I have been a fan of Riot ever since I first heard Flight of the Warrior a few years ago and getting the chance to interview them was a dream come true for me. The band have had some ups and downs over years but have come through it fighting. Here I talk to them about some of those tumultuous years.
Hi, I’m Dawn King from Ever Metal. I would like to thank you for taking the time to talk to us and I hope you are all well?
Thank you for the opportunity to do this interview. We are doing well. We have been busy writing and recording our new album, so we have not played out live as much this year as we did the last couple of years. 2018 should be a great year for us and keep us busy!
Ok, being the huge Riot fan that I am this is a bit of a dream for me, but, for those who have been hiding in a remote cave for the past forty years, can you give us a quick background of the band?
Bursting out of New York City with three ground-breaking albums in quick succession ‘ROCK CITY’ (Capitol), ‘NARITA’ (Capitol) and ‘FIRE DOWN UNDER’ (Elektra), RIOT quickly became one of the biggest metal bands in the world. Stunning performances in the UK at Castle Donington and Wacken Festivals and support slots with Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Rush, Kiss to name and few cemented their reputation as the hottest ticket to see.
With the Eighties developing into a metal-fest, a new-look new-sound RIOT bounced back transforming from an edgy hard rock band into a power metal assault and released the widely-acclaimed release ‘THUNDERSTEEL’ (Sony) and RIOT was reborn! ‘THUNDERSTEEL was followed by with the jaw-dropping conceptual album ‘THE PRIVILEGE OF POWER’ (Sony) featuring an elite list of guest performers (Rainbow’s Joe Lynn Turner, Tower of Power horns and Saturday Night Live band leader G.E Smith).
RIOT’s classic ‘Thundersteel’ line-up reformed for a limited reunion in 2009 and delivered another ground breaking disc ‘IMMORTAL SOUL’. Released by major metal heavy weights Spv/ Steamhammer & Avalon/ Marquee, and a successful Tour with performances on the prestigious Royal Caribbean 70,000 Tons of Metal oceanliner concert and appearances at Sweden Rock and Metalway festivals solidified RIOT’s long sought after return a success, but success doesnt come without tragedy. RIOT‘s journey has never been easy, with personal changes and the untimely deaths of frontmen Guy Speranza, Rhett Forrester as well as the passing of long time guitarist Mark Reale who finally lost his life long battle with Crohns disease in 2012.
Through the storm of life’s obsticles the guys successfully continue to raise the flag in honor of the RIOT legacy of music, fallen band mates and the fans who have been demanding RIOT for years. This new onslaught released the highly acclaimed comeback record “Unleash the Fire” which entered the Hard Rock 100 Billboard charts at 75 and Rolling Stone Magazine gives it a 4 out of 5 and most media including Burrn! Rock Hard and Aardshock calling it album of the year! This new line up Riot V consisting of original long time members Donnie Van Stavern and Mike Flyntz joined by amazing newcomers Todd Michael Hall, Frank Gilchriest and Nick Lee headlined sold out shows in Germany, Greece, Spain and Italy and rocked the prestigious festivals Sweden Rock Festival (Sweden), Rock Fest Barcelona (Spain), Loud Park (Japan), Keep It True, Metal Assault, Headbangers Open Air (Germany), Fall of Summer (Paris), Metal Apocalypse, Bang Your Head with Twisted Sister/ Anthrax, Metal Days with Megadeth/ Volbeat, two appearances onboard 70,000 Tons of Metal Cruiseship Festival and top it off with appearences with with Judas Priest, Motley Crue and Def Leppard, Journey to name a few!
With reissues on Sony, EMI & Metal Blade, RIOT are consistantly on radio and metal charts worldwide, as well as being a part of New York Citys Top 20 Most Influencial Metal Bands, 100 Best Metal Albums of All Time, 100 Best Metal Bands of All Time and numerous mentions on VH1’s That Metal Show with Eddie Trunk and staff sighting RIOT as one of the inovaters of Metal music in America and beyond! Whew!
I have heard you being described as one of the unluckiest bands in heavy metal! How would you react to this?
It depends on your perspective. There are many bands that make no mark at all and Riot has been fortunate enough to influence other musicians and reach many people around the world throughout a very long career. Although, I understand the question, because even though Riot has had successful albums, the band never really broke big enough to turn their success into a lot of money for Mark Reale or the others involved. There have also been unfortunate events that made things more difficult, like original lead singer Guy Speranza leaving the band after their 3rd successful album or management difficulties, etc.
There have been numerous changes in personnel over the years including the untimely deaths of vocalists Guy Speranza and Rhett Forrester, and also that of founding member guitarist Mark Reale. How have you had to adapt as a band as a result of these changes?
