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Dead Rider

An Interview with Dead Rider's guitar guru Todd Rittmann

Dead Rider CD: Chills on Glass
Record Label: Drag City
Artist's Facebook
by John Noyd
April 2014

Never content to do the same thing twice, Chicago’s daredevil experimentalists DEAD RIDER, offer a dazzling degree of forward-thinking adventures whose restless quests invest discordant morsels of jazz-rock logic into funky electro-polished grooves. Comprised of Matthew Espy (drums, conga, percussion), Andrea Faught (synth, piano, trumpet, trombone, vocals), Thymme Jones (synth, trumpet, vocals) and Todd Rittmann (vocals, guitar, drums), the imaginative foursome blaze new trails thinking outside the box, bashing pre-conceived beliefs by conjuring jarring carnage buffered in teeth-gnashing acrobatics and gut-busting bluster. In anticipation of their performance May 8th at Madison’s The Frequency,” MAXIMUM INK asked front-man and founder Todd Rittman to guide us through the band’s insatiable appetite for complex maneuvers and esoteric minutiae

MAXIMUM INK: As a band committed to unexpected twists and challenging their audience, do your live shows attempt to play songs from your records, use them as launch pads for further sonic explorations or something in between?

TODD RITTMANN: Well, a little of both I guess. It’s funny; the songs on our records that sound loose and more improvised are the ones that are actually hyper composed. They are the ones we are the most dedicated to replicating in a fairly precise way. The songs that have more of a traditional (for us anyway) pop structure end up being the ones we corrupt when performed.

MI: No one seems to be doing quite what you do, as innovators who fuse so many divergent styles together, who do you see as your contemporaries?

TR: I love any artist that creates their own language and musical world. I love Deerhoof, Battles, Cody Chesnutt, Buke and Gase, and I’ve been really digging this local kid Vic Mensa lately. The hardest and most important thing to do as an artist is be yourself, anyone who can get there is automatically inspiring and worth checking out.

MI: What influenced or inspired this album? Was there a premeditative theme or concept behind Chills on Glass to focus your creative impulses?

TR: We work in a very organic and flowing way. There is never a premeditated theme but one always seems to emerge at some point. When it does we try to surf that wave a little without it turning into some kind of concept-rock-opera kind of thing.

MI: How should your fans interpret the title beyond a vivid description of your subversive mirth?

TR: The title connects the dots between drug imagery and how we interact with technology. Both things have their ups and downs and both seem to work in a similar way with our brains. Chills is my slang for children but also alludes to a numbness… Glass is the ubiquitous screen or display and also the easiest surface on which to serve drugs in powdered form.

MI: For songs so oddly soldered yet obviously thought out, how does it all begin and how do you know when you are finished?

TR: Each song has a whole different birthing process, but generally it starts with a groove and a search for a particular syncopation. I know it when we have it, but I don’t know exactly how it is conjured. Then begins a process of adding and subtracting until the moment where it is starting to fall together and sort of finishes itself or it is garbage and discarded.

MI: Are you ever frightened by the end results of your own creations?

TR: If there is ever a goal for us, it is to make something that blows our own minds. That is pretty fleeting though, the feeling of making something that really takes you somewhere. It’s hard to be objective about this in our music. If it ever happens it doesn’t last long, though I am very happy and humbled when I hear that someone else gets a visceral reaction to what we do.

MI: Having a third album behind you what lessons have you learned that you wish you had applied to your previous releases?

TR: This is a good question but I’m gonna decline the invitation to look back. Life is too short for regret and I’m feeling pretty good about where we are right now. We couldn’t do what we’ve done any other way, you’ll need to ask me that again when I’m in a shittier mood I guess.

MI: As intense as it must be to play, how does the band not burn out from the constant challenge the music requires? Is there something the band does to replenish themselves from the music’s exhaustive regiment?

TR: Playing music IS the easy part. All the other life that happens in between is the part I worry about burning out on. I really feel the most comfortable in my own skin when I’m making music. If any of us were not having an insane amount of fun doing this it would be just too hard to do. The intensity of performing is my absolute favorite thing in the world. I couldn’t imagine it ever being a drag.

MI: What were the first indications that anarchy and non-conformity were to be your life’s calling?

TR: Since I was very little I’ve always naturally spent lots of time by myself just making my own little world. It is my nature to be screwing around with some far out idea. I think being the first born kid on either side of my family gave me very little exposure to other kids and I just kind of naturally took to my solitary obsessions. Growing up I’ve always gravitated towards others who are like that… Now that I think about it, everyone in Dead Rider is a first born kid. Hmmm.

MI: Have you ever played a venue that had no idea what kind of music you played?

TR: We’ve been on a couple strange bills where we definitely upset the evening’s continuity. It’s usually not a problem as we all love to perform and I think if you engage the audience and don’t take things too seriously, folks are entertained.

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