Papa Roach are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of their iconic album ‘Infest’, the release which set them on a global stardom trajectory. MetalTalk’s Aggie Anthimidou spoke with Tobin Esperance where he discussed the creative process, the UK being a second home and keeping it ‘in the friends and family world’.
Interview and Photos: Aggie Anthimidou
Papa Roach are veteran rockers, but Esperance’s pure enthusiasm and passion when he talks about the band’s present and future is equal to that of a new musician in the scene. His face lit up when discussing new music territories and geographies for the band, winning over new fans and working with friends and family. The band still love what they do and this might just be the beginning of ‘all things’ for them.
We meet Tobin Esperance before he gets on stage to play the band’s first ever gig in Thessaloniki, Greece. He is sitting, bass in hand. “How do you pronounce Thessaloniki?” he asks – explaining that he has been trying to get it right the last couple of days he has been in the city!!
MetalTalk: Welcome to Thessaloniki, first time here! Did you have a chance to explore the city?
Tobin Esperance: “I did, yeah. I flew in a day earlier with my wife and we walked around town and had two days here. Ate some good food, drank some wine, did some shopping, had some good fish.”
How is the tour going so far? Any highlights?
“Tour is going good. Every show has been really good. We do really big shows in Germany. Those are always fun because Germany has been like a big, big place for us to play but experiencing a new territory for us is also fun, exciting and challenging, because you don’t know what to expect. Making new friends is always fun.”
You have a couple of anniversaries as a band. It has been more than a year since the launch of ‘Who Do You Trust?’. You have a bit of an eclectic approach when it comes to your albums – every time you have a new take. You keep the core Papa Roach principles but you bring in new elements. Last year you said you didn’t know how fans would take to the new album. A year later, how has the journey been?
“It’s been cool. Honestly, when we play the new songs live they go really well. The new songs are always fun to play just because they are new, they are fresh and they are different. They are more positive and uplifting.
“I think when you are young you tend to write things from a heavier, angrier, angst-ridden point of you and it’s hard to have that all the time as you get older and mature as a band.’
This ‘punk soul’ that you had when you are younger with all the anger, do you feel it has been replaced with something else these days?
“I think so, I think so. Finding the connection, finding the solution, having some help. Having seen the light at the end of the tunnel is important for us. Giving people the strength to want to carry on through whatever their deepest, darkest fears are and (their) struggles. Just to know they are not alone. As opposed to just randomly rave about random shit.”
You see more and more bands and artists, which is really great, coming out, being honest about issues such as addiction and mental health. Issues that have previously been stigmatised. I was a couple of weeks ago at the Five Finger Death Punch gig and Ivan Moody openly talked about his struggles. Do you feel through the connection that you have with the fans and through your music, that it is a good opportunity for you to influence them in a positive way?
“Yeah. I think Jacoby (Shaddix) is really good at that. Everyone has their own outlook of how to deal with things. It is something that a lot of people struggle with from all ages. Whether they are young, it doesn’t matter.
“I can’t say that I struggle with it. Because I think I just deal with things differently than other people do.”
How do you deal with things?
“I just do what makes me feel better. If something isn’t working you just kind of fucking change it. You’ve got to get outside. I am very much into health and fitness. I just don’t like feeling stagnant or stale in any way. I want to be better every day. Every day I practice at being better. I wanna’ go outside and I wanna’ meet new people. I want the sun to shine on me.
“Not only that but I am also comfortable of being alone too. I think a lot of people struggle with being alone. Our music, it is kind of a salvation for a lot of people. And our music can be dark and depressing at times but I think it is important for us to pull ourselves out of that. Because we wouldn’t be authentic.
“We are all much stronger people than we were 20 years ago. It wouldn’t be right for us to be all dark and depressed all the time. ‘Cause we wanna have fun. We wanna’ help, bring good times.
“But that energy, that edge that we got from the music we grew up listening too, like punk rock, really intense jazz music, really intense funk and soul, Motown, all these things are influencing us. Hip hop music, groove-oriented music that makes you wanna dance.
“I can understand why people get upset if we are not metal. But we’ve been who we are, you know what I mean?” (laughs)
Talking about this diversity – because you mentioned you have so many different elements – this gives you the flexibility to team up with different genre bands. You’ve toured with Eminem, Mötley Crüe and last year you were at Knotfest. But genre fans can be quite purists. Do you feel intimidated playing for them or have barriers been dropping?
