Dead Rider: “We want to bring ourselves to the edge of ourselves.”

I feel like Chicago’s Dead Rider are a band for people who like bands that fuck shit up (And I mean that in the best way possible.)… Hopefully they...

I feel like Chicago’s Dead Rider are a band for people who like bands that fuck shit up (And I mean that in the best way possible.)… Hopefully they take that as a compliment.  They evade genres better than pretty much any other band in existence… Well, Black Moth Super Rainbow might be tied… Their third LP, Chills on Glass, is out March 18th on Drag City.  It’s a bit like post-punk funk… or psychedelic disco… or industrial R&B… It’s abrasively erotic and erotically abrasive in a way that I can’t imagine anyone with an ear for the sexily, sonically subversive wouldn’t appreciate… It’s currently the record that I most hope catches on with all the right people in 2014.  The band has a handful of live dates this March and April, including an April 1st stop at our own Boot & Saddle.  I recently got a chance to talk with vocalist/guitarist Todd Rittman about his latest album, his city, and, most importantly, Dead Rider’s lack-of “process.”

Izzy Cihak: You’re based out of Chicago, so I have to ask:  How is the city’s music scene?

Todd Rittman: Chicago’s music scene is far too vast to comprehend, let alone sum up in a few sentences. Any kind of music, hundreds of live music venues, dozens of record stores, boutique instrument makers, music schools and workshops, and on and on. If you love music, this is the place to be.

Izzy:  I feel like I come across a lot of bands there, but they all seem to be doing pretty different things.  What are your thoughts on it?  Any particular favorite local peers?

Todd: Bands. Yes, oh so many bands (among other kinds of musical acts), seems like there’s a new band vying for my attention every week… Oh wait there’s one right now! It’s wonderful and all, but I have to admit I  don’t have my ear close enough to the ground to keep up on the latest hot new sounds. I do enjoy this band called Lovely Little Girls. They have been around for a few years, but I really think they’ve hit their  stride with the newest lineup. Cheer-Accident get a shout out, too.

Izzy: You’re about to release your third album, Chills on Glass, which is notably different from your last two efforts.  What were the album’s most significant influences?

Todd: Our music really is this world we are letting evolve. It’s kind of hard to pin down where inspiration comes from. Many times it’s just messing  around with a new approach or a new instrument and ideas spring to life. We definitely try to avoid emulating things we like about other music, though some influence leaking in is inevitable. I like artists that create their own original sonic blueprint, like The Butthole Surfers or Phil Collins, Funkadelic, E.L.O., stuff like that. Not that I want Dead  Rider to sound like those groups, but if an artist can create their own  sound, even in a pop context, I’m interested.

Izzy: And was the process of writing and recording any different from the first two records?

Todd: Ha ha, well yes and no. None of our songs use the same approach, in terms of writing or recording. Mostly we like to think of writing and recording as one process and like to take a different approach with each song. The rhythm section is usually arranged/laid down first, but how we get there and where we go from there is always some convoluted new path.  Again, many of the decisions are dictated by some early screwing around with a new sound or instrument. We’ve always worked this way though so, uh, yeah this one is exactly the same.

Izzy: I’ve been watching your video for “Blank Screen” a lot, which I really dig, in addition to a number of the videos from previous releases.  What influences the visual side of Dead Rider?  And can we expect more videos in the near future?

Todd: Hey thanks! Yeah I love the idea of expanding some of our music into the visual side and want to do more. In some ways the videos are more composed and planned out than the music, which is kinda funny now that I think about it. We like to start with some kind of a visual theme/concept and keep a strong visual thread going. I always want the video to “dance” to the details in the music, almost like a conductor, so there is always lots of editing and events that are strongly tied to the more rhythmic elements of the song. I also love animation that is hand-made and try to weave some of that in as well. I do like CGI, but the look of handcrafted animation is so much more compelling and poetic than the stuff a computer renders. I am drawn to the jerky and dark look of the world of stop motion.


Izzy: You have a handful of upcoming live dates, including a stop here in Philly on April 1st.  What can be expected of the live experience?

Todd: We love the performance aspect of being a musician. We will always take chances and stretch our music and abilities to the breaking point. Playing live means living in the moment and taking risks that don’t always have predictable, or even functional, results. The drama of trying something spontaneous, holding a moment hostage, or setting things up just to collapse; this is why we perform. We want to bring ourselves to the edge of ourselves.

Izzy: And what else are you planning or hoping for in 2014?  What are you most excited about?

Todd: Well another great thing about being a musician in Chicago is that when we tour, we don’t have to do the whole country all at once. We do a couple weeks out east, then we have a west coast leg in the works for  late July, and some regional sprints in between. We will probably hit Europe in the fall, make another video, and start working on some new  ideas if we have a spare minute.


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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.