Throughout his time with the band, founding guitar player Mark Reale, dealt with a lot of line up changes. He maintained a collaborative environment, so the bands sound evolved over time depending on the members involved. That is a big reason why there was a shift in the bands sound from a more hard rock sounding heavy metal to a power metal sound on Thundersteel (1988) when bassist Donnie Van Stavern start contributing his song writing talents.
Mark’s passing in 2012 was a big blow to the band, but Donnie worked with Mark as early as 1984 and current guitarist, Mike Flyntz, has been in the band since 1989, so each brings something new to the band, but also have long enough history with the band to be true to the original music.
Obviously the passing of Mark must have been very hard for you, on a personal and professional level. How did you find the strength to regroup and make the comeback you did?
(Donnie) It took me awhile to decide to come back. Before Mark’s untimely passing he stayed with me and we would write music and discuss the future of the band. There was also talk of carrying on as he new he was sick. Mike actually played most the guitar on Immortal Soul, because Mark was to sick to play. Through a lot of soul searching, chats with his father Tony, and Tony’s comment of “Don’t let the music die with my son” we decided to forge ahead. I started managing the band at that time and contacted the labels and agents and everyone was supportive and still onboard. It helped us heal and kept the spirit alive for him and the fans
I read it was at the request of Mark’s family that you laid the name “RIOT” to rest. How has this affected your popularity and reputation as a band? And have there been any legal issues with this name change?
Tony Reale, Mark’s father, wanted his son’s music to live on, so he is very supportive of the band continuing. He didn’t want the name retired so much as he just wanted something to signify the change. Donnie and Mike wanted to do something as well, as a sign of respect for Mark. The Roman numeral V was added to signify this as the firth era of Riot, since Todd is the fifth singer. There are no legal issues because Tony owns the name and passed it along to us, so we actually own it now.
The album “Unleash The Fire” which you released in 2014 was the first without Mark. How did that make you feel individually and as a band?
(Donnie) We knew we had to make an incredible record after Mark’s passing, so my mindset was to create an album with Fire Down Under and Thundersteel style combined. Mark taught me a lot about Riot style of writing, so basically I just followed his advice and created what I think he would call a great Riot album and be proud of.
Your sound has changed over the years. Are you happy with the direction the band is going in now?
(Donnie) Riot incorporated a lot of different styles. Guy era was edgier metal/ rock, Rhett era was kind of southern hard rock, Tony was metal and DiMeo was a more Rainbow-like bluesy style. When I decided to continue, I went with my era and style – riffy Power metal with an upper register singer and continued to write in that vein. Todd Michael Hall fit right in and saw the vision.
So 2017 saw the re-release of Inishmore/Shine On and Sons of Society. Why did you decide to re-release these particular albums?
(Donnie) Metal Blade records approached us about the reissues as they do quite a few, so we thought it would be a good idea to release these for the oldsters and maybe some that haven’t heard these. These titles were contractually free and clear and the money goes to Mark’s estate, so it helps his father Tony out as well
Are there plans for any new material to be released?
We are currently writing and recording our new album and hope to have it released shortly after the start of 2018. We recently switched labels so the release got pushed back a bit.
What about a tour? I have seen you have some festival appearances this year, is there any chance you will be coming to british soil? Bloodstock next year maybe??
We are definitely looking to book more shows to support the new album, so we hope to play shows in the UK during 2018. We have Belgium and Spain and a small tour towards the end of 2017. We have talked to Bloodstock and others. We are confirmed for Loud Park, Rock Fest Barcelona, Sweden Rock, Headbangers Open Air (Headline), and yes we will finally return to the UK!
Speaking of festivals, which is your favourite festival to play and why?
It is difficult to pick a favorite, because they are all special for different reasons. The Keep It True Festival in Germany is one that sticks out, because they limit the size and it is always packed. Rockfest Barcelona was great time too and Loud Park in Japan has been a great show for us as well. There are too many to name.
There has been talk of heavy metal dying. What are your views on this? Do you think it will ever die out completely?
There was a time when heavy metal was very huge in the USA and I think the fickle nature of popular culture will prevent that from happening again or at least not for a long time. However, there are still a lot of heavy metal fans around the world, despite the fact that the music world now consists of so many different little niches. I am quite sure some version of heavy metal will always be around.
The rock and roll lifestyle and heavy metal kind of go hand in hand but what I would like to know is…..what’s it gonna take to make you guys riot?
A great 2018, electricity, a flight to your location, a bottle of tequila and thousands of screaming fans Rioting!!
Well, thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to add?
(Donnie) Just announced, RIOT will be inducted into the prestigious Heavy Metal History Hall of Fame 2018! Past inductee’s include Scorpions, Randy Rhoads, Lemmy, Slayer and others!
Soooo THANK YOU and all the amazing fans that have supported us and stuck with us throughout the long years because we wouldn’t be here without you! We will see you soon!
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