A chat with veteran Jersey indie rockers The Brixton Riot about past feats, latest doings and future glories.
For more than a decade, The Brixton Riot have rocked the New Jersey music landscape dropping gems of indie rock and power pop that would make The Replacements, The Jam, The Clash and Husker Du proud. Last year’s “Close Counts” debut on Mint 400 Records was highly lauded, including a Top 10 year-end listing here, leading to participation on June 23 in the “Best of Makin Waves” on June 23 at Asbury Park Brewery with Cook Thugless, The Successful Failures, Disposable and Mr. Payday.
But perhaps the biggest honor for original vocalist-guitarist Jerry Lardieri, bassist-vocalist Steve Hass, guitarist Mark Wright and longtime drummer Matt Horutz is the use of their song “Signal to Noise” as the theme and title of the popular indie and punk rock radio show hosted by Al Crisafulli on WFDU 89.1-FM.
When and how did the band form?
Jerry Lardieri: It’s hard to pinpoint it to a specific day or month, but the first time that I got together with Steve and Mark was around 2000. They have known each other since grade school and were getting together at Mark’s house in Asbury Park to spend an afternoon playing music. Steve invited me to join them, and that was the first time more than half of the band was in the same room. It took another five or six years for us to pick things up again after that day.
We were getting together to write songs for a film a friend of Mark’s was making. After a few sessions we started talking about looking for a drummer and forming a band. I’m not sure if the film was ever finished, but the band kept going from there. We met Rob Silverman through a Harmony Central ad and played our first gig in February 2007.
Are there any original members of the band?
Mark Wright: We had a different drummer for maybe the first two years. Matt’s been with us for 10 years, so that pretty much makes us all original members.
Lardieri: Matt replaced Rob in late 2008 and played his first gig with us at the Clash Bar in January 2009. There was a bad snowstorm that night, but Matt still had a pretty nice crowd for his first gig with the band. I think it’s fair to say the band really started when Matt came on board. We had already recorded an EP, but something that had been missing finally clicked when he joined, and the overall sound seem to swing to something a bit louder and faster. While the change wasn’t necessarily a complete departure from the old sound, it was a pretty significant difference. I think you can hear it on all the records and singles that have come out since Sudden Fiction.
Since the band formed, how has the New Jersey music scene changed for the better and the worse?
Lardieri: The music scene here is constantly evolving, which isn’t always easy to navigate, but it’s incredibly interesting to watch unfold. The closure of Maxwells and Asbury Lanes were huge losses. We were all regular patrons at Maxwells before the band got together, so playing there was always a thrill, and Jenn (Hampton) always treated us wonderfully when we performed or attended shows at Asbury Lanes. When these rooms shuttered, it felt like we lost a lot more than the physical spaces.
Fortunately, new places have popped up to help fill the gap. Maxwells may be gone, but now we’ve got Monty Hall, White Eagle Hall and FM right next door in Jersey City. Places like Asbury Park Yacht Club and Asbury Park Brewery have filled the gap left by the loss of the old Lanes. Every time The Court Tavern closes, it’s replaced by … The Court Tavern. I think we’ve played at least two ’last week of shows ever’ there now. It’s great that it keeps going, but there’s also a fantastic DIY network in New Brunswick. There’s a nice scene brewing right next door in Highland Park, as well, with Pino’s at the center. That’s great to see.
Wright: When we were playing our earlier shows — ’08/’09 — the scene was much more vital. There were just many more clubs, great ones, that provided live original bands regularly. Also, it seemed that more people used to come out to shows. It’s sad when you see and play with some incredible bands and nobody shows up, especially bands like The Anderson Council and Miss Ohio. As an older musician, I like to think the Internet’s to blame. But who knows? Maybe it’s something else.
Lardieri: I think one of the best things about the new music scene is the way a lot of musicians and music lovers are using different platforms to spread the word. Al C’s weekly radio program ‘Signal To Noise,’ CoolDad Music’s exhaustive efforts, Frank Bridges continuing Geoff Pape’s ‘Overnight Sensations’ program and Jeff Raspe’s inclusion of local bands on WBJB’s ‘FreshTracks’ program are some examples. CoolDad Music, You Don’t Know Jersey, NJ Racket, Speak into My Good Eye and The Pop Break are writing about bands and joining long-running sites, like Jersey Beat and, of course, your column, with some great content.
Tom Gallo’s ‘Look At My Records’ and Brian Erickson’s ‘OneMore’ are good examples of how people are using new and interesting formats to cover the local music scene. I am probably missing some obvious ones, but that’s because the coverage has developed so much over the last few years. I think it’s great that people are dedicating time and effort to promoting independent music and musicians.
As far as aspects of it being worse, I try not to focus on negative things that are out of my control, but I’ll mention one gripe. I was on a bill where I was playing solo, opening a night of bands. The fourth band didn’t load in until the middle of the third band’s set and the second band was packed up and gone before the third band was halfway through their set. The fifth band didn’t even arrive until the middle of the fourth band’s set. This was definitely not the first time I’ve seen this, but it was probably the most blatant example I can remember.
I am not saying I’ve never had to leave a venue before everyone has finished, but I feel like everything runs better when the bands work together and support each other instead of the ‘all-for-one’ model. We’ve always tried to operate that way by designing and printing 11×17 posters. We still print them up and post them around town. They have equal billing for all the bands. We share our equipment whenever possible and always do an equal split of the door when it’s up to us.
