Rob Caggiano: 'Back Then I Just Put a Lot of Hours Into Playing the Guitar and Getting My Fingers Working'

artist: Rob Caggiano date: 07/22/2014 category: interviews
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Rob Caggiano: 'Back Then I Just Put a Lot of Hours Into Playing the Guitar and Getting My Fingers Working'
When guitarist Rob Caggiano walked away from Anthrax in January 2013, he was leaving a band at the top of its game. "Worship Music" had been released about a year-and-a-half earlier and landed at number 12 on Billboard's 200 chart. The group had also been involved in the spectacular Big Four concerts as well as performing at major festivals all over Europe. In 2012, they headlined the Jagermeister stage at the Mayhem 2012 fest along with Slayer and Slipknot. So it couldn't have been an easy decision for Caggiano who had been a part of the group off and on for over 10 years. But he wasn't feeling fulfilled creatively and when he decided to leave, he really had no plans of what he was going to do other than concentrate on his producing career. He received a call from Volbeat guitarist and vocalist Michael Poulsen about possibly producing their upcoming album. He flew to Denmark, spent some time with the group and ultimately ended up joining. Here, Caggiano talks about how that all went down.

UG: What are your earliest memories of the guitar?

RC: I was really young in Yonkers, New York and my mom took me to a flea market at the Yonkers Raceway. It was like an outdoor flea market and there was a vendor that sold a bunch of vinyl stuff and metal t-shirts and posters.

What album did you get?

I remember getting AC/DC's "Back in Black." And a week later we went back and I got "Van Halen I." Those two guys even to this day are my two biggest influences on the guitar. Yeah, Angus Young and Eddie Van Halen. Both of those when they play in my opinion, they're definitely channeling something. With Angus Young's guitar playing, I feel like the devil is sitting next to me, hah hah hah. There's something so evil about it. You know?

Did you start jamming with buddies and getting into high school bands?

Back then it was more about I kinda just fell in love with the guitar. When you're really young like that, you can really get wrapped in it. So I just put a lot of hours into playing the guitar and practicing and getting my fingers working. Of course that developed into jamming with kids in the neighborhood and eventually performing live and doing all that stuff.

Did you want to be Eddie Van Halen?

Totally, hah hah hah. Who didn't?

You were working on your chops and getting your soloing together?

Yeah. But the crazy thing about me is I never really spent any time learning other people's guitar parts and guitar playing. Like I said, Angus Young and Eddie Van Halen are my two favorite guitar players and my greatest inspirations but I don't really know their music. If someone said, "Play 'Runnin' With the Devil,'" of course I could play it, I just don't know it. I never put time into it like that.

You weren't interested in learning the guitar riffs from your favorite bands?

I think that was a conscious effort because I didn't ever want to sound like a copycat. You know what I mean? It was like the spirit of what they do is what I vibe on and that's what really gets me excited.

In 1996, you recorded an album called "Can't Breathe" with Boiler Room. Was that your first serious musical project?

Yeah, absolutely. Back then I joined up with those guys and they already had somewhat of a local following in New York. I came onboard and we busted our asses. We worked really hard and we built the following up in New York and that led to a big record deal. We made a record, toured the world and then broke up immediately, hah hah hah.

What happened?

It's the cliche rock and roll story - it just didn't work out. Musically I think we all wanted different things and I think there were some personality clashes between us. The thing is when you're a young band - and a lot of people don't realize this - and you're really trying to make it, it's all fine and good and everyone is best buddies and you've got that brotherhood going on. But as soon as you're sweatin' it out in a van and living on top of each other, that's when shit gets real. It's a hard thing.

There were some cool songs on the "Can't Breathe" album: the title song, "4x4" and "Do It Again."

You know I haven't actually listened to that record in probably over a decade.

That's not surprising.

You're rapping off these song titles and I'm like, "Wow."

But being in the studio for the first time was a cool experience?

