With the release of your second full length album Fists Buried in Pockets, The Riot Before has garnered critical acclaim from critics and fans alike, but with thousands of great bands out there, what is the hardest part of separating yourself from other acts and getting your music heard?
The hardest part of a music career is just getting your music heard. There are a million bands out right now and everyone is kind of on the internet and I think that it's really difficult to rise above it and be heard amongst it without being cheesy. You can do stupid gimmick stuff and do all the auto-ad bullshit on MySpace or whatever and promote yourself, but I don't really like doing that. So for us, I guess our approach was to just go on tour. And that was really difficult, going out on a tour where nobody knows who you are. So I guess the the hardest part of separating yourself is figuring out how you want to do it, going after it and sticking with it.
When writing socially fueled anthems, how do you keep the balance between the message and the melody, so that the message doesn't overpower the song?
My approach, and even increasingly so as we think about writing another record, is trying to keep it personal. I think a lot of bands, my self included, especially on past albums, guilt this overwhelming message and I think it becomes hard to relate to. It becomes like a policy statement and so the way I found is to try and put my self in it a little more and kind of put where I am in relation to the whole thing so that it becomes more of a personal song that I hope other people can relate to as well. I think where we get political in this band is where politics interact with our lives. Like the things we see and maybe effect us emotionally or whatever. I always want to make sure that it is me interacting with it rather than just being like, fuck the government. And so I think if you do it personally, it makes you a little more open to failure, which makes it a little more vulnerable and I think vulnerability is really important in music.
What went into writing Fists Buried in Pockets?
A lot. It was a lot of work. It was especially difficult because we had been practicing a lot with the new songs and our guitarist quit two months before we were going to enter the studio. So we had to find a new guitarist and then have him rewrite all the lead guitar parts and teach him all the songs. So it was a lot of work. It involved not a lot of hanging out with our friends. We basically just worked and then went to band practice, for about three months. But the songs were written over a period of about a year and a half. It was a lot of work but it was worth it and we're all very pleased with how it came out.
Can you give us some insight on the recording process?
It was the best recording process we've ever had. Prior to recording this record all of our studio time had been like blitzkrieg recording time I guess, where you would go in for one day and record as many songs as you possibly can and hope it didn't sound too bad. This is the first time that we actually got to go into the studio and spend a little bit more time. We spent two and a half weeks and it was the least stressful, most relaxing time I've ever had in the studio. Normally I don't only hate recording, I despise it and this was actually very pleasant.
What is the meaning behind the title, Fists Buried in Pockets?
The meaning behind the title is kind of about me growing up I guess and being a little more cautious and a little more reserved. I'm 27 now and I went through those very cliche stages of growing up. I'm not a very rebellious person, never really have been, so when I was 17 I kind of agreed with my parents and the people around me. Then I went to college and all of a sudden I read Howard Zinn and everything turned upside down and then, you know, I blamed the government and corporations and all those things for all of societies ills and now I guess the pendulum's swing has gone back towards the center. I'm a little less eager to blame other people and so I think Fists Buried in Pockets is taking the fist, which is a very cliche image for punk rock, like the fist in the air, and it's more about putting the fist in your pocket and being a little reserved. Still I guess having that clenched fist but not throwing it in someone's face too quickly. And I think it's a little bit about listening and being reserved and taking the time to make the appropriate decision rather than the knee-jerk one.
Fists Buried in Pockets is a collaboration between americana, folk, and political punk. What in your life led to this musical direction?
It was definitely the music I grew up listening to and also my skills as a guitar player. I'm not that great of a guitar player, so you can write off metal pretty quickly and a lot of genres that I just can't play. Like I said, guitar really isn't my thing, I like melody, I like lyrics, and I like music communicating a message, whatever that message is, be it: I'm sad or I'm mad about this or this is what I'm thinking about. I like the music being the thing that carries the message and so I found that simple punk rock, folky music, or all that kind of music that's just four chords is really great for getting that message across because it doesn't clutter it up too much and it leaves a lot of open space for melody and for expressing what you want to say through the tone of the voice or just getting the words across. I think that idea probably subconsciously made me feel comfortable with this style. And just the bands I grew up listening to and the bands I listen to now. I'm still influenced by my friends bands and new bands I hear.
What are some of those bands?
Jeez, I'm all over the board. Recently I've been totally obsessed with Ryan Adams. I love Ryan Adams and everybody in our band loves Ryan Adams. Actually, I think that the most recent Bon Iver record is phenomenal, I love it. I listen to it all the time. I rediscovered Small Brown Bike and I love that band now, that was a band that I think I missed when they were popular. And ever since The Fest, two years ago, I've been really into that band. There's so many. I'm all over the place.
How has Fists Buried in Pockets evolved since Horseshoes and Hand Grenades and So Long, The Lighthouse?
