RIFF RAIDERS

Melbourne is the spiritual and physical home of pure bread rock n roll in Australia and Riff Raiders are testament to that! They play like they mean it, with monstrous riffs, thundering drums and vocals built for good times, they are the embodiment of classic Aussie rock.  In homage to our triumphant local scene Melbournes’ Riff Raiders  were form back in 2015 belting out B-sides and obscure gems from the hard rock acts that inspired them. Made up of indie stalwarts of the original scene, the band has blown away punters with their authentic approach and edgy finesse to playing rock’n’roll.  In this guise, Riff Raiders were one of the very few cover acts to be accepted by the original scene, but this was never the long-term ambition of the band.  Soon to launch their debut Album, Live Like You Mean It  this November, Marty Powell and Jenni James from the group spoke with The Melbourne Critique about life, love and insperation.

What was the inspiration behind your work, and what brought the Riff Raiders together to create music?

MARTY POWELL: The inspiration behind this band is to create new music in the classic rock style, based on the peak eras of riff-based rock of the 1970s to 1990s. Big vocals, big drums and very big guitars and songs with catchy melodies. All our songs must have at least one riff. The idea for the band came together in 2014 as a way of playing the less well-known songs and album tracks of the seminal rock bands such as Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Queen, as well as Muse and the White Stripes. As a case in point, we did The Cowboy Song and Emerald by Thin Lizzy instead of the overplayed The Boys Are Back In Town. None of us were from cover bands so this was fun and it was also the perfect way to evolve to an original band. Playing other people’s music stretches your skills far more than playing what you have created yourself.

JENNI JAMES: Yeah, we played original venues and that scene didn’t see us as a cover band as such. Having a woman out front helps that, too. Marty wrote most of our original songs in a relatively short time, but I think they’d been brewing for a while! As inspiration for myself writing some of the lyrics, I usually find significant experiences makes a song flow better. Sleeping With The Lights On is the story of a teenage me on a night out in the city, and Spinning off the Rails is about how overwhelming life can be sometimes and my coping mechanisms.

Love brought us Riff Raiders together. Marty and I have been writing and performing together for years, and we found our people in Ollie and Chris along the way.

 

What is it about rock music that you love so much? What do you think this genre gives to music lovers that other genres perhaps do not?

MARTY POWELL:  When done well, rock music has a powerful energy and focussed aggression that is exhilarating to hear, and even more so when seeing it live. Intense but accessible guitar lead breaks and drum fills with pulsating bass and vocals draw anyone in and survive regardless of fashion. The sense of tension holding it all together makes it like watching a drag race and hoping no one crashes. It is definitely an international language. Opening chords of any killer ACDC or Queen song put a smile on most people’s faces of any age group. Rock music shouldn’t be about making money or being famous; getting to create and perform it is the ultimate expression and an absolute privilege.

JENNI JAMES: I love a screaming, soaring, crying, wailing electric guitar. It just does it for me and always has. The combination of electric guitars and organic drums being hit HARD are my touchstones. The accessories around  that can change, but those two elements hold an almost primitive, spiritual place for me.

And, like Marty said, I think rock’s point of difference is in live performance – it sounds kind of easy but you have to be outstanding to deliver an amazing live rock show.

Talk to us about the process that went into and is behind your debut album. What should we expect from this?

MARTY POWELL: I wanted to approach this album in the way bands used to. They had time pressures to write and record the music whilst touring etc., which gave it an edge. A lot of music now is made slowly over a long period, which makes it sound like listening to an excel spreadsheet with too much information in it! So I wrote the songs in a five month burst, making no exception that each song had to be jam packed with memorable and exciting riffs, melodies and words – absolutely no filler. The arrangements had to be rock solid. We were hard on ourselves in rehearsing and preparing to record. We wanted an album with an A side and B side; [just] 36 minutes with no filler.

To ensure this, I did not initially record any song ideas as they were being developed. My approach was, if I couldn’t remember any parts of song, how was anyone else going to? I then used a D90 TDK cassette and cassette deck to demo the songs on, for full authenticity.

For recording, to keep the intensity, we went into ColourSound Recording Studio in Altona and smashed out the album in two weeks. Not weekends, but each day doing ten-hour sessions, getting real performances and taking time to get the best possible sounds from the instruments. Vintage recording equipment, guitar gear and guitars were used, including a 1967 Marshall Plexi amp and cabinet. This is the seminal amp used by Hendrix onwards, and this particular amp has been used by the Angels and Airbourne, making it a special experience. This analogue approach was then complemented by modern digital recording gear for mixing and production,  which was completed patiently over a couple of months. So, the best of the old way and new way of recording was utilised.

Are there are concepts or themes that your music touches upon?

MARTY POWELL: Live Like You Mean It sums up a lot of the song themes. It is about how fun it is to seize all the opportunities you have in front of you and not waste your time or be nervous or too lazy to do what you really want to. I don’t like it when one generation lectures another about how, in their day, things were better. That can be a trap for an older band like us and hard rock music can be narrow-minded in that way also. We are far more positive. It is everyone’s ‘day’ now and should be the best era, because you’re in it now. So live it!!

JENNI JAMES: So much what Marty said. I firmly believe we really do create our own realities. A couple of the songs also explore some darker themes, like in Alien, Marty looks at what it might be like for someone with dementia or who has outlived all their peers, and who knows what Ollie was thinking about in the lyrics for Sisters in Arms!!

A world without music and art: could you imagine such a thing, and what do you think music and art give to the world in return?

MARTY POWELL: You may laugh, but I seriously doubt civilisation would exist. It has been part of human culture since the beginning. There would be no outlet for lateral thought, relaxation or alternative perspective. Everyone, even world leaders, need to chill out, relax and be distracted from their day job from time to time. This enables us to step back and reflect.

Are there are concepts or themes that your music touches upon?

MARTY POWELL: Live Like You Mean It sums up a lot of the song themes. It is about how fun it is to seize all the opportunities you have in front of you and not waste your time or be nervous or too lazy to do what you really want to. I don’t like it when one generation lectures another about how, in their day, things were better. That can be a trap for an older band like us and hard rock music can be narrow-minded in that way also. We are far more positive. It is everyone’s ‘day’ now and should be the best era, because you’re in it now. So live it!!

JENNI JAMES: So much what Marty said. I firmly believe we really do create our own realities. A couple of the songs also explore some darker themes, like in Alien, Marty looks at what it might be like for someone with dementia or who has outlived all their peers, and who knows what Ollie was thinking about in the lyrics for Sisters in Arms!!

A world without music and art: could you imagine such a thing, and what do you think music and art give to the world in return?

MARTY POWELL: You may laugh, but I seriously doubt civilisation would exist. It has been part of human culture since the beginning. There would be no outlet for lateral thought, relaxation or alternative perspective. Everyone, even world leaders, need to chill out, relax and be distracted from their day job from time to time. This enables us to step back and reflect.

Music and art gives the world a soul and emotion and a break from life. It is always there in the background – in childhood memories, happy and sad occasions, sport and any major event. It is what we are.

 

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