Ilan Rubin: Plan Of A Prodigy
lan Rubin is an enigma. With his polite demeanor and thoughtful responses, he’s not your standard-issue rocker. He might look the part with his long hair and skinny jeans, but the Bonhamesque basher you see on the outside belies the studious guy who learns Beethoven concertos in his spare time.
Before he even finished high school, Rubin had played Warped Tour, became the youngest musician to grace the stage at Woodstock, and joined UK nü-metallers Lostprophets. Between 2009 and 2010, he recorded and toured with Nine Inch Nails. As of this moment, he has just finished up the latest album from The New Regime, a solo project on which he penned and sang all the lyrics as well as wrote and recorded all the musical instruments including, obviously, drums.
Quite the résumé for someone who still lives at home with his parents. “I have no excuse,” he jokes from his folks’ San Diego pad. “In a couple of years I’ll be pushing the limits.” The way Rubin sees it, he is just making up for lost QT with the family. “I am the most boring 22-year-old on the face of the planet. I can guarantee it,” he says. “I’m basically a hermit and I’m always working on things, and I don’t go out too much. I don’t have any social disorders; I’m just a very old man in a young person’s body.”
Music Wants To Be Free
By the time you read this, Speak Through The White Noise will be pricking ears with its infectious hooks, thought-provoking lyrics, and naturally fat grooves and tasty drum licks. Not bad considering the album’s inauspicious beginnings.
It all started last year when Rubin was shopping around the demo. Producers and label execs dug it. No, really, they did — they just didn’t want to work it. It’s called the runaround, and goes something like, ‘We love it, but where’s the first single?’
“That’s pretty infuriating to me because I think I’ve gotten respect for the music and that people seem to be getting it,” he says. “So at that point I said, ‘I’ve had it with these people who don’t have the power to make decisions anyway. I’m going to take the power into my own hands and we’re going to release this independently and we’re going to build it ourselves.’”
Rubin recorded The New Regime’s debut, Coup, at Red Bull Studios, in Los Angeles. The energy-drink maker’s sideline in the music biz touts free studio time in its state-of-the-art facility. In exchange, the Red Bull brand is associated with relevant musicians. Rubin was so prolific with his gratis time allotment he had enough material for the first half of White Noise.
For the second half of the album, Rubin recorded drums and piano at Signature Sound in San Diego. Everything else was done in the garage at home — with brother Aaron mixing and engineering — and the economic benefits go without saying. “Obviously over the years I’ve invested quite a bit in the equipment that I use,” he says, listing a set of killer Vintech preamps. “But that’s it for high-quality gear. The rest was Pro Tools, and not even HD. As far as studio time, it didn’t cost anything.”
For Rubin, putting out music wouldn’t feel right unless he was composing all the parts himself. “This doesn’t mean everybody needs to be a virtuoso, noodling shredder, but if you want to be a songwriter, learn everything you can and continue to grow. If you want to be a session player, then a wealth of ability is usually essential.”
The pro quality of the recording is immediate in the sudden eruptions of Queen-style backing vocals (“Clairaudience”), sweet-tart piano melodies (“Enjoy The Bitterness”), and storms of guitar and muddy bass (“The Skeptic”; “Radiate The False”). The drums — explosive-yet-articulate fills, controlled strokes, counted ghosts — are a lot more subtle than what you’d expect from such an athletic player. If Coup was making sure the drums parts were as interesting as possible in that self-conscious way of drummers, White Noise was about the songs. “I wasn’t going to dumb down the drum parts, but it wasn’t a focus because I assumed that people expected a drummy album,” he explains. “And that is not what The New Regime is about.”
When he plays irregular signatures, it’s not for the sake of weirdness but because the song calls for it. On “What Brings Us Down,” a 7/8 in the verses makes the tune swing a bit. “But it’s the sort of 7/8 that doesn’t sound like I’m doing anything odd. It’s only when you try to count it out that you go, ‘Oh, wait, that’s not in 4/4.’”
Careful What You Wish For
Rubin’s father, like his son, was a drummer throughout high school and was in two or three bands during his teens and early twenties. In fact, the elder Rubin’s dust-covered Ludwig was the first kit Ilan ever played, mostly to worn-out Led Zeppelin LPs.
Rubin senior’s rock and roll dreams were short lived, and his brief flirtation with a music career ought to have been a cautionary tale for his son. But after seeing how rapidly Ilan mastered the basics, it was immediately clear history was not repeating itself. “He was able to recognize that I was playing in a way that was more of a rarity,” Ilan says. “He understood that the music industry is a terrible industry to get into, but it would kind of be selling me short not trying to pursue it because of how it came to me. Had I been a kid who wasn’t playing well and didn’t show any promise then he probably would have assumed that it was a phase that would have died out and then moved on. He also nurtured the talent and made sure that I kept getting better and better, but it was never forced upon me, ever.”
That their son was touring as early as age 12 with the punk band F.o.N. (short for “Freak Of Nature”) was unsettling for the Rubins, who weren’t about to let a precocious kid become a child-performer casualty. “At first they were a bit worried because I was so young,” he says. “But once they saw that I was incapable of succumbing to peer pressure and had no interest in what most kids are interested in at that age, I had their trust.” But just to be safe, Rubin would be home-schooled for the remainder of his teen years. “Getting a GED was not good enough, so I still had to graduate with honors or there would be problems.”