The Riot Tapes, a band I came across a couple of weeks (if not months?) ago, accepted to give us some time for a little interview, discussing Irish roots, chance meetings, the future of the music industry, and the ideal audience. Read on!
Hi there. Could you introduce yourselves and tell us where you’re from?
Chris: First off, Hi Alice, thanks for the interview!
My name is Chris, I’m the main songwriter/guitarist for the band The Riot Tapes, which is based in London and Dublin. I’m originally from the deepest south in the US. I spent a decade in Boston, three years in London and now 4 years in Dublin. So, I’m kinda from all over the place.
Elaine: My name’s Elaine. I’ve just turned 27. I’m from a place called Clondalkin in Dublin. I sing and write songs and I absolutely love music!
Chris: When I lived in London I met a singer, we started a project, and, through a series of weird coincidences and dumb luck we ended up signed to a major label. Unfortunately, the singer had a nervous breakdown and quit the project/moved to a different city. Oh well.
I spent years looking for a replacement (and watching that band disintegrate). Then I moved to Dublin (my wife is Irish) and spent years here looking, for the right person. After about 70 auditions in Dublin and London I met Elaine, who responded to an ad I’d placed. I knew within about a minute that she was the one. There’s something unique about her voice and that’s what I was looking for. Then, we met a producer named Tim, from London, who liked our stuff (he’s now actually IN the band) and wanted to help. The three of us spent months in Dublin and London recording the bones of our debut record. We’re now about 80% finished with that and, in theory, we’re about to release our first single.
Elaine: I was on the look out for a band to join or for musicians to work with. It seemed like I was searching for ages but nothing was right. Then one day I saw an ad placed by Chris and he was looking for a singer – so I replied. I listened to some demos he had online and I just knew that this was it.. I loved his stuff and the vibe it had.. So I went and had an audition in his kitchen! A few days later I sung for him again and that was that, I was in!
From there we went on to meet Tim our producer after he offered his help. Tim is now actually in the band.. We’ve just been working together since making our debut album!
That’s a bit of a crazy story! Elaine, unlike some of your fellow countrymen (I’m thinking for example of Sinead O’Connor, The Cranberries, The Frames) there are few Irish touches found in your songs; Chris you seem to have moved around a lot and maybe picked up influences along the way. So, generally, how does your cultural heritage affect your music – if at all?
Elaine: I think the meaning in songs and music has had more influence on me than my culture. The first Irish artists that I would have been introduced to were the likes of Christy Moore, Mary Black, Sinead O’Connor and of course Thin Lizzy.. My mam and dad are big fans of theirs so that kind of rubbed off on me too.. And what I love about the likes of Christy Moore is the fact that he writes about real things – that has definitely influenced me regarding my songwriting.. Then again there was a lot of Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Paul Young, Neil Diamond and many more international artists played in our home.
Any other important musical influences?
Chris: My musical influences are pretty varied. Really like lots of stuff that we DON’T sound like: Krautrock, electronic music, punk… My favourite record from the last few years is the genre-hopping Jackson Jackson – The Fire Is On The Bird. A spectacular and bizarre masterpiece. I like lots of indie stuff, obviously, but you know… It’s pretty obvious. My favourite Irish indie band is probably The Ambience Affair. Google them.
I will do. How about you, Elaine?
Elaine: When I think about important musical influences Debbie Harry springs to my mind. She’s got it all! I’ve been lucky enough to see her play live a few times and she is just exceptional – the queen of cool!
What’s the process of making music like for you? Who writes the music, the lyrics? Do you work together or separately?
Chris: Most of our songs are written primarily by me. Elaine is writing more and more, which is great, as I love her stuff. A typical song is demo’d by me, and then I write the lyrics and vocals with Elaine. Then our Producer Tim comes along and we re-record/re-write as much as needed. He’s actually getting more involved in the writing. Very cool. So basically, we write and re-write until we’re happy. All of that being said, each song has evolved differently, as we evolve as a band. Very exciting times.
Elaine: I love writing songs, I really do. I tend to write in a couple of different ways. Mostly I just sit down with my guitar and come up with something. Sometimes I actually feel the need to take my guitar into a room and write. Then if the guys liked a certain song, they would expand on the music and inject some more life into it! There are also occasions where I work from music that Chris has created and I come up with some lyrics and melodies. We have a couple of songs that both Chris and I wrote parts for and when we put them together, it worked so well. Chris has written a lot on this album himself, he’s like a writing machine, an incredibly talented guy. Of course then we have Tim who builds the songs right up and makes everything wonderful!
What I love about the tracks that we have recorded so far is that there seems to be something for everyone. I think every track is so different yet still has The Riot Tape vibe.
So when you are both getting involved in the writing process in a song, do you tend to explain to the other what you are expecting from them and what you were going for, or does it happen more ‘naturally’?
Chris: Hmm… I tend to mull over ideas for ages, before I write anything down or hit record. The conscious idea is to kinda get ‘in the head’ of the song, so that I can be meaningfully spontaneous. That being said, we’re pretty prolific as writers, I always have been, and so it’s pretty easy for me to generate ideas, if the conscious plan fails. And that definitely can and does happen. Now, when I’ve written something I want Elaine to sing, I will often try and explain what I hear her singing, but – and I was only just saying this last night – Elaine almost always takes what I suggest and makes it a LOT better. Her natural ability lets her go places vocally that I can’t imagine. Much less try and explain to her as a way of ‘inspiration generation’.
Elaine: Yeah, we do talk about it. It’s important for us to know what each other wants from a song. Generally it just falls into place; I think our different styles of writing compliment each other.
Tell me an anecdote about how one of your songs came to be.
