This interview was, probably, the main reason to start a blog. I've never been a bit supporter of digital media, but as I explained before, I see myself without the time and energy to manage a printed publication by my own. Back in late 2011 (probably October or November) I interviewed Mark Reale on the occasion of the release of "Immortal Soul", their last album as RIOT. Fate is cruel, and Mark passed away only a couple of months after this interview and I've always felt that it was a shame that some of his last statements could never see the late of day. So, here I am finally making justice to his memory unleashing some of his last public words. With all of you, Mark Reale...
Hi Mark. Back in 2008 you decided to reunite the "Thundersteel" line-up with the addition of your long time guitar player Mike Flyntz to conmemorate the 20 year anniversary of that album. What led to that reunion? How was the experience playing together again after 19 years since Don Van Stavern's departure?
We kept getting asked about the possibilities of a reunion when we would tour and Bobby said the same thing when he was on the road. Although Mike did not play on the two CD’s he was added to help fill the void in the guitar department live because I recorded so many guitar tracks on those records. He very quickly became a full fledged member. He’s a phenomenal player and an all around awesome guy on stage and off, he fit right in. The Thundersteel line up had a great relationship and a certain kind of formula for songs and a sound that people loved. Don was responsible for a lot of the changes of the sound of Riot during that period because of his background, he wrote most of the songs on "Thundersteel" and you will hear some of his recognizable style on "Immortal Soul". Everybody brought there “A” game on this CD. Mike did a lot of excellent writing and lead playing and Bobby of course did his usual awesome drumming and Tony outdid himself lyrically and vocally on this effort. I pretty much took a backseat for a lot of this! I am very proud of these guys and could definitely not have done it without them. Bobby actually contacted me initially first and we started talking about it and making phone calls to see who was still alive and available to do it and here we are today!
I think that Mike Tirelli, Riot's singer between 2005 and 2008 was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. Was this the reason why the previous line-up disbanded and made the reunion possible? By the way, how's Mike recovering from his illness? Best wishes for him from Ample Destruction...
No, we were just kind of on hiatus at that time, I was having a few health issues myself and it just so happened that this reunion idea was in talks at that time. I haven’t spoken with him in a while but I hear Mike’s doing great and I believe he has fully recovered from his bout with cancer. He’s a great person and singer and we wish him the best in health and with his musical endeavours. I’ll give him best wishes from Ample Destruction!
I'm not exactly sure if Mike Tirelli was ever considered as the official Riot frontman or if he was only a live singer for the band. In fact, I think that he was already singing live with Riot in 2005, but "Army of One" was released in 2006 with Mike Dimeo. Can you please explain us this fact? Did you ever plan to release any albums with Mike Tirelli fronting Riot before his forced departure?
Yes, Mike Tirelli was a full fledged member at the time. Mike Dimeo had scheduling conflicts and was dealing with various projects and wasn’t available to fit into our playbook at that time so basically it was just availability. It wasn’t on bad terms or any internal problems of that sort.
It would had been really interesting to hear a Riot album fronted by him as he's and excellent vocalist but this unfortunate situation, in some way, paved the path for the reunion of one of Riot's strongest line-ups. However, after only one year Tony Moore decided to leave the band although you had a new album scheduled for 2009. What did exactly happen?
When the Thundersteel line up broke up over 20 sum odd years ago, Don left shortly followed by Tony, we kept the line up going with the remaining members. It wasn’t that particular sound that we had created so it was turning another page in the history of Riot. During that period Don continued on in various projects, touring and recording where as Tony kind of left the scene and was doing stuff on a more grounded level. So I think after 20 years of that and a home life and then getting thrown back into the fire it was a little overwhelming at that time for him. We all didn’t know how this was going to turn out. But it ended up going from reunion shows to an overwhelming out cry for permanence. He had to step back and re evaluate his stance during this period.
In another curious evolution of facts, Tony was announced as Riot's frontman again in 2010. What made him change his decision of leaving Riot less than a year later?
He re evaluated! I think he just needed time for this to sink in and that there was such a demand for the group. He had to arrange his personal life’s schedule to give it some priority that it was requiring. He also was seeing the people commenting on him singing, everyone wanted a new CD with him on it. We had a band pow wow and we decided to give it a shot. Tony’s vocals are a big part of this sound and we were exciting to have him back. You will hear on "Immortal Soul" how lucky we are to have him back. The vocals sound better than 20 years ago! It’s amazing. Hell, the whole band blows me away! Hopefully we can keep this unit together for years to come God willing!
