The Musical Cameleon: Taking Back Sunday's Matt Rubano talks about life as a career bassist

“I have a jazz trio,” Matt Rubano adds. “It’s not really a trio; it’s more like improvisational music, which I try to play as often as I can. That helps keep me sane. I had to abandon a whole side of me that really isn’t incorporated in Taking Back Sunday.”

- Sheila Busteed

posted April 23, 2007

The Musical Cameleon: Taking Back Sunday\'s  Matt Rubano talks about life as a career bassist
     Matt Rubano is proof positive that appearances can be deceiving. Stepping into a room no larger than a walk-in closet backstage at Ottawa’s Congress Centre, his personal style suggests what he appears to be: an average young man making a living in a rock band.

     But in fact, he is the quintessential ‘Jack of all trades’ in the music industry. He has literally tried it all: toured with a rock band, recorded with a hip-hop legend, played with an orchestra ensemble, experimented with an improvisational jazz group…the list goes on.

     “My tastes, both as a listener and as a musician, as a player and composer, are extremely diverse,” says Rubano. “And not in the same way that people say, ‘Oh, I listen to everything’ and they have one reggae record and one jazz record.”

     Rubano joined alt-rock band Taking Back Sunday while it was in the middle of its tour to support the 2002 release of the highly-successful “Tell All Your Friends” album, but he previously had his hand in all sorts of projects while working as a freelance bassist.

     Though recording and touring with TBS keep him busy most of the year, Rubano takes every opportunity during down time to return to freelance work.

     “I’m never on vacation when I’m off,” he says. “The last time I was home, I played on a couple of records and worked on some jingle stuff with a friend of mine.”

     When TBS is on a break, Rubano returns home and goes through a routine that keeps him quite busy all year round: “I take one day to do my laundry and get my sleep schedule on, and the next day I’m out catching up with all my friends and trying to get into any situation I can.”

     And TBS isn’t Rubano’s only band.

     “I have a jazz trio,” he adds. “It’s not really a trio; it’s more like improvisational music, which I try to play as often as I can. That helps keep me sane. I had to abandon a whole side of me that really isn’t incorporated in Taking Back Sunday.”

     Rubano was also the bassist for fusion/jamband Schleigho for about one year, and previously played bass in the Off-Broadway musical “Bat Boy.”

     And at the young age of 20, Rubano was involved in the recording of a historic hip-hop/R&B album: Lauryn Hill’s 1998 smash solo debut “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” He describes the whole experience as surreal and has fond memories of working with the legendary member of The Fugees.

     He recalls being quite nervous upon walking into the studio, which he says was filled with a 30-person entourage. He was unpacking his bass when someone placed a hand on his shoulder – it was her.

     “She’s strikingly beautiful,” he says of Hill. “She looks like this weird modern Cleopatra.”

     He describes recording with Hill as a “very easy” process.

     “She was really nice and she had a unique and difficult-to-understand way of explaining things,” he notes. “But part of being a freelance musician is being able to instantly translate what people are trying to tell you in your head, and not asking them condescending music theory questions or trying to impose authority over them.

     “There are tons of horror stories about what she’s like and how she’s changed from then until now,” he adds, “but my experiences were totally enjoyable. That was a nice time in my life.”

     While Rubano has had a very rich musical career to date, he urges that his current endeavour as a member of a rock band is not as glamorous as outsiders may suspect.

     “It’s the greatest thing in the world, but I don’t think it’s easy at all,” he says. “Some people think it’s about cashing checks and going to cool parties, but it’s totally not that at all. It’s a job as much as anything else.

     “People expect bands to be this ‘all for one and one for all’ sort of thing,” he adds. “Is that possible? Is that possible anywhere else, say in your office, in your classroom, at home, with your friends? Everyone has different opinions and a band is the same thing. And when we get on stage is when all of that fades away and becomes why we are here together.”