Saturday, February 23, 2019     Volume: 19, Issue: 51

Santa Maria Sun / Music

The following article was posted on July 3rd, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 18 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 18

Remembering Andrew: Friends and family celebrate Andrew Rubin's life and music

By Joe Payne

I first met Andrew Rubin in 2011, when he was in high school (and the year I began writing this column), and he made an immediate impression as an artist and musician.

Andrew Rubin died in April, leaving behind an incredible output of music in recordings, performances, and live streams on social media.

I'd heard of him before ("Your dad's the cartoonist, Leigh Rubin, right?"), but I hadn't seen his talent firsthand. Even as a teenager, he had a command of the electric guitar and a profound love of music, which he and longtime friend Noah Colton shared in their band, Formal Proof, with a few other friends.

"We call ourselves Formal Proof–'Formal' as in classy and 'proof' as in proof that there is good music out there," Andrew told me back then. "We are really influenced by '60s and '70s rock and roll. We try to make it fresh and still bring that timelessness."

Years later, when he was an adult, Andrew came to work as a music teacher at Music Motive in Nipomo, where I taught piano and other instruments until the end of 2016. We worked in separate rooms, but would visit before students arrived, became friendly over time, and would often jam dueling guitars if our students were running late.

That's why when I received the news that Andrew died at the end of April from an apparent overdose, something I didn't learn until mid-June, I was totally devastated. Music Motive's owner, Steve Hilstein, broke the tragic news, and invited former and current teachers from the school to a celebration of life service on June 30 in Pismo Beach. Andrew was 23 years old.

Hilstein knew Andrew long before he ever hired him as a teacher. A longtime drummer and music teacher in SLO County, Hilstein became acquainted with the Rubin family back when he was teaching at the Drum Circuit.

What he gave
You can hear Andrew Rubin’s music on his Facebook page, Youtube channel, and at

"I met him when he was a little kid," Hilstein said. "His mom used to bring him along to his older brother Jeremy's drum lessons.

"Then eventually he started taking drum lessons with me when he was a young teenager," he added. "And shortly after that he started playing guitar and just took off."

One day, Hilstein got a direct message over Facebook from Andrew, he recalled, asking for "five recommendations you could give me for becoming a professional musician."

"I was just so impressed," he said. "He already knew me and stuff, but he was seeking out musicians, and not just me, and asking for advice. He was really serious about it, he was really focused."

He would later reach out to other musical mentors, including Jon Anderson of the band Yes, and local musician Terry Lawless, who toured with U2. But Andrew got the most support from his parents, Hilstein explained, especially in his artistic endeavors.

Andrew Rubin (left), Noah Colton (right), and Liam Smith (center) performed across the Central Coast in their band The Spaces Between, including at the SLO Farmers Market (pictured) for the music school Andrew taught at, Music Motive.

For Andrew's mother, Teresa Rubin, her son's artistic side was obvious at an early age.

"Really, he was so creative, and ever since he was a toddler, he loved to act and perform," she told me. "He got into guitar at 13 and just became a passionate guitarist over the years.

"We were his biggest fans, we went to every gig," she added. "I love the fact that he still lived at home, because we could continue to still hear his music."

Andrew enjoyed sharing his gifts, she said, whether it was with his family, audiences at local venues, or other musicians younger and less experienced than he.

Hilstein said that Andrew had asked him if he could teach at Music Motive while he was still a teenager, a request Hilstein had to politely rebuff, explaining he couldn't hire anyone who wasn't legally an adult.

"I said, 'Call me back when you're 18,'" he said. "Sure enough, he turned 18 and he called me, and I hired him. He started doing classes at first and then he became a teacher and he did really well."

That's how I remember Andrew, sitting in the drum-cluttered room at Music Motive in Nipomo, smiling as he patiently guided a youngster through their first chords and scales. That kind of guidance–which Andrew enjoyed with several music teachers–is incredibly important in the life of an aspiring musician.

There's a tribute wall for Andrew on the website for Lady Family Mortuary, where a local parent shared a comment:

"Andrew was gracious enough to share his immense talent with my daughter," the mother wrote. "We are forever indebted to him for teaching her guitar. We send our heartfelt condolences to the family. May you find comfort and peace during this very difficult time. God bless."

