Nature of the Beats: Dead Rider Interview
Photos by Joe Sumrall
Throughout its riddled history, rock and soul music have both suffered criticism for their libidinous influences. The biggest perceived threat to the purity of the people was the suggestiveness of the lyrics, the inhibition of the players, striking notes evoking rhythms that caused pelvises to thrust, bodies to throw themselves to and fro, presenting something representative of a seance or a sexual act. And this is in some ways is what attracts one to music-this raw energy, this loss of control, this absorption is part of the magic. It is not all of it of course, but it is a connection, a feeling, because that is what we strive for in life, connection and feeling, act and response: the idea of creating, being part of something bigger. Dead Rider is a band that embodies this: the will and desire to be moved, to move. It is the nature of the beast or should I say the beats.
“All of our songs start with the grooves, and we are really focused on this idea of syncopation, and seeing how far we can go with this idea of syncopation,” notes Todd Rittman, guitarist (of this band and once US MOTHERFUCKING MAPLE), lead vocalist, primary conspirator, interviewee. “For me, it’s that syncopated groove that makes my body respond. Some people can dance to all down beats or four on the floor and no surprises and no syncopation, I am not one of those people.”
Dead Rider (once D. Rider, always awesome) makes music that is active, fluid. It reacts, it strikes and slithers, it has color and suspense. Songs begin, seemingly establish a chordal structure to be maintained, only to suddenly drop, or alter-never in a way that outside of the rhythm or without respect to a rhythmic base. There is an unintentional but implied sensuality to it. It is alluring, it draws you in, it is like making out, hot and clumsy. As sex is always a possible metaphor, it is sort of like that: dangerous and passionate, possibly romantic, but also lascivious (writer’s note: I made this suggestion to Todd).
“That foundation of just making the fundamental and original part of our music be something that inspires movement goes a long way, to that idea that you talked about. Also with music, I like it a little rough, but I don’t only like it rough: I like contrast. So it’s really not a stretch at all to draw an analogy between that (the music) and sex. We get that a lot, and I never cringe at that comparison.”
But also maybe, it is just not boring. It is not a dedication to an aesthetic other than one established by the band. Throughout the band’s four albums, culminating with their weirdest but also greatest album, “Chills On Glass,” Dead Rider has presented music that uses rhythm and blues, rock, electricity,tension, release, in ways that make each song an adventure. One could imagine improvisation as a technique of composition, implying a lack of structure, or a relaxed attitude towards structure, but that is not actually the case.
“We play around with metric, time, and the grid, counting to four over and over again. We also play around with rhythms that are more organic and don’t dovetail into the grid, but still work within the context of a piece of music. A lot of people fall off the band wagon at that moment, they wanna hear this tic toc, this heartbeat, they wanna hear this machine, and anything that isn’t a part of a machine is dealt with by their brains as ‘it’s trying to be willfully weird’ or something like that, which I shy away from that idea that we’re just trying to be upsetting,’” said Rittman. “I think that’s a very shallow, superficial,sort of view of what it is we’re doing, but we’re also interested in exploring our own little language. So as players, we have things that we do, that we’re trying to develop that are just coming from us.”
Here’s a thought, July 25th, Dead Rider will be in town at Rudz (with Bob Log!!!!) and there you will be able to see the language spoken-the action. Dead Rider have not been to Houston before, amping my excitement, but they are also of that school of performance. That school of playing in and to the moment-that thing that makes a live show special. And the band (Rittman, Thymme Jones, Andrea Faught, Matt Espy) are seasoned and serious players. If you believe in music, if you believe in its power, if you believe that there is something more, congregate and bare witness brothers and sisters. The light doth shine!