Riot is a five-piece heavy metal band that has been making great albums since their inception in 1975. After dealing with a slew of lineup changes, including the untimely deaths of two lead singers (Rhett Forrester and Guy Speranza), Riot is still going strong while featuring a legendary ensemble. The only constant member of the band, guitarist Mark Reale is joined by singer Tony Moore, guitarist Mike Flyntz, bassist Don Van Stavern and drummer Bobby Jarzombek, who you may know of from Halford, Sebastian Bach’s solo band and Arch/Matheos.
For the first time since 1990’s The Privilege Of Power, Moore is taking the stage and making albums with Riot. This past fall, the gang released their 15th full-length disc, Immortal Soul, and to be completely honest, it’s an absolute gem. These guys will be back and better than ever and when they take the stage at B.B. King’s on Jan. 18, you can bet the house that their incredible performance will blow you away.
Below, Moore talks about his recent health scare, the group’s new album, and his future with the band.
Just about two months ago, Riot was supposed to tour with HammerFall until you had to undergo an emergency procedure. So first off, how are you feeling?
I’m fine, that was just some bad timing. Everything was going along just great until I went in for a routine dental checkup and discovered that I had this huge abscess, or infection, in my jaw, so right when I was supposed to start rehearsing, I had to have oral surgery and a bone graft. It was really kind of gruesome and it took a long time to recover. I still have another procedure to go through that fortunately I was able to put off until after these shows, but that’s it, I’m fine. Nothing about it affected my voice.
Well, that’s good to hear. Now looking at the band’s latest release, Immortal Soul, how did it feel to make an album with Riot for the first time in more than 20 years?
That’s hard to put into words. It’s very different than back in the ‘80s. Back then we were on CBS/Sony and even though that wasn’t a fantastic situation, everything was a little more formal, especially when you look at the state of the recording industry back then. You recorded in big studios and you released your album on big labels and there was some fanfare and then you went on to the road for a couple months.
This time around, since we’re dealing with a couple of indie labels [SPV/Steamhammer] who are both fantastic, and because the album was self-produced, it was a little surreal. The recording process was very different, I mean, we recorded the album in like, five different studios in four different cities and very rarely were we all together.
Once we released it and once we started seeing stuff in the press and getting some reaction, it became real, but up until that point it was a little surreal. I certainly felt detached from the whole experience until it got to the point where I could actually listen to the music, and then once the samples showed up and I was able to spin it for some friends and get people’s reaction, then it started to feel like it did in the past. But yeah, very, very different this time, and even though their personalities are all the same, it was a completely different experience.
What are your personal thoughts about the album? Do you listen to it at all in your spare time?
That’s really hard for me to do. It takes me a long time because [we] spent a better part of a year recording it. I’m still listening to every note critically. When I have got the courage together to play it in public when I have a few friends over for drinks or whatever and start to see their reaction to it, then I can get a sense of what the songs sound like. It’s getting to the point where I’m rehearsing this stuff to go out and do some shows and now I’m starting to understand what they all sound like, and I’m pretty pleased with it. Overall, we all are.
The reviews for the album have been exceptional. Do you pay attention to what people are saying about it?
I read the reviews from time to time because the only reason we did this album is because of years of fan support and interest. If there hadn’t been an audience of faithful, original fans, and a lot of new fans out there who wanted this reunion to happen, we wouldn’t have done it. There wouldn’t have been interest from the record labels and there wouldn’t have been any buzz at all.
I was ready for anything in terms of the reviews. I was ready for “Why did they bother? Oh my God, this stuff sounds outdated! Will Tony Moore please stop screaming?” (Laughs) Our manager, Manuela, who’s terrific, knows that I don’t look at reviews and so she would forcefeed me these reviews in emails and it’s like, “All right, I’ll read it!” And I started to get chills like, “Wait a minute, nine out of 10 of these [are positive] and they really like this stuff! I guess we did alright!” Then we’d all get on the phone and say, “Hey guys, we did okay! They like it!”
We were all confident in our performances and such because they’re great players. And on one hand, there’s no doubt in my mind that this stuff would stand up, but we just didn’t know what to expect critically and we’re thrilled and a little surprised. You know, here we go!
How much has both the band and yourself changed as musicians since the last time you guys were all together?
Well, a lot has stayed the same. The licks for example, some of the stuff that Don wrote, there’s definitely a thread that goes back to the ‘80s. In a nutshell, we’ve all changed and grown as musicians in 20 years. We have all the skills and the abilities that we started with back in the ‘80s and then 20-plus years of life experience. So overall, everybody is a lot better than we were back then. We’ve grown, we’ve matured.
My voice has changed, physically, which is going to happen with a tenor voice once you reach my advanced age (laughs). So mechanically, I’ve had to cope with some things, but it’s been a really good learning experience because the guys have progressed and are even more ferocious players than they were 20 years ago. I had to try and get it together to be able to match that energy, so it’s pretty much what you’d expect from guys who are still musicians in their hearts after all these years.
A lot of the [music] those guys wrote sounds like it came right on the heels of The Privilege Of Power. It was easier for me to slip back into it because, out of all the guys in the band, I’m the one who has sort of been out of the scene. They made it easy for me by writing some really incredible music.
Now that you’re back with the band once again, do you see yourself staying with Riot for a long period of time?
Sure, of course. Since we’ve had so much fun doing this, it really doesn’t make sense to do anything but stay. It was a ton of work and we’re all just exhausted from putting it together and now, of course, on the 15th, I’ll be heading back to New York for rehearsals and then we’ll be at B.B. King’s on the 18th.
Considering Riot has toured with the likes of Black Sabbath, KISS, AC/DC, etc., do you feel like the band has not received as much attention as they should have?
Yes, and there’s a very simple reason for that; the band was never managed well. Not before I was in it, not while I was in it, and not until now. I was not a metal guy, and I’ll be perfectly honest with you—I never heard of Riot before I was asked to do the audition. So I never heard “Fire Down Under,” “Restless Breed,” etc., and listening to it now, you know, because we’re going to do some of the older songs that I’ve never performed, like maybe stuff from the Rhett Forrester-era that I wasn’t really familiar with, and I’m listening to those songs going, ‘Damn! This band kicks so much ass in two and a half minutes!’
It’s all because they weren’t handled well—poor management and bad situations with labels. I mean, the band made some unfortunate decisions in terms of who to be involved with and, yeah, if we had been handled correctly from the start, we’d be as big as like, Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, I have no doubt.
Currently Riot is only slated to do three shows in America as well as the 70,000 Tons Of Metal [cruise ship] show. Do you know when fans can expect to see a full U.S. tour?
I don’t know about that. That is really hard to put together as we are discovering because there were so many bands out there trying to do exactly what we’re doing and, frankly, the money just isn’t there. The promoters aren’t offering a great deal of money for these shows and it’s hard to go out and do it and stay in the black, so I mean, we really want to, nothing would be better, and we’re trying to make it happen, but since our core audience is in Europe and Japan it’s more likely that you’re going to see us out there, but we’re working on it.
Riot will perform at B.B. King’s in NYC on Jan. 18. For more information, check out at riotrockcity.com.