Hoobastank’s Doug Robb On Newfound TikTok Fame, Making Peace With “The Reason,” And More
Like a lot of other people this past week, Hoobastank lead singer Doug Robb and I are talking about Britney Spears. Unexpectedly, though, Hoobastank guy (to borrow from Eve 6’s Twitter meme-speak) has a Britney anecdote to share: “Britney Spears worked out at the same mom-and-pop gym that I have been going to for a while. She used to pop in a lot. That’s my Britney Spears story,” says Robb, who has been experiencing his own wave of Y2K relevancy lately, via — what else? — TikTok. “There was a full solar eclipse, and I had to share my solar eclipse glasses with her in the parking lot,” he adds.
Though Britney Spears and Hoobastank couldn’t be further apart on the millennium music spectrum — with Britney leading the era’s bubblegum pop craze and Hoobastank ostensibly lumped into the movement’s rap-rock retaliation along with Papa Roach, Korn, and Linkin Park — both acts were undeniably part of the same TRL-teen machine.
Now, two decades after releasing their self-titled major-label debut, which housed nu-metal-adjacent anthems like “Crawling In The Dark” and “Running Away,” Hoobastank are experiencing an unanticipated resurgence in popularity via their 2004 single “The Reason,” which recently went viral on TikTok when users started posting about regrettable life choices set to the tune of the song’s earnest first line: “I’m not a perfect person.”
In response to the attention, Robb created a profile and got in on the #NotAPerfectPerson challenge, posting a video of him clowning on his own band’s nonsensical name, the origin story for which kept changing whenever journalists inquired about it in the early ‘00s. For what it’s worth, the name “Hoobastank” still means nothing and Robb is perfectly aware of where they fall in the annals of music history. He admits he wasn’t always so OK with being a rock critic punchline, and for a long time, he had issues with how “The Reason,” easily the band’s most recognizable song, has come to define the rest of Hoobastank’s career.
“This wasn’t the exact career path I think any of us had planned,” he says over Zoom from his home in Los Angeles. “That being said, so much of our livelihood now, or for the past 10 years, is based on radio and that song and a handful of other songs that we got so much success for. So many bands have had to shut it down this last year, they can’t tour, their livelihood is taken away. And, for us, we’ve been fortunate. The silver lining came late, but it came.”
Read our conversation below, in which Robb opened up about finding TikTok fame, coming to terms with the popularity of “The Reason,” what he thinks about the guy from Eve 6, and more.
When you originally posted to TikTok, did anyone have to explain it to you first? I just know that whenever I try to explain it to people who don’t know what it is, I end up not making much sense.
DOUG ROBB: I know. Yes. The answer is yes. Somebody did have to walk us through what was going on. But at the same time, even that somebody didn’t even really know what was fully going on, so it was kind of like the blind leading the blind.
I don’t really know how I would describe it to somebody else, either. It is addicting, though, to just flip through these 15 to 30-second little things. It’s really not good for people who… it’s not good for developing an attention span.
What subjects have you found your algorithm leaning into? My TikTok algorithm is mostly cat and dog videos, politics explainers, millennial-over-30 stuff, and social justice issues.
ROBB: There’s a lot of cooking videos. I do like watching cooking videos. There’s a lot of random dance videos, too, which is weird because I’m not really a dancer, but they’re interesting.
The more you interact with the app, the fewer dance videos you see.
ROBB: You know what? Maybe so, because I feel like early on, I was just like, “What is this thing?” I literally thought, “Is this just an app for people who want to dance on camera?” Because it seemed like everyone was this dude doing this dance and this girl doing this dance.
Yeah. I get a lot of the cooking ones, a lot of the dog ones, like, where the dogs are speaking in captions with misspelled words and stuff. Real important things.
How have you been spending your time in lockdown when not posting TikToks?
ROBB:: Trying to keep my family sane. I’ve got a 10-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, so my wife and I are part-time teachers and full-time child entertainers. All things considered, I feel like our version of quarantine compared to how I’ve seen it around the world, has been pretty spectacular. We’re going on hikes in the hills and walking our dogs and stuff like that, and then I see pictures of people trapped in apartments in the snow, so I feel silly complaining.
Is your daughter aware that her dad is TikTok famous?
ROBB: She doesn’t care. It’s funny, because I’ve had my kids on tour. I’ve taken them on the bus, and they’re been on the road and they’ve had their own bunks and they experienced a little bit of the life when they were younger, and they just don’t care. We have rooms in the house with awards and plaques and Grammy stuff and they literally could care less. But, actually, recently, now that I think about it, we received a million subscriber plaques from YouTube and that was impressive to them. But even then they were still like, “Dad, you’re an idiot.”
This is a true quote, and this has happened more often than not. Especially after if I ever get recognized somewhere and somebody goes, “Hey, can I take a picture?” We’ll be walking away, and they look at me in total puzzlement and go, “Dad, why do people care about your music?” But not in like, “I want to know the meaning behind it.” But in a like, “Dude, you’re terrible” kind of sense. And I go, “You know what? I’m not really sure, but I’m glad that they do, because it puts food on the table and a roof over our heads.”
I know that you must be sick of talking about the origins of the name “Hoobastank” at this point, but I was curious: When you used to change up the band name’s backstory with journalists, do you remember how many origin stories you created? Or did you just stick to the same few, like the “Jesus H. Christ” one?
ROBB: First and foremost, it was never something we consciously were like, “Let’s fuck with the press and ha, ha, ha.” Maybe at the time I thought it would defuse the situation, kind of kill the question. Instead, it was the exact opposite. It turned into something people kept on asking, because they were doing their homework and seeing multiple answers, so we totally shot ourselves in the foot. But I think early on it was all spur of the moment and either how dumb could it be or how semi-believable could our explanation be. And then, every once in a while, we would start repeating ones that we thought were funny. But yeah, it wasn’t a conscious decision to go, “Hey, let’s mess with them.” Honestly, we were tired of getting asked the question and, in our heads, we thought maybe if we give a really stupid answer, they won’t ask anymore. And like I said, it was actually the opposite.
I always got the impression when people ask, “So what does Hoobastank mean?” that they thought that when the band heard the word “Hoobastank,” we thought of something else. But it’s always been the band. There is no other, you know what I’m saying? There is no correlating thing. Hoobastank is this band, it’s the music, it’s everything we’ve ever done. And I always got the impression that anybody that asked thought it stood for something else and we used it as the band name.
Speaking of early millennium-era bands being active on social media, any chance you’ve been watching Eve 6’s Twitter account lately?
ROBB: I have. I have. What I thought was cool or refreshing [was] that the guy [Max Collins] just said, “Fuck it. I have nothing to lose or to hide. This is what I think about everything that’s going on.” And it was really entertaining. I mean, it’s not refreshing to hear people’s opinions, because that’s all you hear on Twitter, but it was cool to see somebody be that self-aware of their career, of what the perception of the band might be to fans and their colleagues, as well. And that seemed cool to me, because I feel like we share a lot of that. I’m not going to be on Twitter espousing any of that.
But internally, as the band, I go, “Damn, dude.” He’s out there saying, “This is where our band exists in the world.” He knows, and it’s okay with him. We’ve been that way, internally, with the band, too. We know where we fall in the spectrum of bands. Is it exactly where we thought we would be or where we wanted to be 20 years ago? Not necessarily, but it is what it is, and we’ve embraced it. And I think that’s important to do, not try to fight who you are or at least how people see who you are. And I saw a lot of honesty in that.
I enjoyed your interview with The Daily Beast, where you spoke about how popular culture lumps your band in with a group like 3 Doors Down, who of course played Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, and how Comedy Central tweeted that you guys had been asked first but said no.
ROBB: I guess that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about, being self-aware. There’s a lot of bands that we’ve been lumped in with over the years that, just purely musically or maybe image-wise, I would’ve never thought to. But the fans have spoken. I think there might’ve been a time when I would’ve fought that a little bit. Like, “We’re not like,” well, just take 3 Doors Down for an example. Personally, like I said, they’re nice guys. We toured with them. They were awesome. It’s just we’re from different places, we have different interests and all that kind of stuff, so I would’ve never thought “That’s a great fit” if it was just on me. But if you look at the metrics or whatever you want to talk about, there’s a lot of crossover with people who listen to our band and people who listen to their band.
I just never know. That’s one of those things that maybe in the past I would’ve fought against, being grouped with a certain… or I would’ve taken offense to it or something stupid like that when you’re younger, like, “That’s not us,” or whatever. Whereas, nowadays, I think we’ve been around long enough to know this is how listeners see us. It may not be exactly how we see ourselves, but it’s not up to us to really decide for them.
You guys just celebrated the 15th anniversary of TikTok’s new favorite Hoobastank song, “The Reason.” When the song first came out, I remember thinking it was an interesting choice for a single, given how many faster, hard-driving songs Hoobastank had been known for prior, like “Crawling In The Dark.” “The Reason” is such a ballad, by comparison.
ROBB: We used to get asked about that a lot early on. Because the song was so popular, a lot of people were like, “Well, who wrote it?” Or, “Did the record company make you write a ballad?” And it seemed weird to us at the time, because we do have a mellower song, “To Be With You,” on the first album. And then we had mellower songs even on shit that we had done prior. The albums that we liked to listen to growing up were varied. There were some darker songs, there was always kind of a slower song. And I’m talking about even Metallica or whatever. “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” starts off all mellow and pretty and eventually gets to an exciting point, but there were always these little curveballs.
In the band’s eyes, “The Reason” was just basically another “To Be With You,” which was the name of the first song, on the first album. If you’re listening to the whole album, we wanted it to have some ebb and flow. When the record was done, there’s a thing where the manager and the band and the record label all get together and they put their heads together and they decide what they think the single will be and possible second single and stuff like that. And I remember, in that meeting, the band didn’t even choose the song “The Reason” [to be a single]. We saw it literally like, “Okay, this is like the breather intermission song.” Halfway through this heavy album, you need to take a breath, so that’s what it was. Obviously, we were wrong.
Sounds like the label had a slight rebrand in mind?
ROBB: The song became bigger than the band, for sure, and that was something we had to kind of struggle with. Especially at the time, because we had put out our first album that went platinum, we toured behind it, we felt we had established ourselves or were in the process of establishing ourselves as a band that had some staying power and building a foundation. And then, this song comes along and takes off without us basically. Like, “Whoa.” This song became bigger than the band. And for a while, it was a weird thing to accept and embrace, because it wasn’t what we had planned.
At the time, what do you think that plan would’ve been?
ROBB: Probably to build on the success we had at radio and touring on the first album and grow that way. Grow a fanbase that was more — I mean, at the risk of pissing off a lot of people who really like that song — less fickle. You know what I mean? Our fanbase throughout the first record and about halfway through, or at least initially, the start of “The Reason,” they were the type of fanbase that were with you thick and thin. They were going to be at your shows always, and it was building that way. If we had had, I guess, more time to lay that foundation, that’s kind of how I saw our careers going.
But then, we had this huge radio hit, and the next thing you know we’re playing sold out 15,000 seat amphitheaters to 14-year-olds and their moms. While it’s happening it’s amazing, but six months from now, those people aren’t going to be at your shows. And in the process, you alienate a lot of the people that were going to be at your shows prior.
Well, I think a lot of people, fans or no, appreciate your self-awareness and humor. Especially with the recent TikTok phenomenon.
ROBB: Well, good. I was just talking to our guitar player who, of the band members, always had the hardest time with the media, in the sense that he didn’t handle criticism that well.
We’ve been on the receiving end of high praise and high ridicule over our careers, and he was always the one that took it hardest. A thousand praises and one ridicule, and that’s all he could remember is the one. But I was just telling him this time around, and I don’t know if this is TikTok-specific, I said this in couple other interviews, that TikTok in general seems a little friendlier. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing. He and I always talk also, now, about our kids and his nieces being so much more aware of things like bullying and things that might hurt other people’s feelings, where we were oblivious to it. My generation just didn’t get it. And a lot of that generation inhabits TikTok and they’re a lot more self-aware of, “I don’t want to say that. That’s not cool. I’m not here to bash people,” so maybe they don’t say anything at all.
But we have noticed that TikTok and the interviews that I’ve been doing the last few weeks, the questions, the vibe has been a lot — I don’t want to say friendlier, but I don’t have a better word to describe it. It’s not like previous interviews have been non-friendly, but I feel like it’s been a really nice conversation and stuff. I said to him, “You know what? Either the media has come around on this band or we have finally just become self-aware of who we are and where we fit in the spectrum and embraced it.” And he just said, “It’s both.” It’s been a lot of fun. I appreciate anybody willing to ask questions and want to talk in the first place. It’s kind of cool.
Do you guys have any plans to celebrate the coming 20th anniversary of your self-titled?
ROBB: Our guitar player, Dan [Estrin], probably spent half the year transferring old digital video tapes to actual hard drive stuff, because out of any album cycle we documented, the first one we have the most footage. We just have so much footage of us doing pre-production and writing and recording and tours. It was our first everything, so it was almost like we were over-documenting everything. And I’m talking a garbage bag full of these tapes, and each one is three to four to five hours. We have a lot of footage to sift through and I think amongst a lot of boring stuff, there’s probably a lot of stuff that our fans would find really interesting.
So we’re going to compile that and either release it in chunks or a little bit at a time or something, but we’ll figure something out that I think will be appropriate and cool for anybody who would actually enjoy the 20th anniversary. Recently I’m thinking and talking with our guitar player about possibly writing a song or two to go along with it, something new.
I saw this question being asked of Eve 6 in another interview, and I thought it would be a good one for this as well: Is there anything you especially miss about the early ‘00s rock era?
ROBB: The irony is that I never listened to my contemporaries in the ’00s or the aughts or whatever you want to call them. It’s weird, I liked the music that even we produced at the time, but I didn’t listen to it. When we were on tour with Linkin Park, I didn’t listen to Linkin Park. I listened to bands still a little bit earlier or just bands that didn’t sound like what we sounded like. But I was going to say actual rock, to be honest with you. I miss guitars and drums and things that aren’t programmed, but I can’t say that, with full knowledge, that there isn’t that right now.
I’m sure if I jumped on Apple Music I could find a shit ton of guitar-driven music. The problem is, I don’t. I’m not actively searching for new rock music, but I do get the general vibe that it is skewed away from that type of aesthetic, I think. I don’t know. Am I wrong? I say that with complete ignorance knowing that I could be totally wrong. There could be a huge resurgence in rock and four-piece bands and three-piece bands and I’m just not aware of it.