Yeah, well that's an interesting thing with that record. At the time, I was always infatuated with the recording studio and the gear and all that stuff. Back in the day, I used to work at a music store in Yonkers that was actually called the Muzic Store and was spelled with a z. A lot of times I would take home gear. Instead of getting a paycheck, I would basically work for some recording gear. I built up a little studio in my parents' place. I did the demos that got Boiler Room.

That's amazing.

So long story short, we ended up making a record and hired a producer. It was just the way that band was set up, it was such a democracy that I think the way the record came out there's no clear, distinct vision. It's almost like too many cooks in the kitchen. We made a record that none of us were 100 percent happy with. So from that point I said, "You know what? This ain't gonna happen again. I'm gonna be producing the stuff myself. I know how to do it." At the time, I felt the demos actually - some of them - had a better spirit than the record. That's only because of the way it went down and our internal arrangement.

How did you learn how to engineer?

I never really did; I never really learned it. I just jumped in and started doing it, hah hah hah. I always felt like I had a knack for it. Right after the Boiler Room thing fell apart, my producing thing kind of took off and we were crazy busy for a number of years. Yeah, it's just the kind of thing where the more you do it the better you get at it and the more people you work with. Every time you work with someone - for me at least - I always learn from every situation, every session or whatever it is. That's how you develop as a musician.

When your producing career took off, did you ever think about pursuing that fulltime and not being a guitar player in a band?

Yeah. For a while there, I was juggling the two things because they really are two separate careers even though it's all music. It got to the point where I was burning myself out. Shortly after the Boiler Room stuff, I joined Anthrax. One of the first things we did was I recorded a song for them called "Superhero."

Why did you do that?

Basically I told them, "Look, give me a shot." They were about to make a record and I said, "Give me a shot. We'll do one song on spec [no money]." At the time I had a partner whose name was Eddie Wohl and we went into the studio and tracked that song and it came out killer.

What did Anthrax think?

They were like, "Oh, cool. Let's do a record." So that's basically one of the things that happened back then that really kickstarted the production career.

You joined Anthrax as a guitar player and then offered to produce "Superhero"?

I joined them as a guitar player and then recorded that song very shortly after that. It basically happened all at the same time.

That took some balls to ask a band you had just joined to produce their album.

[Laughs] Oh, definitely. The thing with those guys is they were my favorite band for a long time as a kid. A huge influence on me musically so it was definitely a surreal time for me back then.

You knew all about Anthrax before joining them?

Of course, yeah. A legendary metal band. They were one of my favorite bands.

You join Anthrax and produce the "We've Come for You All" record in 2003. What were those sessions like?

It was great. I think that record went really smooth. The thing about that album was I think we started recording at the end of 2000. Basically we started the record and the band was going through a label change, management changes and all crazy stuff was happening back then. We ended up doing it in sections. So we'd record a little bit, go on tour and play some shows and come back. I think it was that kind of thing and that's how it went down.

Did you personally record the tracks with Dimebag and Roger Daltrey?

Those guys did the stuff on their own and sent us the tracks. Dime at the time of course had his own studio. He just had his sound dialed in where he wanted it and he just ran the track there and sent it to us.

In 2004 you started doing a lot of outside productions with Cradle of Filth, Bleeding Through and others. Did you take what you learned doing the "We've Come for You All" album into these other sessions?

Every band is different and I believe every band should have their own sound. A lot of producers today tend to take a very different approach where they have their thing they do and they do it on every record. Basically what ends up happening is those records all sound the same.

In a recent interview with Mikael Akerfeldt, he said precisely the same thing about producers.

Yeah, he's awesome. Back in the day when you bought a Van Halen, AC/DC or Zeppelin record, you knew what you were listening to. Especially with pop music and a lot of metal stuff, I find that if you take the vocals off it's hard to tell what the hell you're listening to.

Excellent point.

Yeah, exactly. If you take the vocal off a Van Halen record, you know what the hell you're listening to. Or an AC/DC record - you know what band it is. That's always been my approach and you learn as you go and that's something I feel is always developing. You get better and better at it the more you do it and the more bands you work with. For me that's what I shoot for. I wanna make every record its own thing and every band should have their own sound.

