Richmond, VA's The Riot Before is quickly becoming a household name for their relentless touring schedule, passionate live performances, and boisterous-yet-honest brand of punk-rock. Their forthcoming record, Rebellion, is due out on Paper and Plastick, April 27th. Additionally, in 2009, they released a free downloadable EP of acoustic versions of several songs from their 2008 release, Fists Buried In Pockets. Sean Jain contacted singer/guitarist/songwriter Brett Adams to get the latest on The Riot Before's forthcoming release, the story of how the band started, and why file-sharing has helped the band grow.
Tell me a bit about how The Riot Before came into being, how you guys formed and met.
The history of the band is somewhat convoluted and epic but not really epic, more like, umm-have you seen those Family Circus cartoons that show like little Timmy or Tommy or whatever his name is, on some complicated path to accomplish a rather simple errand? Like, "Timmy takes out the garbage," and for some reason he trounces all over the neighborhood and climbs a fence chasing a cat but then stops for ice cream, etc. Itâs like that…but less funny.
Basically, the band started in late 2003 in Santa Barbara, then it stopped soon after when I joined some other band for a while, then I quit that other band âcause I realized it wasnât really my thing (i.e. didnât make me rich OR popular), so I restarted The Riot Before but this time by myself, recorded the first record with a friend playing drums and bass, and then I moved to Richmond. That happened in September of â05. Had I ever been to Richmond before? No. Did I know anyone there? No. So why would I do that? Well, I could give you a bunch of reasons that are like, "true and stuff," but when you get right down to the core of it, the main reason is a shoulder shrug and a, "fuck it, why not?" In Richmond I set out to getting an actual band together and going on a lot of tours. I did this by getting a serving job at a crappy Mexican food restaurant, a Netflix account, and a pretty bad case of the oh-shit-I-just-made-the-worst-decision-evers. That lasted for about 6 months.
The first band member was Garrett, our original guitarist, whom I had met before moving east when our old bands played a show to no one at a bar in LA. I didnât know he lived in Richmond until I got there. His band was freshly dissolved and he asked to join my non-band but maybe in the near future actual band. He didnât phrase it like that. I said he was in. A few months later I approached Cory (whom I had never met) one day in a parking lot and asked him if he played bass (I had been informed that he did) and he said yes andâit has since been confirmedâthought I was one of those shitty idiot hipsters (that too, has been confirmed) and initially wanted nothing to do with my "band." I gave him a CD and was like, "Wanna be in my band?" He said heâd think about it. I believed him. He listened to the CD and then called me a few days later and said he did want to be in the band, even though my pants were tight. The latter wasnât stated outright, but you could hear it in his voice.
Freddy joined a few months later after we kicked out this one guy, Jason, who played like two shows with us. Freddy is a pretty good salesman (i.e. liar) and he told me he could play the drums. Technically this was true. But also technically Freddy hadnât played the drums since high school and his current kit was like $150 from Sears and made St. Anger sound good. But he was our friend (I kinda had friends at this point) and we said he could be in the band if he promised to practice a lot and not be so terrible at drums. This actually happened. Jon, our current guitarist, joined the band about two years ago after Garrett quit 45 minutes after our transmission blew up on the side of the highway in Charlotte, NC at 3am; an event that I agree didnât augur well for the future prosperity of the band. Iâve seen Garrett twice since then. He has a wife and a baby now. Jon was an old friend of Coryâs and they had played in a band before Cory followed the dollar signs and joined up with the cash cow that is The Riot Before. Cory said that Jon should be our new guitarist. I was unsure at first cause heâs left handed and tall. The latter the most annoying âcause then in glossy promo shots for fancy magazines Jon would make me look especially short. But then I consented after Jon promised to always stand in the back and be kinda out of focus. That didnât actually happen, but I have been doing my best in pictures to stand a few feet in front of Jon or uphill if thatâs an option. Iâve also been trying to look pensive but tough. So thatâs how the band got to where it is now. Iâm sure at some point in that history we really did chase a cat over a fence and then eat some ice cream.
How did you guys hook up with Paper and Plastick?
I think Tony from Southernâ Lovinâ gave Vinnie our last record, Fists Buried in Pockets. Vinnie liked it and he wrote us and told us that he liked it. He did this twice. We were flattered, of course, and suggested that maybe we do an EP or something for his label. He was hesitant at first, but then we sent him some nudes of the band and that pretty much sealed the deal. We signed with P+P in the back of a stretch Hummer limo in Monaco.
So this is your first record for Paper and Plastick, did you guys go all out on the vinyl? Can we expect some surprises?
We didnât go completely all out. Iâm not really sure what all out would be. Maybe like, "every record comes with a puppy," or like, "first 500 pressed on uranium," (which would probably lend itself to some terrible puns about being radioactive). So no, we didnât go all out. But we did go most out. Or a lot out. Like 80% out. Like Tom Cruise. There wonât be any surprises (when I think surprises I think: spin the record a random number of times and a jack-in-the-box-like clown will pop out…come to think of it, thatâs a good idea…next record.) unless you are surprised by the inclusion of a quote by a dead Russian author. But that should surprise no one. Iâm a pretty good shitty hipster, but Iâm an even better shitty pretentious literature guy, in that I feign knowledge of the stuff and then complain when there isnât a design in my latte.