In fact a new album, entitled "Immortal Soul" is just about to be. Is this the same album that was planned to be released in 2009? Was any of the new stuff recorded in 2009 or are we talking about totally recent recordings?
We did record a few songs then, but pretty much everything else was recorded and mixed within the last six months. It was funny, we had a CD two years in the making and then everything started happening quickly with record labels. The offers starting coming in so once we inked a deal it was crunch time and had to work our asses off to get this out on time!
I haven't had the opportunity to check any of the stuff for this new album but, as Riot's music has changed quite a bit during the years, what can we expect from "Immortal Soul"? Will it totally recall the more power metal years of "Thundersteel" and "The Privilege of Power"?
"Immortal Soul" is basically the follow up to "Thundersteel" and "Privilege of Power" 20 years later! The sound of the Thundersteel line up is so identifiable and the songs on the new CD have the same feel and sound but with more of a modern metal twist. This line up's writing and performing skills have the same kind of magic we had back when we recorded those two albums.
Going back to those albums, "Thundersteel" is regarded by many of your fans as one of your most inspired moments, but "The Privilege of Power" despite being a great record, had a mixed reception because of the brass section included in some of the songs (which, by the way, was not so present on the album, in my opinion). Who was behind that surprising idea? Have you ever regretted this decision?
"Thundersteel" was different than the earlier records. With the addition of the more metal players and Don's writing, it kind of led itself to come out heavier. Riot’s always been about aggressive music with great melody lines, it was a great power metal record and that's why I think it was received so well. On Privilege, back during that era we were produced by long time Riot producer Steve Loeb who consistently had crazy ideas, some good, a lot of bad, this was bad! We had nothing to do with this. Once we recorded it the next time we heard it was when the CD came out and that stuff was on there! The horn section on some songs didn’t bother me that bad, but those crazy song intros were really annoying. Still to date, we clip those off when listening! I suggest you do the same unless you plan on getting high before you listen to it! I’m sure they were when they did it! Haha!
However, the slight musical changes have been constant in your career. From the classic hard rock of the late 70's, to the classic metal sounding albums of the early 80's, going through the power metal orientation of the Tony Moore records to the Rainbow influenced heavy metal of the 90's and 2000's. Can we say that all this different approaches represent diverse moments and interests in your life? Did the different members in the band influenced this changes in your musical direction?
I think the vocalists have a lot to do with the way I’m writing at the time. Mike Dimeo’s voice had a more bluesy feel and fit the folksy gothic “rainbowish” type tunes. Guy had a unique mid range voice and it was great on the first three rock metalish records and of course the music was a little more straight up heavy rock when Rhett joined because of his vocal style. Tony’s voice leads us to write this way, very melodic and aggressive. Tony has one of the best voices and range out in rock today. Bobby and Don’s heavy metal influenced rythym section definitely are resposible for this era of Riot’s sound
Aside from the musical changes, Riot has always been a band of constant line-up changes. What was the reason for this? Was this maybe because the band always seemed to be on the road to success, but never managed to reach the big leagues?
I could write a book! If you think Anvil or Spinal Tap are full of drama and are funny and interesting, they ain’t got shit on my life story! It culminates from many different decisions, some good, some not so good. Management decisions were not the best at the time either. Musical differences and changes were usually the problem. Riot really never had any drug hang ups. Sometimes the band and sound needed to evolve and sometimes the players didn’t want to change or simply couldn’t rise to challenge. That’s obvious on the change of the Riot sound from hard rock to power metal. A musical roller coaster if you will! I’ve opened up for AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Rush and then a few years back we opened for Anvil and Virgin Steele! See the difference? Up and Down! Now we are back on the upside! We’ve gotten great response and played some great festivals with the heavy weights again and great record deals already, so let’s see how this chapter of the story plays out! I’m betting it will be great.
I think that you've always blamed the management deal that you signed in the late 70's for harming the band's ascension. To what extent did this guys stopped Riot's possibilities of growing as a band? Weren't they supposed to do exactly the opposite thing? Can you briefly tell us what happened?