You played in the Damned Things with Scott Ian around this time?

That happened way later. That happened around 2009. Basically we started tracking the Anthrax record - "Worship Music" - and unfortunately the lineup was not stable at the time [nervous laughter]. We ended up with the situation where we had no singer. We had to put the record on ice.

Did you think that might be the end of Anthrax?

We didn't know if there was even gonna be a record. We didn't know if the band was gonna continue with that. It was such a dark period. Yeah, so what ended up happening was we put the Damned Things together. It was just a bunch of guys and we were all friends and we made a fun record. We went in there and wrote a cool, fun, rock and roll record and that was the whole point.

The "Ironiclast" album had much more of a classic rock vibe to it.

Yeah, we wanted it to sound totally different to our respective bands. We couldn't sound like Fall Out Boy, Anthrax or Every Time I Die. It had to be a unique thing.

After you finish "Worship Music," you left the band. Why?

At that point when I decided to leave those guys, I just felt like I needed a change. The thing is the band was doing amazing. Anthrax was on top of their game. We had just come off the Big Four tour and all this awesome stuff happened. But the bottom line was I just wasn't happy and my heart wasn't in it.

Why?

The main thing was it was never a creative outlet for me. That's something I'd been thinking about for a while - for years. It didn't happen overnight. I know to the public and to the fans it seemed like, "Wow, this came out of left field" but it really didn't. I'd been talking to those guys and I had many conversations with them over the years so the were definitely not surprised when it went down at all. Yeah, it's just something I needed to do for my own sanity.

If you're not happy it doesn't matter how successful you are.

I love the Anthrax guys; they're like my second family. I think they get it and they totally understand why I needed to do that. We're still cool and we still hang out and every time I see them it's totally cool. I was just with Scott and Frankie actually the other night here in New York. Yeah, everything's all good.

When you talk about Anthrax not being a creative outlet for you, are you talking about not being a part of the songwriting process?

Yeah, exactly. In Anthrax my role was, "You're playing the solo," hah hah hah. It's like, "Alright, cool." Don't get me wrong, I love playing solos. It's what I do. I'm a lead guitar player. But there's definitely so much more I can do and I had way more to say musically than what I was doing with Anthrax. That's basically it.

Did you actually bring in song ideas that didn't get listened to?

It would never even get to that point. It's cool. That's their thing. They have a system and they have a way of working and they've been doing it like for ages. I totally respected that but after a while it just got to the point where I felt like I was going through the motions. I'm not the kind of person that can do something unless it's 100 percent. I needed to make a change and I needed to move.

It's unfortunate that the band wouldn't even entertain your ideas.

Yeah, I never understood it to be honest. I do understand it but at the same time I was with those guys for a really long time. You would think at some point along that journey we would have collaborated on something. But it's totally cool. It is totally cool. I'm very proud of all our accomplishments and I'm so proud to be part of the Anthrax legacy. We braved a lot of storms and there were a lot of dark periods and great periods throughout that whole time. So I'm really proud of it.

You touched on the Big Four shows earlier - that must have been a memorable moment for you.

Oh, yeah: Anthrax, Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth. At that point back in the day when the term Big Four was originally coined and that was actually happening the first time around, that was my stuff. That's all I listened to back then as a kid. I lived by all those records and like I said of all those bands, Anthrax really had a major impact on me musically when I was younger. Maybe 'cause they were a New York band and had a different attitude and different energy about them than the other bands. I just really connected with that.

So playing onstage with those bands must have blown your mind.

Yeah, to be a part of the Big Four tour this time around and being up onstage with Metallica, it's crazy. It's like dreams come true. It's really so surreal just being a part of that thing. It was one of the best things I've ever done.

You joined Volbeat in February 2013 but you already knew the band when the Damned Things toured with them?

