“I have way more creative input in this band…There is more colour, I think” – Rob Caggiano (on Volbeat, compared with Anthrax)
Volbeat are currently on a monster rock package ripping the roofs off UK arenas with Alter Bridge, Gojira, and Like a Storm. Ahead of their Manchester show and just after the band’s soundcheck, I caught up with guitarist Rob Caggiano to discuss a range of topics from artistic freedom to collecting vinyl.
Rob, good afternoon. You seem to be always on the road. You did your own European tour and then jumped straight onto the Alter Bridge tour.
Our own headlining arena tour was great, we did all of Germany, all of Scandinavia, Belgium, Austria. Every show was phenomenal.
On a hectic touring schedule like that, do you have the opportunity to socialise/mix with the other bands? Or, is there just simply not the time for that?
Oh no, we had Airborne and Crobot out with us, and we are friends with both of those bands. It was cool, and we hung out as much as possible. I always like to go out and find the local pubs.
I first saw Volbeat on Metallica’s “Death Magnetic Tour” two nights running in Belfast. Has the subsequent stratospheric success of Volbeat come as a surprise to the band, or is it just a natural product of hard work?
Yeah, I think that in Volbeat the work ethic is a pretty intense attitude. We love to work so we are always out touring and we love to play for the fans. I came on board just as this thing was rising, for me it feels amazing. It’s a great feeling.
What does it offer differently artistically and creatively that playing in Anthrax did not?
Absolutely I have way more creative input in this band. I also think that there is way more guitar playing. There are obviously the solos which is kind of my thing. There is also a lot of acoustic stuff, overdubs – there is more colour, I think.
So, it allows you to express yourself more freely?
Are you still also involved in production with other artists?
Yes, I just recently worked with this guy called Jim Breuer, a few months back. He is a big comedian in America. We made a rock record and it came out awesome. I pretty much wrote all the music and played all the guitars. It came out on Metal Blade records. I think a couple of weeks before or after our record, I can’t remember. That is the most recent thing other than Volbeat that I have worked on. We have some time off, so I will be doing something. I am not sure exactly what.
Do you like to mix it up with different musical genres and styles?
So, you like to keep abreast of changing styles and what is current? Any artists that you can personally recommend?
To listen to? Oh wow, I listen to everything. Right now, I am really digging the new Bon Iver record. It’s extremely unique I think, production-wise. I think that the songs and the musical landscape that guy creates is phenomenal. That guy really knows how to create a mood.
You still seem passionate about music. Do you ever step away from it and have outside interests and hobbies? Or, do you still check out bands on your time off?
I am always down to see a good band. However, when I am home and not touring I tend to gravitate more towards less loud and heavy stuff. (laughs)
Any names, that you may want to divulge?
Well, recently we were on tour. This was a few weeks ago, and we were in Germany, and we had a day off. The Cure were playing the same venue as us but the night before, and it was the same promoter. We ended up – Kaspar and I are huge Cure fans – I have never seen them live. I was really excited to see that, it was amazing totally blew me away. Honestly, they played a really fucking weird set list but I loved it. It was definitely strange, it was definitely not a greatest hits set list that night.
Can you recall your very first introduction to music?
I grew up in a house where music is a very important thing. My dad was obsessed with music and he named me after the singer Bobby Darin, so as soon as I came out there was fucking music playing all the time (laughs). I had a little guitar when I was like five years old that I was banging around on. I grew up listening to a lot of like, Dion and the Belmonts – a lot of the New York doo-wop stuff. Street corner stuff, and then obviously, stuff like Bobby Darin and Elvis Presley. There were all these different things that I was exposed to early on. When I was about nine years old I got AC/DC Back in Black on vinyl and that was it. My first gig was when I was fourteen and it was in the Bronx in New York, Arthur Avenue Italian Feast. (laughs) The name of my band at the time was called Wildheart. It was me and my friends, and we were doing originals. Maybe one or two covers in the set. That was our first show, we were too young to really book real gigs. A lot of the bars and clubs wouldn’t book us because we were too young…Yeah, that was our first one.
Did you develop your musical interest further in school?
I was never really a school guy to be honest. It was never really my thing. I was always interested in stuff outside of school. Not that it is a good thing but I never really applied myself academically. I ended up going to music college – Berkley College of Music – after high school thinking that that would be great. It still wasn’t my thing, school is just not my thing. At that point in my life, obviously, I was way younger I could already play guitar. I could hold my own. For me there was something very “un-rock ‘n roll” to be sitting in a classroom talking about music you know? Producing music and making music is what I have always known, what I have always done.
Who would have been the most inspirational musician that you have played with or worked with?