“Not at all. I don’t mind being intimidated by it. I love how diverse we are and I love the friends I made along the way that are different. I love all the music that I have found by not having any boundaries, or walls, or rules of what and how I am supposed to listen to.
“I love the fact that I am just constantly going through different phases.”
What influences each of these phases? Every time you get to work on a new album what influences the mood?
“Nowadays, it’s really whatever energy is in the room. We don’t really listen to outside music when making records. It’s what we are feeling that day. We always try to start a song, write it and finish the bulk of it in one day.
“You can stumble across things. You can be talking about something, or you can reference a song that you heard along the way – ‘I really would like to make a song that has this tempo, that has a beat like this’ – but for the most part we just try to get out of the way of music and make whatever comes out. It’s just more natural, less overthinking everything.”
How are the synergies with the rest of band during the creative process? How do you make it work? Do you want different things?
“All the time. It’s just push and pull. Letting natural chemistry do its thing. Sometimes you are not always gonna be on the same page, but that’s why our music is the way it is. Because there is this imbalance at times (laughs) and everybody has their own approach to different things. And a lot of things have to do with collaborating with friends.
“What used to happen – and I notice a lot has changed – but back in the day, especially, rock bands would always go to the same four or five rock producers. And it was usually like an older guy who did everybody’s record and everything started to sound the same.
“And we have been in the music industry for so long, we thought we have so many friends and we know so much young, new fresh blood. People who are producers and songwriters. Why don’t we go and write songs with our friends? So we just started doing that and it made everything way more exciting for us.”
They brought a fresh approach?
“Yes and a lot of the times it’s the energy of being in the room with friends of ours. They always invigorate a new energy. For a band that has been around a long time, we never had a stale moment of we don’t know what to do any more or we don’t know how to do this. Because we are always getting inspired by new ideas and new feelings in the studio.”
It’s interesting what you said about what drives you through the years. Another big anniversary is 20 years since the release of ‘Infest’. It’s now a classic. It’s ingrained in pop culture and people’s hearts. Is it what you just mentioned, thats what keeps you relevant and passionate throughout the years?
“Yes because we consistently make music and we consistently tour.
“I don’t know how we would handle being a band that was one of those nostalgic bands that just tours for years and years and years off one or two successful records. I don’t know how we would handle that. I feel that we like the challenge of trying to win people over with new music while being just as relevant as our classic old songs.”
Are there any plans for new music?
“Yeah we are working on new music right now.”
You are very involved with your fans through your campaigns and your digital media. You involve them in your videos. First of all, do you enjoy social media?
“I don’t honestly enjoy it. I am totally different than probably most people. I don’t even have an active social media. I embrace it though, because I know it’s important. And I like having that instant connection with fans and knowing what it is that they want, what they like and don’t like. But I don’t consume myself with it. But it’s important to have that element to a band. That’s one thing we do have.
“We’ve built a team of people around us that’s actually our family members. Again going back to ‘keeping it in the friends and family world’. We have our brothers. Bryson, Jerry’ s bother Chad. They are all in control of that stuff and they all help coordinate it for us, guide us and show us what’s new; tell us what people are saying; tell us what we should do.
“I think it would be really unhealthy for us, not just as musicians and busy travelling tour guys, but also as family guys to be always constantly on our devices. It would drive me crazy. That’s why I stay away from it.” (laughs)
It’s addictive, isn’t it?
“Yeah, I mean I get through enough rabbit holes just being on Spotify and YouTube, discovering old live shows and music. I can’t imagine having to do all the others. Direct messaging and posting….” (laughs)
Are a lot of things happening spontaneously while on the road? Last year you filmed ‘Not The Only One’ and did an acoustic version of ‘The Ending’ while on the road. Do you just think about those while touring and just execute them?
“Yeah pretty much. Bryson will come up with ideas. We talk about them before we go on tour and we will try to make a big list of things and at least execute three or four. It’s crazy. We always have an endless amount of ideas and things we want to do when we get on the road. And then we get on the road, and it’s a day off… ‘we wanna do this, we said we’re gonna do this’ and we are all like… we just wanna lay in bed, sit outside at a café, or just chill and then you forget! Oh my god, this is work!
