Ilan Rubin

While on Angels & Airwaves first post-pandemic tour, Ilan Rubin talked with QRO....
Ilan Rubin : Q&A
Ilan Rubin : Q&A

While on Angels & Airwaves first post-pandemic tour, Ilan Rubin talked with QRO. In the conversation, the drummer discussed getting back on the new road, making new record Lifeforms (QRO review) during the crisis, also being in Nine Inch Nails and others, and making his own music as The New Regime (and now under his own name), helping other musicians achieve their goal, being the ‘first inductee in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame born in the eighties,’ being in a band with a ‘premiere UFOlogist,’ hating making videos, inhaling his long hair when drumming & singings, and more…

QRO: How have you been holding up during this last year-plus?

Ilan Rubin: Very well, to be honest with you. The isolation’s been good. It’s allowed me to focus on other musical endeavors that I’ve wanted to get into for quite some time now, and the people.

And it’s also allowed this latest album, which everyone seems to be enjoying. All has gone well.

QRO: How is your tour going?

IR: It’s going really well. We’re about halfway through, if not a bit longer.

It feels really good to be out & playing. Putting on an old pair of shoes…

QRO: How was the show at Hammerstein Ballroom (QRO venue review) in New York?

IR: It was excellent. It was great.

If I’m not mistaken, it was sold out. The crowd was excellent.

For whatever reason, places like New York, L.A., Chicago have a different sort of ‘weight’ to them. I wouldn’t call it ‘pressure,’ but when they go well, it feels extra-validating in some ways. The stakes are higher, for whatever reason.

We played well, and the crowd seemed to really enjoy it. Definitely a success of the tour.

QRO: Are these you first live, in-person performances since the pandemic?

IR: Yes, with the exception of Lollapalooza, and the warm-up show for Lollapalooza. Those were the first two live performances.

QRO: Oh, of course. I saw you guys at Lollapalooza (QRO recap)…

IR: That was fun as well. It was also odd, in the sense that we were all wondering whether we would feel out-of-place, or slightly alien to us, considering we hadn’t been around people, let alone that many people, in a year-and-a-half.

But, it’s really amazing how you get back into the groove of things. It felt comfortable, it was very exciting.

It feels really good to be out & playing. Putting on an old pair of shoes…

QRO: Have you noticed real changes in touring vs. before the pandemic? Like, do the venues check your vax card?

IR: Some are more thorough than others. Obviously, they are something nobody had to deal with on tour before the pandemic. But it’s not really invasive; it doesn’t really waste much time. It is what it is. That’s the only thing that seems slightly different.

Although, what I will say, I do kind of have a reflex. For example, if I’m walking to a bus, or somebody wants to take photos – there, I’m like, “Let me get my mask,” or I try to avoid it.

Just because, there’s a lot on the line. If one guy gets sick, that throws the whole thing off the rails. And that’s obviously not something anybody wants, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be responsible for it myself.

I really would hate to be rude, or seem rude. But I try to do it either politely, or in secret. Nobody sees me coming & going…

QRO: How was making Lifeforms?

IR: Good. Obviously that’s a very simple answer…

But it worked pretty seamlessly. It did span quite a bit of time, but Tom [DeLonge, singer/guitarist] is constantly juggling so many projects around, that it’s hard to make time for everything or get everything done at once.

But we really found a great rhythm between him & Aaron [Rubin, no relation], the producer, and then sending it up to me. I live in L.A., so I’m not in the studio all the time. I would get sections, do my things to them, make my changes to them, and then my harmonies, this & that, and send them back. It flowed.

Especially during the pandemic. It seemed like it was perfect timing, in a way, for us to do it that way. No complaints. I think it worked quite smoothly.

When I’m writing with other people, really what’s most important is being in the same headspace, of knowing what that person wants to achieve, and helping them reach that goal.

QRO: Last year, for your own The New Regime, you released Heart Mind Body & Soul

IR: It actually came out about a week-and-a-half before the pandemic…

That felt terrible, all that effort, feeling like it was a colossal waste. But, I think it’s a fantastic album.

What I would say, as a result of the pandemic, I really had this gut feeling that I didn’t want to pick up where I left off with The New Regime. So, the pandemic sort of pushed me to start releasing music under my own name. I just put out my second single [“Chaos In Motion”], so everything’s under ‘Ilan Rubin’.

QRO: Do you have a home studio?

