Long-time Anthrax member Rob Caggiano surprised the metal world last month when he announced he was leaving the band to focus on record production. It wasn’t a move made blindly, however; while working with the group for the last 12 years, the guitarist was producing acts like Cradle of Filth, The Damned Things and Jesse Malin (ex-D Generation) on the side. Pro Sound News caught up with Caggiano, currently in Denmark producing Volbeat’s next album, to learn more about why he left, what’s ahead and why he loves that pop album by Fun.
The big question: Why did you decide to leave Anthrax?
That was a very tough decision to make and it's also a tough question to answer. There are a number of reasons why I left the band. Some of them are very personal to me but I ultimately have no problem being open about these things.
If you were to ask me to give you the absolute main reason why I decided to leave Anthrax, I would tell you that I left because my heart simply wasn't in it anymore. I had a blast playing with those guys and they will always be family to me, but outside of my guitar solos and production work, Anthrax was never a creative outlet for me (musically). That wasn't by any choice of my own by the way; it's just the way it is. But at the same time I was committed 100 percent to the band and the relentless touring schedule, etc.
It’s been a blast playing with those guys. I love them dearly and I wouldn't change a thing about the last 12 years, but I guess it just got to the point where I started asking myself: "What the hell am I doing? I'm a musician; this is who I am. Being creative is simply food for my soul. Why am I devoting all of my time and energy into a band where being creative is impossible for me?” It simply stopped making sense a while ago and I ended up feeling very unhappy and unfulfilled. It started feeling like I was just going through the motions and that's not what music is about to me at all. As soon as I realized that my heart was not into it anymore, I knew I needed to make a major change in order to make things right for myself.
So what are your plans moving forward as a producer?
It's been in the back of my head that I wanted to get back into producing records because that is my other passion. I've always been enamored with recording studios and the whole recording process. Producing records can be a very cathartic and rewarding experience or it can be the most stressful thing you've ever done in your life. I say that with a smile on my face because I've experienced both scenarios many times over the years.
I have some amazing memories and I've seen things go down in a recording studio that most people wouldn't even believe. Making records is a lot of hard work and to be honest, I usually can't even listen to an album I've worked on when I'm done with it. It's the smiles and excitement people have when they listen to it that make it worthwhile for me. I'm actually in Denmark right now producing the new Volbeat album for Universal and I'm extremely amped up about this one. It's the best thing that could have happened to me at the best possible time, and so far, I think it’s my best work to date. Leaving Anthrax was an emotional decision, but it was also extremely liberating at the same time. I definitely feel like I made the right choice.
You certainly have a track record on the production side—how long have you been recording?
I've been recording since I was about 16 years old. I used to work at a music store years ago and I would usually take home pieces of gear instead of collecting a paycheck. I was always writing music, laying it down one layer at a time and experimenting. I was using DA-88s and a Mackie 1604 back then and I had a few other pieces of outboard gear that made sense at the time. I've been producing records professionally since 2001.
Do you prefer working in studios or your own recording space?
I don't have my own studio these days because for me it just wouldn't make sense, especially with all the touring over the years. I basically have a killer mobile rig that I can take with me wherever I go. I always go to a great studio to record drums because there is no way to capture a great drum sound without actually being in a great drum room. It's extremely important, too, because drums are the foundation of any rock record. If you mess that up, you're going to be screwed later on when stuff gets more dense. It's no different than building a house really; if the foundation is messed up in any way, sooner or later you will have big problems.
Still, you must have some favorite gear.
I run MOTU Digital Performer off my MacBook Pro along with a Metric Halo ULN-8. I'm also using two Universal Audio 2108 mic pres and a UA 6176 and Distressor. Between the amazingly versatile mic pres in the Metric Halo and the three UA pres along with the one-channel 1176 (6176) and the Distressor, I'm usually covered to record the remaining elements of any record and it will sound killer! In fact, the Universal Audio 2108 is my all-time favorite mic pre for recording rock guitar and bass. I wouldn't dream of using anything else, no matter where I was working. It's also amazing on kick and snare.
The Metric Halo mic pres never cease to amaze me either. They sound stunning and I really love using them for vocals and guitar overdubs. Now that's just the mainstay gear that is in my mobile rack. I usually rent a few other things when I'm working in addition to all of that as well. I usually like to have some Neve 1073s or maybe a rack of APIs.
Like I said, we're recording the new Volbeat record right now, at the legendary PUK Studios in Denmark, and we found an old rack of Tridents in the back room. We fired them up and they sound amazing, so we've been using those almost exclusively on this one. I've also been using the Neve Portico 5042 Tape FX on my last few records and I absolutely love that thing. It's very subtle, but if you run a bunch of stuff through it in a systematic way, then it really helps you paint a very warm, solid picture overall in the end. I'm not sure how close it is to an actual tape machine because I never compared them, but that comparison would be ridiculous for me anyway. If it sounds good, use it! That's always been my motto.
Given your background in metal, is that the genre you prefer to record, or are you open to working all types of artists?
My musical taste is very wide and varied, so I don't really have a favorite genre, to be honest. Of course, I made a name for myself in the world of heavy metal, but I feel like that's just the tip of the iceberg really. I would really love to start doing some cutting-edge pop stuff. I usually hate formulaic music, but some truly great records have been coming out recently and it's definitely been inspiring. The Fun. album is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. It's straight-up pop music, but there is no "formula" really. You'll hear crazy tempo changes and arrangements that definitely push the envelope of what modern pop music has been about in recent times. It actually reminds me of how records were made years ago—David Bowie, Queen, Beach Boys, etcetera. So basically what I'm saying is that pop music has been seriously regressing over the years.
So will we hear you on guitar again someday? Do you think you will miss playing with Anthrax?
I already do, but at the same time I'm very excited to see what the future has in store for me. I'm absolutely not giving up my guitar! I'm not giving up touring anytime soon either. I love the stage and I love touring. It's in my blood and it's who I am. I just needed to step off the machine to reevaluate things. Sometimes it's good to do that and with change comes growth. I have a lot to say musically and I'm ready to scream!