Dead Rider

An interview with Todd Rittmann
by Dan Vierck
March 2015

Dead Rider

Dead Rider

Dead Rider Will Take You Where They Want to Go.

When I asked guitarist and vocalist of Dead Rider, Todd Rittmann, if there was a slogan or marketing pitch for their next release, a 7” single on Drag City records, he said ‘No.’

2014’s Chills on Glass (Drag City) is a dark behemoth. It’s an album that leads you somewhere you’re not sure you want to go. The music beckons and roils. Each song has an echo of familiarity, but they all tumble from beginning to end inside a horror movie fun house kaleidoscope. Rittmann’s voice is dry but with a bite; a little bitter with pronounced hops if you’re a beer person. When a song or the album is over, if nothing else, you’ll have a great story to tell your grandchildren.

The quartet assembled around 2009, and released two albums on Tizona Records previous to Chills on Glass. Rittmann is the lynchpin member, joined by Andrea Faught on keys and trumpet, Thymme Jones on keys, and Matt Espy on percussion. They are an incredibly tight unit, capable of the tightest grooves and the most intense, purposeful slash and burn noise barrages. Dead Rider’s music is not the soundtrack to William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, but they might be a band born of that world. Intellectual by design, they retain primitive but carefully considered inconsistencies in their execution. If David Byrne were possessed by the ghost of Kurt Cobain, Dead Rider would be the best case scenario for any music that came from that. If the devil himself were sauntering up to you, playing good cop, swinging hand cuffs of fire around his long ashy finger, Dead Rider would be the soundtrack to that scene in your biopic. Rittmann seems to have rationalized his tumult and harnessed but not broken his neurosis. The heat of the music is pure, but it is also incredibly focused.

Rittmann was kind enough to talk with me about the history and momentum behind the band, as well as what he hopes an audience gets from a performance.

Maximum Ink: You said in another interview that you want to drive the audience crazy. Where does that come from?
Todd Rittmann:
People need to be woken up and driven crazy. There’re too many things in this world that massage your expectations, and we’re not into fulfilling your expectations.

MI: Are there things you won’t do in Dead Rider? And is it because you don’t want to, or because you don’t think the audience would appreciate it?
We don’t do a lot of thinking about what the audience – in quotes – might prefer to hear. I think that’s an artistic trap, and it’s not even our motivation for doing this in the first place. We just want to blow our own minds. Generally we’ll steer away from things we’re already familiar with and super-comfortable with. We’re trying to take everyone in a ride out of their comfort zone – including ourselves. But I don’t want to paint the picture like we’re creating completely abstract noise. We like to keep one foot in that traditional rock form, and that helps provide some contrast and a jumping off point for some of the other ideas.

MI: How do you decide when to utilize mayhem and when to utilize groove?
In an overall sense the music just needs to have both. I’ve always believed that in any artistic endeavor, contrast is one of the most effective tools to use to get a point across. Especially if you’re trying to do something unexpected. I think it’s important to work with conventions and ideas that people can ground themselves to, where their ear knows what that is. Then you can start to sabotage the whole thing. It’s more effective than going all out freak out the whole time.

MI: Did you ever struggle with an internal pressure to write a conventional pop song?
I wouldn’t really know how to do that. I’ve been doing the thing I do for so long, I can’t even remember how long… Well, maybe in high school there was a time when everything I did sounded like REM but I wanted to sound like the Butthole Surfers. But that’s ancient history. If you’ve heard any of mine or some of the other band members’ other work, [Dead Rider] is definitely arriving more at convention than starting from there and trying to break away from it. It’s more of a conscious effort to keep it grounded in rock and roll music.

MI: Has Dead Rider’s trajectory been what you expected from the onset? Did you have set goals?
When you’re living your life, you want to launch to these levels of achievement. But it takes a while to build something. Then after you building something, you look back and scratch your head and say ‘Wow, we did a lot of great stuff and we’re in a great spot right now. How the hell did we get here?’ How we got here was five years of really working on it and really being dedicated. We’ve basically been a band for five years, and I’m really proud of what we’ve done.

MI: Do you think Dead Rider’s music is tied to Chicago or the Midwest in any way?
In the mid to late 90’s, and even in to the 2000’s there’s an approach to things that you might identify with the underground rock scene in the Midwest. I don’t think what we’re doing or our sound are directly related to that but I’m sure if I connect the dots, some of that stuff eeks in no matter what. But I don’t think we have too much in common with that stuff. I never felt like I’ve been a part of any scene or anything.

No scene. No slick, concrete marketing. Dead Rider’s sound is articulate, idiosyncratic, and not to be missed. They will be performing live, celebrating Maximum Ink’s 19th Anniversary on Saturday, March 21 at The Frequency with Perverse Engineer and William Z Villian. Drag City will be releasing a 7” of “New End” b/w “Uncomfy” on March 24th. Check Drag City’s website or for more information.

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