Our next artist feature is for Seattle-based industrial monster act RIOTLEGION, whose recent “GOD(B)LESS” EP has been getting spins the world over including being featured on the renowned podcast Communion After Dark, which is unsurprising given its clever use of grimey electro basslines and intelligent lyrics. This feature is an interview I (Pete) put together while Michael Coultas of RIOTLEGION is working on his next release.
Your sounds have a definite industrial edge, but I find it hard to place any direct influences on your music from any particular artist; it all comes together as being quite unique and recognisable. Who are your musical influences?
To me this is one of the biggest compliments an artist can get. While still great to hear – in the early days I always hated when someone said "Your music is really great! It sounds like Suicide Commando/Combichrist/Wumpscut/whatever!" I absolutely love their music, but I don't want to be copying someone else's sound. I listen to and play a huge range of music. There is literally no one genre that I cannot find something I really enjoy.
When I was in my early teens I discovered industrial music and really felt like I had discovered something that I really belonged to. So surprised was I that a subculture so close to my own personality existed. Luckily I was introduced to a very large span right off the bat. The industrial sub-genres I mainly enjoy are EBM, electro-industrial, power electronics, and rhythmic noise. While I do listen to a lot of stuff like KMFDM/Pigface/Ministry/Skinny Puppy -- I really dig the sound of harsh electronics. Anywhere from Nitzer Ebb/Front 242 all the way to Whitehouse or Merzbow. I also listen to a lot of what is recently being called "retro-electro," which I think has an obvious influence in RIOTLEGION.
How important is it to you to have a politically aware theme to Riotlegion? What is the significance of the Obama quote that you sampled in the title track of your God(b)less EP? Do you share the opinion of many that he is just W wearing a new mask, or do you think he has steered the ship slightly in a better direction?
Politically aware is a great way to put it. One of the things I worry about with RIOTLEGION is that someone will disagree with a viewpoint I have and immediately tune out the music. I try not to convey any particular stance. I have been told I am a "Voluntaryist;" I'm not sure I completely understand the concept, but to me it means somebody who believes that ANYTHING you do should be voluntary. To me it seems pretty basic. I really am trying to raise awareness but not for any particular system. People are upset, we should try and find our commonality in that instead of arguing over details.
The point about Obama Vs Bush is like opening a can of worms here in the U.S. The moment you are critical of Obama people assume you must be a Republican. That is a very strong dichotomy here, and a lot of competitive arguments get in the way of real ideas. I refuse to choose the lesser of two evils, period. I voted for "candidate Obama," it was the first election I was old enough to vote, but President Obama left me completely done with politicians. With all the great things he had promised, things only got pushed further in terrifying directions. People try to blame this on the Republicans in the House and Senate. While they did try to block "good legislation" they were not the cause for increased executive orders, drone strikes, secret prisons, shady trade partnerships, or many other of the horrendous things that are happening in our name. Both sides are to blame.
God(b)less isn't to say any one leader is better than any other, only meant to point out that some things haven't improved on any front. To me the president saying God Bless in a speech is the same as a "tyrannical foreign dictator" saying Allahu Akbar in theirs. As if our blessing from some god made it so we're important, but more than a dozen dead innocent civilians in a wrongful drone-strike at a wedding party in Yemen aren't.
Quite honestly, I'd like to write more about other subjects, it just seems to be on my mind the most.
You’ve now released 2 Riotlegion EPs and 1 VIAL EP. How is your musical personality split between these 2 projects? Do you know which project a track is going to be for before you start writing it?
VIAL is still in it's infant stages. I had been wanting a project that I could release music that was still dark but didn't fit with RIOTLEGION. A few years ago there was a huge explosion in what was being called "witch-house" music. A lot of it was honestly mediocre and uninventive, but artists like MASCARA and AIMON had really gotten me sucked into the genre. The tracks I made for the first VIAL EP took about 20% of the time it takes me to produce RIOTLEGION, it was really fun to just let creativity flow with a new genre and enjoy having such a blank canvas where I could get more into magick and philosphy than politics. While RIOTLEGION is my main focus, I produce many more tracks than are released. Noise, electro, blues, metal, reggaeton, you name it. I would expect upcoming releases to be somewhere between dark trap, trip-hop and electro.
Seattle has an undeniable alternative music pedigree. Do you find that this lingers in the atmosphere in any tangible way? How do you like being based there and does it influence your music?
I'm a Michigan native. There is a great scene to be found there, but when I was coming-of-age I wanted to move to a city where not only "alternative music" was more accepted but the overall economy and political climate was more stable. Before I moved here 9 years ago I had gotten hold of a few of my favorite acts that were based here for advice on the city, only to learn they had moved and disliked the local scene.