The artwork itself is amazingâbecause someone else did it. Specifically, Peter Wonsowski. He was incredible to work with and was like Gandhiâ¦patient with me when Iâd give him really really vague direction and then change my mind. The artwork rules. Get the record, if anything, to look at it.
What can people expect from Rebellion?
If you made it to the end of the rather long history of the band, then youâll know that this band didnât really start out as such (a band), but became one slowly over time. And if you listen to our records in order, I think you can actually hear us becoming a band and sounding less and less like a guy who complains about lattes, writing songs that sound like someone elseâs songs. Rebellion is the first time where I think we sound fully like us. Itâs like The Riot Before standing upright, fully evolved. Itâs right before, Iâm predicting, we all start doing way too much LSD and sounding like if the late Beach Boys records were performed by Spinal Tap when they did that experimental jazz-funk show at that fair towards the end of the movie. I hope you appreciate that I didnât use the phrase, "more mature" to describe this record. Except for that time just right there. That time doesnât count.
What was the recording process for Rebellion like?
J. Robbins engineered and produced this record, which is just ridiculous to me. Itâs like Stephen Hawking helping you write an essay on space, or if Johnny Cochran was like, "Sure, Iâll help you get out of that speeding ticket." Much of the time spent recording was us being like, "Holy shit guys, I think thatâs J. Robbins over there!" When we actually had a grip on the situation it was, as far as recording is concerned, the best situation weâve had. Thereâs a certain level of stress involved in the preservation of music, âcause well, what if it sucks? But when a guy like J. Robbins is in charge, it pretty much eliminates all of that stress. We were able to relax and concentrate on the performance, confident that J. would put all those pieces together perfectly. And he did. The way he mixes records I think works perfectly with our sound. Also, heâs just a good guy. Really easy to work with.
It wasnât entirely stress free for me actually, but that was my own fault. I hadnât finished all the lyrics by the time we got to the studio, and lyrics normally take me forever to write, so I was kinda freaking out about the whole thingâjust walking around Baltimore in the cold, humming songs, hoping I didnât get shot or mugged, or if I did, hoping I could at least glean the experience for lyrics. Maybe like a Kanye [West]"Through the Wire" type thing. But I didnât get shot or mugged. I did eat a pretty mediocre omelet at a diner, but no lyrics came from that.
How do you guys go about writing songs? Do you get together and jam it out or are specific songs more reflective of one particular writer?
We have a song on an EP called "Jam is a Four Letter Word," and I think that pretty much sums up our feelings towards jamming. Except that we use four letter words all that time. Like fuck. I use that word way too much, like until it means nothing, and I donât even stop there. I use the word fuck so much that not only is it meaningless, but it sucks the meaning out of nearby words. For me, fuck is like a word black hole, making vapid everything I say. So the title of that song I guess doesnât make sense in the context of our, and probably your, understanding of four letter words. But letâs go with the general societal, like FCC connotation of those words, then I think it makes sense.
Short answer: no jamming.
What we do instead is that I write the basic foundations of our songs, like a general melody over chords with a mostly complete structure. Then I play that to the band and they write their own parts and fill in all the gaps I left out. Sometimes major changes happen during that process, sometimes none. It just kinda depends. And by, "kinda depends" I mean, it depends on what we think Daughtry would do with the song. Over the years everyone elseâs input has risen drastically, and I think thatâs why the songs are better than they used to be.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
We would like to spend the rest of the year touring. And probably the year after that too. We like touring for a whole host of reasons, but mostly because the beer is often free and we arenât at work. Iâd say that right there, free beer and no work, is what really motivates this band the most. Also, we want to be Time magazineâs person of the year, or win a Nobel Prize, which apparently they now give out preemptively.
Why did you guys decide to record an acoustic EP? How did that come about?
The acoustic idea was Vinnieâs. After we signed with P+P (in the back of the aforementioned Hummer limo) he was like, "Hey you should record a full length four months from now," and I pretty much shit my pants because there was no way I could finish a record that soon, especially with all the shit in my pants. He then suggested we at least release something, like an acoustic record, and I was like, "Do I have to write new songs for this acoustic record?" And he was like, "Nope." And I was all like, "Can we record 'Threat Level Midnight' for like the millionth time?" And he said, "Yes, please god keep recording that stupid song and putting it on all your records forever. Make it your âSan Dimas High School Football Rules.â" And so we did, especially since we also have a song title that references Bill and Ted, even though that movie has nothing to do with any of the songâs actual content. Thatâs what all the cool kids are doing these days, and goddamnit, we want to be cool kids too!
How did you go about figuring out the orchestrations on some of the songs on your EP?