IR: I do. A modest one, but I do.

QRO: You gotta have a soundproof place to practice drums…

IR: It’s even more modest than that; I don’t have any real drums in my studio. But, I have all the toys I need to write and compose.

So, next house, hopefully, I can build it up properly, and play as loudly as I like, at any point in time.

QRO: For making Lifeforms, did you go into a studio, but just separately from Tom?

IR: We would write, and as I said, send files back & forth. I would program drums, or play drums on an electric kit, then the computer midi, the sound library – ‘Okay, the song’s done,’ and then we’d get into the studio and re-record everything.

QRO: Do you have to just shift your approach completely when you’re making music for yourself?

IR: I have to shift my approach when I’m writing music for other people.

When I write my music, I’m the boss, I know exactly what it is that I want to achieve, and I don’t have to consult anybody, really.

And when I’m writing with other people, really what’s most important is being in the same headspace, of knowing what that person wants to achieve, and helping them reach that goal.

So, in the instance of Angels & Airwaves, Tom has all of his ideas, and I’m not in there to sort of, ‘write myself into the songs.’ I see what he’s looking for, he’s asking where I think things could be improved & changed, and really, he decides if he likes what I’ve brought to the table.

Fortunately, it’s more often than not, that he does. And I do think there are scenarios where the things that I bring to the table have him sort of get new ideas, and further develop what he originally worked on. It’s a good process.

There’s not sort of ‘feeling’ that goes along with people a part of numerous bands.

QRO: What’s it like, having been in so many bands? Your Wikipedia lists all these…

IR: Well, you know, every band operates differently.

There’s not sort of ‘feeling’ that goes along with people a part of numerous bands. It’s the same as knowing various groups of people, various different groups of friends who may not know each other, and you’re the common thread. And it’s very similar.

That being said, I was never my intent to be in multiple bands, but it sort of worked out that way. And at this point in time, it’s a very cool scenario, hopping back & forth between Nine Inch Nails and Angels & Airwaves.

QRO: Are drummers just always in high demand?

IR: Good ones…

I think any good musician is in high demand. For whatever reason, I suppose it being the integrity of the band as the live unit, really does build off how good the drummer is, in my opinion.

Not every drummer is an animated performer, but musically, everything hinges off of that, for sure. But if you have a drummer who performs – which I like to do myself – I definitely think it enhances the show, and just gives off more energy from stage to people.

QRO: You were saying before about the difficult of scheduling with Tom, because all the other things he’s doing – what about for you?

IR: Live scheduling is something that I always dread, and fortunately I’ve dodged all of those bullets – at least so far, knock on wood…

For example, within the pandemic, my entire schedule was wiped away. It was going to be a very tour-intensive year, across all fronts. Whereas Tom has a lot of things that he’s doing outside of music, as well. He’s got companies – he’s all over the place…

QRO: I covered Riot Fest this year (QRO recap), which Nine Inch Nails were originally going to play…

IR: Yeah, I was disappointed when we canceled, I have to say. But I’m sure we’ll make it up whenever we can.

QRO: Oh, and when you tour your own stuff, is it tough for whoever has to play drums for you?…

IR: No, I’m not as demanding as almost everyone believes I would be.

It’s a matter of prioritizing what’s important within a band. Basically, what’s most important is the feel of the band as a unit. And I’m not concerned about whoever’s playing drums with me to be playing exactly as I recorded, note-for-note, because that’s not important.

I’m strict in terms of beats and bass drum patterns, because that is part of the song, that’s part of the rhythmic continuity of the song, but I really could care less if somebody played fills exactly the way I did. As long as the song feels good, that’s what I’m interested in.

[Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2020 induction] was definitely a highlight of a very shitty year…

QRO: I also have to ask you about getting inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame…

IR: It was a very nice surprise, I have to say.

I received the call from Trent [Reznor] early on in the year, pre-pandemic, that Nine Inch Nails was getting inducted, but at that very moment, he was the only one getting inducted. But he & management felt very strongly that a few others should join as well.

The current line-up of the band, which has been in place for a while, as well as a couple of guys from pivotal years in the Nine Inch Nails history. I thought that was enough for me. I wouldn’t have expected to be inducted into something that started when I was one year old, you know? Trent would have done that, whether I was in the band or not. So, I never expected it.

But within the pandemic, it was definitely a nice shining ray of good news. Trent was good enough to call, and congratulate me that I was personally being inducted.

