Night Riots, photographed in New York City in 2014. From left to right – Matt DePauw (Guitar), Mikel Van Kranenburg (Bass), Travis Hawley (Lead Vocals/Synth), Nick Fotinakes (Guitar),and Rico Rodriguez (Drums)

 

 

NIGHT RIOTS

 If you really want something, if you really care about something, then do it. And that’s why I’m here. It took a lot of faith, a lot of dedication to be here.

– Rico Rodriguez, Drummer for Night Riots

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Night Riots drummer Rico Rodriguez introduced me to the Spanish word, “ganas.”  In English it translates to, “The Desire,” which is a very fitting word to describe the Los Angeles-based band, who have risen through the music industry ranks with their aggressive, catchy, live energy shows.  My notes and scribbles about the band’s new EP, Howl, which goes on sale today, read like a dirty novel: young love, city love, sex, wanting, high energy, electricity, urgency, danger, pop-rock, bigness, crisp, reckless, first kiss, second kiss, third, confessions, 80s, pounding, heat, fun, night’s out, boys, girls, exciting—and that voice, voice, voice!  If you’re new to Night Riots, that voice that I’m referring to belongs to lead vocalist Travis Hawley, whose big, beautiful voice will have you at hello.  (A dollar goes out to every nerd who just said, “Don’t you mean, Howl-o?”).  Hawley, who also plays synth for the band, joins bandmates, soul mates (and childhood friends) Nick Fotinakes (Guitar), Matt DePauw (Guitar), Mikel Van Kranenburg (Bass) and Rico Rodriguez (Drums) on Howl, which is the second EP for the band, who are still flying high off their 2013 EP, Young Lore.  When I met with Night Riots during the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City last October, we talked at length about their love for music, their strong friendships and the things that continue to motivate them to new heights.  Taken together, their self-made success early on, which included lots of love from MTV, Rolling Stone Magazine and opening for Aerosmith, really starts to make sense on another level. Beyond their music, all roads lead to four friends who had insane ganas, who took a chance on love and had the balls to keep going, going, going.   – Eve Reinhardt, Managing Editor for VNDL Magazine

Space

October, 2014 – New York City

So how has your trip to New York been so far? Can you share some highlights from last night’s show during CMJ?

Travis Hawley: It’s been awesome. We’re loving it.  This is our first time playing in New York, so that was pretty huge for us to have a full room. The Knitting Factory is a pretty well-known venue so we are excited to play there. We’ve been out on the road with K. Flay now for about a month and, yeah, it’s just been really exciting to actually play New York City and have a big audience.  And we had our first New York pizza pie.

And is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Nick Fotinakes:  I liked it! And apparently it’s better in Brooklyn than it is in Manhattan, so we had the good stuff, the cream of the crop last night.

So if you guys could just go around the room and introduce yourselves, and maybe start with what first drew you to music

Rico Rodriguez: My name is Rico.  I play drums. And what drew me to music initially was my family. My older brothers both played instruments, and they were already playing in a band in the house, so when I was a little kid I would try to break into the room while they were doing band practice, because I want to play too.  And since one played guitar and one played bass, I already knew that I had to play drums, so I knew from a very young age that I had to be a drummer.

Travis:  My name is Travis and I sing. I kinda say something similar. There’s always music playing in my house, and my brother picked up guitar and I started playing drums, and my mom was always singing and it was just natural.

Mikel Van Kranenburg:  My name is Mikel.  I play bass; and it was also my family that drew me to music. My family’s been musical ever since I can remember. My dad played the trumpet and my mom played piano, and they were all just very encouraging for me to play music and, yeah, it’s just always been in the family. So I didn’t really have any other-

You didn’t have a choice!

Mikel: Sorta—yeah, but I love it, it’s great. It was a good obligation for me.  I love it.

Nick Fotinakes: I’m Nick and I play guitar, and sort of similar thing. My brother had a leftover guitar that I sort of just started playing as a hobby.  And where we’re from—it’s such a small town—the guys were my friends and everyone played music, so it was kind of something that we just did. There was nothing else to do. So that’s how it started, playing guitar; and then I just loved it, so I just stuck with it.