“You got to put in the work. But then you have to enjoy touring, see and walk around towns.”
Do you still enjoy touring?
“I do yeah.”
And you have a big tour coming up with Five Finger Death Punch?
“Yeah. Next summer. We have toured with them before.”
As MetalTalk is a UK publication, do you have any special message for the UK fans? Any special shows?
“We have some stuff that we’re planning. We still really want to celebrate the ‘Infest’ 20th anniversary again. But we also want to come play some new songs and we want to just continue making new music and bring a bigger, better live show. It’s important to constantly elevate what we do and keep it exciting.
“I don’t really know what the plan is. ‘Cause I know that we come to the UK a lot, I feel like we were there maybe not too long ago?”
But they want you back though. The fans want you back!
“I know! And we love it! Literally is like one of our favourite places to tour. The last tour we did was amazing in the UK.”
Yes, the London shows were amazing.
“Yes it’s a lot of fun. Since day one, we started coming to the UK in 2000. The UK and Germany is like our second home.”
You are looking forward to tonight’s show? Greek audience.. first time?
“Yes because it’s the first time we’ve ever played here. I don’t know what to expect but I am always excited trying to win over some new fans.”
Thessaloniki is quite a rock n’ roll city and it’s missed by bands most of the time. They tend to head mostly to Athens. It’s great you have decided to play here.
“Yes! We are the type of band that we want to go to the people. We want to experience and bring our message to everyone, anywhere we possibly can. We are not afraid to come. We tour the world as much as possible because we still love what we do, we still have fun and we have such great fans.
“We still go on the stage and we still feel there is an energy there – that’s undeniable. We aren’t forcing ourselves to get out there, so it’s a really good place to be in.”
Do you like getting political at all? Because in the past I’ve seen a couple of humorous Papa Roach tweets for your current administration.
(laughs) “I don’t, I am not political at all. I don’t like getting that way. I see both sides and I am always somewhere in the middle. I think it’s important to do your research and take a step back and see. Everyone has a different perspective. I definitely wouldn’t follow what memes say or what the news and media says. I can’t even watch the news. It’s just bullshit.
“We are trying not to get political as a band. I respect a lot of bands that do, but we are not trying to push any agenda with our music. For us, it’s more like a spiritual thing. More of a connection. Just living a better life, trying to get through.”
Reading an older interview of yours, a few years back, you said that you thought the rock scene was boring at the time. Do you think it’s still the case?
“I don’t know why anybody would say that in our band. There’s always great music coming. Some of it does at times feel to me a bit stale and it starts to sound the same. But it just takes a couple of bands to come along and re-invigorate the whole thing and I think bands are doing that. Bands are pushing.
“There is a lot of great music out there. It doesn’t have to be popular music. There are great underground bands.”
Any bands that inspire you at the moment?
“Like rock bands?”
“There’s so many. It’s weird because, nowadays, only time will tell what the whole package really means. You can discover a band and hear a song and think, ‘wow that’s a great song. I wonder what the album’s like?’
“And you listen to the album and think ‘I guess it was only that good song’ or ‘what’s this band like live?’ And then you go and see them live and think they don’t have the same energy.
“It’s easier for me to name peers because they are friends of mine and I respect them. But bands like Beartooth and the Fever (333) – talking about a real social political band – I really respect them for what they do. Even bands that have gone more mainstream, or have graduated from whatever scene they were part of 10 years ago, make music, push it and have people accept it and be real adventurous.
“But I don’t really listen to a lot of mainstream music I just listen to a lot of weird shit. Honestly, I can’t even tell you.”
“I am all over the place with music right now. I listen to anything from noise stuff like Lightning Bolt or Three Trapped Tigers.
“I still go back and listen to Nine Inch Nails, it’s one of my favourite bands. I even go back and listen to Radiohead. Pretty much any English band, I like. The Cure. My favourite band ever. It’s all over the place really!
We are all music lovers!”
Tobin, thank you very much for your time. Have a great show tonight. I look forward to it!
Aggie Anthimidou was speaking with Tobin Esperance, from Papa Roach, ahead of their show in Thessaloniki, Greece. Coming soon – keep an eye on MetalTalk for a review of the evening’s performance.