Why are the band called The Brixton Riot? Why is that event significant to the band and your members, particular in relation to your sound?
Lardieri: For us, the reference to the riots in Brixton was meant as more of a sonic association than a social or political statement. We are huge fans of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s music that came out of the U.K. — everything from The Jam, The Damned and The Buzzcocks to Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello, The Undertones, Wire, etc. It might not always come across, but those bands played a big part in our sound from when we were first starting out. We’re also fans of The Clash and the name is an obvious Clash reference. That has led to some interesting reactions, from raised eyebrows to scathing responses from super fan boys. There’s no getting around the socio-political aspects of the name, and I think some of those factors have started to influence the lyrics in subtle but important ways. The world has changed a lot since we picked the name — or maybe it hasn’t changed enough — but with the rise of social media, nobody can say that they didn’t know racial discord and inequality still exist in 2018.
Why and how are The Replacements important to the band?
Wright: I think one reason The Replacements mean so much to us is because they were the ultimate underdogs. I know I identify with that. Also, for me, Bob Stinson is easily one of rock’s greatest guitarists. He had a unique sound and style that was all his own.
Lardieri: There are a lot of bands that we’re all fans of, but The Replacements and Husker Du are definitely part of the foundation of our sound. There was a reckless and free-form looseness to Mats performances that we fully embrace as a band. The newly released Live At Maxwells’ double LP really shows them at their best: they’re both unhinged and tight at the same time.
Al C of WFDU’s ‘Signal To Noise’ radio show once told me that he likes our shows because you never know what’s going to happen or who’s going to join us for a song. We love inviting people to play unrehearsed covers, sometimes at the peril of all involved. We had a gig at Mill Hill Basement a few months back that Matt and Mark couldn’t make so we had Nick and Lysa of Overlake join Steve and I for a set-ending cover of The Lemonheads’ “Rudderless.” At least we gave them a heads up for that one. I think they got to hear the song once or twice on the car ride over. They did a great job!
How did it feel when Al C named his radio show after your song, “Signal to Noise”?
Lardieri: We can’t really express how much we appreciate Al C’s support of the band. We’re always happy to take part in his benefits, both for charity and for WFDU. He’s a wonderful guy and a real champion of independent music in New Jersey. Every week he puts 3,000 watts in one of the biggest markets in the country behind some wonderful and grossly overlooked bands. We were thrilled when he asked us to use the name for his show, especially because it really wasn’t necessary to ask. But that’s the kind of classy guy that Al is. Who wouldn’t want to be associated with someone like that?
What do you think of the Best of Makin Waves’ show on June 23 at Asbury Park Brewery?
Lardieri: We’re really excited to be part of the Best of Makin’ Waves’ show at Asbury Brewery. I haven’t had a chance to see bands perform there yet, but I’ll definitely be going to a few gigs there before our show on the 23rd. We love playing with Mr. Payday, and it’s been years since we’ve played with The Successful Failures. I’m pretty sure it was at the old Asbury Lanes. From what I’m hearing, a lot of that ‘old Asbury Lanes’ vibe is alive now at the Brewery, so I can’t wait to see that first hand. I also like the idea of having a food truck right at the venue, the “five bands for five bucks” model and keeping it open to families. I think there are a lot of people who would come out to shows more often if they could bring their kids. We always look for opportunities to play where we can bring our own kids. I’m sure other parents feel the same way.
Wright: Anytime we are included in the best of anything, we’ll take it. Also excited to play at a brewery. I think that’s a first for us.
What else does the band have going on in regard to shows, tours, recordings, videos and anything else you want to mention?
Lardieri: We’ve got a pretty big show announcement coming any day now, but I can’t reveal any of the details yet. We’ve also got a date at the end of the summer with The Anderson Council, which is always a great time. Peter and Chris of The Anderson Council have always been huge supporters of the band and have engineered and mixed many of our compilation recordings. Release wise, we have a cover of Echo and The Bunnymen’s “Bring On The Dancing Horses” coming out on Mint 400 Records Presents At The Movies, which is slated for release on Aug. 31. It’s all new and unreleased music from movies, like ‘Back to The Future,’ ‘Pretty in Pink’ and others covered by bands like Yawn Mower, Fairmont, The Clydes and more.
We started recording a few songs for a Close Counts follow-up last March at Water Music in Hoboken. I heard that it’s either closing or has already closed. I’m glad we had the chance to record in such an iconic studio. We’re not sure if those songs will end up as part of an EP or a full length, but there’s a good chance they’ll be coming out in some form between now and this time next year. We also have an ongoing yearly tradition of recording a song for Jon Solomon’s 25-Hour Holiday Marathon on WPRB, something we hope to continue this year. We’ll probably collect all of those songs for a release at some point.
Wright: We have a pretty decent amount of material we’ve left for dead over the years. Hopefully it will see the light of day in the future.
Are you performing any unreleased songs?
Lardieri: I am pretty sure we will be playing some of those Water Music-recorded songs at the Brewery show. We had been focusing a lot on the songs from Close Counts after it came out, but enough time has passed where we’re starting to work out new material and play it at the shows.
Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would want to comment?
Lardieri: I heard Laurel.
Bob Makin is the reporter for www.MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.