Exactly, yep. We all hit it off instantly. The Volbeat guys were super cool and I was blown away with their band and the live show. Every night I'd be on the side of the stage checking out the Volbeat show and I really connected with the music.

Their music spoke to you.

I'm also a huge Misfits fan - they're one of my top five favorite bands - and on that tour Volbeat was playing "Angelf--k." So Michael [Poulsen] knew I was really into the Misfits and he's like, "Why don't you come up every night and play the song with us?" I was like, "F--k, yeah" and that's what we ended up doing. I'd say nine out of 10 shows on that tour I was up onstage playing "Angelf--k" every night and that was an awesome time.

You actually played with the band before working with them in the studio on "Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies?"

Basically back then, Michael was a really big fan of the Damned Things record and the way it sounded and the production. Of course, the Anthrax record "Worship Music" when that came out, he was really into that as well. We flirted around with the idea of possibly going into the studio one day to record a song or two or maybe even a full record with me producing. It seemed like a really cool idea but it never seemed feasible because obviously those guys are in Denmark and I'm in New York City and I'm in Anthrax and we're touring and they're touring. It just didn't seem realistic.

You put the idea of working with Volbeat to the side?

But fast forward two years when I decided to move on from Anthrax and all of a sudden my schedule was wide open. And coincidentally they were about to go in the studio so everything worked out perfectly.

You didn't leave Anthrax with the idea of working with Volbeat?

No. I left without knowing what the hell I was gonna do at all. I put a press release out there and I think a lot of people misread it or misinterpreted what I was trying to say. I just figured I would lean on my producing career for a little while until I figured out my next move as an artist. A lot of people took that as, "Oh, he's giving up guitar playing and he doesn't want to tour anymore. He's just gonna be a producer."

That wasn't the intention of the press release?

That was never the message at all at the time it was put out there. It was just about, "I need a few minutes here to collect my thoughts and figure out what the hell I'm gonna do next." Because I figured I'd book a few production gigs and stay local for a while and figured something would happen.

Around this time you connected with Volbeat?

The first thing that came up was this Volbeat record. Michael would call and see if I was still interesting in working with them and I said, "Of course. Are you crazy? This is absolutely the perfect thing right now for me."

What happened next?

I flew out to Copenhagen a couple days later. One of the first things that happened was Michael and I sat down and he started showing me the new ideas and the new tunes and trying to figure out what was and what wasn't gonna be on the record. Lo and behold, we ended up collaborating on four songs, hah hah hah hah hah. Right off the bat. Again, I'm only there as a producer at this point but collaborating and delving into the writing world as a record producer happens all the time so I didn't think anything of it really more than, "OK, cool. It's part of my gig."

But it turned into more than, right?

We had this awesome creative chemistry and the vibe was just killer. So yeah, two weeks into it, that's when the guys asked me if I'd consider being the new guitar player. At that point I was like, "Wow" and I didn't see that coming at all. Again, I'm a knucklehead from New York, hah hah hah hah. But we connected on a musical level and that was really the most important thing. So basically when they asked me that I said, "This is amazing but please gimme one night to think about this before I decide."

That was a big decision.

We each had our own private apartment out there where we were recording the record in the countryside in Denmark. I went back to the apartment that night and thought about it. One of the memories that came into my mind was being onstage with Volbeat playing that Misfits song and how much fun that was. That felt really, really good. And I'm being creative, I'm collaborating, I'm writing and this is like the perfect situation. They're nice as people, they're good friends of mine so it didn't take me too long to make that decision.

Had you listened to what their previous guitarist Thomas Bredahl had played on earlier albums?

Yeah, absolutely. I had all the Volbeat records. Thomas was a good guy and he was a friend of mine as well on that Damned Things/Volbeat tour. We all got along great. The interesting thing about the old Volbeat records is pretty much it's all Michael playing everything. On this new record when I finally said, "Yes, let's do this. I'll be the new guitar player," I had to think about the record from a different angle and with a new perspective. Because now it's not just me being a producer and trying to get performances out of the guys and making a cool record and all that stuff. Now it's like I have to do all of that but I also have to leave my stamp on this music as well since I'm the new guitar player.