Matt DePauw: I’m Matt and I play guitar and keyboards, and it’s family that drew me to music. My dad is really big into guitar, and my first CD was the Batman Forever soundtrack. With “Kiss From A Rose”—

Rico: Ah, Seal; good song—

Matt: So that’s what kind of started me out.

Nick: Matt was originally going to be named Django after a two-fingered guitar player—

Matt: Oh, because my dad’s Belgian. But my mom nixed that.

And if you guys could talk a little bit about what you’re in the middle of right now, what you’re in the thick of musically, artistically?

Nick:  Right now we’re in the middle of—well, I guess we are more towards the tail-end of putting out an EP.  We just finished recording and basically getting everything ready for this next release that we’re doing. It’s done, and it’s going to come out in January. We finished a music video for the first single, Contagious, which is going to come out this week or next.  We’re finishing up this tour and basically getting ready to write; we’re doing a full length after this EP, too, so we’re getting back in the studio, too. So we’re writing, touring, releasing stuff.

Can you all talk about what your creative process is like together as a band?  Do you all write? How does the whole creative process unfold for you?

Travis:  Everyone brings different attributes to a song. I think that our creative process is constantly evolving and changing, which keeps it kind of interesting. But we do everything from, you know, sometimes I’ll write a vocal melody and a guitar part, or one of the guys will write some music and then send it over to me and I’ll start putting melodies over it, or sometimes we’ll all get together and jam through stuff.  Just a bunch of different ways of making it happen.  I think the only consistent thing is remaining present. So we’ll just show up and hope the process is organic.

 I imagine there wasn’t as much thought about audience when you first started writing songs.  Now that you have had success and you do have an audience, how do you leave that at the door when you write and create? Does that put any pressure on you? 

Travis: I think it’s less the audience and I actually think it’s more the industry.  Strangely enough I think your audience—at least our audience—is always really encouraging of what we have to offer, and has always allowed us to be creative. I think it’s more people in the industry that are kind of like, “I think you’re this” or “I think you’re that” or “I want to see you like this,” and that’s kind of where you have to draw your lines a little bit harder. But then again, at the same time, it’s always good to listen and hear—and not change yourself…but take influence.  And that’s how we grow as artists.

As music lovers we’ve all been to concerts or had musical experiences that have really changed our lives.  As a band, can you maybe talk about an audience that you’ve played to that has had a strong influence on you? 

Nick:  Billy Idol.  With Travis.

Matt: I randomly ended up going to a Genesis concert years ago, and the light show was amazing, like, immaculate—

Travis: No substances were involved—

Matt: It blew my mind

[Everyone laughs]

Matt: It was awesome to see such a live show with such huge production—

Travis: Matt came to practice and he wanted a dripping waterfall after that.

[Everyone laughs]

And what audience have you all played to as a band that has really change you as a musician?  

Travis: We had a bunch.  From the tiny shows to the big shows. For some reason our hometown has always been just really, really supportive of us and they just go nuts. So when you play a show like that—it’s packed, 400 people going crazy in a room—it’s impossible not to feed off that energy. That’s the kind of stuff that makes you want to keep doing this. It’s pretty cool.

Nick:  There are these weird places that we played in California when we were first starting, and kids that I remember seeing that just, like, love the band, and they still come to shows.  That’s inspiring to see.  That people are still so supportive of us and love what we’re doing from, like, before we even knew what we were doing; and they’re almost living it with us, and it’s really cool to see that.  And in a weird way, when stuff gets hard it’s cool to think about those people and know that it’s not just about us. They’re kind of along for the ride, too, and that’s inspiring to me.

What are your biggest fears or challenges you face?  And what are some of your personal philosophies that you each have individually that help you get through them?

Travis: Biggest challenges?

Yeah

Travis:  “No mind.”

Nick: “No mind!”  Before we play sometimes, something that we always say, or Rico will say, is “No mind,” which just means to be present in the moment…because it’s easy to get stressed out.   What is that even from?

