INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
Although the New York-based band RIOT was formed in 1975 by guitarist Mark Reale, the band reached its most significant success in the early ‘80s with the classic release FIRE DOWN UNDER. The band then went on to release several albums before releasing the landmark disc THUNDERSTEEL. The now reunited, classic THUNDERSTEEL lineup consists of, in addition to founder Mark Reale, Tony Moore on vocals, Don Van Stavern on bass, Bobby Jarzombek on drums, with Mike Flyntz on the second guitar. We caught up with Mark backstage at the Sweden Rock Festival to discuss some of the happenings in the past, present, and future of RIOT, as well as his side venture, WESTWORLD.
First of all, it’s great to have you finally here in Scandinavia. Riot was never really that well known here or even in the rest of Europe, even back in the ’80s. What was, in your opinion, the reason for that?
Yeah, we had a lot of problems over the years career-wise because, you know, we started very young, the original band. Unfortunately, you’re very naive when you’re young, and we got involved with production company people that weren’t good for us. When we started to become successful around 1980, they were worried about somebody else coming along and taking us away. Cliff Bernstein, the guy who manages Metallica, was one guy who wanted to manage us. Our production company wanted to control us, so they always created a bad image for use on the business side, and they kept us closed off. We could never get involved with the people on the level that could make us break [into the big leagues]. Because in 1980-1981 we were right there, we were ready to go back and headline in the UK. Our singer [Guy Speranza] left partially because of the management, partly because he got married and left the industry. So there were a lot of bad breaks that always knocked us back. Then we came back again with Rhett [Forrester] and played for a couple of years, did a tour with VANDENBERG and KISS. By the end of that tour, I was burned out, and I was tired of playing the third bill on these big tours in America. So I broke the band up for a couple of years and moved to Texas. While I was down there, I guess this is about 1984. I met Don [Van Stavern], playing with us today, and Bobby [Jarzombek] and all those guys. Actually, I started a band called NARITA down there, which morphed into the “Thundersteel” RIOT. I moved back to New York and, I guess it was probably around 1986-1987, we met Tony Moore and started doing the “Thundersteel” -thing. So that was like the second coming of the band, which was like our second chance because the records were received very well. We did two records, and then Tony left because of the management, the same reasons, it was this ongoing thing with these guys that I was signed to all the way up until 1996.
Thundersteel ‘era promopicture
There’s been a lot of people in the band during the years. Why is that?
Yeah, the thing is we had all these problems and were going up and down, and the people handling my career were screwing it up. Not only was it the money, but it was also the fact that these [company] guys were like coke fiends. It was also like megalomania, and they wanted to be able to control everything. I remember being on tour with BLACK SABBATH in 1980 and Sandy Pealman, their manager at the time, coming up to me and saying, “We wanna manage you guys, but I can’t deal with these guys calling me four in the morning.”. So everybody that could have helped us, because we got to that first level, anybody that would have taken us beyond that they scared away. So guys would leave the band, I would have to get new guys, which was the whole history, so I just kept the name going. In 1987-1988 we did “Thundersteel” and the same thing happened, we were very successful and went to Japan in 1989. It was unprecedented, we went in 1989, and six months later, they asked us back again for like twice the money. We were exploding and got the award for the best live band of the year. Yet shortly after that, Tony left because of the management problems. I could write a book about it. So that lineup went away, and we got Mike DiMeo, and I went on and on and on, and it’s been the same old story. About a year and a half ago, we were all talking about doing this because, of course, the original singer had passed away years ago, Guy Speranza.
Bobby was playing with HALFORD and SEBASTIAN BACH, he was tired of being a sideman and called me, and we talked about this, and finally, it became a reality. We only got together for the first time about two weeks ago [late May 2009] in Texas. It’s all been on the phone, and we had not been together. Me and Mike [Flyntz], the guitar player, live near each other in New York, Tony lives in California now, Bobby and Don live in Texas. So we converged in San Antonio, Texas, a couple of weeks ago and started rehearsing. It was the first get together, and then we did one gig there, which makes this [Sweden Rock] the second gig. So we’ve got a lot of work to do because you have to play a lot to get the band up to speed.
You already touched upon it, but what were the reasons to reunite with this lineup specifically?
Because it’s the most original lineup possible, it was a very popular but very brief period with Tony. We were doing well, we were like on a roll, and then he left, and then he disappeared. Tony has been out of the industry basically for twenty years, so really, it’s difficult for him. He’s accomplished a lot because to come from twenty years of not singing and performing is something you have to build up again. The thing is, this is an original lineup, the two records that we made at that period in time were popular, and this is the oldest living RIOT lineup, basically. The original “Fire Down Under” lineup is still around except for Guy. I have been speaking to his wife actually recently about a company that wants to use some of the original RIOT songs for a video game. So being that every one of the “Thundersteel” lineups is still around and able to do it, we decided it was the right time to do it.
You recorded six albums with Mike DiMeo. Why did you end things with him?