I went ahead and moved here anyway. Apparently thousands of others had the same idea. I would say that the worse part about the scene here is the abundance of artists, DJs and promoters. Whereas in Detroit you may have one or two big events a month, here each weekend there are multiple goth/industrial events to choose from. While this is awesome for anybody who loves the music, it can be hard to stand out in such a large crowd. That being said I seem to have done so pretty well, and have had a lot of great support from local fans, Djs, and promoters.
Onstage, Riotlegion is a 2-piece act with visuals to complement the music. Is your live partner involved in writing the music as well and what can you tell us about your live setup?
RIOTLEGION live is a bit of a revolving door. I try to get whoever I can that is available and has something to offer to the aesthetic and live theatrics. Many early industrial acts were more than just music, they were an audio-visual experience, that's what I want a live show to be. Right now I've been lucky to work with video artist Bob McHenry. I really like the dynamic of having my stage partner in control of what you see, while I provide what you can hear.
The technical side also changes dependent of how the show is going to be performed. The core of it involves a laptop with software that allows me to play backing sequences and have control over where it starts, where it's going, loops, that kind of thing. (Previously Ableton live, more recently Renoise.) Then I try to keep it pretty basic. I use a Novation X-Station as my main stage synth. I also run my mic through a Korg Kaoss Pad and into the input on the X-station so I can use it's onboard effects to polish up the sound. Aside from that I usually bring one or two more synths which together with the X-station are controlled by a master keyboard. That plus all the equipment, software, and awesomeness brought by the VJ constitute your basic show. If other keyboardists/drummers/dancers/whatever are available for rehearsal and performance, they are factored in. Aside from myself, RIOTLEGION has no permanent members. I am always looking for new things to incorporate and encourage performers worldwide to not hesitate to contact me if they really think they could add something to a live show. You never know when you get an offer to fly to Europe and your VJ can't make it.
How about in the studio – can you describe your workflow for making music and are there any bits of gear you can’t live without?
The backbone of my music-making process is the tracker interface. I make everything in either Jeskola Buzz or more recently Renoise. I feel like this style of midi programming allows me much higher definition and precision than most piano roll based DAWs. In my studio I've got more gear than I care to list, but it all is controlled via midi in Renoise. While I do use a few different VSTs the majority of my bass and synth-lines come from hardware gear. Lately I've been loving Novation gear. I always loved their K-station series, so a few years ago I picked up an X-Station when they were new. It has since became such a powerful tool in my arsenal. Not only is it a synth but it also has an audio interface built in with an onboard DSP effects processor. One of those, a Boss DS-1 distortion pedal, and a mic -- I could make an album with just that. Lately I've also picked up a Novation Bass-station 2 which is a wonderful blend of analog synth with digital controls.
Generally things will start with me playing around on a synth. I almost never make a track with the intention to make a track. Whenever I try and make something it fizzles out. The real ideas come when I'm trying new things and get unexpected pleasant results. Usually the bassline will come first, as I think that is the obvious backbone to the RIOTLEGION sound. Often times I will sequence a bassline in hardware and record many different variations in software, and then I will kind of cut and chop various different versions together until I get something nice and dynamic sounding. Once I've got a good bassline down comes adding percussion. I like to use a mix of classic drum machine sounds and noisy bits I create myself. Generally after this I will record any leads would like to use. I should be doing this in midi but often don't. I just let the drums and bass run while I improvise different leads on a with various synth settings on a keyboard. After a long while of this I will go back and find what I liked. I feel like since I'm using raw audio and not midi for this, it often gives a much more human feel to the lead sections. Next would be vocals or samples. I generally treat them the same. As the track progresses I will try to think of a subject that's been running around in my head, I'll either find speech samples that fit that idea or I'll "create my own samples" by recording vocals. Lastly is arranging/mixing. There is honestly about 120+ hours that go into each final RIOTLEGION track and I could go on forever on the subject.
For that matter, how about life outside the studio? What do you do to unwind and what’s a typical day-in-the-life like?
Most of the time that I'm not recording, or at work, or doing DJ gigs, I'm still usually listening to music or just playing music for kicks. I play many different instruments and like to keep up on practice with them. I'm also a news-junkie and feel a constant need to keep up with current events. The Reddit community is great for this. I have a great woman in my life and we like to spend time together as our busy schedules allow. I am also lucky to live in a state where cannabis is legal, one of my favorite pastimes for sure. Let's see… big on films, especially classic and art films. Also a huge fan of hard science-fiction and a lot of nerdy non-fiction, mainly politics, psychology and physics. Quite honestly I spend so much time dealing with music everything else seems to always fit right in with the concepts I use.