Everything in life happens for a reason. Now I know that I was destined to hear and completely fall for Riverdogs’ debut album because it all led to nothing but a series of very special events, including discovering great soul-soothing music, meeting outstanding artists, witnessing their current adventures and the highlight – actually having a conversation with one of the masterminds behind the band, vocalist Rob Lamothe. I’m not sure which is more satisfying – the fact that I was given the chance to have an unforgettable conversation with an artist I admire so much, or that after an year of building this personal rock music digital brand, I finally got my first official interview with a musician (and not just any musician but someone I truly care about…).
As everyone knows, earlier this July, Riverdogs made a triumphant comeback with “California” – an album that quickly conquered hearts, charts and basically everything on its way with its personality and unique style. In case you haven’t heard it yet, go ahead and do it because you are missing something really exciting! “California” and my instant attachment to that album became the reason why I got to actually talk with Rob Lamothe. I’m writing this and smiling from ear to ear because I still can’t believe it actually happened. Thanks to the development of communication technologies and of course, the Internet, a 25-year old Bulgarian girl spent her evening talking to a beloved artist about the past and present of rock music, the new generation of fans, records, social media, pets and of course, the new album “California”. Here’s the interview and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed experiencing it.
This is a very emotional and historical moment for me because you are the first musician I will interview for my blog, actually.
Really, I’m so honored. I can’t believe I’m the first. Thank you so much for sharing that with me. That’s amazing. Thank you.
2017 has been a pretty solid year so far when it comes to rock music. Your new album might be one of the reasons why. I was just wondering, before we get to “California”, if these days you have a favorite album or artist?
You know I work with a lot of young artists. I teach private songwriting lessons all over the world through Skype and e-mail. I teach at a songwriting camp, I’ve been doing that for 14 years, I run my own songwriting camp, I don’t know if you know. That is kind of amazing because right now I have two of my songwriting campers – I’m working with them outside of camp, like a private songwriting course. It’s ongoing, I’m like a songwriting mentor, songwriting tutor, I guess you might say. I’m getting to work with these really intelligent, really sharp, really motivated 15-year old songwriters so I’ve got that, and then I’ve also got stuff that I hear from my contemporaries, you know my friends who are in their 50s who are still working, still making great music so I get to hear a lot of music. I am in a studio an awful lot.
A couple of my former campers have a band called Courage my Love. Check them out. I met them actually when they were 15, two twins – Phoenix and Mercedes – just this amazing band. They are just doing what I love to see.
Of stuff that you might now, I love Vintage Trouble, I love the singer. If a band has a killer singer, I’m gonna notice and I’ll probably be interested. There’s another band from Hamilton, a band called Monster Truck.
I love Monster Truck. I saw them two months ago, they were opening for Deep Purple.
Amazing! Real rock&roll, right?
…That’s one of my favorite bands for sure.
So these days these are some of the bands you have been listening to?
Yeah, things like that. There’s another band from Hamilton, called the Arkells – a great rock band, fantastic rock band with a killer singer. I’m always looking for bands that get me excited so I feel like I’m 15 or 25, you know.
When I did the album review of California, a lot of people responded with comments saying how great it is. I also found out that your album is actually conquering charts as we speak – it’s on UK TOP40 Albums, it’s on Billboard. I’m just curious how is this positive reaction making you feel and did you expect this kind of response?
The response has been amazing. I just got an e-mail today about Billboard charts in American and I can’t believe it. It’s unbelievable. But you know we had this fantastic gift that Frontiers, the label gave us and that was they gave us a direction. They said “We really we want it to sound like the first record”. And some bands might go “Don’t tell us what to do man, we are artists!” You know, that was 27 years ago but I immediately thought that’s wonderful, they are giving us a gift, they are telling us what they like to hear and really when we thought about it, we made this record for ourselves and fans that already knew us, that already loved the first record. And to be honest, I was thinking about it today, I never once thought about trying to win over new fans. Never entered my mind that we’d be hoping that a 25-year old from Bulgaria might like what we’re doing. Not one time did I think “How do we record this song or write this song or perform this song in a way that we’ll bring new fans?” It was never ever something that crossed my mind. We had these really loyal people that were with us for 27 years since that first record.