Long story short, very short! We were a bunch of naive young Brooklyn New York musicians looking for that break into the music industry. They owned a studio in Manhattan and helped us out in the very beginning. We were there baby so to speak and after recording us and watching us grow into a serious contender, they never wanted us to leave the nest. We had offers from Black Sabbath’s Management, Metallica’s Management and a host of different opportunities. They wanted to control the band's every move early on. They were basically egotistical megalomaniacs. Unfortunately it took us forever to get out of that situation. We were appreciative for what they did, but at one point you have to let the eagle spread its wings and fly from the nest to the next level.
If I'm not wrong you were tied with this guys until 1996, just before you signed with Metal Blade. What meant, for you, finally being free from this deal and signing with Metal Blade for the release of "Inishmore"? Were this kind of long terms deals very usual back in those days?
Being mislead and being taken advantage of in this business is not uncommon, It still happens today unfortunately, ask anyone out there. It had its grips on me for sometime, but it is a great feeling to get out of something like that for so long and be able to record and play under more rewarding circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, fame has its price and we definitely paid to be where we are. It was nice to work with Brian and Metal Blade. Brian has his ears to the ground on this music and no games or head trips, just look at his track record.
You've been through some highs and lows during these 36 years but, if I ask you about your more successful moments as a band, which ones would you choose?
Every Riot line up has had a remarkable time and great moments. There are highs and lows of each line up. This band has not had it easy by any means. Just being able to still play and a demand for Riot after all these years is rewarding in itself, believe it or not every time were are touring it’s a thrill, if you love what you’re doing whether it be big or small you have a great time making music with people you love and playing it for people that love your music. The fans are definitely responsible for us continuing this legacy! Although highlights would include: The very first Castle Donington Monsters of Rock festival, Port Vale with Ozzy and Motorhead, our very first tour with Sammy Hagar, touring with Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult on the Black n’ Blue Tour, playing alongside Ritchie Blackmore and Randy Rhoads, the rebirth of Riot and the Thundersteel line up in ‘88 and now the resurrection of this line up is exciting and of course the Japanese and festival appearances are always awesome! It’s always a thrill to travel the world and perform in exotic places for some amazing friends and fans. We are blessed.
Probably Riot's most stable period would have been the years between 1994 and 2006 (except from some changes behind the drum kit) with Mike Dimeo fronting the band. Why did this line-up broke after 12 years being together? How did things end with Mike?
Basically it was kind of another being on a long hiatus situation! During that time some of the band members were doing other musical and personal things. I was involved with Tony Harnell and the Westworld project and a sideman for a few Bonnie Tyler shows and Mike was doing several side projects including the Bonnie gig as well. So when something came up it was a matter of scheduling. Mike wasn’t available for a couple tours, so we had to get a replacement which was Mike Tirelli.
Being this a so important and long time in the history of Riot, do you play songs from the Mike Dimeo or any other period with Riot's current line-up or are you specially sticking to the "Thundersteel" and "The Privilege of Power" stuff when you're preparing a set list for the shows?
For the most part we like to stick with the material from this line up but obviously we will play some of the past favourites. The most asked for music is usually from the Fire Down Under era or the Thundersteel era. We will do a few from "Thundersteel" and "Privilege of Power", a few from "Fire Down Under", "Narita" and "Rock City" and of course a few from "Immortal Soul". Tony’s vocal style fits better with those two eras of Riot and maybe a few surprises!
Just one more thing. I've always being quite intrigued by the strange creature that appeared in the covers up until "Born in America". What the hell was that?
Haha! Although a lot of people thought that character was named “Johnny” he was actually called “The Mighty Tior” he was supposed be our mascot, kind of like Iron Maiden did with Eddie the Head years later. He was a combination of a seal head and a sumo wrestler body with an axe. It was a Japanese folklore character symbol of strength. A lot of people just thought it was a stupid little emblem without meaning but he did have meaning and was associated with Riot and believe it or not that is a frequently asked question. He was another crazy idea conjured up by the same producer that I mentioned earlier that did all that stuff back in the day! I’m sure they were high then too! HaHa!
Well, that was all, thanks a lot for your time and patience answering our questions. Some last words to close the interview?
Mark Reale/Autumn 2011