Besides being one of the best things to come out of Boston in a while, Stoner-Doom outfit Riff Cannon are also some pretty cool dudes. During my recent correspondence with guitarist AJ, we discussed influences, the origin of their name, latest info on their upcoming album, and more!
How is the new album coming along? Can you tell us anything about it, maybe a title?
We have most of the new album written and are working on a few more songs that may, or may not, make the cut. The title is going to be Phoenix. We are really excited about this album. We feel that our song writing has matured a lot over the past year or so. We feel like this is going to not only be better than Mercury Mountain, but it will be more of a cohesive thought as well.
How did Riff Cannon come together, and who decided to give the band such an ambitious name?
Haha, people always comment on the name Riff Cannon. In fact, a guy in Canada who was writing a book about band names and their origin approached us to be in the book. Scott and Joe thought up the name as a joke. When I started jamming with Scott he told me about the idea for the name. I thought it was great and we decided to give it a real try. We knew Chris and approached him about playing with us. At first, the whole thing wasn’t that serious, but once we started writing together we felt like we were on to something. The name stuck, so we just decided to go with it. We find that these days either people think it’s great or they are too cool for it and can’t understand that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. I guess those people are the same ones that name their bands with full on sentences, or statements that make absolutely no sense at all. Whatever floats your boat, right?
The band’s influences range from classics like Sabbath and Thin Lizzy to stoner staples like Sleep and Electric Wizard. Did everyone initially have similar tastes, or did they rub off each other?
A little of both really, we all have very similar tastes in music. We all have really broad tastes that seem to overlap most of the time. I can’t really think of any bands that the other guys are into that I don’t like, and vice versa. Joe and I are heavily into old blues guitarists. They range all the way from Delta blues and Chicago blues guys up to the rock/blues guys of the 60’s and 70’s ([Eric] Clapton, Trower, Rory Gallagher, Roy Buchanan). Joe has turned me on to a lot of guitarists and I have exposed him to some as well. Scott seems to be the guy who is always turning all of us onto stuff we have never heard before. He keeps his ear to the ground more often than the rest of us.
What do you think of the band’s affiliation with stoner rock, Doom Metal, and that whole corner of sub genres? Is it where Riff Cannon belongs, or is too much of a generalization?
We don’t stress too much about trying to fit into one category. We’ve heard people categorize our stuff a million different ways. I guess it’s all in the ear of the person reviewing us. The only category we don’t want to be in is the “crap” category. When we write we just play what feels right at the time. Mercury Mountain had Stoner, Doom, Atmospheric and straight up Metal songs according to a lot of the people who reviewed it. The new album seems to lean more in the direction of Atmospheric Doom, I guess, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have a healthy dose of fast-paced face-melters. After all, people do expect a certain amount of “riffiness” from a band with our name.
How long did it take the band to start and finish recording Mercury Mountain? Were there any particular challenges the band has had to overcome?
We started recording our material right from the get go. With two engineers in the band (myself and Chris) it’s kind of hard not to. We set out to first record an EP. We ended up re-recording it 4 or 5 times and weren’t totally happy with the outcome. Then we wrote some more and decided to take what we liked of the EP (that was never released) and the new stuff we had written and make a full length. This ended up being Mercury Mountain. The biggest hurtle we had to overcome, I think, was our vocal style. We originally had a 2 vocal attack planned out. Chris and I would both do all the vocals together, but it still wasn’t right. Every time we recorded this way we were psyched on the music and bummed about the vocals. We eventually realized that I sucked at singing and quickly nominated Chris as the vocalist. Once we did this we started thinking more melodically with our vocals. Chris was hesitant at first, but he has really stepped up to the plate and done a great job.
Mercury Mountain is a bit of a roller-coaster, emotionally and musically. A moody storm like “Road To Pompeii” sandwiched between two rampaging tracks like “Remember To Die” and “Mercury Mountain.” Were any conscious efforts made when producing and structuring the album?
