New Riot are starting to make waves as they support Reel Big Fish on their 20th Anniversary tour, alongside Suburban Legends and The Skints.
I got a chance to sit down with Tommy T (vocals and guitar) and Heady (drums) a few hours before the band took to the stage at 53 Degrees, Preston, around three weeks into the tour.
Both of them seem to be loving the opportunity, and having a great time. Tommy T said: “The tour’s been absolutely fantastic, in all honestly”, adding “Every single show has been a blinder.”
Heady agrees, and explained that all the bands are very relaxed with each other. “There’s no egos on the tour at all, no-one won’t talk to anyone else. At the start of the tour most people didn’t know each other at all, and now we all hang out every day and talk to each other. It’s not like you can’t go into someone else’s dressing room.”
For any upcoming ska-punk band, supporting a band like Reel Big Fish is a dream come true, and a godsend in terms of promotion and opportunities. “It’s fantastic to be on tour with such a legendary band. I grew up listening to them, so it’s nice,” Tommy admits.
Heady agrees that the platform these support dates give them is invaluable: “I think the main problem, not just with us, but with a lot of smaller bands like ourselves, is getting the right exposure. If we did play the UK as much as we are on this tour, but it was our own headline New Riot tour, there’s no way we’d play to crowds even a quarter the size of the crowds we’re doing on this tour.”
However, being a support band rather than the headline act does bring its own sets of challenges. Tommy said: “When you’re the first band on, especially with a crowd as big as what RBF play to, the challenge is a lot greater. There’s a lot more people in the room to get in tune with your music.”
He added: “When you’re on for 20, 25 minutes, you’ve only got that much time to make people’s heads turn.”
“Obviously we’re not a big band, most people won’t have heard about us, they maybe saw our name on this tour and checked us out to see what they were going to see,” Heady added, continuing: “So, if we can surprise people, then that’s a good thing.”
The band got together around 2008, following the ending of Fandangle, a band that included five eventual members of New Riot. Heady is actually the only member who wasn’t in the former band.
“Me and Craig [Timms, sax] went to school together and I was asked to join Fandangle,” he revealed. “By the time I actually joined, it had basically come to an end, and that’s when we all decided that we still wanted to do something together. That’s when it became New Riot.”
The fact that everyone in the band is essentially a founding member means that the decision-making process is entirely democratic, with no big egos or agendas. Heady said: “All six of us are original members in New Riot. It’s not like, two people started it and recruited other people. No-one came in at a later date, we all started it together and we all made the decisions together.”
Tommy also echoed the sentiment: “Anything that is decided on, goes against a vote, to make sure everyone’s happy with it. The thing is, for us it’s the best way to work, we couldn’t do it any other way. I don’t think we could have one person saying this is going on, this is how we’re going to do it.”
New Riot gained a lot of exposure from an issue of The Big Cheese, which has helped the band’s fan-base grow steadily, although not overnight. Tommy explained: “It’s more a gradual thing,” adding “It’s nice to see that they would publish ska punk in a magazine.”
Heady definitely agreed: “ They were nice to us. In that one issue, they gave us four different parts,” he said, continuing: “I’m sure that did massively help us out.”
For any band at this level, the importance of merchandise sales can never be forgotten or underestimated. “That’s all we make our money off. On this tour, that’s all we can do, we only get our merch,” Tommy revealed.
Whilst the subject of illegal downloading or the use of free services like Spotify may usually annoy artists, Tommy admitted to using it himself. “I mean, I sit there are listen to my favourite band’s on Spotify, and why wouldn’t you? It’s on your computer, you’re working away, you’ve not got the CD, so go on Spotify and listen away.”
He continued: “I don’t actually really disagree with the whole illegal downloading as such. If it gets people to the show, and it gets people to buy the tickets and t-shirts and a hat or something, then fair enough, that’s awesome,” adding that “if everybody did it, it’d be a problem, but you can’t stop people doing something that’s free.”
Heady said: “If that person decides they like us and then pays money to come and see a show, and then buy our next album in the future, then what’s the problem with that?”
Despite the attention worldwide bands like Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake get in the UK, Tommy admitted that the ska scene could be better in the UK. “This is why we’re here, that’s what we’re doing this for. We have a passion for the music and from the responses we’re getting, people are to ska punk, people do like it.”
“I think the reaction from a lot of the crowds on this tour basically speaks for itself. When you see some of the crowds, you know that the scene’s definitely not dead at all,” Heady said.
Whereas Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake are always a big influence on any contemporary ska-punk band, New Riot take their influences from the diverse taste of their members. Heady admitted: “I listen to ska music, but I’d be lying if I said that’s what I listen to more than anything else. I think that’s a good thing.”
He added: “That’s a good thing about having six people in the band. It’s hard sometimes, but with that many influences you’re always going to come up with something that is totally different. We’re different people, we all have different influences with different genres of music.”
It’s clear from what they say that New Riot have a real passion for ska. Tommy said: “It’s actually an amazing word. I love playing ska punk, and having the word ska punk in the lyrics. For me, it’s what we’re all about. We couldn’t go “We’re a ska band, no now we’re a punk band…with…up-stroke chords”.”
He continued on the subject of New Riot’s style: “We’ve been describing ourselves as UK Party Ska Punk, which I’ve never heard of in my life,” adding “Highly, highly energised. We put on a show when we play. It’s music that will make you smile.
“It’s music that will make you feel a lot better than you originally did if you were feeling down. This is the kind of things I get back from people listening to the music.”
Currently trying to build on the relative success of their debut album Riot. Sleep. Repeat., the band are still planning more releases by the end of the year, including a new album and an EP.
Heady said: “This tour is so long, it’d be nice to take some time to chill out. We’re not saying let’s take some time off. We decided we wouldn’t do anymore shows for the rest of March and April, but we’d concentrate heavily on song-writing, putting some demos down.”
However, he did reveal that New Riot will be back on the road sooner rather than later. “We’re planning a joint headline UK tour in May with a band called Orange.”
What about the future? Tommy had a simple, honest answer when asked where he wants New Riot to be in two years time.
“Comfortable, world-wide. I’d like to see the band playing in Japan, Australia, America. I’d like everyone to know what we’re doing, and the name, and get a load of new music out there so people can have a choice. Yeah, I’d like to see the ska punk scene just explode, and go massive again. That’s two year’s time? I reckon that’s possible.”