Tobin Esperance: An Interview with the Papa Roach bassist and rock music veteran
American alternative rock band Papa Roach has been going strong for almost a quarter of a century. The group first formed in 1993, and are currently made up of Jacoby Shaddix as the lead vocalist, guitarist Jerry Horton, Tobin Esperance on bass guitar, and drummer Tony Palermo. They released nine studio albums in 24 years, including the recently released Crooked Teeth, which reached the number one spot on Billboard’s Top Hard Rock Albums Chart over the summer.
We sat down with Papa Roach bassist Tobin Esperance before their concert at Brixton Academy last Tuesday, and chatted about their newest record, the artistic path of rock music and the tragic passing of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington.
Thank you for taking the time to have a chat with me before the show, and welcome back to Brixton. How do you like London? Do you enjoy playing here?
I do, it’s one of our favourite places to play. We’ve had our best shows here. Yeah, our fans are just so loyal here.
I can see that from the lines wrapped around the block. Do you have any favourite places you like to visit or hang out in while you’re here?
Last night I went to Ronnie Scott’s and watched some jazz, had some yummy food with friends, had some curry, lots of beer, lots of wine – just spending a good time with friends and walking around the streets, you know? Oh! Actually, my dad is here visiting and so we went down to the Tower of London. We also took a nice little tour inside of Abbey Road Studios where they were kind enough to play us some unreleased, surround sound, re-mastered mixes of [the Beatles album] Sgt Pepper’s and stuff like that.
Wow, that’s amazing! Being in Abbey Road Studios, it’s kind of like the source of everything musical.
Yeah, we had a great time!
Congratulations on reaching number one on Billboard’s Top Hard Rock Albums this summer, that must have been wonderful. Did you expect that Crooked Teeth would be such a massive success?
Thank you! No, we don’t ever really expect anything, we just hope people can connect with the music. That’s how it’s always been for us. You know, I think that’s more or less something where the labels or management will challenge us and say, “Oh, I want to hear a song that’s going to reach the masses”, you know, “a hit single” or whatever it is that they say. So we say, “OK, we’ll go make another song”, and just keep doing it until everyone feels we have a great record. Then we put out all the songs that we came up with. We will get a couple of B-sides, and that’s pretty much it. We write what we write – we only finished, I think, 13 songs for this record, and we put them all out.
For this album you guys released tracks bit by bit rather than all at once.
Yeah, apparently that’s the new way they do it! I’m still wrapping my head around it. Every couple of years it’s a new model, it’s like, streaming – Spotify is the new thing. So you’re just going to have to stay on top of the business side of things as much as you do the music side.
Definitely, especially with all of the new technology constantly being upgraded. So what are you guys working on these days?
Right now it’s just all about touring – getting through this European tour and just getting on stage, rocking the shows, trying to dial in the new songs, trying to add life to the old songs, and trying to make a live show that is more dynamic.
Papa Roach have been performing for almost 25 years – you guys are essentially rock veterans now. How do you feel about the way rock music has evolved? The artistic path it has taken?
I think it’s kind of boring right now, to be honest. I mean, no one has really come along and taken any chances or done anything that’s like, dangerously exciting. I feel like, especially in America, rock radio to me is really stale and it all ends up sounding the same, you know? Sometimes it just takes one band to come along and really just kick down the door and be actual. You know what I mean? You don’t have to be a rock star, but you kind of have to have that thing that just has not happened in a really long time. Kind of like when Nirvana came along and everyone was just like “What?”. I mean there are some great artists out there but I think that sometimes the stuff that radio chooses to play over and over again, it’s just, meh, whatever. I don’t really listen to the radio so I don’t really know, I just know that it’s hard to choose bands that you are really excited about.
So you wouldn’t say you have a favourite new band out there?
Not like super new, no. I mean, the last band that I was really excited about, that I thought did a really good job at gaining success that I did not expect, was Beartooth. I was actually really impressed to see [them] actually kind of turn it around from what they were and cross over into this new version of themselves that are doing really well, so, it’s great for those guys.
So you prize uniqueness and originality, basically.