Rico: To be very specific, that’s from the movie The Last Samurai and Sir Thomas Cruise taught us that lesson when he was trying to fight a soldier with a katana, which is something he’d never used before, he’s training and the Japanese guy comes up to him and he’s like, “We mind the people watching, we mind the weapon, we mind yourself,” and he says, “No mind.” He doesn’t want him to pay attention to everything, just get it in himself [Everyone laughs]. But I think that’s something, personally, for all of us, that we have to get past. I think you get a lot of performers that have really big egos and they’re really super confident or macho—and I’m not gonna say we’re not confident but we’re pretty…we’re on the humble side, I think; kind of small town mentality maybe.  So for us, to get up there and really just bare our bones and just be ourselves in front of a bunch of people, maybe doesn’t come as naturally.   But we’ve done it.  We pushed forward and let our souls shine through our performance.  But earlier on that was a struggle for us I think—getting passed people watching and stuff.  It’s hard to be yourself sometimes, but we can do it now—

Nick: Thanks to Tom Cruise, though—

Rico: Tom Cruise taught us how

What have you each learned from your bandmates along the way?

Nick: What we learned? From these guys?

Travis: This is gonna be one of those questions—we’re gonna start crying!

Yes it’s a Barbara Walters moment!

Rico: Nick taught me how to more effectively bully other people—

Nick:  I learned that I’m a bully and I didn’t know that—

Can you give me an example?

The other night Nick pulled a chord out of Mikel’s ear.  He grabbed it and it went thunk!   And he pulled the chord out and a kind of pulled on his ear a little bit, but I don’t know if I really thought that was bullying—

Is that your definition of a bully?!

[Everyone laughs]

Rico: He was just teasing.

Travis: We call it little-brother-ing—

Nick: Because I’m the little brother, so I’ll just do something, like, when Michael’s driving.  I can tell when someone’s getting into a bad mood so I’ll start flicking their ears or, like, just doing really annoying, stupid stuff.  I always thought it was funny but I guess it’s not that funny.

[Everyone laughs]

Travis: I think just said another way, patience and boundaries and respect…I think sometimes you have to put your egos aside—that’s something we’ve all mutually figured out, and I think we’ve all been really good about it.  For some reason we have a really good balance amongst each other, but sometimes you’re in a band for months on end and it’ll just be little things that will happen, and somebody didn’t sleep enough, or someone’s a little edgy, and a little tiff will happen and you kind of just have to put your ego down and quell it right there.

Nick: And creatively, I think we’ve all pushed each other to just become better musicians. Like [Travis] is saying we don’t have big egos, and I think that in a lot of bands, if someone tells you you’re slacking on something or, you know, if someone’s telling someone what to do, someone will have an ego about it and go, “I quit.” With us, as we’ve been playing with each other, I think we pushed each other to become better at our craft and our skill, whether it’s playing guitar or performing, and that’s what’s been cool about having good friends with you.  I think we pushed each other to become better people and performers.

I think that is actually really helpful for other people to read because there are a lot of bands who are trying to make their way and don’t know how to manage the basics of being in a band, and how the relationships between each band member can affect the whole, the simple things that a lot of people don’t know how to navigate.

Travis: And I think that’s the easy part for us, for whatever reason that’s easy.  One of my favorite things that we kind of pushed each other on when we were getting into writing is just pushing each other to expand creatively, to listen to different music rather than get stuck in one place. And I think that we have done that on this latest EP, and I think the EP has really grown from that and taken on a lot of different influences, which I think is very exciting and makes it very unique.

What are some of your go-to bands that you listen to on tour that keep inspiring you?

Rico: It’s cool to be on tour with the band, that is inspiring to me.  But I also get inspired by K.Flay on a daily basis, just because—and I noticed it a lot last night—she really lays it out there when she performs and she kind of goes nuts. I took some friends with me to the show last night, who had never seen her perform, and one minute into the show [my friend] said, “I like her.” And I said, “Why?”  And she said, “Because she just freaking goes crazy! She’s going crazy out there!” I like that. Just those three words:  She’s.  Going.  Crazy. I admire that. She’s able to get up there and just tear it apart. That’s inspiring to me every day.

Nick:  Yeah, I would say for me as well.

Travis: There’s a bunch of different types of inspiration. Lyrically, Paul Simon or someone like that, or it can go back to live energy shows—Bob Marley, I think he’s one of the best pop-writers of all time. I think performance wise, everybody gives Bono a lot of shit for being egotistical but he’s a great performer, and Michael Hutchence from INXS was an amazing performer, David Gahan from Depeche Mode, and then other songs—we like The Cure, and more modern stuff, like PhantogramVacationer. We’ve been listening to random hip-hop stuff- Kanye West–anything. Will take inspiration from so many different places.