Frontiers gave us a decent budget so that we could actually spent the time writing like a band and recording it like a band and they gave us that direction. What a wonderful gift. So, I’m totally unprepared for all these new people that are coming in. We’ve never thought “Oh, maybe we’ll get on the radio, or maybe we’ll get on some charts.” It never crossed our minds, not for a second. We were just having a good time writing songs as a band and having an amazing time together. It’s a wonderful bonus, like an icing on a cake for Riverdogs’ career.
I’m still trying to process it. I’m not surprised that people like it because I think it’s good. We tried to capture what we do, the four of us and we did that. We only wrote 12 songs and those are the 12 songs that we recorded. We captured a moment in time pretty well. Everything went so beautifully. We were all on top of our game, so in that way I think we created something that’s high quality.
You mentioned your loyal and new fans. A lot of people were there to witness your beginnings. I know that your debut album was appreciated by critics and fans back in the day. Most of those fans are still fans of Riverdogs right now. However, as you can see, a lot of people my age love the album. I wanted to ask how the audience back then differs from the one you have right now? Your album sounds very modern, fresh and I know you made it sound like the debut one but it’s still quite modern-sounding. A lot of people my age love it.
I think the reason that it maybe sounds fresh is that it’s a bit of a timeless sound, right? It’s drums, a big room, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, a little bit of keyboards, bass and vocals. If you keep the music simple and organic, then hopefully it stands the test of time. I don’t really know our young audience yet. I don’t know your perspective yet. I don’t know the new listeners’ perspective yet, I don’t know them, yet.
This is really fun for me. It really is like a dream. Just getting to play and be friends with those three guys and our manager, Paul, is almost kind of a fifth member of the band. Just to get to work with my musical brothers and then actually get to write and record, it’s such a dream come true. I really am still just. It never crossed my mind, “Oh, I hope we get some new fans with it”. It wasn’t part of what was on my radar. I wasn’t thinking about that. But I think that’s good because we weren’t second-guessing ourselves, we were just making, writing songs and recording music that made us feel amazing. And then to finish it and then get to make what I think is a great video, I’m very proud of that video.
I have a question about the video as well. I really like the colors, the energy – it’s very dynamic, sexy if I may say. Aesthetically speaking, you look very nice, behind the desert; everyone is wearing these great outfits, it’s very appealing. So, I wanted to know how long did you shoot it, who came up with the idea. Do you have any plans of making another video?
I hope we get to make another video. Right now, we haven’t discussed it. But I have a feeling we’ll get to because it probably makes sense for the label.
I have a suggestion.
What it is?
“You’re Too Rock and Roll”
*he actually wrote that down*
Visually that could be really really interesting.
So, we had a budget to make a video. We wanted to find a director who could make a video that look like a 250,000$ video for much less than that and we found somebody – director Jamie Brown. He has directed two of the Last in Line videos; they filmed them in like two days. They look fantastic. They look beautiful. I used to make music videos. I worked in LA for a long time. I worked for a production company and we made Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name”, “Livin’ on a Prayer”, “Cowboy”. We made some Poison videos. We made those big budget rock videos. So I know what a big budget looks like and I know what they cost and when I saw what Jamie’s stuff he did with Last in Line, I was like “let’s get this guy”. It just worked.
Funnily enough, the concept was actually mine. My idea was very much – the woman in the video is very key because she’s from Guadalajara, her people have been in North America for 13,000 years. The whole idea is that she’s this really powerful figure. Her people are indigenous, they’ve been here forever. She owns that ranch. She was the one with all the power. She didn’t need the band, she didn’t need the song, she kicks ass all on her own.
