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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 probably 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-toearth, 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." "For(n)ever is my favorite album that we've made," says Hesse. "Our goal was to make a great record. We wanted people to enjoy every minute of it. When I listen to it all the way through I'm impressed with what we've achieved."
Although Hoobastank has been in the public limelight since releasing its major label debut in late 2001, the band has been around since 1994. Hesse met Estrin and Robb after answering a classified ad in the Recycler shortly after he moved from Northern California to the Los Angeles area. "I had a few awful auditions before I answered Dan and Doug's ad," says Hesse. "I'd answer these ads where the bands made all these great claims, but when I played with them they sucked. I remember calling my parents and almost being to the point of tears. I told them that L.A. was the worst place I had ever been. Before that I had played in some decent bands in Arcata, which is where I grew up. When I jammed with Dan and Doug I thought it was kind of cool. I wasn't blown away, but it was the first time that I felt right playing with other musicians here. After a few morerehearsals I knew the band was just what I wanted, and we became Hoobastank."
Chris had already been playing music for 15 years when he joined Hoobastank. He started taking piano lessons and studying music theory when was five, and he started playing drums in fifth grade. The summer before his freshman year in high school he got his first complete drum set and also started playing guitar.
"There was a point where I was playing guitar in three different bands and playing drums in one," he admits. "I was going to focus on being a guitar player, but when I moved to L.A. I decided to focus on drums instead. Good drummers are hard to find, but tasteful drummers are really, really hard to find, so I had a bit of an advantage. There are a lot of good drummers who can play up a storm, but there aren't as many that really know how to apply their talents. Drums have always been my main love, so it was an easy choice. I've always been a physical, outdoorsy type of person, and there's a physical aspect to playing drums that really appeals to me."
Hesse's favorite drummer when he was growing up was Neil Peart of Rush. "I learned to play drums listening to him," he says. "My aunt gave me a box of cassettes that had Fly By Night and 2112 in it. Hearing all of that technical drum playing was heaven. I would put on headphones and play along with those Rush tapes. Later I moved on to other drummers. Dave Grohl became a big influence mainly just for his energy and aggression. Danny Carey from Tool was a big influence as well. Josh Freese is probably my latest influence. He has a very distinct sound. The first time I saw him play live was at one of A Perfect Circle's very first gigs before Mer de Noms came out. I was blown away by his physical presence on stage and the way he uses his entire body to play. Then I saw him with the Vandals in Amsterdam and I was blown away by how smooth and fluid his playing style is."
After Hesse graduated from high school, he landed a job in the drum department of a local music store. While working there he developed a preference for Yamaha drums. "The store carried most of the major drum brands, but I always went for Yamaha drums," says Hesse. "Vinnie Colaiuta was playing Yamaha drums back then, and I was a big fan of his playing. I always thought his drums sounded awesome. It was also easier to make Yamaha drums sound good. Even their low-price budget kits sound great. When we got a record deal I went to Yamaha and told them that I wanted to play their drums. Eventually we sold a bunch of records and I've developed a really great relationship with them."
Hesse's current main drum kit is a Yamaha Maple Custom with a 22x16" kick, 12x10" rack tom, and 14x14 and 16x16" floor toms. He uses a variety of different snare drums, but his current favorite is the Yamaha John "JR" Robinson BSD-1465NJR signature snare, which has copper nails embedded inside the batter side bearing edge of its birch shell. He also likes the Yamaha Paul Leim signature snare, which features a chrome-plated solid brass shell, and the Mike Bordin signature snare, which has an extra thick copper shell with a hand-hammered bottom half.
"For live performance I play a 6.5" copper snare," says Hesse. "It's the first snare drum that I ever got from Yamaha. I asked for a hammered snare but they didn't have one so they just sent me a regular copper snare. It's been in my touring kit since I got it eight years ago. Since then I've gotten a few other snares like a brass one that's pretty nice that I use as my backup, but that copper snare has held up really well and still sounds great."
John Larabee, a Harman Pro rep for brands including AKG, dbx, Lexicon, Crown, and JBL came by Chris' home, which doubles as the bands rehearsal space, to help them get the most out of their setup and home recording studio. "As technology grows and we get better equipment, our demos have gotten much better," says Hesse. "Today's technology is so good that you really don't need to record albums in a traditional commercial studio any more. All you need is a nice room for recording drums, some good mics and preamps, and an ear. The ear is the most important thing, really. Good instruments make a big difference as well. Crappy drums are always going to sound like crap."
Hesse would rather get his sound right from the beginning and concentrate on his performance rather than using drum replacement software to make up for an inferior sounding drum recording. However, he has used drum replacement in one instance to augment his natural 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. 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."
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. Although he is thrilled to perform new songs for For(n)ever in front of live audiences, Hesse can't wait to get back from tour and start work on songs for the band's next effort. "Our songwriting capabilities are getting stronger all the time," he says. "I just know that our next album is going to top it. I can't wait to hear what we come up with."