Rico: I think it’s important to listen to a lot of stuff, even stuff that I wouldn’t normally like.  If you’re open minded you can draw some pretty cool detail from anything. Whether it’s a reggae band or a pop artist or a metal band—it doesn’t matter—anything.  You can find something interesting in it if you’re open minded to take it and make it your own.

Before signing with Sumerian Records you guys were on your own, which I understand was a conscious decision at the time, and you got success without signing with one.  Which makes me wonder if musicians will end up needing one at all in the future?  That is a relatively new concept—that you can make it on your own without a label backing you. What are your thoughts about that? Do you think that’s the way the music industry is headed?

Travis: I think that it’s different for everybody. We are in a time where you can do it without a label, but I think more importantly it’s about having a team, and I think that’s where you will need help on the next level, regardless of whether it’s a label that comes in, or if you are going out and getting your own teams for publicity, distribution and things like that.  So I think everybody can do it however they want. It’s an exciting time to be playing music. You can take a lot of different routes.

When you were meeting with different labels how did you determine they were the right (or wrong) choice for you? What sold you on Sumerian?

Nick: For us it was that they knew what the band was about and believed in us. When we would meet with some people that didn’t really know what we were; or they had their idea of what they wanted us to be.  And it was important to us that they say, “I see what you guys are,” that they wanted to help us and not change us in any way.  That was important to us when we we’re meeting with labels.

Travis: And being real champions of the band is really important as well. Kind of along what Nick said, that they really believe in the artist and allow us to be artists, rather than anything else.

Rico:  I think being a big fan of the artist is really important too. We had some meetings where we’d go in to meet with a label, or someone, and they wouldn’t really know the songs. They wouldn’t know much about the music, really. They know just the basic facts. But when you go in and you start talking to somebody and they start saying, “Oh I love that guitar part at that second verse,” or, “That lyric on that song,” and they can really talk about your music with you and actually are fans of the band—that’s a big deal.

Your single “Contagious,” will be the first song released off of your new EP, Howl.  I wanted to ask how that song is personal for you?

Travis: It is personal. You can take what you want out of it, but I think a lot of our music has a darker or melancholy streak to it. Sometimes it’s misunderstood as being depressing but it’s not. The lyrics are really up-lifting.  And it’s saying that you have every opportunity in the world to stand up and be what you want to be, but you have to stand up, you have to do it. And I think to get really deep on it, I think that’s a big problem with our society right now. People feel entitled to things.  And it’s not a perfect world but you can make it a perfect world, or relatively perfect. You just have to stand up and get it.

What is the best piece of advice that anybody has ever given you in your life, personally or professionally, that has been invaluable to you along the way?

Rico: That’s a big question.

Nick: I already said mine earlier: “When the cat’s away the rats will play.”

[Everyone laughs]

Rico: My whole life? That’s really tough!

Sometimes I think it can be really obvious if you think about what you find yourself going back to, time and time again.  For example, whatever we experience in life, good or bad, we’re usually guided by the same advice or voice in our head…we each have something that is maybe a little more sacred to us in our lives.

Rico: My dad talks a lot. A lot of times he just says crazy stuff, but every once-in-awhile he comes through with something so profound. One thing he told me along time ago is the concept of “ganas,” which is kind of like a Hispanic thing, which basically means, the desire. That’s really what it is, saying, “If you really want something, if you really care about something, then do it.” My dad always said, “There’s nothing left to do but to do it.” And that’s why I’m here. It took a lot of faith, a lot of dedication to be here.  There were some really hard times and a lot of sacrifices that left me sitting in front of you right now. People want things and it’s easy to talk about them but to actually do them is a whole different thing. So to be do-ers and not talkers.  You said one thing and I just threw in three of my dad’s quotes, but these concepts are really important to me, and my dad always talked about them. I was actually able to follow through.  And here I am doing what I love with good people.

Matt: I think that ties into mine as well. It’s kind of a joke, but when I think about it I follow it all the time.  Master Yoda said it, “Do. Or do not.  There is no try.” I know it’s a joke but I always go back to it.  And also, just stop and remember where you are in the middle of all this.

