Last Friday guitarist Luke Crowther took a few minutes to help me wake up at 9 AM EST and Skype him on his cell in the UK.
Never heard of the Rifles? That is OK. They are an English band, and they don't need this interview to play you a song you'll want to hear again. But just for the hell of it, keep reading.
I probably sounded a bit tired, but the charmingly befuddled accents saturating the rock of Great Escape
denote a friendly disposition. The time turned out to be fairly early for him as well (it was 3 PM in big Britain, so it was early in rock star time), and my grogginess didn't stop us from having a nice little chat about UK rockers The Rifles, or their momentum in making the jump from England to the United States.
"I really don't know" Crowther admitted, of the similarities between the US and UK audiences. The two definitely have their differences, but taking to the stage is always a little different. "You just have to go out and play the music you like to do" Crowther told me. "Every place is different, naturally."
The four first met in London, where they all coincidentally were born a few miles apart. Crowther met lead singer Joel Stoker while attending music school, and bonded over a love of classic brit-rock, the swagger of the accented stars on the radio, including Oasis. Although Crowther isn't particularly miffed about the umpteenth breakup of the beloved super group ("it is about time" he quipped), the sound of Rifles seems akin to the fuzzy pop of Noel and the boys, with lofty hooks and well tuned pedals. And with Crowther and Stoker as the main songwriters, the tone is no surprise. The influences were incredibly varied for the two: "even bands like Rage Against The Machine had an influence" Crowther said, listing a collection of acts that sparked the band revival in England. "I think a lot more guitars were being sold."
Luckily Stroker and Crowther were among the guitar-hungry kids of the time. The rest of the band filled itself in, bass player Rob Pyne was recruited quickly (a friend of Stoker from school), and Crowther met drummer Grant Marsh shortly after. The foursome quickly began gigging around the "toilet circuit," a bunch of "really grimy venues, quite smelly places," a series of less-than-desirable venues where The Rifles began to build their grassroots fan base. The next few years would be touring the "circuit" and recruiting friend Ollie Flanny to be the band manager. After "doing a little demo in [Marsh's] bedroom," the band released it's first single, "Peace And Quiet," on 7-inch vinyl. The result was serious attention from Sony, and a jump-start to their careers.
England's Radio One also noticed the band, and started playing the first single in it's rotation. "We were at [Marsh's] house and we heard it on the radio and it was amazing.... really really cool." Positive feedback led to the successful release of No Love Lost
, the first full length. And the band's feelings on the record were definitely optimistic.
When asked where they stood, celebrity-wise, Crowther wasn't sure, correctly identifying a turbulent music climate. "We built the band independently" he told me, "and we've been through a lot. We've gone through a tough streak in our industry and I think we've learned a lot." Crowther filled me in on the London scene, which seems divided between rock like the Rifles and the eighties synth craze, emobodied by of-the-moment bands like White Lies and other crossover successes. Brit-pop as it was once wholly defined, seemed to originate with The Strokes and now has fragmented in many directions. "We have a lot of great talent emerging" Crowther told me. The revival of band music boomed immensely before regressing into the "eighties" vibe, and now the scene seems divided. "We're just taking our own path with it" Crowther said, and the music certainly seems to be speaking to a different, albeit excited audience.
Crowther recalled fondly the group playing The Brixton Academy, a theater similar in size to Radio City Music Hall, as a landmark moment in the groups popularity. The means to Brixton were equally as impressive: "We didn't focus on press either" he said. "We just played and built sort of a cult following. Quite a loyal fan base... it hasn't circled to the mainstream yet, it is very much an underground sort of thing."
Sometimes crossing the Atlantic can bolster success on both sides of the pond. The Rifles have toured with musician and friend Paul Weller in several large cities in the US, but will embark on their first headlining tour in a couple of weeks. Whereas the first record was mostly Crowther and Stroker "writing songs in a bedroom," Great Escape
is "musically moved on." Many of the songs started as jams, with Stroker later adding lyrics, for a looser feeling. While the first record was populated with "rigid three minute pop songs," Great Escape
, in keeping with it's name, seems to be an exploration of freedom.
As far as venue ambitions, Crowther "never really thought about bigger venues" than Brixton, and doesn't know what to anticipate in the future. He did have some requests, at which we shared a laugh: "a spot at Reading festival would be fantastic" he said. "What about Madison Square Garden? Either of those, if they are available. Headlining, of course." To Luke, if he reads this: personally, I'd favor a headlining spot at Reading. While MSG seems reserved for the forced pop stars of America, Reading seems the down and dirty, mud filled commitment to seeing a band. And with an organically grown fan-base, The Rifles seem to be the ones to get a crowd like that fired up. Then again, one country's soul deprived megaplex is another's dream-stage. Either way, it'll be great to see The Rifles grow a new set of listeners in the States.
is out today in the US. The Rifles will be shuffling through the US in mid-October.-joe puglisi