By Zachary Swickey
Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor had a daunting task ahead of him when his extraordinary touring drummer Josh Freese bowed out of the group in late 2008 to tend to his pregnant wife. Not only was Reznor down a drummer, but he was planning his upcoming “Wave Goodbye” tour to be his last – retiring NIN, at least in a live setting. Fans were shocked when the announcement was made that Ilan Rubin, a shaggy, then-20-year-old kid from San Diego, would be taking over for Freese, who is one of rock’s most revered drummers. What many fans didn’t know (but soon found out) is that Rubin is inarguably a musical genius himself. An ex-pupil of Travis Barker, Rubin is a one-man musical collective in the studio with his solo project, The New Regime.
At the young age of 8, Rubin took to playing his father’s old Ludwig kit in the family garage. By 9 he had already joined a local band – known as F.O.N. or Freaks of Nature – who played some select dates on the Van’s Warped Tour. In 1999, when Rubin was only 11, F.O.N. got the opportunity to open the revitalized Woodstock Music Festival. After five years of going nowhere, 14-year-old Rubin left the group and joined his first “signed” band, Denver Harbor, who would take him across the states on a national tour. However, the group was dropped after just one year with Universal Records. Undeterred, Rubin then joined Welsh rockers Lostprophets, who experienced some love here in the states but were more appreciated on their home turf overseas. After an album release and subsequent touring for a few years, he left after tracking drums for the group’s fourth album.
Before long, Rubin got the call from industrial rock legend Trent Reznor, and fulfilled the fantasy of 20-year-old drummers across the globe. By then, he’d already completed his greatest accomplishment – recording a solo album all on his own under the moniker, “The New Regime.” Other than production assistance from his brother, Aaron Rubin, Ilan did everything on his own – meaning every single sound you hear on his solo debut, Coup, is performed and constructed by him. This alone is an impressive feat (how the hell does that even work exactly?), but even more so when you hear the brilliant musicianship on the album.
It’s clear from the very beginning of the opening track, “Collapsing,” that Rubin is a classically-trained pianist. The rolling of the piano keys evokes a mood, an aural environment encapsulating the listener from the get-go. “Haunt My Mind” begins with digital blurps reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails before the song kicks you in the gut with vocals reminiscent of Freddie Mercury. It’s a perfect track to exemplify Rubin’s abilities as well as restraint – despite all the sounds going on, it never seems overindulgent. Nonetheless, the last minute of the track is a bone-crushing audio assault featuring ridiculous guitar solo skills from someone who is known as a professional drummer. The album highlight easily goes to “Tap Dancing in a Minefield” with its frenetic guitar work that is akin to the craziness of Mars Volta’s Omar Rodríguez-López. The drums on the song sound like some type of military artillery with all the rapid-fire noise Rubin conjures from them. Overall, the album is a melting pot of influences and presents a fresh, classically-inspired rock sound that many bands can only strive for.
Coup was released just as Rubin set out to tour with Nine Inch Nails, so unfortunately he never got to properly promote or tour behind the record. He already had half of his follow-up album recorded prior to joining NIN, and following the group’s live retirement, he promptly went back to work. Adhering to the “Do It Yourself” ethic, with the exception of drums and piano, he recorded the rest of the effort at home in his parent’s garage. While still a solo act in the studio, Rubin would recruit some of his friends to finally tour behind his sophomore release, Speak Through the White Noise, which he released in May.
Rubin’s second album presents a more mature and epic sound. There are so many great moments to be found: the eerie, “X-Files”-like piano work on “Enjoy the Bitterness,” the powerful layered vocals on “Clairaudience,” the wicked drum precision on “Live in Fear,” or the dirty guitar riff on “The One in Need.” The album’s most epic moments are saved for its final two tracks, “What Brings Us Down” and “The Decline, which both truly showcase Rubin’s knack for meticulous songwriting that is normally only found in classical compositions.
Rubin’s sound has an inescapable cinematic quality to it, and would make for some powerful soundtrack material for a variety of different genres. Sometimes it’s a 60-story building or a realistic painting that leaves you in awe of mankind’s abilities, but it’s Ilan Rubin’s The New Regime that has been leaving me in wonder lately.