Hoobastank vows ‘Reason’ won’t prevail

Special to The Times

A sold-out crowd at the Wiltern LG saw an exuberant performance Wednesday by Hoobastank, a band that’s really on a roll. The Calabasas quartet’s sentimental break-up-to-make-up ballad “The Reason” has been one of the biggest hits of the year, a rare No. 1 pop single from a rock band and the musical centerpiece of countless proms and weddings in recent months.

But those fans were also seeing a band at a crossroads. Having a hit that has penetrated the rock and pop world so deeply but is not exactly representative of the harder-rocking tone of the majority of the band’s material raises questions of where Hoobastank will now turn.

Matt Smith, music director of L.A. rock radio station KROQ-FM (106.7), is one person who’s closely watching how this will play out. The station’s exposure contributed to the success of two earlier and more rocking Hoobastank songs, “Crawling in the Dark” and “Running Away,” but at the moment it’s the ballad that looms largest in the public’s mind.


How the band is viewed, Smith says, will unfold through the course of its current album, also titled “The Reason,” which has sold 1.6 million copies since its release in December and is not slowing down.

“Whether or not they’re taken seriously as a ‘real’ rock band won’t be decided until this album cycle is finished,” Smith says. “Either they walk away from it as ‘Hoobastank, the band that had rock hits and that big ballad’ or as ‘that band that does “The Reason.” ’ “

For its part, the band is trying to make its attitude clear: Crossroads? What crossroads?

The group charged right through its show Wednesday as if there are no potential turns to make, leaving no doubt that it intends to be seen as a rock band that happened to have a hit ballad along the way.

That said, its rock is a brand defined primarily by volume and tempo rather than by attitude or tone. There wasn’t a lot of deep self-probing going on in singer Doug Robb’s lyrics, and the songs’ structures and melodies are pure state-of-the-art pop. Pretty much any Hoobastank song could easily be recast as a teen-pop number simply by giving it a different arrangement.

But the volume was kept largely pounding and the tempo generally fast, and “The Reason” was strategically sandwiched between the more-rocking if ironically titled “Same Direction” (the band’s new single) and the crunchy, metal-riffed “Pieces” (a punk-influenced highlight of the group’s 2001 debut album, “Hoobastank”).

Robb, though, understands the issues raised by the nature of the band’s current success. He’s aware, for example, of how fellow Southland band Sugar Ray shifted from Red Hot Chili Peppers-type funk-punk to a steady stream of breezy pop hits after its breakthrough 1997 single, “Fly.”


“I honestly don’t think that’s going to happen with us,” said Robb, 29, in the band’s dressing room before the show. “We’ll consciously steer away from that. There will be softer songs and ballads in the future, but we’re not going to write another ‘Reason.’ ”

It’s not that the band is disavowing the hit, though. Robb says he’s proud that it has been taken to heart by so many.

“I get that all the time, couples saying, ‘It’s our song.’ ” he says. “I fight them,” he jokes: “ ‘No! It’s my song!’ ”

That it took the band 10 years to get this hit makes it even more special. Robb, guitarist Dan Estrin, bassist Markku Lappalainen and drummer Chris Hesse formed the group while most of them were still in high school, playing steadily for several years before scoring a deal with Island Records.

The debut album found a steadily growing audience, selling 1.1 million (but never more than 30,000 in any one week) while constant touring shored up the fan base. That provided a solid foundation for the launch of the current album, whose popularity has been aided by some savvy imaging via videos (“The Reason” is up for two MTV Video Music Awards) and the matinee-idol looks of Robb (named recently by People magazine as one of America’s 50 most eligible bachelors).

The band whose career track Hoobastank has watched most closely is made up of friends of theirs from Agoura Hills -- Incubus -- with whom Hoobastank has shared bills over the years and in whose road crew its members have even served at times. Incubus dealt effectively with the pluses and minuses of having a sentiment-heavy hit (2001’s “Drive”), not to mention singer Brandon Boyd’s pop-idol appeal.


“There was definitely a sense of, ‘These are normal guys like us, making it, so why can’t we?’” Robb says. “And they always had great advice about business and work ethic.”

Artistically the two bands don’t have a lot in common, though, with Hoobastank showing little of the musical ambition or emotional depth of Incubus. But Hoobastank’s appeal Wednesday was immediate and uncomplicated.

It was another band’s name that came up in conversation with Hoobastank’s management before the show: Journey, an act that found great success in the ‘70s and ‘80s balancing rock trappings with mainstream appeal.

But that’s a very tricky balance to achieve, and with that in mind, one image stood out at the Wiltern LG.

As the band played “The Reason,” the young women in the audience went into a frenzy, singing along, holding up cellphones so friends could hear the song, snapping photos and, in some cases, growing tearful with emotion.

But standing among them, many young male fans had a distinctly different stance: stiff, expressionless and seemingly disengaged. They looked as if they were standing at a crossroads waiting for a bus rather than witnessing a band rocketing to stardom.