Older, Wiser and Thoroughly Punk
By Simon Weedn
When most people think of punk rock, they probably have a very narrow idea of what the music consists of: three power chord progressions, quick double-kick drum beats, snare drum hits on two and four and often shouted vocals with songs clocking in somewhere around the two minute mark. However, when Transplants members Tim Armstrong (Rancid, Operation Ivy), Travis Barker (Blink 182, +44, The Aquabats) and former Rancid roadie “Skinhead” Rob Aston (Death March) assembled themselves over a decade ago, the music that they would create and release would break down any previously conceived notion of what is or is not punk rock in the mainstream.
The band quickly became known for their distinctive blends of punk, hardcore, hip hop, and, at times, reggae and dub, that pushed their genre to its limits and put a lot of musical distance between the band members and the styles of their own more well known musical acts. Songs like “Diamonds And Guns” from the band’s first, self-titled release quickly became inescapable nationwide hits, getting placements on everything from film and television to shampoo commercials. The music was accessible, danceable but simultaneously experimental and stylistically diverse in a way that rarely breaks into the pop world. During the early and mid 2000s the band exploded with popularity and made extensive rounds on several headlining tours and released two extremely popular records only to abruptly start a long period of inactivity in 2006.
Rumors swirled that the band had broken up, but in 2010 the Transplants announced that they were reforming to work on a new record, the recently released In A Warzone. Rob Aston explains the band’s reformation, “When Travis got into the plane crash . . . obviously when something like that happens you take a step back and think about what’s really important. We all did that and decided to come together for another album, hit the road and do what we’re supposed to be doing,” says Aston. The record is different from previous Transplants efforts, in that it finds itself more in the vein of straight-ahead punk, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the pedigree of the band’s three primary song writers. Aston explains that first and foremost, “We only wanted to write songs that we could play live without the help of a bunch of samples, and this and that.” Given that approach, it’s easy why the record also sounds much more raw and undressed than their other albums. “We wanted to make more of a stripped down punk record. When we play punk rock,” Aston explains, “it’s the most natural for us, it’s what we do, it’s what we come from, its second nature to us, when we start writing songs it’s going to have a punk back bone at least, and it’s the most fun to play.”
There is also urgency and seriousness to In A Warzone lyrically, that is absent from the more carefree sometimes, party anthems of previous records. A possible explanation for this is that a lot has changed in the world in the eight years since the Transplants previous record Haunted Cities. In A Warzone seems to reflect that. “We obviously have our eyes and ears open to what’s going on, especially in the last couple of years, it’s crazy, it definitely gives you a lot of ammo and inspiration to write about,” Aston muses. “I feel like there is a responsibility you have when you sing in a punk rock band,” he adds. Maybe I’m getting old, but there are more important things to be writing songs about than getting messed up.” With a little more maturity under their belts and a full head of steam it’s good to see the Transplants coming back with such a loud bang. Although they may be steering their ship towards a more intense style, there will no doubt be plenty of good times to be had when seeing them during their upcoming shows with Rancid up the West Coast.
Transplants w/Rancid at Fox Theater Pomona, 301 S. Garey Ave., Pomona. (877) 283-6976; www.foxpomona.com. Sat, July 27. 6:30PM. $27.50-$99. All ages.