INTERVIEW: Riot !n Paris Talk New Album, O Music Awards, And Giving Everything On Stage

by Dan Rys

Riot !n Paris are not afraid to lay their bodies on the line in the name of a live show. “We’re jumping off the drum set, breaking bones – I broke my ankle at a show once,” said guitarist/producer Pete Armour Tuesday night at the band’s recording studio on a warehouse-lined street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “I feel like we’re one of the best live bands in New York. When you come and see us, you’re coming to see the best.”

It’s that type of confidence and reckless belief in their ability and their music that makes the duo — multi-instrumentalist Armour and rapper Mercy — such a dynamic live act, and one that has built its reputation through their live show. Since the release of their debut EP Weekend at Kenny’s in August of 2010, the group has been touring relentlessly, even hitting Europe twice, all the while writing and recording their first full-length, Sample Sale, due out July 17. Along the way, they’ve been experimenting with innovative marketing tactics, including their social media-driven songwriting campaign that won them a “Most Extreme Fan Outreach” O Music Award nomination alongside the likes of Snoop Dogg and Bon Jovi, which will be handed out tonight, and their “choose your own adventure”-type music video for “Attack of the Five Ft. Hipster.”

Armour and Mercy, along with live drummer Compton, sat down with the Couch Sessions to talk about their new album, their approach to making music and performing live, and what they have in common with AVN Award winners ahead of their performance Saturday at the Couch Sessions’ Summer Soul Sessions.

Couch Sessions: So what are you guys working on in the studio?

Pete: We’re working on our new album Sample Sale, it’s been like almost two years since we put out our last EP Weekend at Kenny’s, we worked really hard on this, so we’re trying to get everything around it right.

Couch Sessions: How do you guys write? You both come from different backgrounds musically.

Mercy: Musically, we both feed off of each other. Pete is a beast producer, so he may come up with a track, and he may have an idea or a hook for it, and he’ll send it over to me, or vice versa, he might say yo I got this dope song and I don’t know what to do with it, and we’ll just bounce back on each other, some nights we’ll have like 30 or 40 emails just back and forth, back and forth, and before you know it we got two, three songs.

P: It usually starts with me practicing guitar, fiddling around, coming up with a riff. That’s how most of the songs on the new album came about, just me fooling around and I’d record it before i forgot it and then just build everything under it.

Couch Sessions: What are you listening to lately?

P: It might be bad to say, but I feel like we’re not one of those bands that goes back and listens to old shit. We’re fans of music first, so what’s out now inspires us. My favorite songwriters right now are people that have come up in the last five years, like Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys, John Mayer, when he came out with that new album, some of those songs are so dope that it makes me hate him. I’m really going through a songwriter phase, and those guys are amazing lyricists. They don’t inspire me to sound like them, but there’s people that I want to be as good as.

M: I’ve been listening to a lot of Wiz Khalifa’s new mixtape. Rick Ross. Childish Gambino, he’s a beast. Action Bronson, he’s a cool dude. That new Temper Trap album is insane.

Couch Sessions: Everything I’ve heard about you guys is ‘dope live show, dope live show, dope live show.’ If somebody who has never seen you before walks in to one of your shows, and they walk out saying “that was a dope show,” what did they see from you guys to make them say that?

M: A party and a funeral at the same time (laughs).

P: We live to perform. I feel like whenever you see somebody doing something that they love, and you see the joy in them, it always connects more with people. Even if you see a chef in a kitchen cooking, and you see one chef whose been cooking for twenty years but he’s been doing it to feed his kids, and you see another chef standing next to him that just started but he loves to cook, just to see him making a cake — it’s like when you see people doing stuff with the passion and love behind it, you can’t help but not feel it, and be infectious about it. And seeing us on stage performing is seeing three people doing what they love to do. Even if you watch the AVN Awards, the chick who wins the Best Blowjob Award, if she’s going to town on that joint, instead of the chick who just did it for the money, you can tell.

M: And God bless ‘em.

Couch Sessions: The new album has been done since the beginning of the year, and you’ve been working on promotional stuff — I saw you guys had an O Music Award Nomination. How did that project come about?

