An Interview With The Riot Act’s Christian Clarke

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Christian Clarke (Left) with Sean Chesal (right) are The Riot Act

I remember getting  a demo submission in the mail a few years ago while I still ran Livid Records. It was from a band in Pompano Beach, Florida called The Riot Act. The demo packaging was extremely well thought out and resembled a hotel card typed on a typewriter inviting us to listen to their demo. To this day, The Riot Act demo has been the greatest surprise I’ve received in the mail. The recording was gritty and to the point. I was instantly in love. I set up a meeting with Christian Clarke (vocals/guitar) to discuss Livid Records’ interest in adding the band to the label’s growing roster. Over a few beers and a couple of wacky stories we both left the meeting pretty excited. Troubles brewed with then drummer Danny Krauss and, we kept putting recording sessions off. Then Livid Records went kaput.

Which brings us to now. The Riot Act is in my opinion, a life changing band. They bleed old school rock n’ roll. Combine that with sweet bluesy lyrics and The Riot Act may just be the most important band in all of Florida. I recently caught up with Mr. Clarke to see what the band was up to. Armed with new drummer, Sean Chesal, The Riot Act are conquering a legion of fans that grows exponentially from show to show.

Who are you and why do you play rock n’ roll?

My name is Christian Clarke.  I play rock n’ roll because it’s the eternal teenage dream of strapping on a guitar, plugging into an amp, turning the volume up and cranking out a power chord.  That dream never goes away.  I play rock n’ roll because it’s just not worth it to play in front of a crowd and keep your jacket on the whole time, staring down at your shoes.  I play rock n’ roll because people sometimes need to get hit over the head, and shake the cobwebs loose before they’ll stop listening to computer generated dance music.

Most of your songs are about women. What other themes do you hit on with your music? How therapeutic is going on stage on blasting ex’s, etc?

Well, yeah, I guess females are a big thematic factor in our lyrics.  I’ve never been a big fan of sociopolitical songs written by people who, frankly, have never spent time working in a volunteer/nonprofit capacity, or who aren’t well versed in history or at all educated in politics.  Rock n’ roll is allowed to be fun.  It started with songs about love, or lack of love, or cars, or love in cars.  I have songs about cars, motorcycles, road trips, walks of shame…  but they’re mostly about women, in some way or another.

It’s funny, I’ve never written a malicious song about a specific girl.  But I have written a couple of songs specifically for girls — even included their names in the songs – as birthday gifts.  I don’t know if the sentiment was appreciated quite as innocently as it was intended.  Look, I don’t have any money.  I thought a purpose-written song would be an interesting, cost effective idea.  The problem is I am incapable of writing a happy song. If you listened to the lyrics of these songs you would find the most vituperative, acerbic sentiment.  Tongue in cheek, of course, but that’s the kind of shit that is endlessly more intriguing than writing a cheerful song.

I had an old girlfriend come to a show recently.  I dedicated a slow blues song of ours to her (“Lollipop”, a song, like most blues songs, about a guy who’s not getting any from his girl), and she came up to me after the show and said, “I never wished you were dead.”  Hahaha,  come on.  Everyone’s wished I was dead at some point or another…

Christian, other than your good looks, how the hell did you land a speaking role in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut?

Ahh, man, I don’t know if we have enough space for this story.  The quick version has to do with running into Gwyneth Paltrow at my tube stop in London.  I was going to drama school at the time, and she was filming a scene at the Fulham Broadway tube stop with the wonderful John Hanna for a movie called Sliding Doors.  I was on my way to a class when I decided to skip it and try to get some extra work on the production.  I was dirt poor over there and would have worked just for a go at the craft services table.  As it turns out they had nothing for me that day, but they directed me to this agency who noticed my Yank accent right away. Next thing I know I met with a guy named Leon Vitali.  I didn’t know it then, but he had been Kubrick’s right hand man since Barry Lyndon. We improvised a lot of ways this particular scene might happen.  It really had the flavor of a workshop rather than an audition.  And he put it all on tape.  I got the part of College Student #1, and after 3 months of, “we’ll be shooting your scene next week”, I finally got called in for a wardrobe fitting.  It was then I saw the sides and saw that the script for the scene had included all the shit I had come up with during the audition improv.  They had just transcribed the audition.  Which was kind of flattering, in a way, even if I didn’t get any credit for it.  But it was an amazing experience.  We shot for six days, which was worth about 45 seconds of screen time.  Cruise, Kidman and Kubrick were absolute pros and just larger than life individuals.

Do you ever see a third person joining the ranks of The Riot Act?

It’s funny you should ask that.  A lot of duos seem to get a little big for their britches and end up performing with extra musicians, whether you see them or not.  I get it.  There are limitations to only having two members in a musical group.  We just performed at a Misfits tribute show a few weeks ago. Sean really wanted to play bass, which was his first musical instrument as a kid.  So we had a friend fill in on drums and Sean killed it on bass and backing vocals.  We had a blast.  But there is a simplicity in the duo format.  There’s a rawness to the feel.  I’ve never wanted to sound like an over produced quintet, so I would like to keep the visceral attack that you get with a loud guitar and thumping drums.

When will you release a record? You keep teasing us with outstanding live shows.. I wanna blast The Riot Act out of my car!

Get off my back, dude!  Actually, we’re trying.  It ain’t easy.  It’s a difficult mixture of two headstrong, opinionated band members that can’t quite seem to get the sounds in their heads to come out right on the recorded medium.  We have a few demos that sound good, and I think they accurately portray the idea of the songs, but they are still nowhere near how I want them to sound.  To be honest, I don’t like recording.  It’s a sterile environment involving headphones and count offs and endless wastes of time.  I didn’t get into music to debate the minutiae of microphone placement on my amplifier.  I don’t care for isolated tracking.  It feels like karaoke to me.  At some point we’ll get it sorted, but we’re not going to release something until we’re happy with it.  There’s no sense in having to qualify something with an excuse for its shortcomings.

