Thinking Out Loud: Rob Caggiano
Volbeat guitarist Rob Caggiano on joining Anthrax, producing metal albums and how much of his brain is taken up by music
Born in The Bronx in 1976, Rob Caggiano is the guitarist for Volbeat and a record producer.
In the last two decades, he’s been in the Roadrunner-signed nu metallers Boiler Room, played guitar for Anthrax, co-produced two of their studio albums (We’ve Come for You All and Worship Music) and produced albums for Cradle Of Filth, 36 Crazyfists, Chthonic, Volbeat and more.
TeamRock sat down with Rob to find out about his formative years, how he joined Anthrax and what percentage of his brain is taken up by music. The number is higher than you'd imagine.
“One of my earliest memories as a kid is being in kindergarten the day John Lennon got shot. I remember my mom being completely devastated."
“I was definitely a troubled kid. I hated school growing up. I hated the whole structure of it and I hated all the rules. I got thrown out of every Catholic school in our neighbourhood. I went through all the Saints; Saint Paul, Saint Marc, Saint Luke, and Saint John. I was on tour in a different way back then, and I guess I had a lot of pent up stuff that I needed to get out. But I was always really into music and I took that very seriously.”
“When I heard AC/DC’s Back in Black and Van Halen that sealed the deal for me. I wanted it to be my life. But I found it very hard to find people in New York with the same passion and drive as me. A lot of musicians will probably say the same thing about their hometown, wherever that may be. It’s just one of those things, you know what I mean? The best thing I did, a little later on, was going to college in Boston. I went to the Berklee College of Music.”
“I play by ear and I play with my heart. That’s how I do it. I consider myself to be self-taught and I went to college, really, just to meet other players. I couldn’t get into the whole academic side of it and I tried going down the whole music theory road, but I just couldn’t connect with it. But the cool thing was that I met loads of other players who I wouldn’t have met if I just stayed kicking it around New York. I tell everyone, if a young musician or guitar player asks me for advice, ‘Play with as many different people as you can because that’s how you’re going to hone your skills.’ That’s exactly what happened to me. I played with so many different drummers during that period, and every drummer has their own clock and groove and swing. As a guitar player, to be able to adapt and groove with that is an invaluable skill.”
“I’ve always been intrigued by recording studios, and in awe of the process of recording music. Listening to records as a kid, I was so moved by certain things and the way that they sounded. And I’ve always been fascinated by gear. I used to work at a music store and I often wouldn’t take a paycheck, I’d just work for gear instead. With the help of my parents I built a small studio at their house and started recording my own stuff, and that turned into me recording local bands in the area. So my interest in producing music has always been there; I had a real talent and knack for that kind of thing.”
“My first serious band was Boiler Room from Brooklyn, New York. We worked really hard to build up a strong local following and I produced the demos that got us a record deal with Roadrunner Records. Everyone loved the demos. Paul Cook, who was actually the guitar player in Anthrax at the time, mixed them for us. Then the label sent us out to California to work on the album with a big name producer, and it was the total new band clichéd scenario but it was a great experience; we hung out in LA for a couple of months and made a record with John Travis, who at the time had just come off the Kid Rock record, which was an awesome record back then [Devil Without a Cause, 1998]. To cut a long story short, we ended up with a record that missed the mark in my opinion, and it’s something that we weren’t happy with by the end. In hindsight, perhaps John Travis wasn’t the right person to produce and I remember thinking to myself at the time, ‘This is never going to happen again. In future, I’m going to produce myself and I’m going to work on it until I’m happy with it,’ which is now what I do. That band went on tour and we went all around the world, and when we came home we broke up immediately. Again, it was a classic rock band cliché. I lived it.”
“I was very aggressive with the Anthrax guys, and I definitely let it be known that I wanted to be the guitar player in that band. I was friends with them and we’re all from New York and the music circle is very small, so I knew a lot of people in their world. Their booking agent Mike Monterulo was also managing Boiler Room for a while, so there was that connection too. And one day everything just kind of lined up. Charlie [Benante, Anthrax drummer] called me and asked if I wanted to get together with the band and jam. They had a rehearsal studio very close to where my parents lived so I went down there and played with them. It was weird and intimidating and crazy but it felt really good, one thing led to another, and all of a sudden I was the guitar player in the band.”
“When I joined Anthrax they were about to go into the studio to make a new record and I remember telling them, ‘Let me produce a song for you. I won’t charge you or anything, we’ll just see how it comes out.’ And I already knew it was going to come out good. So we went into the studio and recorded a song called Superhero. John Bush was singing at the time, and everyone was really stoked on how the song came out. After that we decided I was going to produce the next record [We’ve Come for You All], which I did with another producer that I was working with at the time called Eddie Wohl. We had a production company together called Scrap 60. And that was it; I had a gig with one of my favourite bands of all time and I wound up producing the record as well. Then that turned into producing a bunch of other records with all sorts of people, from 36 Crazy Fists and Cradle of Filth to Jesse Malin and obviously Volbeat.”
“As a record producer, I’m always looking at the big picture. I’m never just thinking about the guitar parts. I also consider myself a musician as opposed to just a guitar player; I play bass and drums and piano, too. And whatever I need to do to get my ideas out and the job done, I’m going to do it. I’m always conscious of what the other instruments are doing because that’s what makes the end result so powerful and potent. Having done a lot of records now, and with all the experience that I have, I feel like that skill of putting the big puzzle together just keeps getting more and more focused and sharp. And I love it. I love working with different artists and pushing people to get the best performances out of them. I’m definitely a perfectionist, and I’m very critical of my own playing as well. But you have to think about everything from a listener’s perspective and try to remove yourself from it, because rock ‘n’ roll was not designed to be perfect. Some of my favourite records have mistakes all over them, and that’s what makes them so brilliant.”
“My brain is 95% music. I’m always thinking about music, and there’s always something going on in my head whether it’s to do with songwriting or my career. Everything is connected with this lifestyle and a lot of people aren’t cut out for it. You have to be a certain type of person and I’m without a doubt that type. I can’t even imagine what else I would do if I weren’t a musician or a producer. This is who I am. It’s definitely hard sometimes, particularly on relationships. That’s why I’m single; I’m always travelling and I’m never in one place for a long time. It’s a very nomadic lifestyle. But I’m used to it and I love it, and it really suits me. I sleep better on a tour bus than I do when I’m at home, and when I’m home for an extended period of time I go crazy. If I have an extended period where I’m not touring then I book a recording project or something, or go into the studio and write something for myself. That’s just how I am. Music is my whole life.”
Volbeat's album Seal The Deal & Let's Boogie is out now on Spinefarm.