I got my trophy, took my photo. I get a birthday card from the Hall of Fame, so happy birthday…

QRO: Oh, especially during last year, when there was not a lot else going on…

IR: It would have been incredible to do the performance – Obviously, I’m personally, as well as everyone else in the band, am huge [fellow ’20 class] Depeche Mode fans, and it would have been awesome to be inducted alongside them.

I don’t know, potentially perform with them. I know they do sort of collaborative performances at those sorts of events, but what can you do? It was definitely a highlight of a very shitty year…

QRO: Is it weird, being the ‘youngest living inductee’ and the first one born in the eighties?

IR: You know what, somebody told me about the eighties thing, and I thought that was really funny.

And what’s extra-funny, is I’m barely – July 7th, ’88, I’m cutting it close, I guess, for that decade…

QRO: Then you would have been the first born in the nineties…

IR: It’s not odd, it’s just something you can’t anticipate happening.

It’s something I’d want to achieve by the later years of my life. Obviously, having done it by 32 or wherever it was, was awesome. But it’s not really a goal you can pursue. You don’t start something and think, ‘Okay, in 32 years, this happens.’ I’m happy that it did.

QRO: As someone born in 1979, I am very offended by it – You’ll experience it when the first people born in the nineties do stuff…

IR: Aside from my wife, I totally agree with you. The rest of you are terrible…

“A premiere UFOlogist” – I’m gonna let [Tom DeLonge] know what his new official title is…

QRO: I also have to ask what it’s like being in a band with a premiere UFOlogist [DeLonge]…

IR: “A premiere UFOlogist” – I’m gonna let him know what his new official title is… [laughs]

It’s entertaining, to say the least. I don’t know how else to put it. It is entertaining.

I hear very bizarre things, obscure things, funny things, scary things. There’s always something where I’m like, ‘Well, if anyone else heard this conversation, they would think we’re crazy…’ I mean, everyone does think he’s crazy, but I’m gonna exclude myself from that level of crazy…

I’m always intrigued, to say the least.

QRO: You mentioned him doing other things while you were making the record. On the road, does he have to like take phone calls from government officials or something?

IR: Probably, but I don’t know about those. Those are highly confidential…

QRO: I interviewed David Duchovny (QRO interview), because he does music, and I joked that he was hunting aliens in the nineties, and now he’s doing music, so he flipped careers with Tom…

IR: The yin & yang. The chronological yin & yang.

It’s interesting stuff. To be honest with you, I never would have considered it an interest of mine. But I was always in the line of thinking that there’s way too much out there to assume we’re the only ones.

But it is funny to be around somebody who probably spends more time thinking about that, then what is here. And why not? Just as valid, in many ways – what can I say?

QRO: Do you ever worry that his profile from all that might overshadow Angels & Airwaves?…

IR: No. He is the link between us & them.

I never care about any overshadowing of any kind. I wouldn’t see it that way, honestly. The better Tom does, the better the band does. So, that’s the way to look at it.

Videos are my least favorite thing to do on the planet.

QRO: Or are you just, ‘As long as people don’t compare us to Blink-182 [DeLonge’s prior band]…’?

IR: Well, you’re gonna have some people with opinions, all over the place.

And honestly, I don’t even care about Blink overshadowing Aliens & Airwaves. We’ve all got things to do.

And him having that legacy to, not necessarily to uphold, but he’s always going to be a part of that – as he should be. It’s one of the biggest bands of the last twenty years, undoubtedly. It’s a great thing for him.

I really never feel or see anything in terms of overshadowing.

QRO: When Mark Hoppus [of Blink-182] was going through his cancer, and now he’s in remission, I know they did some sort of interview together, and I think a lot of Blink-182 fans thought it was nice to see them together then…

IR: The last time I saw the two of them together was probably in Australia in about 2012 or ‘13?

I’ve seen them separately. Actually, it was funny, the last time Nine Inch Nails was rehearsing, which was a few years ago, Blink, minus Tom, was rehearsing in the room next door. That was just funny…

QRO: [laughs] Talk about a link…

IR: And when I first joined Angels & Airwaves, one of the first pieces of press I did with the band was doing Mark’s show with the band.

I don’t know him well, but we’ve met a handful of times all over the place.

