In the MeantimeRob Echeverria is a man of many different bands; getting his start with late era NY hardcore band Rest In Pieces, he found his footing when he was asked to join Helmet to replace their departed guitarist Peter Mengede. Playing on 1994ís Betty found him playing on the most puzzling and interesting records of the decade. Two songs in particular, "Milquetoast" and "Wilmaís Rainbow" show off quite the dichotomy of Helmet. Departing them, he hooked up with Biohazard and stayed there until about 2000 when he departed and seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. Unlike other former members of Helmet, Rob was very gracious talking about his time in two of the loudest and heaviest bands of the '90's.
Interview by Pete Crigler
PSF: How did you get started playing guitar and what got you interested in music?
Rob Echeverria: Looking back, I really have to credit my family for being great listeners of music. I was always surrounded by music whether it be traditional Ecuadorian music from my parents, my dad was really into country music, my sisters would blend in the Beatles, WCBS FM, Bowie, disco, etc. but of course, at 10 years old, there was KISS. I always credit the "Calling Doctor Love" solo for getting me interested in guitar although I always wanted to be a drummer. That was way too noisy and impossible in a two family house in Queens. I wound up taking my sisterís acoustic guitar that she had under the bed collecting dust. Eventually, I would find my way to Ritchie Blackmore, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhodes, Tony Iommi and eventually, all of the new wave of British heavy metal bands. That created the spark and the desire to really want to play in a band and get serious about music.
PSF: Tell me a bit about the hardcore scene of the late eighties/early nineties.
Rob: The transition from the new wave of British heavy metal to the punk scene came by the way of Motorhead, Discharge, GBH and the Exploited, so naturally, we found our way to CBGB's. For me, that would change the idea of what music meant, not on a musical level, but as a force and energy that made an impact. I experienced that seeing Agnostic Front, and the Cro-mags. Music no longer had to be heard but had to be felt. Like a punch in the face.
PSF: How did Rest in Pieces come together and what was that like?
Rob: I met Craig and Armand when I was in high school. Craig was playing with Tommy in NYC Mayhem and Armand was playing guitar and singing for Rest In Pieces. Craig, Tommy and myself became Straight Ahead and would record our 7-inch as a three-piece with Tommy on drums. Later, Armand would take over on drums and would ask me to play guitar for Pieces. For a while, both bands existed at the same time but eventually, Straight Ahead would break up and all focus went to RIP
PSF: What caused that band to end?
Rob: Basically, I think it came down to frustration. We had gone through some lineup changes. We had a horrible time recording Under My Skin. We had a very bad record deal that didn't allow us to make that record what we wanted it to be. And by that time Craig and Armand were in Sick of it All, which in a way made it really easy to move on to something else.
PSF: How did you come to audition for Helmet?
Rob: I went to go see them play at Roseland with Armand and Steve Martin from Nasty Little Man. Steve was their publicist and I jokingly made a comment about how I would be a better guitar player in the band. A few weeks later, I get a call from Steve that Helmet we're looking for a guitar player. I got a call from Page Hamilton, went down to their studio on Mott Street and in short, got the gig.
PSF: What was it like playing and touring with those guys?
Rob: I was pretty green when it came to touring in the real sense of the word. We had our road trips in Rest in Pieces and Straight Ahead but that was the first time I ever stepped on a tour bus. It was a great experience but I quickly learned what the difference was between being in a band with guys who grew up together versus guys that don't have anything to do with one another. Let's just say, at times, it was awkward.
PSF: Did the band feel any pressure when it came to making Betty?
Rob: I'm sure there was pressure on Page's part but for me, I just had to wait until all the songs were written.
PSF: What was the experience like making that record?
Rob: It was awesome for two reasons: Butch Vig, and Andy Wallace. I love being around the recording and mixing process. Watching those two guys work was awesome.
PSF: What was the touring like, and was there a downturn in the bandís fortunes?
Rob: That's tough for me to say. Our agreement was such that I didn't have to worry about it but there is definitely a difference between ending a tour with a gold record (Meantime) and following that up with a record that sold half as much at the time. We did a lot of cool stuff like the Jon Stewart show for the first time, tons of movie soundtracks, videos, all of the things that a band would want to do to succeed but for some reason, that record never took off.
PSF: What caused you to leave the band?
Rob: I'm a firm believer that you should do things that make you happy and that are fun. I wasn't having fun. I placed a phone call to the bandís tour manager at the time to talk it out and next thing you know, I get a phone call in return from the bandís manager that my services were no longer be needed. I guess it was amicable.
PSF: How did Biohazard come into the picture?
Rob: Helmet were touring and playing the festivals in Europe. We happened to be on the same bill as Biohazard and I wound up meeting Evan. Once again, Steve Martin was a mutual connection along with tons of friends that we had in common so they felt comfortable asking me to play in the band.
PSF: Had Mata Leao already been finished when you came in and what was touring on that record like?
Rob: Yes, they recorded that as a three-piece. Total opposite of my experience with Helmet. There is something about being from New York. I am from Queens, those guys were from Brooklyn but you would've thought that we've known each other since we were kids. We had a blast. A shout out to Pantera for that was the most fun any human could possibly have on tour hahaha
PSF: What was it like making New World Disorder?
Rob: In one respect, it was fun because I had more creative input and freedom to do things on that record. But it was also frustrating because there were limitations in the band. Working with Ed Stasium was fun. But like with any other recording, you take the good with the bad and it is what it is.
PSF: I heard that the Mercury deal was a disaster, any comments?
Rob: No comment.
PSF: What ultimately caused you to leave Biohazard?
Rob: I think the biggest struggle as a musician is balancing the music you want to play along with being a business. As a business, you try to replicate your highest level of success and at times, you have to sacrifice your artistic growth to do that. I guess I felt like there was nowhere for me to go. Once again, if you're not happy doing what you are doing, do something else.
PSF: Do you keep in touch with the Helmet or Bio guys?
Rob: I recently connected with Danny from Biohazard because of the Rest in Pieces reunion and from time to time I see Henry from Helmet on social media but that's about it
PSF: What are you currently up to?
Rob: I live at the Jersey shore and I have a personal training business. I will always play music.
PSF: How do you hope people will think of you as a musician?
Rob: I'm not schooled, my chops are OK, but if I want to be remembered by anything it would be my sound and my tone. Above all, music needs to sound good and hit you like a punch in the face.
Also see our interview with Helmet's Peter Mengede
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