NEW YORK - The guys of Hoobastank are discussing fashion, specifically who has the greatest collection of shoes.
It's a strange conversation for the Southern California rockers known more for their song stylings than their fashion sense of T-shirts, baggy pants and over-the-top haircuts.
But this is Fashion Week in New York, a twice-yearly event where the biggest designers marry the latest in music and fashion on the runways. And Hoobastank is in town to participate in "Fashion Rocks," a television special airing Sept. 16 on Fox that highlights the influence of music on fashion.
So the conversation makes sense. Well, at least to Hoobastank.
"I have probably more shoes than anybody I ever met," said drummer Chris Hesse. Well, maybe not as many as lead singer Doug Robb, he says. Or as many as guitarist Dan Estrin. Maybe as many as bassist Markku Lappalainen.
Boxes and boxes of footwear - all handed out freely by manufacturers who want to see their kicks on the band members.
That's apparently what comes with being the band with the multiplatinum album "The Reason," plus a single by the same name that has become THE rock ballad of the year.
"I can clothe my friends and family in shoes for the rest of my life," Estrin, 28, said during a recent interview at an upscale Manhattan eatery. "It's crazy."
It's been a crazy year for the band that has seen "The Reason," their sophomore album released in December 2003 on Island Records, eclipse their multiplatinum debut album.
The first single, "Out of Control," rocketed up the modern rock charts. But it was "The Reason," a soulful, lyrical ballad, that launched the album into the rock 'n' roll stratosphere. Their third single, "Same Direction," released last month, is also climbing the charts.
"We don't do anything by design," said Robb, 29.
There is little designed or engineered about the band, which had its beginnings in the early 1990s with Robb and Estrin, who went to high school together in the suburban Los Angeles community of Agoura Hills.
The two joined musical forces, so to speak, after splitting with their respective bands at the time. Initially, the two played for fun, writing humorous songs about questionable, unprintable topics.
They got serious about music in 1994, after taking out an ad in a Los Angeles-area music magazine and were joined by Hesse, 30, and Lappalainen, 31.
They spent five years toiling in the Los Angeles music scene, building a following and being "passed on by every label out there."
They eventually caught Island's attention. But it wasn't until they hit the road as the opening act for Incubus that the band gained national attention. Estrin, who grew up with a couple of Incubus' members, credits the tour for helping put the band in the spotlight.
Since then, they have been making their way on their own - on their own terms.
By all accounts, Hoobastank is not your typical rock band. They have managed to avoid bad publicity and rock 'n' roll excesses - from drug use to infighting - that have derailed others.
"We're not an angst-driven band," Hesse said.
As the frontman, Robb has gained most of the media attention. While some bands might be upset or resentful of it, Hoobastank embraces it.
"We understand that people look to the singer the most," Hesse said.
Rock hierarchy, Robb jokes.
Robb describes the band as just four guys who like to play music first and foremost.
"We don't have a five-year plan. It's not like we said we started here and by this time we want to be here," Robb says. "I don't want to be those guys."
After "The Reason," the band will begin focusing on its next record. And that may be the biggest hurdle the bands faces. How do you top one of the best selling albums of the year that features a huge rock ballad?
Lappalainen jokes about becoming the hard rock band Extreme that experienced commercial success with the acoustic ballad "More Than Words." The band was never able to repeat its success and eventually broke up.
"But that was the total antithesis of what the band was about," Robb said.
For Hoobastank, "The Reason" - both the album and the song - are reflective of where the band is, they say.
"We're getting better as songwriters not just making music. I want to write good songs," Estrin said.
Steve Bartels, head of Island Records, said that rock sensibility has helped propel their success.
"They are smart. They've done the right things along the way. They've matured as artists, as songwriters," he said.
While the band may be serious about music, they appear to be having a good time with just about everything else.
All recently bought homes in Southern California. Giant storage units, Lappalainen quips. Ask about fame, and they joke about a fan who regularly e-mails them religious letters. (Yes, they read fan comments.)
Ask about their biggest rock star moments, and Estrin jokes about girls.
Finally, ask how the band came up with its off-the-wall name and they all tell different stories.
"We've been asked that question so many times, we got sick of it," Estrin said. "Now it's a big joke. Now, nobody would believe us anyway."
So for now, at least, they are fine with just being known as the band with the funny name that makes serious music.
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