Melbourne’s own classic rock champions, Riff Raiders, are still on a high after releasing their riff-laden, melody driven second album, Rock’n’roll Daydream, back in March. Featuring eleven tracks that successfully show off Marty Powell’s song-crafting, guitar and production talents and of course and the unrestrained energy of frontwoman Jenni Powell, it’s no wonder they have been dubbed Melbourne’s purveyors of big riffs.
Locked and loaded with big guitars and even bigger vocals, the band have just dropped their latest video for ‘Standing On My Own’ so we thought we’d sit down with lead guitarist Marty Powell to talk all things Riff Raiders.
You released your double A sided single ‘LOADED GUN/BEST DAY EVER’ in Feb this year, the film clips for which are fantastic and full of the energy you guys are known for. What was the thought process behind the double single?
Thanks, we’ve been really happy with the response to the videos. We wanted to capture the energy of our music and the band in our videos which was also the logic behind releasing a double A single.
We really wanted to show the different sides of the band and bring back that classic idea of two songs at once that was around in the 60’s and 70’s. It was because either the band couldn’t decide or a bit up themselves. I think we are a bit of both.
‘LOADED GUN’ has the classic kinda big slide, traditional hard rock sound to it – think ZZ Top or Rose Tattoo. With ‘BEST DAY EVER’, it’s power pop/hard rock with more of a 90’s vibe to it… it’s a bit more fun.
It’s all rock. The title of the album – ROCK N ROLL DAYDREAM – sets the scene. We aren’t ripping anyone or anything off but when I write the songs I always try to move around in the kind of rock music I like, in a lot of different styles. So, when you listen to the album you hear those different styles as well.
You followed up the single release with your second record ROCK’N’ROLL DAYDREAM back in March. How did the process for recording the second album differ to what you did on the first record?
The band’s debut album Live Like You Mean It (2017) was very well received by the underground rock music press and won us a loyal little fanbase. Working on the new album I didn’t feel pressure writing the new bunch of songs because it felt like we’d had a bit of a breakthrough. We were doing a lot of shows, we felt like a band on a run – the songs were coming.
I’m proud of the variety of rock styles on the album and the clarity of the sound, and the effort we went to in pulling tasteful and authentic sounds from the instruments. And the vocals are brilliant. Riff Raiders, it’s in the name. Both albums draw on classic 1970s, 1990s and 00s vibes, but the new album has more refinement and ambition.
If I had to choose one song it would be ‘LIGHT’. It’s a totally unexpected Big Star-style song that sits well amongst much more aggressive tunes. The confidence in the class of Crowded House and early George Harrison solo work was the inspiration for this. ‘WHEN I’M DREAMING’ is also a personal highlight, getting to experiment with an VOX AC30 blended in with my Marshall plexi to build multi layered guitar parts and many vocal overdubs as a tribute to misters May and Mercury, and their tattooed offspring The Darkness.
Creatively, do you share in the process of songwriting? Typically how does a Riff Raiders tune come together?
I’m the principal songwriter for Riff Raiders. I write about anything and everything that happens around being in an active and fun rock band as well as life with my life/musical partner Jenni Powell (lead singer) and our kids. No distinct themes or topics: if it’s happy it’s happy, if it’s angry or sad, it’s just that too.
On the first album Jenni contributed great lyrics to a couple of the songs (Sleeping With The Lights On and Spinning Off The Rails). For this album everyone was happy for me to continue writing, so I ended up putting together 15 songs and the best 11 made the album. I come up with the riffs, melodies, words and arrangements, but leave enough room for all players to bring their own groove and ideas to the songs.
I record the song on cassette (yes, a D90 cassette!) to be completely old school about it, and then send it round to the guys as an mp3 – not so old school.. Jen and I are married so I get to show her the song at home once our kids and endless home-life chores have finally gone to bed. Harmonies and second guitar parts etc. tend to evolve in the recording process. Now that we have a twin guitar-attack live with Josh King (The Bits, Resheads) sharing guitar duties plus an incredibly strong rhythm section in Ross Hetherington (ex Bodyjar / Dirt River Radio) on drums and Ron E. Smith on bass (from Detroit), a lot of experience and talent have been brought to the process.