There are two, I have worked with Bruce Springsteen, and that was unbelievable. Very recently on the Jim Breuer album that I was just talking about. It is funny how things come full circle, but the first record that I ever got was that AC/DC album. On the Jim Breuer record, Brian Johnson sings a song. I got a chance to produce him and work with him. That was fucking amazing for me as in my opinion that Back in Black album was the best vocal performance of any rock record ever.
What’s your view on the current AC/DC situation? Has the legacy been tarnished?
Yeah, I mean, the song that I did with Brian that was a couple of months before his falling out with AC/DC, which was really weird. He sang his ass off with me and he sounded fucking great. I don’t know what the deal is. I don’t know what happened. For me, it is not the AC/DC that I loved and grew up with. Without Phil Rudd, it’s not AC/DC, without Malcolm Young it is really not AC/DC. It’s just Angus Young, it’s just weird.
Does fame come at a price? Does it bother you when you are recognised in the street?
Not at all, I love meeting fans. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have a gig. (laughs)
Obviously, you have also got the production work in addition to playing. Is it difficult in 2016 to sustain a living solely from music?
No, I say that but I also realise that I am very blessed and I have been lucky. At the same time, I think that if you play your cards right and you set things up the right way in your career then you can make it work. It’s different now than it used to be, if you are a new band then you must be willing to bust your ass and do it organically. There is no quick magic bullet, or quick formula. To do it the right way, you need to bust your fucking ass and go in a van tour your asses off and build a following. You have to be smart about it. A lot of bands they work kind of hard and have some tunes. They end up getting a record deal and think, “oh, we have made it.” Then they just kind of wait for success to come. The thing is, when you get a record deal as a young band that is when you have really got to fucking work. You have to work ten times harder at that point. You also have to be as self-sufficient as possible. Let’s face it, records don’t sell the way that they used to sell. So, for record labels, the budgets are not anywhere near what they used to be. You must be as self-sufficient as possible. You have to be able to go out on the road and rough it. Eventually, if you are good, and you have the material, it will turn around.
What are your thoughts on schemes like Pledge and crowdfunding, where bands are actually asking their fans to put up the cash up front?
I think that it depends on what it is, there is something that smells a little rotten about that as far as a band is concerned. If you have a new product that you are trying to develop then it’s a whole different thing. Then you are just trying to jump start it with some cash. I think that is cool and it’s a brilliant idea. For a rock band, it seems a little weird. You should be out there busting your ass, and doing it at the grass roots and organically.
What’s your take on bands charging extortionate amounts for the show VIP packages?
Well, one of the coolest things that I think about Volbeat and the way that we do our stuff is that we do a meet and greet every single night, and we don’t charge anyone ever. It’s free. We basically do it through our fan club and we pick random people to be a part of it. Obviously, I am not going to knock the bands that do charge for those. It is a business – it’s the music business. We really love our fans and I don’t think that Volbeat will ever charge for meet and greets. Twenty years from now, you may want to back check that… (laughs) Who knows?
Viewing your back catalogue right back to Boiler Room days, any releases that in hindsight you regret?
I am not embarrassed about anything really, I have been lucky enough to work on a lot of cool stuff. I think that I learned and I grew from every experience. I love working with different artists and different musicians. Collaborating stuff, I always take something out from that.
You have mentioned how you love meeting your fans. Any personal fan stories of how your music has impacted on someone’s life?
We kind of hear that stuff all the time. It’s hard to pick one specific scenario. Obviously, it’s a really good feeling and it’s kind of surreal. To think that something that we are creating and that we love so much and we are so passionate about has touched other people in that way. It’s a great feeling.
What’s next for Volbeat? Will you be returning to do some headlining dates in the UK at some point?
I think so, absolutely yeah. We love the UK. For me, it is one of my favourite places in the world. Ever since I was a kid, pretty much most of my favourite music has been from the UK. It is still true to this day. There are so many great bands, obviously Maiden, Priest, Sabbath, Zeppelin, Cream, The Who. I mean, all that music really shaped me as a musician.
You still seem very enthused and very passionate about music. Do you buy vinyl? Do you collect vinyl?
I would buy vinyl, but I don’t have a vinyl player. I do buy CDs, although I have been doing a lot of…I hate to say it but… At the same time, I don’t hate to say it because it’s kind of the way that things are moving anyway, but I have been streaming a lot recently. I do TIDAL which is Jay Z’s thing – it is high definition streaming. It sounds better, costs a little bit more, but I don’t care. I don’t mind paying for it. The cool thing about it is that it has turned me on to so many bands and artists that I would never would have come across. A lot of times, if I listen to something and I really dig it, I will go out and buy the CD. Just to have the artwork and the lyrics. Yeah, I am a music junkie – everyone in Volbeat is a music junkie. One of our favourite things to do on our days off is to go to record stores.
Rob, that’s great. Thanks for chatting. I am really looking forward to the show.
Thanks very much.