’s learned what I’ve done note for note, but then does his own [thing]. We’re both John Paul Jones fans from Led Zeppelin, so he’ll know what I like. I want to give everyone a tiny bit to change things up a bit, but stay in the same realm as everyone else.
Patrick: Well, I guess if you didn’t do that, you could just call The New Regime something like The Ilan Rubin Project. Did Dave Grohl’s rise from behind the drum set of Nirvana to being the frontman for The Foo Fighters inspire you at all to say, “What the hell, I’ve gotta do this. Drummers can be singers, too!”
Ilan: Honestly, no. I almost started singing more out of a necessity because I picked up these other instruments. If I had to pick a career path or a basic comparison, Dave Grohl would be great, of course, but he didn’t have an instrumental part in pursuing something like this.
Patrick: That [Dave Grohl] was the first time I had ever heard of a drummer doing something like this, and now you’re really the second I’ve heard of. Do you know of anyone else?
Ilan: Not really, no. Phil Collins, maybe.
Patrick: Yeeeeah…(laughs), that’s a whole other matter.
Ilan: (laughs) Yeah…
Patrick: I heard that you played Woodstock ’99 at 11 years old? How did that come about?
Ilan: I started playing drums when I was 7 or 8. At that age my brothers were in high school, so I was playing with their high school band. I don’t know exactly how that came about. I believe it had something to do with an internet downloads contest that this particular band won, and the prize was to go perform at Woodstock.
Patrick: Did that start up everything with you getting involved with these bigger acts?
Ilan: No, it was just a nice opportunity. It was good. After that band I joined another small band, and it was really from that band that I was able to tour quite a bit through the US, and I did that from 14 to 16. It was at the end of that band that Lostprophets called. That was a very random thing. I suppose we had some mutual friends or acquaintances, and at that time their drummer decided to leave, they asked around, and my name came up quite a few times. We got together in LA and played and I did a couple songs on their third album, Liberation Transmission. I think that was a very defining moment in taking that step up to the bigger bands. Everything I did from that point forward has just lead into something else. As bizarre as it sounds, that directly led into Nine Inch Nails, and so on.
Patrick: A lot of drummers from the ’90s call upon [John] Bonham as their inspiration, but you’re part of the new breed of drummers. Who were you inspired by?
Ilan: John Bonham.
Ilan: Favorite drummer of all time!
Patrick: He just keeps on going!
Ilan: When you started with Bonham, I thought you already knew he’s my favorite because he’s been my favorite ever since I, literally, started playing. I credit my dad to that. My dad was a drummer when he was in high school, maybe early years of college. He was the one that recognized that, when I got up to hit drums that were set up in the garage, I was somewhat playing something. So he said, “If you’re going to start playing drums, I want you to listen to this.” And he got me Led Zeppelin 1. Ever since then, they’ve all been my favorites of everything: as individual musicians, as a band, everything. I started playing drums in the ’90s, so maybe I can fit into the ’90s category.
Patrick: Exhibit A is going to be the first of a series of EPs for The New Regime. For this album concept, do you have an end game like how Lord of the Rings has three definitive parts to the series? Or are you going to be going Exhibit X, Y, Z, Double-Z Infinity, like a Star Wars saga?
Ilan: Well, I do love Star Wars, so I’ll probably go with that option. Even if I say three, maybe I’ll do three prequels, and then maybe I’ll do three more after that.
In all seriousness, I don’t like the way EP sounds. It sounds a little too informal for me. The term Exhibits just came out of nowhere for me. I knew that, this year, I wanted to release 2 things that were collectively more music than a single album, but I wanted to split it up. So Exhibit A and Exhibit B were attractive in the way it would be packaged. The other thing that seemed really cool is that, any time in the future that I want to release something that was a bit shorter than an album, I could keep tacking them onto this thing called Exhibits. Say I have a group of eight songs and I really like how these songs go together, it’s done, so I can have Exhibit C, I could have another pair, whatever it is. It could be Double-Z Infinity. It’s very possible.