Mike’s cool, and he’s still coming around my house. He’s great, just a totally different kind of singer. I love the way he sings, and he’s more of the David Coverdale kind of thing, which I personally love a lot. But he’s okay with it. It’s hard to survive in this industry now. Again it’s nostalgia for us to get together again. It’s not just trying to make it a financial thing. It’s just a lot of fun to work with these guys again. I think that’s what happens a lot, many bands are reuniting now, and it’s partially maybe a financial thing, but I think everybody also wants to capture their youth again, and that [reunion] brings it back again.
The latest album by RIOT so far is ARMY OF ONE from 2006 with Mike DiMeo on vocals. Are there any plans to record and release new material with this reunited “Thundersteel” lineup?
Oh yeah, we absolutely have. We actually played one song earlier today that is new, and we have tons of songs. I have been going back and forth to Texas, working with Don and Bobby. We’re going to do a festival in Spain on June 20th, and then we’re going to start recording after that. We are supposed to go to Japan in October, so we’re going to try to have something out before that. There are many good ideas, and it doesn’t feel like there have been twenty years in between. The creative process with this originally was because we came from certain backgrounds, and when you stick those things together and mix it up, it’s not just hardcore metal or pop or anything. I like a lot of hard music, but I also like pop music a lot, and when you take somebody like Don, who comes from a more hardcore metal thing. You put those elements together, and that’s kind of what I think created music that had a lot of energy to it but also had a song in all of that. So we have a lot of stuff, and so far, it’s pretty reminiscent of those two records [“Thundersteel” and “Privilege of Power”], maybe a little bit more sophisticated, but along those lines.
You have not played many of the songs you’re playing now in years. How does it feel to play those songs live again after all this time?
The big thing is that by the time that we got Mike, we had the other Mike, the guitar player, originally THUNDERSTEEL and PRIVILEDGE OF POWER, were just three pieces, and we used to tour like that and everything. When we went to Japan in 1989, we had to play very long shows there, like two-hour shows, and we had to do all the material, including the early stuff. So I wanted to bring in another guitar player. I met Mike, and with the DiMeo material, we developed a lot of twin guitar stuff, more complicated stuff. Of course, with this music we’re playing now, it was mostly me doing it, so that’s weird, not interacting with Mike. It’s a lot of pressure on my shoulders. It’s also weird because when haven’t done a lot of this stuff in years. We always used “Flight of the Warrior” and a couple of other songs, but “Storming the Gates of Hell” and things like that I haven’t played since, and it’s complicated. But it’s a lot of fun playing with Bobby, and I think he’s one of the best drummers in the world. It does feel a bit weird, playing so many songs from the Mike DiMeo period for so many years, not to play those songs and to stick to this.
About the future. One year from now, what do you think will be happening with RIOT?
Hopefully, we can make this successful because it’s rough, we haven’t done a lot, and the hope is that we’re going to do these three shows and get a record out. We have more than enough material right now, so that shouldn’t be a problem. We hope to keep this thing going.
Are you planning to do more touring at some point, in Europe specifically?
Yeah, absolutely. Probably once we get either the record out or at least get some new material on the internet because doing this kind of thing is very difficult, you know there’s a lot of fans and stuff. Still, when you don’t play live shows enough, just to come out and do a big thing when you haven’t played in a long time, I feel that I can’t give a 100% of my ability. So we definitely want to play more.
Why is it that some early RIOT albums are so hard to get on CD, like NARITA, for example?
To tell you the truth, around 1995 I finally got away from the production company that explained about earlier, way too late, of course, it should have happened a long time ago. We went through this whole litigation for like two years. When we left him, the president of that company took everything. He made deals with Metal Blade, who have most of the stuff. For some reason, which I don’t know, they don’t have the two records with Tony and NARITA. I’m not sure why because he had the rights to the stuff, I don’t know why those records weren’t sold to Metal Blade. In fact, we’re trying to find about those records with Tony right now because we want to see if we can make them more available.
One last question, what’s up with the band you had with Tony Harnell, WESTWORLD, anything new there?
He’s trying to put together a box set now. I just talked to him a few days ago while I was in Texas. He’s trying to do like a box set thing, and he’s got some video footage from a show we did in New York a while back. That was great because I got to do stuff that I couldn’t apply to RIOT musically in terms of writing. Tony’s a great writer aside from being a great singer.
Why did you decide not to continue with WESTWORLD?
Well, basically, although the records got accepted really well, especially the first one, people want to see Tony in TNT, Bruno [Ravel] in DANGER DANGER, me in RIOT, and I think that’s what we came to realize. It’s like knocking your head against the wall, so you wind up gravitating back towards your home. I think that’s what it was, but I love working with him, and we may do something. We talked about writing some stuff, and it’s definitely a possibility. We still talk, and he’s been talking about writing some new material. We’re trying to escape the ’80s thing.
Ok, our time’s up now. Thanx for your time, and talk to you again soon!
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