Also, the song, it was a fun song to write. But I’m not a patriotic person, actually. I’m not trying to say this is what people should feel like. I’m just saying, there’s two sides to every story and in this case, there’s a woman from Mexico who owns this ranch and doesn’t need anyone’s help and has the power within herself. She doesn’t need Riverdogs, she doesn’t need the song, she’s just doing her thing, living her life and we’re just out there, you know, rocking out in the desert.
There were flags in the video originally, American flags but I was like “No, let’s not have flags”. I wanted the song to be whatever the listener wants it to be. It could be like “Yeah, I’m gonna kick ass, I just gotta work hard, I’m just gonna keep at it…” but it could also be ironic for other people who can say “Where’s the American dream?”
Every day since I first heard the album, I have a different favorite song. I have finally made my decision and picked my one favorite song and as I told you, it’s “You’re too Rock and Roll” so I would love to know if this song was written about someone? How did you come up with the idea? Who came up with the melody? Who came up with the lyrics?
On this record, I wrote all the words and I wrote all the melodies. “You’re too Rock and Roll” was a bit of a riff that Marc had. That was an idea of his and actually. The story, what it is, is me trying to capture a mood and an experience that happened to me over and over again. So many times I felt like the man in that song. I was always finding myself in those situations. I was very attracted to, you know – what’s the biggest, craziest adventure I can have tonight. That song is very much about a liquor store called “Gil Turner’s Liquor” on “Sunset Boulevard”. I kind of lived down there a bit.
I was just trying to capture a vibe and a mood and an atmosphere and it’s not one story. It’s really kind of elements of a whole lot of stories and whole lot of crazy nights. The music is pretty trippy. It feels like there’s some tension in the music for sure. So I just went with that.
I know that you released these very beautiful acoustic videos on Youtube with the little cute doggy that was running everywhere so I’m just curious if you’re going to do something like that again or was it just a one-time thing?
That was designed to be a one-time thing. We did that because the next day we filmed “American Dream”. We got together the night before we shot the video. We didn’t rehearse the songs, we just sat there and kind of just kind played them, somehow they were in our minds. They are rough and wonderful.
Riverdogs’ California is available on CD, as well as Vinyl and based on what I saw on SNS, people keep on sharing their copies which is amazing. In general I think nowadays more and more people are coming back to buying CDs and Vinyl records. What do you think? How do you listen to music these days? What do you think about this revival of the vinyl record and CD?
It’s interesting because for me, I get so much music. I do song writing lessons through Skype. I do that with people from all over the world like these kind of songwriting workshops that I do, private lessons with people. A lot of the artist I work with, that I’m coaching whether we’re getting ready to make a recording, sometimes I’m doing vocal coaching, sometimes I’m doing performance coaching, sometimes I’m doing what’s called “song doctoring” where I’m getting an artist ready to make a record so the producer hires me to help tweak the songs, fine tune them and all of that happens with mp3s. It’s just such a convenient way to work. So I’ve been doing that for at least 10 years. I’ve gotten away from buying CDs at least in a store. Well, there’s no place to buy them in my small town for one thing. But when I’m at gigs, that’s when I love to buy a CD as one I can buy from the artist and if I like what they do then I’d love to support them by buying a CD.
You know, it’s interesting because for a while there, it seemed like vinyl was gone. No one was making it anymore. That kind of came back. I noticed it when my daughter whose like 16 and she was buying vinyl and I was like “What the heck is going on?” and then she got me a turntable for Christmas and a bunch of records. There’s nothing like that experience. There’s nothing like taking it out and putting it on a turntable. That’s how I grew up and it would be shame if that’d disappeared.
I am really thrilled that 20-year olds are buying CDs.
So many people are sharing their selfies with your CD and Vinyl. That’s so cool.
Yeah that’s amazing. Actually, I thought, I wondered, “Oh, maybe we won’t sell any; maybe it will just be people buying downloads?” I didn’t know. It’s pretty awesome to see that. I don’t know how that started – people sending us pictures of their CD and their vinyl but I love it. It’s super cool. It really is amazing.