Elaine: The idea for our song Photograph came from a dream that Chris had. One day he was telling me all about this dream, which was essentially about the world ending; we thought the concept of that dream would be a good idea for a song. So we went off and wrote about it. Photograph has actually turned out to be one of our most popular songs so far!
Chris: My favourite song writing process so far has been Lights.
We were sitting in the studio and I’d just restrung an acoustic. As I was tuning it up, Tim mentioned how nice it sounded.. On the spot I played the main ‘riff’ of the tune. We fleshed it out together and recorded a little ‘concept’ demo on the spot. Tim wrote the little bridge section, so musically it was very collaborative from the get-go. Elaine and I then discussed what the song should mean. A few days later I went to her house and we wrote the verses… She’d written a chorus based on our conversations, and it was great. We spent an hour or so getting it all sitting correctly and structured, then we recorded it on her iPhone. She sent me that recording, I then fleshed it out in my home studio. The resulting recording is a song we all love and a song which gets us a lot of positive feedback.
It was great because it felt like we’d really cracked the collaborative process, kept it spontaneous and produced something very listen-able as a result.
Speaking of ‘popular songs’.. What’s your ideal audience like and how do you imagine your ‘stereotypical’ listener?
Chris: Tough one. Our ideal audience is … large.
No, really, what we’re aiming at is not a sub-segment, but a wide cross-section of music fans. I tend to write a lot of different types of songs, tonally, and we feel this variety acts as kind of door-in for a lot of different people. Elaine’s voice is the unifying factor and that’s one of the reasons I was so …umm… obsessive about finding a voice with a distinct personality… so that it could unite such disparate material.
At the end of the day, I, we all, want to write music that people can sing along to… and so in that sense, I guess, there’s gonna be some people that are turned off by the catchiness of some of the material, but that’s OK; not everything is for everybody. Still, our goals are are pretty big and the response seems to justify that. So, I guess the songs must be reaching a lot of folks and resonating. Fingers crossed at least.
Elaine: Well, as I said before, because each of our songs are so different, I think our music would appeal to wide variety of people! That would be my hope anyway.. So when I think about our audience I can see a very mixed bunch.
How do you, personally, see the future of the music industry?
Chris: Personally, I see more questions than answers. We all want to find a way to retain control, get help, get financial support when necessary, get people plugging us to media, etc.. AND we all want to not make 3 cents per unit sold. But really, for people starting their careers, a lot of these new internet based tools (from iTunes to Spotify and everything in between) can’t provide the answers. In other words, if no one has heard of me, then I can’t make money, even if my product is in a shop. So I’m still stuck trying to find way to balance my needs and my wishes and my desire for control.
So, back to the question, what’s the future of the industry?
Unless someone finds a way to make marketing bands cheaper, and unless someone finds a way to guarantee that more bands are successful, labels will continue acting how they’ve always acted. It’s business. On the other hand, digital music distribution will grow in ways we can’t imagine at this point. Who can really say there isn’t a killer app around the corner that won’t help bands actually make meaningful money from their products? But unless there’s a game changer that generates money for bands, not much can really change for new artists.
Elaine: Wow, that’s a tough question to answer.
I would hope that it will be a bright future, but the way things are at the moment it’s so hard to tell. There are so many great bands out there that can’t actually “get out there” because of the restrictions like lack of money in the music industry right now. I’ve seen so many bands that could be brilliant but they just can’t get the backing and support they need. And because there are so many new bands and artists with such a great amount of talent, it makes it that bit more difficult to actually get noticed.
Having said all that, as a big fan of music, it is great to have a wide variety of music to listen to and to choose from. The internet has really taken over, so I guess that is the future for music – not that that’s a big shock! I suppose as a listener and a fan, it’s a really good time, but being part of a new band trying to break through, it’s not as good.
10) I’m a big fan of music (and ‘physical’ music) too, and the future going completely digital would make me quite sad.. If you had to choose another career that would not involve music, what would it be?
Chris: Well, you’re definitely not the only physical artifact fan. There’s always room for variety and finding ways to give fans what they want. I guess I was speaking broadly.
Elaine: Yeah, I agree with you there totally.. The owl traditional paths to get music are the best, I think! Apart from my current job I’d say photography. That’s something that I would love to pursue so I’d probably become a photographer. That or a connoisseur of fine wines!
Chris: Well, if I just get to choose, in a fantasy kind of way, then… Music journalist… Or maybe actor…
More realistically, I’ve done a bit of writing for money, in the past, so if I had to find something other than music, it would probably be as a writer of some description. This waffling on is why I’ve chosen to stick with music. It’s my talent and my passion, so… Become what you are.
I guess we are nearing the end of the interview; is there anything you would specifically like to add or mention? Maybe projects for the near future?
Chris: Thanks a lot Alice, for being so nice and reasonable and taking the time to ask us a few questions. We really appreciate it!
As far as projects are concerned, we’re essentially finishing the record, working on finding the appropriate home for the band (like a label that’s willing to put in the same effort we do, to take this music to as large an audience as possible) and working on making the live side of the project as capable as the recording side.
Tangibly, we’re releasing our first single, here in Ireland soon, shooting our first video in October and beginning to book shows in for next summer. Hopefully, we’ll see you on the road soon. You’ll definitely be on the guest list.
[note: this is the part where I blush]
Elaine: I’m really excited about the future of the riot tapes.. With our video shoot coming up at the end of this month and of course our album and 1st single to release. We’re also going to be doing more live stuff so I’m looking forward to getting more busy with that! It’s really exciting times and I’m thoroughly enjoying everything that we’re doing!
Thanks so much for doing this, you’ve been great and I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions! Hopefully you can come and check us out at one of our gigs.