May 27th, 2012
When it comes to local New Jersey bands, what’s the first group that pops into your head? If you’re me, it’s The Brixton Riot. The Brixton Riot has been around since 2007 and just recently released their second LP, Palace Amusements (a nod to their earliest rehearsals in Asbury Park). Combining American and English influences, The Brixton Riot fuse elements of 70's power-pop and punk, 80's jangle-rock and 90's indie rock into a sound that is both familiar and distinct. The Replacements, Big Star and The Jam represent only a small fraction of the band's influences. The band is comprised of Jerry Lardieri, Mark Wright, Matt Horutz and Steve Hass and if you want to learn more about them (and trust me you do, they ROCK!), check out their various sites:
How did each of you get your start in music?
Steve: Neither of my parents have any musical ability, but some of my earliest memories are of listening to oldies on WCBS in my father's car. I think Elvis was my first favorite artist. Then at around 12 years old, I started listening to classic rock groups like Cream, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. That's when I got my first guitar and amp from Rondo Music on Route 22. I originally wanted to play the drums, but my parents thought that it could be too noisy for them. Little did they know the racket I would make with that guitar. Once I started playing, I really fell in love with the guitar.
Mark: I got my start in music playing gospel songs with my father, Harry, at various churches and coffeehouses in NY/NJ. But before that, I played guitar with Steve in a "band" called "Blue Condition". It was just us and another friend Anthony, all playing guitars, playing mostly Cream and Doors covers.
Jerry: I grew up in a musical family where everyone other than my mother sang and played musical instruments. My father taught my brothers and me to play piano at a very early age. He bought me my first electric guitar when I was 11 after I learned a book of chords on a beat up acoustic he had bought us at a garage sale. I played in several bands with my twin brother John through middle and high school, but that stopped once we started attending different colleges.
Matt: I started playing drums in 1983 when I was nine. Around this time my grandmother introduced me to big band and jazz music, and because of that I originally wanted to play the vibes. Before I could start learning the vibes, I had to learn basic stick control and rudiments, so my teachers started me on drums and percussion. My dad played in the drum and bugle corps when he was younger, so he and my mom were very supportive of me playing. My big musical revelation came in 1987 when my older cousins introduced me to punk rock and hardcore. I started listening to (and became obsessed with) bands like The Misfits, Black Flag, 7 Seconds, JFA, Dag Nasty, The Descendents and Husker Du. I had an instant connection with their music and their message. When I listened to these bands, everything started to make sense. That year I also started skateboarding and I discovered a lot of new punk bands through skate video soundtracks. About a year later on my quest for underground music, I found local college stations like WPRB in Princeton and WRSU in New Brunswick. These stations were like the voice of god to me. I used to tape radio shows, write down the bands I liked, and go to the local record stores in search of their albums. Around this time, I also started playing in various punk bands with friends. Shortly after that in high school, we started playing local shows with other similar bands. It’s been twenty nine years since I started playing drums and I still don’t know how to play the vibes!
How did The Brixton Riot come about? And where does the name come from?
Matt: I joined the band in November of 2008 through a Craigslist post. Back-in-the-day, you would join a band by answering a “drummer wanted” flier in the record store that mentioned similar influences, but now it’s all on sites like Craigslist. When my old band The Love Scene broke up in 2005, I took a few years off from playing. During a conversation with my wife one evening, she asked me if I missed playing in a band. I did miss it, so I started looking online for a band that needed a drummer. After a few weeks of sifting through a lot of bad bands, I came across these guys and liked what I heard. They reminded me of The Lemonheads. I wasn’t interested in touring anymore, and it turns out these guys weren’t either. We all have jobs and families (three of us have kids), so it was a good fit. As we started talking, we realized that we knew a lot of the same people from playing in local bands.
Jerry: The oldest link in the band is between Mark and Steve, who grew up together in Bayonne. They played in a lot of different bands over the years, but had never played in the same band before we started. I had played with Steve in the late 90's. We were part of a short-lived band called Elektraluxe. Steve and Mark were planning on getting together and Steve invited me to join them. It was just the three of us without a drummer in Mark's basement. His house was on 5th Avenue in Asbury Park, just a few blocks away from the Metropolitan Hotel and the Palace Amusements building - which we reference in the name of our album and in the song "Ocean Avenue". We weren't really a band at this point, just some friends drinking beers and playing music in the basement. A few years later in 2005, a friend of Mark's was making an independent film and asked if we wanted to write some original music to be included on the soundtrack. That was when we first started taking it seriously and began looking for a drummer.
We met Rob Silverman (our first drummer) in 2006 via the musician classifieds and started rehearsing at his house which we later dubbed "Karate Gym" because it got brutally hot with the doors closed. In September of 2008, we recorded our first EP with Don Sternecker at Mix-o-lydian Studios in Lafayette NJ. Working with Don was a lot of fun; we spent as much time talking baseball and asking Don about recording other bands as we did actually recording. Rob decided to leave the group at the end of 2008 and we hit the jackpot when we met Matt through the musician classifieds. He was an instant fit.
