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June 2009: Hoobastank are not the type of band you'll ever see on TMZ. The band members don't date or marry Hollywood starlets, they don't have substance abuse problems, and their only criminal violations are parking or speeding tickets (and even that is probably a stretch).

In an era where image has become almost everything, Hoobastank – which consists of singer Douglas Robb, guitarist Dan Estrin, drummer Chris Hesse, and a revolving cast of bass players – are a surprisingly down-to-earth, trend-free band that prefers to emphasize substance over style. The band's refreshing combination of finely crafted songs with strong, catchy melodies, lyrics people can relate to, meticulous musicianship, and first-class production has generated a variety of hits, such as "Crawling in the Dark" and "Running Away" from their major label debut and "The Reason," a chart topper that was one of the biggest hits of 2004. Over the last eight years they've released four albums and sold more than five million records worldwide, proving to many music fans that good songs still matter most of all.

Hoobastank's latest album, For(n)ever, came out in January, and it has already delivered two hits with the songs "My Turn" and "So Close, So Far." A significant factor in the band's continuing success is their collaboration with the team of producer Howard Benson and mixing engineer Chris Lord-Alge, who they've worked with on every album since and including The Reason. Benson, who has also produced albums by P.O.D., My Chemical Romance, Motorhead, Daughtry, and Kelly Clarkson, was nominated for a Producer of the Year Grammy in 2007, largely for his work on Hoobastank's Every Man for Himself album.

"Howard is really good at finding the hook in a song," says Chris Hesse. "He plays keyboards but Pro Tools is really his main instrument. We'll record a bunch of songs in pre-production, and he'll take them home, put them on his computer, and start cutting and pasting arrangements around the hooks he finds. It doesn't always work, so sometimes we'll have to re-record the entire song. He doesn't do much re-writing or make suggestions such as changing a song's key, but he's great at arranging a song and complementing what makes each song special. To me that's really what a good producer should do."

Benson played a significant role in the editing and arrangement of the songs that appeared on For(n)ever, keeping every song under the four-minute mark. With a total of 11 songs on the album, For(n)ever clocks in at about 40 minutes, a length comparable to albums released during the glory days of vinyl.

"People's attention spans these days are short," says Hesse. "The days of seven minute songs, lengthy solos, and extended interludes are gone. People just want the hook right away, cut and dry. There's something to be said for that as it is an entirely different craft. Why should we add a couple of songs that aren't as strong as the rest of the album just to fill up space? We wanted to put our absolute best foot forward and leave our fans wanting more."

"Our goal was to make a great record first and foremost," he continues. "The album was short and to the point because we wanted people to enjoy every minute of it. I've seen one complaint about the record being too short. Someone wrote us on our website and said, ‘I waited two years for just 39 minutes of music?' I never noticed it was short. To me it was 39 minutes of great songs."

As far as what exactly Chris Lord-Alge does during the mixing process, Hesse isn't certain but he's always pleased with the results. "I think he has some sort of magic secret," says Hesse. "I don't know how he does it or what he does, but he always makes our records sound really good. Everything we record sounds pretty decent before it goes to the mixing stage, but when Chris gets a hold of it he brings everything to life. We also worked with him and his brother Tom on Every Man for Himself. Tom's style is a little different but it's every bit as good as Chris's. They're both a lot of fun to hang out with, which also makes them great to work with."

Even though Hoobastank has a very talented recording, production, and mixing team behind them, they pull more than an ample share of the weight, especially in the songwriting and pre-production process. The band members constantly write new songs and record demos in between albums. "We took a little bit of a break after we finished recording For(n)ever, but we're constantly writing songs," says Hesse. "Sometimes it takes a little while for us to come up with ideas in between albums, but lately the ideas have been coming pretty quickly."

To help with the demo recording process and make sure that they're always ready to capture their ideas at their best, Hoobastank recently updated the band's home studio with new monitors, compressors, multieffect processors, and microphones. Some of their new additions include DBX 160 and 166 compressors, a pair of JBL LSR2328P 8-inch studio monitors with a matching LSR2310SP subwoofer, a variety of AKG microphones such as the C214 large diaphragm condenser, Perception 170 small diaphragm condenser, and D112 kick drum models, and a Lexicon PCM96 stereo effects/reverb processor.

"We've got our hands full for the next few months getting everything set up and trying to figure out how to make everything work together," says Hesse. "The PCM96 is my favorite new toy. I haven't had much of a chance to fool around with it, but I've already found some incredible reverb patches that I want to use. Nothing else sounds like a Lexicon reverb. I'm also very impressed with the JBL subwoofer, and I can't wait to hear what our new recordings sound like being pumped out through that."

Hesse is currently using a Pro Tools Digi 003 system as the heart of the recording studio. "I don't need an HD system," he says. "I don't normally record more than eight tracks at once. The 003 sounds pretty incredible. It has gotten to the point where our demos sound really good. As technology grows and we get better equipment, our demos have gotten much better. I can hear a huge difference between our demos and our finished studio recordings when I A/B them, but I've heard finished albums from other artists that don't sound as good as our demos. With the technology being as good as it is, you really don't need to record albums in a traditional commercial studio any more. All you need is nice room for recording drums, some good mics and preamps, and an ear. The ear is the most important thing, really, and good instruments make a big difference as well. Crappy drums are always going to sound like crap, so you always need to start with the best sounding instruments you can find."

As you might expect from the previous statement, Hesse prefers to record the natural sound and dynamics of his live drum performances rather than recording a sub-par sound and using drum replacement software to insert drum samples. However, he admits to using a little bit of drum replacement to create his signature snare drum sound.

"One time when I was laying down some drum tracks in the studio I noticed that every other snare hit sounded really bright and had a lot of crack," he explains. "It sounded really awesome. I listened to it closely and realized that the snare was mixing with the click track. It sounded so good that I started adding the click to a lot of my snare recordings. I just paste the click right on top. It brings a lot of snap to the snare that it doesn't have on its own. It was one of those random discoveries that totally works. That's the only drum replacement I've ever done."

The band's demo recording studio also doubles as a rehearsal space, which makes it easy for the band to record new ideas as soon as they develop. Some of the band's new rehearsal equipment includes a variety of JBL EON515 speakers, JBL MRX512M monitors, Crown XTi4000 power amps with built-in DSP, and DBX DriveRack PX and PA live sound processors. The DBX DriveRack PA provides auto EQ, feedback elimination, graphic EQ, and various crossover configurations to help users get optimal performance out of their sound systems, and the DriveRack PX provides similar functions and sound optimization for powered speaker setups.

This summer Hoobastank will be playing a variety of radio station festivals and heading to Asia after joining Staind on a tour that is visiting casino venues almost exclusively. While the band is thrilled to perform new songs from For(n)ever in front of live audiences, they also can't wait to get back from tour and start work on songs for their next effort. "For(n)ever is my favorite album that we've written," says Hesse. "When I listen to it all the way through, I'm impressed with what we've achieved. I think we did all right. But our songwriting capabilities are getting stronger all the time, and I just know that our next album is going to top it. I can't wait to hear what we come up with."

 
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