I remember clearly an instance at the music school. It was just another Tuesday night of lessons, but Andrew was hunched over his laptop computer, headphones in, working intently. He noticed me come in ºand asked if I would listen to something he was working on.

I was happy to, but I was expecting to hear some funky chords and blazing electric lead guitar as I'd heard him riff so many times before. When he hit play on his program, however, layers of synthesized cello, violin, and even woodwinds sounded through the speaker system.

I was listening to the early versions of Andrew's "Guitar Concerto," a classical music-inspired piece he worked on under the guidance of Anderson. He later premiered the piece with a live orchestra in 2015, when the San Luis Chamber Orchestra realized what had only existed in a computer program, and then 20-year-old Andrew dazzled with his virtuosic abilities on a nylon-string guitar.

"Around 2014, he realized he could compose too, and didn't realize he had that gift," Teresa said. "He just loved composing as much as performing, so it was really thrilling to be his parents."

When Andrew showed me his work in progress, I was definitely impressed. Most artists deal with self confidence issues, and the mental barriers I'd put up about trying to be a "composer" didn't hinder this young man, several years my junior.

But Andrew was dealing with some problems, though largely unknown to most.

More than a year ago he left Music Motive, Hilstein explained, because he was "having some issues."

"I know that he was struggling with some depression," Hilstein said. "There were some complications with that, but I know he was kind of struggling, as we artists often do, because we feel so much, you know."

Teresa said that her son had seen a psychiatrist without her or her husband's knowledge, and received a prescription. He told them about it later, and opened up about some of his struggles with the medications. He wasn't being monitored, she said, and taking too much sometimes. 

Getting help
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a National Helpline in English and Spanish for those facing mental and/or substance use disorders at 1-800-487-HELP (4357). More information is available at

After they found out, the family wanted to put him on a rehab program, but Andrew insisted he could do it himself. He saw another doctor, who gave him a prescription to "wean him off" his prescription during the summer of 2017, which worked, she said. He got "healthier and healthier," Teresa said, and he "felt really creative."

"One day in summer, he was saying that it was so amazing to him that composition had come to him without even trying, from above," she said. "And he was just thrilled with that and doing really well."

But Andrew had a secret.

He had been using opiates, though he never opened up to his parents about it.

"We weren't aware," Teresa said. "Since it's happened, a couple of his friends said they were aware, but we weren't aware."

At the beginning of this year, Andrew had more "ups and down days," Teresa said. She and her husband spoke with him everyday, got him help with a counselor, but he didn't tell them he was using.

The day before Andrew passed away, his parents bought him an airline ticket to spend a week with a friend in Washington. He seemed excited about the trip, she said. 

Andrew went out to his "music room" in the family's garage the next night, where his father found him unresponsive a few hours later, his dog laying beside him. Paramedics were called immediately.

"And he was gone," Teresa said. "It was too late."

They wouldn't get confirmation on how their son died until mid-June, but were sure he didn't end his own life. The official coroner's report found his death was accidental.

"We knew right away that it was an accident because he was really looking forward to his trip and other things that he was planning on doing with his career," Teresa said.

Many musicians know well that drug use is common in the live music scene. Most shows happen where alcohol is served, musicians often get paid at least partially with drinks in lieu of money. Bands share a joint behind a venue after their set. The romanticizing of harder narcotics like opiates is a well known part of rock 'n' roll history.

But for those of us who've struggled with addiction, it's an incredibly difficult thing to open up about. You're not cool or a rock star when you abuse a drug, or when you've become chemically or psychologically dependent.

Andrew was a rock star, he was a composer, and an incredible artist and teacher who meant a lot to a lot of people. I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing that he felt he could have opened up to any us, to share what he was going through, and admit that he needed help. 

We all would have been there for him. We would have told him he was a good guy, who was just caught up in something that was bad for him, and that he wasn't alone. Now, all we can do is enjoy and cherish how giving Andrew was with all of us, what he left us in his music, and the inspiration he continues to give so many beyond his lifetime.

Managing Editor Joe Payne is listening to Andrew's "Guitar Concerto." Contact him at

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