QRO: Before you in Nine Inch Nails, the drummer was Josh Freese, someone else I think of as a drummer who’s been in a number of bands…

IR: And I think Josh Freese was actually the first drummer Tom had in mind for Angels & Airwaves. This one big, incestuous rhythmic circle.

Angels & Airwaves’ video for “Euphoria”:

QRO: How was making the video for “Euphoria”?

IR: Videos are my least favorite thing to do on the planet. That and photos, but I think videos are worse because they usually take longer, and are more repetitive. I know Tom enjoys them, cause he directs them, and comes up with treatments, but I hate fake playing to music on camera.

And honestly, I never know what’s going on. I show up at my call-time, I do what I’m supposed to, and then as soon as I’m able to leave, I take off.

But honestly, even as a kid, videos were never something that I enjoyed. I’d rather watch people actually play the song, rather than them miming to some performance that’s interlaced with a mediocre storyline of sorts. I’ve always held videos in pretty low regard, to be honest with you…

QRO: [laughs] Does Tom know that?…

IR: He does, and to his credit, he has come up with many great videos throughout his career, and those are instances where they’re worth their weight in gold. Perfect time, perfect treatment, it’s the right thing.

I suppose it’s different in a band like Blink, for example, where humor is so integrated into the band. Where it’s the perfect vehicle to be funny, instead of just say funny things? So, I think that’s where it’s worked out.

But I think videos in serious bands are kind of like, ‘Whoa, you’re taking yourself a little too seriously here…’

QRO: When shooting a video where you perform the song, like that or “Spellbound”, do you all actually play the song, or it just lip-syncing & not plugged in?

IR: Everyone is lip-syncing. Tom may be singing out loud – it’s not going anywhere, it’s not plugged into anything.

But for me, as a drummer, it’s particularly bad, because I basically have these really thick drumheads that dampen the sound. And these cymbals that are basically glued together. They move, but they don’t really make any sound.

But they really take a toll on the joints. Think about it: you’re just hitting a very heavy piece of metal that has no give. It gets into your elbows, and forearms – it’s really uncomfortable.

Even with miming, it sucks, because you want to perform, and you want to look like you’re giving it your all, and even with playing with the dampened instrument, it still makes a lot of noise. Sometimes you kinda lose track of being able to hear the actual song. It’s this really weird push-and-pull balancing act with what needs to be done.

I just gave you all the reasons I hate videos…

They’re a necessary evil in my eyes. Lot of people listen to music, or are introduced to music on YouTube, so you have to have something there. And of course, it’s better to have something there than say, just a picture with audio playing, which I’ve done.

But they are beneficial, if they are good.

Angels & Airwaves’ video for “Spellbound”:

QRO: During the extended lockdown, did you do any livestreams or anything like, get to play for people in a virtual way?

IR: I did a couple of New Regime acoustic sets from my little home studio. They almost didn’t seem worth the effort.

It will never be my forte, so, let’s say I’m the one setting up the broadcast & the stream & all that fun stuff, I’m sitting there performing, wondering if it’s even going out.

I did do a sort of ‘proper one’ on stage with the band for The New Regime at Gold Digger’s in L.A., and nice venue/bar/hotel type of place, and I had fun.

But I think people were really looking for a live show substitute, and that will just never be it.

It’s difficult, physically, to sing and play drums at the same time.

QRO: As a drummer, is having long hair an advantage, since it makes your drumming look cooler, or does it get in your eyes?

IR: I think just, as an individual, it’s an advantage – hide your face at times…

Quite frankly, I haven’t had short hair since I was probably in the ninth grade. So, I don’t even know if I’d even be able to recognize myself…

I wouldn’t call it an advantage. Do I look more theatrical, or powerful, when my hair is mimicking every movement that I make? Maybe. But I wouldn’t call it an advantage.

QRO: I was wondering if it got in your eyes?

IR: Honestly, it gets in my mouth more. With singing, that can be a pain-in-the-ass.

There’s a perfect length when you’re capable of inhaling your hair and coughing. That’s awful. I’ve done that a time or two…

It’s difficult, physically, to sing and play drums at the same time. You’re exerting your most energy, playing drums, but also need to be able to control your breath, to sing.

With the new album, I’ve been singing a lot on stage, which is a new element that is a lot of fun. I was singing on the last in sort of bits & pieces, but with these new songs, more often than not on the new material, I’m either doubling or harmonizing with Tom throughout whole choruses or verses, so it’s a lot of fun.