Interview: The Riffs

(this interview originally appeared in issue #27 of Modern Fix Magazine in 2002).


– interview by liz ortega

I like my punk rock snotty, brash, and real. None of this “I like to wank it.” “He’s just a skaterboy.” “And my girlfriend” bullshit. That’s why I dig the Riffs. Why? Because they are snotty punk rockers from Portland, Oregon that make music very reminiscent to British and American old school punk. Hasty, belligerent, and un-yielding with a lot of snarl for reaction. Dead End Dream, on TKO Records, is an album that truly captures the Riffs in full action as they unshackle themselves from the realities of society, if only for a few hours. It’s pure, intense, and fun and I’m glad to see that the Riffs know how to have a good time. This is a band worth checking out.

The Riffs are: Amphetamine Blue and Dogsbody (guitars), Karl (drums), Tony (vocals), and Saigon Shakes (bass)

The Riffs… have some people mistaken your band for the popular horn-happy Ska band from London, The Riffs? Should legal action be involved? I know some good people…
Tony: The band doesn’t care. They found out about us on accident and we ended up being friends. Their fans care more than the band. Maybe we can play with them in England.

Tell me about your association with TKO records. How did that relationship result?
We always thought TKO was a good label for us (even though they didn’t for a few years) and would send Mark our new records, demos, practice tapes and try to get shows in the bay area on tour. We had met at a Templars show and were friends but they never did anything. We were getting ready to leave on tour last summer and going to record a record in Philadelphia for another label and a few weeks before we left Mark called and asked if we would do it for him in San Francisco instead of back east. You would have to ask mark why he picked then to do a record for us but we were pretty happy.


The Riffs’ latest, “Dead End Dream”, how would you describe the overall sound and feel of this record?
Tony: We are all really happy with it. We have some problems in the past with recording, producing and getting the sound we wanted and this time it came out exactly how we wanted it. We always have big catastrophes when we record, someone will be too drunk at noon to do it or someone will be stuck in another city and have to lay down their parts on another day and shit like that. This one went really good and quick which is weird for us.

You’ve been compared to great punk rockers such as Johnny Thunders and the NY Dolls, the Pistols and even the Dead Boys. Is this a humbling comparison or is it a far cry? Who would you compare (if any) yourselves to?
It is definitely a humbling comparison. Those are some of our favorite bands. We have listened to those bands so much it has to come out in our music. We all have different influences from 70’s and 80’s British punk like Dead Wretched, Chron Gen, The Lurkers, The Boys, Slaughter and The Dogs, The Professionals, External Menace, Blitz, Cockney Rejects, Sham and much more to British glam rock like Slade, Mott the Hoople, The Heavy Metal Kids and the Faces, some old Chiswick records bands like Little Bob Story, The Radio Stars and The Count Bishops along with Johnny Thunders and the N.Y. Dolls.

When you first decided to form a band, how did the whole choosing of players come about? Did you all grow up together–been friends for decades–meet one random night while boozin’ it up at a local dive? How did the Riffs develop and when did this happen?
Some of us had been friends for awhile. The others had a band going before I joined. They had written some songs and were looking for a singer and a drummer. I hadn’t seen them in a few years and we ran into each other on the street one day and we decided to be in a band.

What inspires the lyrical content of your songs? What flows through your mind when the songwriting takes place? What would be the main motivation or inspiration to your lyrical epiphany?
Our lyrics are about our lives. What has happened to us at different times. We all write lyrics and they are all different. What goes through my head when I write a song is how many words I need to fit in the verse and chorus then try to do it. I am not sure what epiphany means but the motivation is to explain something important to me.

Where is the best/worst place you have ever played? (Inside and/or outside the US.)
The worst show we have played would have to be in Terre Haute, IN.. Nothing against the woman who booked it but it was a bad time. We have played some really good shows, CBGB’s with Slaughter and the Dogs, Fireside with Slaughter in Chicago, Killtime in Philadelphia with The Virus, Grog Shop with GC5 in Cleveland. The first time we played in LA with Defiance at the PCH club was a great show, Showcase in LA with Clit 45 was good too the next year. Baltimore is good. Cant pick one best one but can pick the fucking worst one for sure.

Are you currently touring in support of this new album? Do you anticipate touring abroad?
We just got off the Slaughter and the Dogs tour. We will be touring the west with The Virus in August. Then work our way out to Holidays in the Sun in New Jersey in late August/Sept. After HITS we are touring back with our friends Defiance. We are planning a trip to Europe but have no definite dates planned. We are looking for a band over there to tour with.

What occupies your time–besides being a rock star? Do you all hold down regular 9-5’s?
Some of us have jobs. I am a bartender, cab driver, music promoter. Anything that is all in cash. A couple of us work in factories, one of us is unemployed and one of us is on SS disability, so he doesn’t have to work. Other than that none of us really has any hobbies or do much else besides play music.

What’s there to do in Portland? Are there any other bands worthy of attention?
There are some really good bands in Portland of all different types. Religious War are good, Malicious Damage, Bomb Heaven, Defiance, The Epoxies and from Seattle THE BUTCHERS, The Rabid Dogs and Vile.

What’s in the future for the Riffs? Any side projects, side bands, etc?
We will see after the Holidays festival. None of us are really in any side projects right now. The Riffs takes a lot of time for now. We are writing songs for the next LP and planning a tour of Europe.

What was it like going on tour with one of your many musical influences, Slaughter and the Dogs?
They have always been one of our major influences. We never thought we would even be able to see them live let alone play with them. We got to tour half of the USA with them and it was great. We got to know them and talk to them about the mid/late 70s bands and people. Find out about them, the band, what they all did after, what happened to Zip Bates and Mad Muffet. We got to talk to Mick Rossi about Mick Ronson, anything we wanted to know. They even did some songs not in the set for us like Dame to Blame and Your a Bore and some others and let us sing.


During the time the band was struggling to find a label, did the thought of just giving it up ever arise? Or were you determined to win over TKO’s heart?
We have broken up a few times but it had nothing to do with TKO. We are gonna do what we are gonna do regardless of any label. We have released some records and toured the country twice with absolutely no label support so a label will not make or break The Riffs. We are definitely happy with TKO and thank mark for doing everything, we have wanted to be on that label since we started but we are our own worst enemy.

How has being in a rock band altered your life (positively or negatively)? How was your family’s support? Were they open-minded about your musical endeavors?
Being in a band doesn’t really affect my life, touring in a band really does. Practicing and doing local shows, recording, putting out and records and everything is all pretty easy. Touring is where life changes. I have to work A LOT and save money most of the year to be able to pay mortgage, bills, insurance and everything else while I am gone for months. Other than my mom, sister and brother I have never been that close to my family so I don’t even know what they think about me being in band. The part of my family that I care about likes anything that makes me happy.

What is your opinion about the punk rock scene nowadays?
Sometimes I act old and jaded and cry about how it is not like the 80’s or shit like that. Punk is different now than it was but it is still great. We are always (almost always) taken care of on tour. People go out of their way to help out. We have had people fix our van, fix our amps, loan us equipment, set up shows, let us stay at their houses, feed us, get us drunk and everything else you need to stay alive and on tour for no other reason than we are a punk band on tour. We play with all kinds of different bands and have friends in all different punk scenes and have been treated really good. The only complaints I have with punk is there are too many punk factions (but I am guilty of that myself) and not enough PUNK run clubs.