That would require a totally different approach.

How am I gonna do that? I ended up trying a bunch of different things and ultimately what we ended up doing I think for a band like Volbeat it actually works perfectly. The way we ended up recording is my rhythm guitar is on the left speaker and Michael's is on the right speaker. Anders Kjolholm [bass] is in the middle and of course the drums are everywhere. So you get the sound of the band running on all cylinders. I think it works really well with this music and this kind of band.

The guitars really did sound good on the album.

The record came out heavier and it came out really organic and there's a lot of depth to it. I'm really proud of this new record.

It's a different kind of challenge playing this type of music than what you did with Anthrax?

Yeah, you know what? I get asked this question a lot and the reality of it for me is playing Volbeat there's way more guitar playing than there was with Anthrax. Yeah, it's just the nature of the music and with Volbeat it's just kinda like free reign to do what I do and experimenting. In the studio we tried so many different things and so many different colors, overdubs, acoustic parts and solos. Aside from the solos, all this stuff I was never able to do within the framework of Anthrax.

You were playing ESP guitars in the studio?

Yeah. I've been playing them since '95 I think. For me, they're the best guitar company. I love the instruments and everything I've played from those guys have been awesome.

What are you looking for in a guitar?

I'm looking for a spirit and magic in an instrument. Something that really inspires you to play and of course obviously sounds good and plays good. But it has to have that extra element otherwise it's just another guitar. For me, the first guitar those guys sent to me was a purple Horizon I guess was kickin' around their warehouse. I've never been into the color purple but that was the guitar they sent to me. I was like, "Wow. OK."

You ended up using that Horizon?

I fell in love with that guitar and it just sounded f--kin' amazing and it made me wanna play it. So that became my main guitar for a long, long time. When ESP talked to me about doing a signature model I said, "Yeah, absolutely. But I wanna base it off this original guitar." They were like, "Oh, you can try one of our new Horizons. See what you think and we can work off of that." The crazy thing is and I never realized this was I guess over time they still sold the Horizon models. But over time I guess they changed factories a few times. Basically what I'm saying is the Horizon they make now is completely different than the guitar I'm talking about.

How are the Horizons different?

The neck is different; the body contour is different; the headstock and where the controls were was different. What I did was I had them send my old Horizon to Japan and recreate it. And I had a bunch of ideas I wanted to add to the guitar as well that I think were really, really cool.

What changes did you ask for?

Glow-in-the-dark fret markers on the side of the neck. It's a really, really cool thing that comes in so handy especially in-between songs when the lights go down onstage and the next song I have to start bang at the top and you gotta know where your fingers are. I also have my DiMarzio Signature pickup in the bridge in that guitar. The whole thing is awesome. It screams.

Are you playing the ESP LTD H-1001?

There's the LTD version and the ESP proper version. I'm playing the ESP version but both of those guitars are killer. The LTD and the ESP are both very similar. The electronics and the neck are the same and basically everything is the same. I think the wood might be slightly different if I'm not mistaken. I have both of those guitars and I use them in the studio too and they sound great.

Did you record the tracks with King Diamond and Sarah Blackwood?

Sarah did her stuff in Toronto and King Diamond did his stuff in his own studio.

Had you heard Michael's pre-Volbeat black metal band, Dominus?

Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. We connect on so many levels musically and we have a lot of the same influences.

What are your plans at this point?

Right now, I'm actually producing the comedian Jim Breur's new record, which I'm very, very excited about. He's one of the funniest dudes of all time and he's got a band. Great group of guys and great players actually the guitar player is Metal Mike. I've known him for years and he used to play for Halford years ago. I'm actually here right now and we're doing pre-pro for this record.

Take care of yourself and play all the good notes.

You too. We'll speak soon. This was actually a really fun interview.

Interview by Steven Rosen
Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2014
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