We recorded that EP in my friend Patrickâs basement. The process was like this: Patrick and I would meet up at like 2 p.m. at this place by my house that makes really good sandwiches and we would eat sandwiches. Then weâd go over to Patrickâs house and sit in his basement trying to figure out what to do with the songs. After about fifteen minutes, Iâd come up with some excuse about how I had to go run some sort of urgent errand and Iâd bail for like two hours, most of the time ending up back at said sandwich shop. Itâs really good. Then Iâd head back to Patrickâs house and heâd be like, "I think I figured out what we could do with this song. Hey why do you smell like pastrami?" Then Iâd listen to his idea and say, "I like it!" Then we would record it.
What's one thing you wish more people knew about your band?
First off, I wish more people knew when we were playing in their town, and I also wish they knew to go to that instead of watch 8 day old episodes of television on Hulu, especially considering the fact, with the way technology is, you can probably watch Hulu at one of our shows anyway.
Secondly, I wish people knew that we are legitimately good cooks and that if they let us stay at their house after the show and have a kitchen that isnât just a graveyard for half empty cans of two-week-old PBR, we can actually make some delicious meals. Constantly eating fast food is my least favorite part of tour (I even got tired of Taco Bellâs 89 cent 5 layer burrito on this last tour, which says a lot, cause that is probably the tastiest thing TB has ever made), and so we, well mostly I, jump at the chance to actually cook something made from real food and most likely bacon. So yeah, if your kitchen is cookable, The Riot Before can and probably will make food at your house. Weâre pretty adaptable to what you have. Iâve actually rolled out fresh flour tortillas at someoneâs house with an empty wine bottle. If you really want good food, hit us up the day before and we can actually plan something out.
As a relatively new bandâ¦has file-sharing been helpful at getting your name out there or has it affected you negatively?
I really want to say something negative about file-sharing just âcause I know my audience right now, and I know how much everyone on Punknews gets boners like a 7th grader at a slow dance when bands say something about how great file-sharing is, and I really wish for nothing but flaccidity in all of your pants for ever and ever and ever, but, well, goddamnit, itâs probably been good for us (oh my god, I can like hear the blood flow now). I mean, who wants to pay for a record that might suck right? When I was 14 I bought this one Dave Matthews CD at Kmart cause I liked the single on the radio, but then when I got home I listened to it and was like, "crash into this!" Bam, trashed. That was a waste of $16, which at that time and, well, at this time too, was way too much money to be wasting. So file-sharing has probably helped spread the word about us like so much VD through all of your ears, without people having to really commit to spending money on what could end up being a really bad Dave Matthews record.
Another really cool thing about file-sharing is that it totally gives bands an excuse to sell-out. Like, back when there was money in the actual recordings, it was hard to rationalize going after corporate loot, but now since everyone is getting the records for free, bands can justify promoting the Big Mac Snack Wrap, of which, since we arenât (yet) getting paid by McDonalds, I will withhold my comments. I guess at this time I should mention that every time I write the word âHummerâ in this interview, GM gives us $20,000. And I made GM promise that they would only pay us with bailout money. Hummer.
Finally, will people be able to sexy dance to Rebellion?
You know that bumper sticker that says something like: "I donât want to be a part of your revolution if I canât dance?" I hate that bumper sticker. I hate most bumper stickers actually, but that dancing one and the one about how you should, "stop bitching and start a revolution," god, those are the worst. So I want to say no, that in regard to Rebellion (The Riot Beforeâs hot new album, which hits record stores everywhere April 27th) there will be no dancing of any sort, especially sexy dancing. But I canât say that, because every listener will be able to sexy dance to a handful of tracks on this record. Why? Because those songs are not punk songs, and we never said anything about not being able to sexy dance to songs not classified as, "punk." Actually, those songs were written with the sole purpose of people sexy dancing to them. We did this because we realized that Usher is loaded, and the main difference between our band and Usher is that Usher writes songs that people can sexy dance to. So we got on board with that idea.
But really though, I think sexy dancing is kinda lame and Iâm not sure why people are so into it. For example, seriously, true story, last night I went to this bar in Richmond that has a DJ every other Monday night, and this guy, the DJ, is like magic the way he can somehow get every single hot girl with a subscription to Nylon in this town to show up on a Monday night and dance. So Iâm there, you know, like a famous singer and stuff, totally impressing people and adding major cred to this event, and I decide to bust out some killer dance moves. And Iâm just doing my thing, tearing up the dance floor, and then towards the end of the night, this girl starts like sexy dancing up on me. So I roll with it right. Why not? So Iâm sexy dancing for like 5 songs, and Usher would be proud and âLil Jon would be all like, "YEAH!" but hereâs the thing, I didnât really enjoy it. I kinda had more fun when I was just regular dancing. Sexy dancing, it turns out, is just way too serious for me. Itâs like work. And work is bullshit. So instead, I stopped sexy dancing, paid my tab, rode my bike home, woke up this morning just a little bit hungover, cooked up eggs and some, get this, whiskey bacon that this butcher shop by my house makes (incredible!), then played a couple sets of tennis (my kick serve needs work), and everything was great, awesome, near perfect, except for one thing: I really wish I had a Hummer. So letâs make that happen.
Iâm looking at you McDonalds.