Kind of. We wrote all the songs and spent a good amount of time after they were recorded putting them in an order that, in a way, told a story. “Road to Pompeii” was actually an accident. It wasn’t written when we went into the studio. During a break, Scott and Joe started jamming this Pink Floyd-esque jam that was a simple two-chord progression. I was in the control room and turned on the mics without them knowing. What was recorded was exactly what you hear playing the rhythm. Afterwards Chris, Joe and I went in one at a time and overdubbed melodies, bass, acoustic and some licks here and there. We thought it was cool and decided to go with it on the album. The way the songs are laid out on the album loosely tells a story of an epic journey through Mercury Mountain. It starts by telling us about Mercury Mountain with the title track. The following songs all go in order of events along the way (“Casting Shadows”, “The Oracle”, “Road to Pompeii”, “Into the Unknown”) with some outside songs as well (“Remember to Die” and “See Me Fall”). It finally closes with “At the Hall”, which is the end of the journey. This is apparent in the lyrics throughout the album and during the acoustic outro of “At the Hall” (“we reached the steps, the journey now passed”).
How is the Boston and greater New England (stoner rock / Doom) metal scene, and how has the band been generally received?
We have had a good reception for Mercury Mountain. People seem to like it and like what we are all about. Fortunately, we haven’t had a bad review yet! (fingers crossed). The scene out here is tough. At first there didn’t seem to be much of a community, but that is slowly changing as we get to know more bands from the area. The clubs out here make it difficult to play, for independent bands, without making a total loss. The good clubs, with good sound, have huge room costs that need to be covered before the bands get paid. This means in order to get paid at the end of the night we need to play to something like 200 people. That’s tough, especially in a city where promoters have forgotten what their primary job function is: to PROMOTE!! There are some nice little venues that don’t cost an arm and a leg that we play in, but you can only play those places so many times a year before people stop coming. But, besides the shitty parts, we have formed some great relationships with local bands like Elder, Black Thai, Black Pyramid, The Proselyte, Phantom Glue, Disappearer, etc etc…It definitely makes things easier when you’ve got some sweet bands in your corner.
What are some of your favorite adventures on stage and on the road?
Hmmm…well, one of the highlights of this last year was playing with Torche at Great Scott in Allston, MA. It was during their tour with Coheed and Cambria that their van was broken into and a bunch of stuff was stolen, including their passports, which made it impossible for them to go into Canada with the tour. So some people they knew got in touch with some of our friends and asked us to set up a last second show so they might be able to at least make some money back on their down time. Because it was such short notice (they talked to us on a Saturday and wanted to play on Wednesday) all the venues were booked. They said they were cool with a basement show, so we set one up in Chris’ basement. Torche…in a basement…yeah…Chris quickly realized that the wave of kids that was about to converge on his house would probably destroy it, so we called a friend of ours who books at Great Scott and got him to move the show they had scheduled to another night and put us and Torche on instead. The show was announced on Monday around noon and all 250 tickets sold out within a few hours. The show was great, we played really well and Torche was AMAZING! It was great to see them in a place with a capacity of only 250. The whole place erupted when they played…epic.
Is branching outside of the local scene a high priority for the band at this time? Any solid, not-so-secret goals for the band?
Right now our only goal is to get Phoenix recorded and ready for release. Until that time we are only playing a few shows here and there.
What’s the forecast for shows and touring looking like once the new album is out?
We definitely want to do a tour for the new album, but it’s hard to since we have day jobs. We are currently trying to figure all that shit out and get on the road. If we do a tour for Phoenix it will most likely be a 10-day thing around the eastern half of the US in June. We would love to make it out to the west coast at some point as well, but don’t have any solid plans at this time. As far as one-off shows are concerned we are really trying to pick and choose them wisely and travel on weekends to other markets. We are always received well in Philly and NYC, as well as Connecticut. We are going to be trying to head a little further south next year and hope to do some shows in DC and the surrounding areas. If anyone has any ideas on helping us get out west we would definitely be willing to try our best to make it happen.
If there’s anything else you’d like everyone on the outside to know about Riff Cannon, have at it. Otherwise, riffs be with you!
Just wanted to say thanks for everything, Brett!!