Yeah, yeah, you have got to be authentic. I think that is missing – there has got to be a chemistry that is undeniable about a band, and you have got be attracted to something in that band that you just don’t know what it is. I grew up in an era where I feel like there were just so many charismatic people and front men, or a band that were so foreign-sounding that you were just intrigued. Now you just kind of hear the same thing over and over again.
On the subject of bands of the past, there is a topic that is on everyone’s mind in the rock music world: the recent tragic deaths of some really legendary musicians, specifically Chester Bennington, who I believe you knew personally. How did these tragedies affect you as an artist?
Well, I think as an artist you realise that, first of all, it doesn’t matter how successful you are or where you come from, how much money you have, or how much you are adored by people. If you are struggling with something that is inside of you and you hold it in and nobody knows, it can lead to the darkest shit happening. Especially for someone like Chester, he was such a light to be around.
I finally caught up with him, like, literally a month before [his death], and I hadn’t talked to him in years, so we went out to dinner in New York and he was just smiling and laughing, same old Chester. I would never know those things [about him] but I take it upon myself now to ask how other people are doing. Even if I’m thinking…if I’m feeling depressed about something like that, I feel like I have to just get it out, you know? I have to talk, I have to be willing to say hey, I shouldn’t be afraid to say I’m struggling or I have an issue or something because I feel like everybody’s got them. It really helps to reach out and get help instead of feeling like you are trying to hold it inside because it will eat you up. I would not ever want anyone to think that taking your own life is the answer.
Do you feel that his death has affected the industry itself? Do you think anything is going to change?
Well, no, I think it’s just going to create awareness for the people that are struggling, whether it is mental illness or depression. I think it’s a wake-up call; like, do not ignore the warning signs and do not be afraid to ask for help or talk about it.
Since rock is such a powerful, emotional genre of music, do you feel like musicians have any sort of responsibility to their fans to put themselves out there and promote awareness?
Absolutely, yeah. Everyone does it in their own way. That’s kind of like the message that Papa Roach is known for, and that’s what people relate to. You know, we are here for you because we know, we struggle with the same shit, we have all been through our own struggles. It is just being able to talk about it, being able to make music about it and connect with it, I mean, it has really helped.
We hear the stories all the time from our fans, and it just gives more of a meaning to what we do. We embrace it when people come up to us and tell us what they are struggling about or what they have overcome. We are here for them, and it is kind of our duty now. You know, ever since Last Resort came out, our first song, we didn’t realise the impact it had, and then you almost feel like you do have a sense of responsibility once you see the impact. I mean, some people can ignore it if they choose to be, like, “Well I’m not here to fix everyone’s problems or change the world”. Yeah, of course, it is probably not going to change the world, but if you are heavily affecting someone’s life in a positive way, it’s about humanity.
Definitely, and it is clear that you care a lot about your fans. So bringing it back to the music and the fans, what is your favourite part about performing to a global audience? Do you enjoy seeing how different your audiences are abroad?
Yeah, when I get on stage… I just like the idea that people have their nine to five jobs or their thing that they do all day, and then there is this, “Man, I want go out tonight and just let loose”, you know? It is like the last tribal experience where people just get together and kind of lay out all their naked emotions onto the table for everyone to admire, or laugh at, or whatever it is. They just dance around in a circle, [they can] just be like “Wooooo!”. That’s what is so cool – that people still want to come out to a live show and let loose, and we are like the soundtrack to that.
Do you have anything you’d like to say to your UK audience and readers of The Upcoming?
Just thanks for the support, thank you for always being badass and one of the best shows ever for Papa Roach. We hope to come back and do a show at Wembley, which we had to cancel last time, and do it our way and just have a good time. We hope to keep putting on fun shows for everybody and make some music. Actually we want to come back and write some new songs here in London because were really inspired by this city. I was thinking about that when I was at Abbey Road Studios today. I was like, “Man I need to come here and write a song and record it here”.
Lovely! London would love to have you guys. Thank you for your time and good luck with the show!
For further information and future events visit the Papa Roach website here.
Watch the video for Crooked Teeth here: