For our latest behind-the-scenes feature, we spoke to Long Island’s own, Neil Rubenstein. If you’ve ever read the linear notes to a Brand New or Taking Back Sunday record, you would recognize his name instantly.
Neil spoke to ATP about: his career in music, being a part of the Long Island scene, ‘Sons Modern’ and more.
Alter The Press: How did you get involved in music?
Neil Rubenstein: Escape. Real life is hard; music is easy. It's easy to listen to, easy to enjoy, easy to relate to. Same reason I watch TV. Escape. Let me out.
Neil performing 'Timberwolves At New Jersey' with Taking Back Sunday at their recent show in New York
ATP: The majority of people will recognize your name from being credited in Taking Back Sunday's 'Tell All Your Friends' and Brand New's 'You Favorite Weapon'. How did you end up meeting those guys, and what was your creative input on those two iconic releases, to come out of Long Island?
Neil: Just from being around. No one was special. No one is special. Those dudes are just good dudes; then and now. Shitty people wouldn't have been a part of it. We were all just kids who hung out, some more than others, but ultimately, just a bunch of kids that hung out. This idea that ‘rockstars’ need to be assholes is ridiculous.
And as for creativity - I really don't think I had much input at all. We were all in bands at the same time and I am a big thief. I love the idea that collage is an artf orm. I like to take little lines, and phrases, and inflections from interesting places and add them to other things. And I guess I kind of imparted that on a bunch of people back then. So I would steal a Brand New line, or something, and then Adam would take a This Year's Model line, and before you knew it, we were talking about this Long Island Lyric Pool. It was fictitious, but it helped add a bit of community to the whole thing. The Taking Back Sunday guys were kind enough to let me sing some of my lines on their first record.
ATP: You used to sing previously for Sons Of Abraham, This Year's Model and These Enzymes, and even used to do stand-up comedy; what made you want to stop performing?
Neil: The real question is what made me START performing. I hate performing, so stopping was easy. Glenn Gould once said something about the perfect artist to audience ratio should be 0:1. I agree 1,000,000%. Unfortunately, you can't advance your art, or whatever you want to call it, ‘your craft,’ without performing for someone.
I enjoy writing, specifically for television. I was told; the best way to get noticed is to perform. So I did that. I just hated it so much that I couldn't stick to it. I will still do recording projects. In fact - any of you guys reading this wanna do a recording project, feel free to reach out.
I'm gonna get a little ranty here - 2010/2011 is so amazing. I can say here, that I want to do a band called Fake Tits. The EP is going to be called ‘Rock Paper Cancer.’ It's going to sound like something between Duck Duck Goose and Rolo Tomassi. And it is totally plausible, that within six days after this is posted, aside from all the "mehh" and "why is this news" comments, somebody I have never met, possibly first hearing of either of those bands from this post, could have recorded 6 songs and sent me files, and I could have put vocals to it and posted it on the internet. And then it's real. Then it's a fact. If this was possible in 1993, there is a very good chance I would have never performed.
ATP: You recently tour managed Glassjaw in the UK and Australia. Was this your first time tour managing?
Neil: I started touring in 95 or 96. Started touring professionally shortly thereafter. I finally packed it in, in 2003 or 2004. I tour managed a lot of bands... what I did for GJ in the UK and Australia is hardly tour managing; that was vacation. Those are some of the easiest guys to get along with, for me. We just all came from the same place and have the same ethics and ideals. And they are all professional. There is no making sure everyone is up or everyone is around for soundcheck. I was just there to meet some promoters and acquaintances that were only email addresses at the time.
ATP: What has been your best story from the road?
Neil: So many. Should I stick to fireworks since Indy talked about fireworks? (Our last behind-the-scenes feature, with Indy Powers, had a tour story about fireworks.) Our drummer (Sons Of Abraham) was shooting bottle rockets out of the backseat of a car on tour, back when we would tour in station wagons and minivans, whatever we could borrow from parents. I was sitting shotgun, which I definitely had to call. And as he is shooting them, we are all watching them go. Then we hear one whistle and we don't see it.
"Dude? Is it in the car?"
"No - No way - I saw it go that way."
I can hear the whistle and I'm like, "Fuck man, this is in the goddamn car!" It exploded on my ribs. Burned the shit out of my jacket and shirt. I tried to kill him, but I was too fat to catch him.
We also caused a sick 6 car pile up, because we came to a screeching halt, on a country route in Virginia, trying to save a kitten we saw on the side of the road. We saved it. But we caused a lot of damage first. It was a lot of general havoc back then.
There are so many stories from those early days. Now tour is kind of like, let's go to the museum, where's china town, I'm gonna watch LOST on the computer.
ATP: You've now started your own agency and have signed the likes of: Glassjaw, The Sleeping and John Nolan. What's the story behind 'Sons Modern?’
Neil: Just trying to be artist minded, and trying to adapt to the times. It's the ‘wild west’ out there right now. Bands don't need a ton of help to get from 0-60. It's all available to them, on the internet. You all have it; you are looking at it right now. If I talk to a newer band, I try to empower them, more than coddle. Bands need to know how to make those first steps on their own. But with a band like Glassjaw or The Sleeping, it gets trickier. I facilitate all the things that connects the newer ideals to the system that's already in place.
ATP: Do you have any bands on your radar at the moment?
Neil: Tons. Do I keep it secret so that other Agencies don't try to scoop them up, or do I talk aloud, so that the fans reading can go check out some new great music? Newer bands I am feeling right now include:
Rolo Tomassi and Duck Duck Goose, Orbs (ex Fear Before) is ridiculous. A couple of the Envy On The Coast dudes are playing with Billy from Dillinger, and that's sounding awesome. Shapes, Pulled Apart By Horses, Xcerts, Angry Hoolio all from UK. Long Island has Tiger Riot, Hotel Of The Laughing Tree, NGHBRS, Binary Marketing Show, Capital, Lights Resolve. Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants from Chicago. The Felix Culpa. Helen Earth Band, from California. That should hold some people over.
ATP: What do you do on your off-time?
Neil: There's no time off anymore; this is a 24-hour job. I watch a lot of baseball and play at least once a week during the summer. Long Island has a cool pick up game, with a lot of dudes Alter The Press would interview, in Huntington Station.
- Jon Ableson