Naming the band turned out to be a lot harder than we expected. All of the best names we could come up with were taken and we weren't able to come to a unanimous agreement on the remaining ones. We tried some of those Internet name generators and the best name we got was Hot Decoy but we weren't all crazy about it. Since we're really big fans of early English punk and new wave bands like The Clash, The Jam and Buzzcocks, we wanted a name that reflected that era. The name is an obvious tie to the Clash song "Guns of Brixton" on London Calling, but we weren't really trying to make a strong or absolute link to The Clash or that particular song. It was meant to be more of a general reference. Being an American band with a distinctly English name has had some downsides. The name has political significance to it, but we're not an overtly political band. Things got interesting last summer when there were more riots throughout London and in Brixton. We were getting some attention because of the name so we used our Facebook and Twitter feeds to help spread the word about the riot clean-up efforts. Clash fans sometimes see the name as an attempt to latch on to their legacy, but nothing could be further from the truth. If we were dressing up in spray painted jackets and bashing out songs about the Queen or being "on the dole" in faux accents, I could understand people feeling that way. Ironically, the small amount of criticism we have gotten has been from Americans.
Mark: I defer this one to Jerry. He pretty much hit the nail on the head.
Steve: Mark was approached by a friend to write some music for an independent film. He asked me if I wanted to work on it with him, and of course I accepted. I reached out to Jerry and one day we all met up at Mark's place in Asbury Park. That was a really fun day. We were just sitting around playing acoustic guitars and seeing what was up. It was perfect timing really. We were all in between bands and itching to get back into playing. It wasn't long before it became obvious that we should start playing as a band. We found our original drummer thru some musician's classified ad and then we were a band. We never did write any music for that film.
The name took FOREVER to come about. There were really terrible names thrown about. I'm not sure if it we myself or Jerry that first suggested The Brixton Riot as a name, but I remember that it was the only name I felt strongly about. I understand the historical connotation involved, but I liked the name because it sounded like it could be the name of a team. That's what I wanted us to be. Once we settled on the name, there was another issue whether or not to use "The" in the name or not. I like having "The" in the name because it reminds me of most of the groups I like.
You guys mix together a variety of sounds from musical decades. Which is your favorite sound?
Mark: My favorite sound is 70's to 90's era power pop the likes of Cheap Trick, The Replacements, Nirvana, and The Lemonheads. Anything loud guitar based with great songwriting.....also Dinosaur Jr.
Jerry: I don't think there is one particular sound that I like best, at least not for more than a short period of time. In addition to powerpop and early punk, I love a lot of the "Kiwi pop" bands from New Zealand like The Chills, The Bats and The Clean. I'm also a huge fan of bands from the 90's like Dinosaur Jr. and early Teenage Fanclub with really good melodies and lots of loud guitar parts. That sound seems to be coming around again with bands like Screaming Females and Yuck.
Matt: I’m a HUGE fan of the punk and hardcore that came out in the 80's on record labels like SST and Dischord. I try to bring that type of vibe into the band through my drumming. Not necessarily an aggressive style of playing, but more of the gritty style exemplified by the bands on those labels.
Steve: Depends on what day you ask me. I find that I tend to like music from the years around the decade changes. For instance, 1967-1972, 1977-1982, 1988-1992 were all very influential to me. I've never been a very good technical musician so genres like Prog Rock or Speed Metal never appealed to me. I'd rather listen to something that grooves over something played technically perfect that has no soul to it. Sometimes it’s not the notes that matter; it’s what lies between the notes. It’s something you can't hear. You have to feel it.
Who are your biggest musical influences as individuals?
Matt: As far as drummers go, my main influences are Stewart Copeland (The Police), Clem Burke (Blondie), Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello and the Attractions), Gina Schock (The Go-Go’s), and Bill Stevenson (The Descendents). I’m also a big Bob Mould fan. Husker Du is my favorite band and Mould is my favorite songwriter along with Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders.
Jerry: Even though it doesn't come through in our songs, one of my biggest influences is Dean Wareham and Luna. I've seen them live at least 10 times, more than any other band. My other influences are a lot more obvious in the band's sound. I'm a huge fan of Guided By Voices and Robert Pollard in general, his songs blow me away. I love the early Jam records and along with Guided By Voices, The Replacements and Husker Du, I think that comes across in a lot of our songs. I'd also list Elvis Costello, Wilco and Yo La Tengo as some of my biggest influences.
Mark: Biggest musical influences for me are The Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, The Band, and the blues......Buddy Guy, Robert Johnson, and Jimi Hendrix. In addition to that, "The Holy Trinity"--E.Clapton, J.Beck, J.Page.
Steve: Of course all the rock guitar Gods are huge to me. Some bass players I love are Paul McCartney, James Jamerson, Donald "Duck" Dunn, Graham Maby, Jeff Ament and John Stirratt. Overall my biggest influence is Keith Richards. I know he's not the greatest guitar player, but I connect with his approach to songwriting, playing, and singing.