Nick: It’s easy to get down; and whether you’re feeling sad or struggling with stuff, it’s easy to feel—and I know a lot of people feel—alone. If you’re doing this, as an artist or if you’re in the city, it’s easy to feel like you’re by yourself; and I think that’s why sometimes people put on a front and act the way they do.  But something I’ll try and remember is, “You’re not alone.”  With me, I have my friends and that’s something that’s important for me to keep in mind. It’s easy to get self-centered and think about the fact that there are so many problems, and there’s so much stuff that’s affecting me when that really doesn’t matter; the world is so much bigger than that. There are other people that rely on me, and there are also other people that have it so much worse than I have it.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in thinking that you’re the most important thing in the world and it’s nice to remember every once-in-awhile that you’re not, and really care about someone else sometimes.  That makes you happier internally.

Travis:  I guess mine would be, “Just show up and be present. Be here right now.” That’s something I keep on having to go back to.

Mikel: I guess for myself…I don’t remember who the guy was, but I saw this Ted Talks episode and he was talking about just always taking some time to just stop thinking. There’s so much happening all the time in your head and in the world, everywhere. And it’s nice to just take some time away and sit down for 10 minutes and stop thinking.  It really helps you gather yourself. It’s been really helpful to me if I start getting stressed out or sad or feeling lonely, to just go sit by [myself] for 10 minutes and try not to think about anything. And it’s hard—you have to practice—but it’s been really helpful.

Do you guys have any advice to up-and-coming artists? 

Mikel: To practice and don’t stop practicing.

Nick:  Believe in yourself, first of all, because it’s easy to get caught up.  For us as a band, in learning how to get along with each other, I think that’s a super crazy important thing.  So many bands, they just fall apart because I can’t handle simple things, like learning how to deal with an argument with each other, or handle something really small.   So it’s better to have some people in your band that you like to work with and can get along with, more-so than the most talented person in the world with you. Because if they’re an asshole and you can’t deal with them then it doesn’t matter and it’s gonna fall apart.  So it’s easier to have someone that you really connect with and have the same vision with and can work easily with.

You guys have all this new music coming out. What are you most excited about right now?

Nick: I’m just really excited for people to hear all the new music.

Is it very different from your last album, Young Lore?

Rico: I think so. It’s just an evolution. And I think it has to be. Every time you put something new out you have to think it’s your best, and it needs to be your best, and you need to be progressing always.

Nick: And it’s a snapshot in time of who we were we wrote it.  We’re different now, so if we were just writing the same stuff over and over again it wouldn’t be sincere.  It’s different but it’s still us. I think people will see that.

Rico:  I think bands grow just like people grow. Like when you are kid and you’re only five years old and you can only say so many words, you can only communicate so many things; but as you grow you become more complex you’re able to put together larger sentences and statements and become more and more of who you are, or who you will be, and I think bands are the same way if they’re honest.   As you grow you’re not gonna be a five-year-old forever—that would be weird, because you’d still be wearing diapers—or whatever!

So I apologize in advance for this question, and I don’t how this question became a frequent question in interviews, but here you go: have you ever had sex to your own music?

Nick: With yourself? Does that count?

Sure—why not!

[Everyone laughs]

Mikel: I feel like it’s come on before and I’ve had to turn it off, because it’s Travis’s voice and that’s kind of weird.

[Everyone laughs]

Nick: I think it’s going to be a no all-around—

Travis: Well hey I didn’t answer yet!

[Everyone laughs]

Well do you have anything else to add?

Nick: Oh yeah.  I had one quote from Winnie the Pooh.  Back to the life advice thing: “A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise.” Something to remember. VM

Interviews and photos with Night Riots were conducted in New York City, during the CMJ Music Marathon by Eve Reinhardt, Managing Editor for VNDL Magazine

Night Riots’ new EP, Howl is available now on iTunes 

Artist:  Night Riots

Webiste: http://www.nightriots.com

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/nightriots

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nightriots

Soundcloud:  https://soundcloud.com/nightriots

Howl on itunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/howl-ep/id937198039

Instagram:  http://instagram.com/nightriots

 

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