Tell us a bit about your influences and how or if they inform what you do. Who or what do you take inspiration from?
My musical inspirations as a kid and teenager are now part of my musical psyche rather than me being a fanboy anymore. My inspirations are apparent in some elements in the sound of the band. I admire the drive of survivors like Cheap Trick, I respect innovators like Led Zeppelin, I dig the swagger of Thin Lizzy and Queen. I love the melody of Paul McCartney and Pete Ham (Badfinger). I like the story telling of Ray Davies, Pete Townshend, Greg Macainsh and Neil Finn. I’m driven by the luxury of decades of music and life experiences and enjoying the privilege of getting to rock out and entertain others that dig classic rock.
You guys were halfway through your Rock n Roll Daydream Tour before the pandemic derailed touring. Gigs are obviously a big part of Riff Raider. What have you got coming up in 2020?
We’re lucky to get to play lots of gigs around Melbourne’s healthy music scene. We are also gaining attention in Sydney, Canberra and other regional centres like Geelong and Bendigo, which is awesome. We were on our Rock n Roll Daydream Tour from February to April, which was going great guns until the rona shut it down. We gig because we love playing live. We love the adrenaline of entertaining anyone who has come out to watch and winning them over. We love travelling to different places and getting to work with and meet different people all the time. Music across social media also opens up a whole new world of contact and perspectives. We love the fact Riff Raiders exists, nothing to gain after that.
Riff Raiders have two albums we’re really proud of, and it means we can put strong sets together to play live plus keep some tracks album-only. This is particularly the case for the new album where the production on a couple of tracks was taken further deliberately to make ‘studio music’ (‘STEPPING ON A CLOUD’, ‘SUNSET TO SUNRISE’ and ‘SHADE’). The future now is to give the new album as much of a chance to be heard as much as possible. We’ve released two more videos since the double A single – ‘SAMANTHA JONES’ and ‘STANDING ON MY OWN’ (check ‘em out!) – and are working on another one at the moment (stay tuned!). We’re grateful to have the new release plus four or five professionally shot videos up our sleeves that’s meant we’ve been able to promote and share our music while we’re not able to play gigs to support it.
Classic rock has a strong and celebrated history in this country, do you feel as though rock n roll is still going strong? Is there a sense of carrying the flame of those who have come before you?
A recent review for our album from a magazine in the UK summed this up better than I could…
“While musical fads come and go there’s good reason why raunchy rock n’ roll remains ever present. Monolithic, immovable and impervious to the trends that batter it like waves, it is, quite simply, brilliant. The latest band to pick up the rock baton and run with it are the aptly titled Riff Raiders.”
So it seems that we’re seen in a way to be carrying the flame, but we actually don’t think we’re on a mission or anything. Maybe because we’re a classic hard rock band with a female vocal that isn’t metal or an 80’s-style glam/melodic rock parody that makes us stand out a little from the pack.
There are many, many, many rock bands in the world, and it’s still popular thanks to social media connections and reach, so it’s a strong scene, but at the same time rock has never been further from the mainstream – and it’s unlikely to get back there. Does it matter, though?!
The special combination of experience the energy and drive of bands much younger, and a complete lack of desperation from each of us to be loved or succeed as ‘pop stars’ seems to make Riff Raiders an enjoyable experience for fans. We just like playing what comes naturally and I don’t think any rock band can say they’re unique! Our song structures are mostly traditional (not too long) and the catchiness and power of the band with a garage sound is the key. Memorable riffs and catchy hooks.
Finally, if Riff Raiders could choose one riff from rock n roll history to award as the mightiest of all, what would it be?
Oh man, that’s a hard question. There are just so many in every era. In a historical sense, in terms of the classic rock that evolved into hard rock, punk and then grunge, I would have to give it to The Kinks with ‘You Really Got Me’. No one had ever treated a guitar like that and the song wasn’t about ‘holding hands’ – it was about fucking. And just look at what that song started…
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Interview by Matt Wilkinson
Photo by Michael Gow