Patrick: So the albums are more stream-of-consciousness? You don’t have a bank of 30 or 40 songs ready to release?
Ilan: No, I don’t do that. I’ve worked with bands where, when the time comes to write an album, they’ll write like 40 songs and piece together an album’s worth. I wouldn’t pursue anything that I didn’t enjoy. I suppose when I have an album’s worth ready, I think that’s the time to put something out.
Patrick: I was trying to classify your genre…
Ilan: I would be very curious to see what you came up with, because any time someone asks me, “What kind of music is it?” I have no idea what to say.
Patrick: Some things I’ve listened to, like “Enjoy the Bitterness” from the Speak Through the White Noise album and “Don’t Chase It Away” from Exhibit A remind me of dredg, almost an ambient, art-rock vibe. But it also expands into other outlets, so I guess ambient rock is the best I could come up with.
Ilan: That could be a facet of it. Sometimes I would describe part of what it is as rock, but I can’t put the whole thing under that category. That would be inaccurate, or downplaying what it is. I like the “ambient rock” thing, because there are quite a few ambient songs like “What Brings Us Down” from Speak Through the White Noise is a good example of that and some stuff I’ve written for Exhibit B would fall under that category as well. I like that, that’s good. And I have to throw in that there’s quite a bit of piano based music. There’s definitely a classical influence, but when you say “rock” and “classical music”, people kind of just scratch their heads and say, “I don’t know what that means,” but I don’t blame them.
Patrick: Hypothetically, if your home was on fire and you could only save one instrument, what would it be? Drum kit, guitar, bass, keyboard, harmonica, kazoo?
Ilan: Sadly, probably the last thing I would try to get out would be the drums.
Patrick: Well, let’s pretend that a drum kit is as easy to get out as a guitar.
Ilan: Oh, I’m not. I’m just thinking of how I have everything set up. My friend built a really long guitar rack for me, so I’m thinking, strategically, I could drag them all out, and I have all the keyboards and stuff on a rack so I can drag all those out. That is a really tough question. That question gives me anxiety.
Patrick: (laughs) Sorry about that.
Ilan: That’s okay. It’s really tough. I love playing drums, of course, but when I’m at home is the time that I get to play everything else.
Patrick: If you could structure how your career with The New Regime would go, who would you emulate in progression and evolution of music, rather than the actual sound?
Ilan: Careers like Radiohead, Depeche Mode, obviously Dave Grohl, Trent Reznor. I love what he’s been able to do because he has such an extensive back catalog as Nine Inch Nails, but everything he’s been able to do with [film] scoring is fantastic. Because I have such a deep rooted interest in classical music, it would be something I would like to do as well. Since The New Regime is all me, as egomaniacal as that sounds, I view it in the way I read about with composers. I want to maintain and improve the quality of everything that I do.
Patrick: Is there a possibility that, when The New Regime goes on tour again, or maybe you’ve already done this, you start off the show with you running around to each instrument? Not as a whole performance, of course, but as a light-hearted goof?
Ilan: It’s the sort of thing where, if it can be done tastefully and for the sake of entertainment, people would enjoy that. I say tasteful because I don’t want to look like some egotistical prick just saying, “Hey, look what I can do,” you know what I mean? If it could come across in the right way, I think it could definitely be fun.
Going back to that “Remission of Guilt” video. It was the sort of thing where, because I chose to package what I do as The New Regime but not by my name, people still don’t put it together that it’s all just me. With that song, it kind of naturally built up where an instrument would be coming in one at a time. That idea, in my mind, only worked tastefully because that song allowed it [the idea] to build itself up. I wouldn’t want to do one where there was just 5 of me jamming together.
Patrick Emmel‘s only real activity in music was playing the clarinet from age 8-18 and singing horrible grunge love songs in the vein of Kurt Cobain while he was in high school. Then he got his tongue pierced and couldn’t do either, thankfully. You can see more of his work at www.theineptowl.com or heckle him on Twitter @Patrick_AE.