By: Gemma Mastroianni
Photo Credits: Jay Denes for Aguilar
Matthew Rubano - have you heard the name? If not, you've probably seen or heard him play before. He's worked with some of the biggest names in music including Taking Back Sunday, Lauryn Hill, All American Rejects, Angels and Airwaves, and so much more. I found out about him when he was playing with Patrick Stump's solo project and was impressed by his talent. Today, you can find him touring with Angels and Airwaves.
I was grateful for the opportunity to chat with him about his experience in the music world, and how he has gotten to where he is. He didn't grow up in a 'musical' house-hold as many musicians do but found inspiration from the music his parents would play including Frank Sinatra, The Rolling Stones, and more. His Nana, who was a school teacher, would take him and his brother to a variety of different musical events around New York which comprised of many orchestras and classical music, such as the New York Philharmonic. When she retired she would travel the world to many different small cities, which inspired Rubano to lead an adventurous life. Even though he didn't know it at the time, he was developing curiosity about music by attending these shows with her.
As Rubano got older and discovered his own music, he was getting more interested in the music world. He was fascinated by bands with prominent bass players such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Janes Addiction, Firehouse and more. The bass players in these bands were a major factor in the band's signature sound. He discovered music again through the bass as he learned to play it.
I was still curious just as to why he picked music as his career choice. He described himself as a "pretty spaced out kid" who didn't see an adult version of himself when he was growing up. He didn't want to go to college.
"I basically remember my life as before I wanted to play music and the point after. I can't put my finger on when that moment was but when it showed up it gave me clarity that I didn't have. Maybe it sounds cliche or like a forced poetic description, but I didn't know what I was doing with my life until I started playing the bass and there was a chance I could do that with my life."
When Rubano got into music, he gave it all of his energy. He only started playing bass in the middle of high-school and considered himself to be "behind" compared to others. He attended Baldwin Senior High School in Long Island,NY, which was a nationally recognized school of excellence with a superb music program. Although he felt intimidated by the other kids who had a previous background in music, it pushed him to be better. He ended up getting into Berkeley for music alongside his best friend Jamie Siegel who attended for production and sound engineering.
Siegel came in clutch when it came to landing Rubano's first major gig at just 20 years old. Siegel worked at the famous Chung Kung recording studio as a house engineer. He had the opportunity to work with many large-scale artists, including Lauryn Hill. At the time, Hill was recording The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Hill's team was short a bass player for a session, and Siegel convinced her to let Rubano come in and meet her. Rubano went in for the audition and he ended up recording some songs on what came to be a very successful record, selling over 20 million copies and winning Grammy awards.
Each song that came out from the album made it bigger, and he was really proud of it but was still getting his foot in the business. When it came to the Lauryn Hill gig, he still didn't know how to negotiate his pay. He did not realize that the work he was doing with Lauryn Hill qualified as songwriting and did not get compensated or credited on that record.
"I don't think she was trying to screw me, but someone in her camp was trying to. I was so into it but not informed, I just wanted to play music and didn't have a knowledge of publishing and songwriting. To learn a lesson like that with that record, it was just one of those things I had to accept as part of my journey and learned those lessons the hard way."
Following this experience, he was now a notable musician in the New York City landscape. It consumed all of his energy and attention because he truly loved what he was doing. He wanted to play as much as he could and wanted to master as many different genres as possible. He wanted a career that enabled him to play different music with lots of different people, which would allow him to take his passion and travel- this all happened through "organic collaborative moments."
Through his experience, I asked what advice he could offer to younger people trying to make it,
"The broad stroke answer is to respect your own path and not to criticize it, because you cannot really ever know where you are in your own development all that accurately, and you also never know whos watching you, trying to help you or hurt you. you have to keep your mind open to "Where I am right now is okay." I'm not saying if your 45 and trying to play a g chord that you should still pursue music, but there's a lot of pressure to be an overnight Soundcloud success, or get signed off one single."
I'm so fascinated with Rubano's success, and I wanted to know why he chose a career specifically as a session bass player. He said that as a teenager he had a very niche interest in this specific career because of the variety in the gig, "I was reading Bass player magazine and discovering a variety of different session musicians. That being said, I grew up listening to cool bands. I've been lucky that I have had big tastes in both of those career paths. I've been a member of a band and written songs and done that , and very close to it toured with a band where I wasn't in it but I was performing with it and it was gratifying."
Rubano continued to explain to me that being in a band is not what people think it is, and that it's very similar to owning a business and having partners, meetings, and so on. He said that many people in band are "shit-heads and morons who are lucky to be where they are, and they're ungrateful for it." He explained to me that you can get into bands but it always isn't with the best bunch of people, but that he really enjoyed touring with bands like All American Rejects and Glassjaw, "Two very different bands but it was an ideal situation. They were paying me to play bass in their band. I love hanging out with both of those bands because they're comprised of good friends of mine and that's gratifying too."
In addition to Rock, Rubano has played Jazz, Latin Jazz, Salsa, Hip-Hop, R&B, Reggae, Soul, and even Bulgarian Folk music,
"Even when I was in Taking Back Sunday for almost 10 years, when we were off tour I was working with everyone I possibly. Even though I had written most of the Taking Back Sunday music and was committed and devoted to the band, I needed to refresh my palette so that when I wasn't around it, it felt fresh and good."
Currently, you can catch Matt Rubano on tour with Angels and Airwaves. Don't miss it!