Oh man, it is definitely better. [Laughs] I think it's better all the way around. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades was written just by me and I had one of my friends play the instruments I couldn't play. I hadn't met anybody in the band when that record was released. So Long, The Lighthouse was the first time when we wrote a record more as a collaborative effort, it would still be me writing the song and then kind of teaching it to the band. And then with Fists Buried in Pockets I feel like we finally had our first representation of everybody really getting their opinions heard musically and I think it's a much better record as a result. Because everybody in the band is really talented and Jon [Greeley], our new guitarist, is great and I love the things he writes. So it's the first time you really hear the band as a band and not just me kind of dictating stuff. And hopefully, I've become a better lyricist and it's kind of changing as I change as a person, so I think you can kind of watch me grow up over the last four or five years of records.
Personally, what is more challenging, writing lyrics or the music?
It's way harder to write lyrics, it takes me forever. I'm a really, really slow lyric writer. Sometimes it works, sometimes I can sit down and knock it out in an hour. Most of the time I'll just sit there and revisit a song for a month or two. I write in a journal and I'll just page through journals until I come across an idea that I think is appropriate for the song. Yeah, it takes forever and I think I make it more complicated than it needs to be. I think I need to just start writing, but I over think it a lot of times and kind of think my self into a corner and can't write out of it. The music is more of a natural thing, you just keep playing guitar until something sounds good.
What were your expectations of the new album?
Whenever you're that close to something it's really hard to get perspective and find out if it's good or not. Your friends that you show your record to before you release it, they always say good things and it's hard to really get a feel for how people are going to feel about it. But we liked it and we thought it was good and we were really proud of it. We just hoped that people would get to hear it, the last few things we had released had a very soft release and this was the first time there was going to be any sort of like, sending records out to press and stuff. We just wanted people to hear it. And as far as those expectations were, they all have come true pretty well and it's been really cool.
If I were to introduce The Riot Before to a friend, which song would you suggest?
Actually, I really like the song "Capillaries," the very last track on Fists Buried in Pockets. I think it has a lot of our sound and it's a little more creative of a song and showcases everyone pretty well. It was one of the later songs that we wrote, so I fell that it's going to be a better bridge towards future stuff, as well as, kind of a link to the past. You can hear that and check out the early stuff and not hate it all.
In the past you have supported various forms of distribution: vinyl and CD releases were coupled with digital downloads and online streams. What is the next step in "new media" distribution?
Hmm, well I don't know if there's a next step. I have no idea what it would be. I hope it's something cool. But I think we're just going to stick with vinyl. I think vinyl is awesome and it's fun and it's big and you get to hold it. I hope it just becomes vinyl and downloads to be honest. I think CD's are silly, they're a little antiquated. They were great in the 90's, but they're not really needed anymore. I seriously am pushing so hard to release our stuff on cassette and nobody in my band thinks that's a good idea.
Well nothing really plays cassettes anymore.
[Laughs] I know, but I mean, who cares. We played with Death Is Not Glamorous over in Europe and they had cassettes and apparently cassettes sell really well in Eastern Europe. But yeah, I just think they're funny and so I want to do that. One of my friends bands were releasing [music] only on cassettes and I think it's awesome.
With the addition of Fists Buried in Pockets, The Riot Before now has a pretty solid catalogue. What will the set list look like for your tours in Canada and the West Coast in the Spring?
It's going to be mostly from Fists Buried in Pockets. A 25 minute set is what we normally get, so you do like 8 or 9 songs and of those, 4 or 5 are from Fists and the other ones are from the past. But, we got a lot of new stuff that we are actually writing now, so hopefully we can get some of that polished up and ready to play and test it out. Hopefully we'll have one brand new song every show, which I am excited about.
What is your favorite song to play during a set?
I really like playing "You Can't Sexy Dance To Punk Rock." It's fast and it also gives everybody a few seconds to catch their breaths part way through. It's easy to play so you can just kind of run around. It's not challenging, you can just kind of go crazy.
For all of us that don't get to travel down to Florida to check out The Fest, what are we missing?
You're missing a really tiring weekend that is really fun. It's just nonstop. It's pretty incredible. It's a lot of good bands all in one place and everybody's in a really good mood having fun. It's definitely worth going to. I really like The Fest. I plan on taking a nap this year because I was dead by the end of last year. If your in any way tied in with your punk rock community, whether it be you go to a lot of shows in your home town and meet people or you put shows on or you're in a band, it's a really good chance to just see a bunch of people that you normally don't get to see. So it's really fun, it's kind of a big punk rock family reunion and I really like that about it.
Any Fest stories you care to share?
Last year I watched The Bouncing Souls and then walked outside and Paint it Black was playing on top of a U-Haul truck. So they were playing inside a rented U-Haul truck and somebody would stage dive off the top of the thing like 15 feet high. Then the power went out so there was just a big a cappella thing with drums and then the police broke it up, and then you go party somewhere. We went and played an acoustic show in a hotel room after that with Jay [Northington] from Nothington and it was really fun. There's just something always going on all weekend.
Well that is about it from me, any last words you would like to say?
I always want to give a shout out to These Numbers Have Faces. It's a really cool nonprofit that we try to get the word out about. So go to their website and learn about it and support some really good people doing some great things in South Africa.