P: Our first video was this interactive, choose your own adventure video, for “Attack of the 5 Ft. Hipster” [Kanye and Pharrell debuted the video on their respective blogs, and MTVu listed it in their top videos of the year], so we’re always trying to find ways to interact with our fans and bring our fans into it as much as we can. So we hooked up with this company Innovative Thunder, and we came up with this idea of taking people’s social media profiles and writing songs about them based off of that. What we did was we had the guy set up a website where there’s a Track Me button and that sends a tweet out saying Riot !n Paris, please track me, and we would randomly track people and write songs about them based off their social media profiles. So if I followed you for a couple of days, I would pretty much write a song about you just based on what you represent about yourself in your Twitter feed.

In 30 days we did about 21 songs and shot a video for every song. So we just about lived in here just knocking out tracks, and MTV nominated us for an O Music Award for it about a month after it ended. So to wake up in the morning to that Google Alert — cause that’s the way we found out, MTV didn’t contact us until two days later. So that was pretty awesome. We’re like the only indie band in that category — up against Snoop, Bon Jovi, so it was cool to get recognized for that.

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Couch Sessions: And the album Sample Sale will be out for free on July 17.

M: Our main thing with promotion, we just want the world to know about this music, instead of just us putting out another album, we wanted to build a buzz, build a groundswell before we put it out so more people can hear it.

P: The new album is literally all us, just me and him, no other producers, and I’m super proud of it, and I think it’s one of the best albums that an indie artist in New York is gonna release this year. And I got a lot of love and a lot of friends in other bands, but I feel like this album is crazy.

Couch Sessions: How would you guys describe the type of music you’re making today?

P: I would say if you had to put it, it would be alternative rock and hip hop mixed, indie rock and hip hop mixed, but it’s more than that. I hate the term rap rock, not to hate on rap rock, but it’s not like Limp Bizkit or POD, it’s more leaning toward the alternative side. I think there’s people out there that are dope songwriters, and there are people who are dope performing artists, and I don’t think there’s anybody around that gives you the stage show that we do and the quality of songs that we do, and I think we take both of those things very seriously.

Couch Sessions: So, where did the name Riot !n Paris come from?

P: This is like the most anti-rock artist thing to say, but so much of what I am as a musician came from going to college. My education and learning how to play music came from school. I have a bachelors degree in philosophy and the arts, and i was taking this class called the philosophy of music. We originally started out with the name The Freshmen… I know. We went through a couple names but my professor at the time was telling us about Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” Before that piece came out, classical music didn’t have all of the big dynamic changes that we expect and know of it now, and his piece was one of the first to have that. So when they debuted that piece in Paris, the music was so different that you got people in the crowd who would just stand up saying “this is bullshit!” and other people saying “shut up, this is amazing!” and it got to the point where people started arguing in the theater and it spilled out into the streets, and there was literally a riot in Paris because of this music. And as my professor said, “and there was a riot in Paris,” I wrote that down. Just the story alone, to me, in short it means Passion. These people were so passionate about this art that they were willing to physically fight, and that’s how passionate we are about our music, and we’re lucky to have fans that are just as passionate.

Couch Sessions: When you toured Europe, did you create a riot in Paris?

(uproarious laughter) P: We had a good time. French people are very cool, I love it out there. I’d like to live out there in the next two years, have a little French baby with cotton candy hair and live in an old castle like Keith Richards. I’m a simple man!

Couch Sessions: What are your plans for after this album comes out?

M: Bring it around the world, that’s the plan.

P: We love performing. I wanna be one of those people who just has a dope ass crib with boxes that I haven’t unpacked in like a year because we’ve been out on the road, I want to barely be home. We made this album for the road, we just want to get out there and rock it and bring it to the people. That’s the best way for people to realize what R!P is about, is when they see us live. One thing about us both coming from a hip hop background, is there’s that competitive spirit just naturally. So with us, every time we do a show, I get there early to see the bands before us so that I make sure that we’re the best. Our fans deserve the best, so we gotta be the best

You can download Sample Sale HERE.