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Who are the three most important records in shaping your belief in Rock N’ Roll?

Ok, I’m going to assume you mean my belief in Rock ‘n Roll right now, because if you asked me this question when I was 16, the answer would be entirely different.  I think that belief is something that has to be constantly renewed and sometimes restored. And for that reason I have to start with Jim Jones Revue’s eponymous debut.  This record is like a cold slap to the face reminding you that rock and roll should be loud, urgent, and should embrace the past while breaking ground on the future. One thing that hasn’t changed since I was 16 was my belief in Guns N’ Roses ‘Appetite for Destruction’.   I don’t think there will ever be a better example of rock n’ roll being dangerous.  Slash and Izzy might have started with Keith Richards’ guitar weaving interplay, but they took it, hot-rodded it,  and rammed it down your throat and made you like it. It’s been almost a year and I still can’t get Queens of The Stone Age’s “Like Clockwork” out of the CD player in my car.  I had previously missed the boat on QOTSA, never really digging their previous work, and had not been anticipating the release.  But even after listening to it once, I was fairly certain that Josh Homme had created something close to sonic perfection this go around.  There wasn’t a false step in the entire record.  His use of dynamics and song structure are going to make it hard for anyone else on his heels.  There aren’t many albums out there that make me want to sit down and listen with the headphones on while going over the liner notes.  That’s how you know it’s something special.

What’s the shittiest thing in the South Florida music scene?

I’m not going to make any friends with this answer, but I think there is a sense of entitlement among some musicians in South Florida.  Sadly, I don’t think it’s endemic to South Florida, but I see it here, and I’m going to address the elephant in the room and call out Kickstarter.  If you’re paying the rent with music, good for you — you’re living the dream, and I’m proud and envious of you.  If you need money for your hobby, get a fucking job.  I get invited to participate in Kickstarter campaigns all the time.  Musicians have got to be the worst people to ask for money.  We’re all broke.  And we’re all trying to rub nickels together.  It’s an insult to integrity to ask fellow musicians and friends for money.  One band down here was asking for $5000 so they could go on tour.  If you can’t afford gasoline and bologna sandwiches, maybe the touring life of a musician isn’t for you.  But $5,000?  I could get a lot of hookers and blow with $5,000.  These dipshits posted a photo of the band playing live to go along with their campaign, and the guitarist alone was running about $3,000 worth of gear on stage.  You want my money to help you go on vacation and do your hobby?  Sell some fucking gear.  Or go ask mommy and daddy for a raise in your allowance.

I think it’s a noble pursuit to follow a dream of music.  But rock n’ roll isn’t poetry.  We’re the court jesters.  I like Bob Dylan as much as the next dude, but I’m willing to bet that even in 1964, that guy was pretty familiar with a rhyming dictionary.  He may have named himself after Dylan Thomas, but he was no poet.  I’ll take Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling” any day of the week.   It’s got a beat.  You can dance to it.  And you’ll see me washing cars, or selling lemonade, or jerking off into a cup before you see me ask you for money.

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What’s the best thing about the South Florida music scene?

This is going to seem like I’m sucking my own cock here, but I am going to say that the best thing about the South Florida music scene is Sean Chesal.  If you’ve never seen him play drums, you’re missing the boat.  He is one of the hardest working musicians in the area, and is a pure joy to watch play live.  You’ve got a bunch of chances to see him play.  He plays in about 25 different bands.  So go see Brain Chips, or The Darling Sweets, or Campeona and you’ll know what I mean.  You’ll spend the night watching the drummer.  He also plays in jazz bands down by the beach.  He’s never not playing music. As fellow musicians, he’s what we all should aspire to be.

What’s the best way to elude groupies?

Groupies?  What are these things of which you speak?  It’s funny, I get asked that quite a bit from friends who aren’t into music. I haven’t been aware of any groupies through the tenure of this band.  You ask Sean, he might have a different answer, but he’s a handsome motherfucker, so that changes things…   It’s hard man.  I’m not the most congenial fellow to begin with.  Shows are hard work, and I’m not a real good time Charlie.  I’m there to hustle and put on a show.  If you happen to find me after a set, chances are I’m soaked in sweat and I’m busting ass to break my gear down and load up the car.  By the time I’m ready for a cool-down beer, last call was 15 minutes ago…

What’s your favorite motorcycle?

I don’t think it gets a whole lot cooler than the 1953 Triumph Thunderbird “Blackbird”.  It was only made for the American market, and no one knows for sure how many are out there.  At that time all Thunderbirds came in a blue-grey color, and they thought Americans would buy more bikes if they offered it in basic black.  What they didn’t understand was that most Americans that rode triumphs took them straight home from the dealer and repainted them custom hot-rod colors.  I don’t think anyone gave a shit about what color a Triumph left the showroom floor.  It might as well have left the factory in primer.  So you’re not really going to be finding a lot of original paint Blackbirds.  It’s basically the classic 650cc Triumph engine that they used for the next 20+ years.  But they never got the styling that good again.  Google that shit.  You’ll see…

The Riot Act are playing alongside The Shimmy Shake Revue 03/28/2014 at The Monterey Club in Ft. Lauderdale. Other musical acts include The Independents and Filthy Still.

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Chuck Livid

Chuck Livid hails from Miami, Florida. He did a zine in the '90s called Muddy Chaos and is best known for his work with independent music label Livid Records. Chuck lives in Boca Raton, Fl with his wife illustrator Helena Garcia and their son Nico. He founded TuffGnarl.com and hosts TuffGnarl.com's official music podcast - Another Music Podcast which is available on iTunes & Google Play

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