The bandleader and freelancer to the stars drops his new album in four stages.
As usual, Ilan Rubin plays every instrument on the latest release by his longtime New Regime project. Heart is the first of four EPs that will make up the Heart Mind Body & Soul full-length, due out later this year. Tracked at the Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, Texas, the new music is at turns anthemic, synth-pop ambient, and power-chord crunching. And like previous New Regime releases, it comes across not as a mere vanity project, but as a fully formed expression of Rubin’s aesthetic.
When he takes the New Regime on the road, Rubin exchanges his drummer’s hat for that of singing and guitar-slinging front man. Meanwhile, Nine Inch Nails and, most recently, Angels & Airwaves enlist his drumming skills as touring demands.
MD: How did you track drums on Heart Mind Body & Soul?
Ilan: I brought in demos and muted the drums and recorded over that. Usually I track to a click and then pile everything above it. But you get a different feel when you’re playing to music as opposed to the metronome.
I’m still battling with how important the click is. It’s essential in terms of editing, but something is lost when everything is on the grid. A lot of emotion and energy can be conveyed by slowly speeding up as music gets louder or slowing down when the music turns mellow. When you record to a grid, all that’s gone. You can play a bit behind the beat or ahead of the beat, but so much of my favorite music has very noticeable time changes. And it adds to the excitement. What’s funny is that people emulate meticulous tempo mapping, rather than just playing and letting it happen naturally.
It also affects live playing, because so many people play to tracks. There’s nothing wrong with that, but then you’re a slave to tempo. Don’t get me wrong; playing with Nine Inch Nails, everything is on a click, and that band performs with more energy than anybody. But I grew up listening to a lot of live music, particularly by the Police. You can feel the energy when somebody just counts off a song based on where their adrenaline is in the moment. That’s been lost, unfortunately.
MD: How does this all manifest in the New Regime?
Ilan: I’m somewhere in the middle. I’ve had the band as a three-piece for the last few years because that gives me more freedom to improvise on guitar or extend sections. I’m not interested in recreating what’s on the album, but I do want to make sure that the vibe comes across as it’s intended. I usually [increase the tempo] to what feels best in the live element, so it’s not so rigid. There are key elements in the show where I’m able to spread my wings a little bit as a guitar player and as a band.
MD: How did it feel to track drums in a large professional studio as opposed to a home studio?
Ilan: The Sonic Ranch studio complex has a few studios, but one studio has three distinct rooms: one is wood, there’s a stone room that’s very lively, and there’s a carpeted room that’s dead-sounding. There were two or three songs where I wanted a very dead, dry drum sound, in which case we set up in the carpeted room with very minimal miking. I was able to play very softly and let the gear do the work. Overall, I had the luxury of being able to pick and choose where I wanted to record and what gear to use. It was just a great experience.
MD: Did you use programming on some tracks?
Ilan: Yeah, using Pro Tools, Battery, and the Nord Drum 3P. That may be disappointing to drummers, but sometimes it’s liberating to go for a more electronic vibe and not have to think about the drums, to have a hybrid sound. So there’s drums on some tracks that have electronic drums in the verses and a real kit or a hybrid of the two elsewhere in the song. It’s whatever the song demands.
MD: What advice can you give to drummers who want to take the leap to being a front man?
Ilan: They must really want to do it and take it seriously. It’s one thing to say, “Hey, I want to sing and write my own songs,” but fronting a band performing live is a completely different thing. And it depends on what kind of show you want to put on. I want to present an energetic show and put forth that energy as a front man.
It also depends on what kind of music you’re playing. You must put in the time and develop whatever it is that you want to do. Obsessing over other instruments above and beyond the drums is why I got into guitar, bass, piano, and all these things, and the final piece of the puzzle to be able to do everything myself was singing. Then I became addicted to writing music. A lot of growth and evolution had to take place. I feel like I’ve fairly recently come into my own as a front man.
Ilan Rubin plays Q Drum Company drums, Zildjian cymbals, and Vater sticks.
More New Releases
When We Stay Alive
(Drew Christopherson and
The Hot Rats Sessions
(Jon Guerin, Paul Humphrey,
Origin of Muse