Photo by Chuck Livid.
I was given the chance to sit down with Christian Clarke, singer-songwriter for The Riot Act, a south Florida rock band with musical roots from all over the map. He was kind enough to answer some of my questions about music and about being an entertainer. We talked over excellent tacos and a couple rounds of Mexican beer. He was one of the nicest, most personable musicians I’ve ever spoken with. He also has a Triumph motorcycle worthy of my envy.
I found The Riot Act mentioned in several billings in the area, recently and upcoming. Have you been picking up speed or touring a lot more?
No. We’ve been slowing down actually (laughs). We were playing almost every week. In the past couple of months, we’re lucky if we play a couple times a month. There will be times when I’m hunting for a gig and other bands that are buddies will ask us to join on a bill. We’ve got this big event with Tuff Gnarl, the 2nd Anniversary Debauch, down at Churchill’s on the 22nd and the next week we’re playing the Respectables Block Party thing with the Misfits.
Speaking of the Tuff Gnarl Debauch Event, who are you excited to see?
Party Flag! We haven’t played a gig with them. They’ve got Chuck Loose from the SANDRATZ on the drums. The singer Justine is a friend. The Pre-Tenses are playing, I believe Chuck is also playing drums for them as well. We had a great time with the Go-Go dancers, Isobel, and Carla, last year. They added a lot of fun to the stage show, having other people up there with you.
Your musical sound is different than much of what’s going on in South Florida, how would you classify your music?
Straight rock and roll. We have blues elements in most of our songs. We have a couple of songs that have rockabilly elements. What were The Cramps? They had rockabilly elements, they had funk elements, but really they were just The Cramps. Nobody sounded like them. We play shows with punk bands. We’ve played for Dick Dale the past three times he was in to town because we have surf elements in some of our songs. We have a surf instrumental that we do. “Surf” people wouldn’t call it that, but I do. That’s how I wrote it. We’re all over the map. We have some elements of soul, too, but you’ve got to understand that with a two-piece, there’s not a lot of orchestration. You can’t make a two-piece sound like a soul ensemble. It’s just the drums and a guitar. I’d like to keep it that way. We’re mostly hard-driving rock and roll..
What is the writing process like for The Riot Act?
Sean is an exceptional drummer. If you watch when we’re playing, there’s nobody else like him. I’ll come up with a musical idea, with a drum beat in my head and then try to explain it to him. “Here’s the song I’ve got in my head. I want it to sound like Queen.” Well, it ends up sounding nothing like Queen, but it’s still a cool song!
Do you come up with the lyrics or the music first?
Almost always the music first; there have been a couple songs that I’ve done with the lyrics first, but it’s almost always writing the lyrics to fit the music. If you study poetry in school, a lot of the time the poetry is metered. It has to end in a certain amount of syllables. It has a “sing-song” quality. It’s rare that you’ll finish a lyric past the beat. Sometimes for emphasis it’s great, but other times it just sounds sloppy with the kind of rock and roll that we play.
Why haven’t you recorded anything?
To be honest, the time that we could spend recording, I’m more interesting in coming with new songs together. We play enough. Come see us live! I didn’t spend my teenage years recording. I spent them playing the guitar. A lot of it depends on getting a producer that showcases your music. You could get a producer with credentials out the waazoo, but he’s not going to create the sound you want.
Some bands are popular down here, but if you aren’t a local, you’ve probably never heard of them. Is this appealing, or would you prefer for The Riot Act to take off?
Everyone would love to get signed and be able to make a living off making and playing music. It would be a really nice thing to not have a day job. I’ve lived a lot of other places, but never played at any of them. In a lot of places, bands are just lucky to get gigs for free or they’ll pay to play by buying tickets that they hope to sell. It’s been like that for thirty years in L.A. People love to bitch about the scene, “Nobody comes to our shows.” People will bring up bands that I’ve never heard of. We’ve been playing for a few years. I just assumed we’ve played with every band there is down here. But we’re not even close, nowhere near it. There are a lot of bands down here. And they’re all working, they’re all getting gigs, getting paid, even if it’s just a bar tab or thirty bucks. We don’t have it bad down here. It could be a lot fucking worse.
A music geek question: What band(s) would you love to play with?
There’s this band from the nineties and early two thousands experiencing something of a revival called Rocket from the Crypt. In the heyday of grunge rock, these guys came out with a horn section and matching outfits. It was so against the grain for that time period. They were a favorite of other artists, but the crowds wanted grunge. They play a show maybe once a month in San Diego, or go to L.A. Now, they have the crowd that they deserved back then. I wish they would come down to South Florida.
Here’s a preview of the music. Enjoy.
TuffGnarl.com’s 2nd Annual Rock & Roll Debauch is this Saturday, August 22 at Churchill’s Pub (5501 NE Second Ave, Miami, FL). The show starts at 7 p.m. Admission costs $8 at the door. Use the hashtag #Debauch2015 to follow or talk about this event on social media.
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