Tell us about a typical music writing session. Does everyone contribute to the lyrics? How does a song come together?
Jerry: There are a few different approaches that seem to happen consistently. Sometimes we get together in a room and start playing without any specific guidance or direction. Other times, one person will start playing a part or a riff and we'll just try to build off of that. Some of the songs are started by individual band members and completed as a group. We tend to record our rehearsals so we can go back and listen and modify the songs as needed. There's really no set formula for the lyrics either – sometimes they're done by one person and sometimes they're done as a group. Everyone has input on the final version.
Mark: Jerry aced this one too. His response is exactly how we do it.
Steve: There is no set approach to our writing. Either somebody will bring in a song that’s pretty much all there, or maybe it’s just a part that needs finishing. Sometimes songs just come out of thin air, and I find those are usually the best ones. One of us will be messing around in between songs and it just happens. My favorite thing is when somebody's ears perk up and they say "What's that? Play that again!" and then you know you have something. It might take 10 minutes or 2 months to finish, but it is there. Every song is collaboration in one way or another.
So far, “Hard to See the Sun” is my favorite song off the new album. What’s the story behind
*Everyone defers to Jerry on this one.*
Jerry: "Hard To See the Sun" has had a bit of a strange evolution. It was originally a very slow and quiet song - not at all like the final version. Mark came up with the main riff and wrote the line "it's hard to see the sun when you close your eyes" after hearing that the drummer in Steve's old band Mercury To Hell had committed suicide. After a few weeks of playing it very slow and quietly, we tried playing it much faster and it just works better that way. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but we likely got the idea after watching the movie "That Thing You Do". The new style and tempo didn't really fit with the original theme of the song, but we kept the chorus intact and rewrote the verses.
What do you see in the future for The Brixton Riot?
Steve: Who knows? We all have jobs and families and lives outside the band. You never know when some life altering event is going to happen. I'm just trying to enjoy it and see where we go. Ideally I'd like to start working on some new material and playing some shows outside of our normal circuit. Personally I'd like to work on getting better at playing the bass and singing at the same time.
Mark: The future for us is anyone's guess sound-wise, but it's safe to say we'll be doing this until we all drop dead. As long as we have things in our lives to inspire us, we'll continue to write and play music to the best of our abilities and hopefully find an audience that appreciates what we do. We have no delusions about being rich or famous. We hope to earn the respect of our peers and make some people tap their feet. What more could anyone ask? (OK, maybe a few bucks to keep making records....it's expensive as all hell!)
Jerry: We're very grounded as individuals and as a result, we're very grounded as a band. We've all got jobs and families and things like bills and mortgages to worry about. But that doesn't mean we see the band as a hobby or something we don't take seriously. I think our goals are fairly simple: play more (and
bigger) shows, make more records and reach more people. As long as we still have fun doing it, we'll
keep doing it.
Matt: To have fun and keep doing what we’re doing by playing out and writing. We’re not in this for the money. We’re playing for fun and hope that others enjoy what we do. With that being said, it still costs money to make a record no matter how bare-bones it is. I’m just hoping that we can be self-sustaining enough to make the records we want to make.
What’s the best advice you can give to bands just starting out?
Matt: Don’t do it just for the money or for other people. Do it for fun. If money is a byproduct of playing, then that’s a nice bonus. Don’t be phony. People can sense when you’re doing things for the wrong reasons. Also, check your ego. I can’t stress how important it is to be polite (whenever possible) to the people you encounter along the way whether it’s the club promoter, the sound guy, or your fans. So many bands go into playing with a bad attitude or an ego problem. You’d be surprised how much farther you can get when you treat everyone with respect.
Jerry: You can take it seriously without taking yourself too seriously. If you want to get paid, don't leave early. Above all, treat other people how you want to be treated - not every promoter or sound man will remember you, but they'll never forget if you act like a jerk.
Mark: My best advice to young bands is to practice as much as you can and not get discouraged. The minute you create a song, record it, and perform it, you've done the world a great service and it's an accomplishment to be proud of. Most people never make it that far because of discouragement and fear of not being accepted, fear of failure. Stay true to yourselves and make honest music. It will reach people sooner or later. And, of course, don't do it for hopes of fame and fortune. If that's what you want, go work on Wall St. so guys like us can write nasty songs about you. Just kidding. Play for the love of music!
Steve: Pay your dues but try not to pay your dues. What I mean by that is, when you are starting out you should take pretty much any gig you can get just for the experience. You want to try and avoid any "pay to play" gigs. Those are the ones where the club demands you to sell a fixed number of tickets and if you don't then you don't get paid. We did that for a time basically just for the experience of playing some legendary clubs. We found that the limited exposure wasn't worth the trouble.
Also, you're never as good or as bad as they say you are. You know that old saying about opinions? It’s true.
And remember that when it comes to playing club shows, it’s a business. For the most part, club promoters and talent bookers don't care what you sound like. They only want to know if you can bring people to their club. Don't rely on the club for promotion. Be nice to the person doing the sound and try to get a sound check before a show if possible. It makes a huge difference.