For a while there I was very much into your “Above the Wing is Heaven” solo album. It’s a very soul-soothing album for me. I want to ask if you are thinking about releasing a new solo album?
Yeah, actually I’m 95% done with one. I’m just tweaking a couple of mixes. Originally, I announced last year that I was going to release it in June of 2017 and then when the whole Riverdogs thing happened I just thought, “Well, I’m not gonna release it at the same time”. I haven’t decided when I’m gonna release it. I don’t want to complicate things. I want to have the promotion and the marketing for the Riverdogs record be a clean “attack”. I don’t wanna confuse the listener.
I just have to figure out what I think is a reasonable time to release it but it’s really kind of done, I just added another song, a song that my daughter wanted me to add. It’s myself, my two songs and my daughter. We play all the instruments, we wrote all the songs. The record’s gonna be called “And the River Reveals Herself”. I imagine four months, six months; I don’t know what will make sense. I don’t know how long this momentum will go with Riverdogs.
“California” sounds very honest and relatable and I think a lot of people much in that album, including myself. Many albums released this year were focusing on fire, passion, energy, rock&roll. Your album feels a little bit more intimate. Having said that, I think one of the strongest songs on the album is “I Don’t Know Anything”. How did you come up with the lyrics? It’s a very mysterious song.
I learned a long time ago that the more personal, the more intimate I wrote a song, the more people connected to it. I learned that a long time ago. I was in a band before Riverdogs called AirCraft. We were a local, arena-rock band back in San Diego. We wrote arena rock songs, patterned like Aerosmith, Van Halen and we wrote good songs. But when I started writing really personal songs, that’s when people really connected to me in a way that I’ve never experienced before. I was in those bands, we would open up for Cheap Trick, Joe Perry, Ronnie Montrose…every kind of big rock band that would come to our town, we’d be the opening act. We were the local kids. People loved us. Like you said – it was energy, party…but it was so different when I started writing stuff that was real. I saw the connection immediately. People would come talk to me and tell me what they thought the song was about, what it meant to them and I’d be like “Wow I never thought of that, that’s amazing; it was totally something else in my mind but your version isn’t wrong, your version is beautiful.” So that was a long time ago. That was 30, probably more than 30 years ago and so I just carried on with that.
These songs were so much directed by the music and just the feeling in the room. A lot of it was just how did it feel in the room and right away I would start singing words cause I trust these guys. I trust Marc and Nick and Viv. I could just sing any words and they’ll go with it. They love me. They trust me, I trust them. When you have that freedom you can just let stuff out. I didn’t worry about what I was saying or did it make sense or does this tell a story. I just let the music spark something in my little brain and l let the words come out.
There’s this great saying that I saw somewhere on the Internet probably and I’ve been quoting it for years to my song writing students and it is “create without fear, edit without mercy”. I’ve really been going with that. I’ve really been practicing what I preach.
This is one of those songs actually on this record, there are a couple of them where I’ve talked about California as a State –it’s a State in America. It’s also a state of mind and that’s why I want you to go there. I hope you’ll go. I know you will. I’d love to talk to you after you go because there’s no place like it. It’s like a dreamland.
That song, “I Don’t Know Anything”, it’s very much like a love song to California. If California was a woman, it’s a love song to her.
Have you thought about naming the album something else or this title immediately came up to your mind?
No, I was thinking of one of the lines that I really like – “All the Gods are Drunk Tonight”. It’s in “Golden Glow”.
By the way, you receive a lot of attention from the European audience.
Yeah, I’ve noticed the same thing. My whole career, the bulk of my music career over the last 30 years had been based in Europe and based on that first Riverdogs album.
I haven’t really done ton in Canada. I’ve kind of focused on Europe because people over there appreciate what I do and what Riverdogs does and I just go with that.
Music industry has changed a lot these past years. Now, social media plays a very important role in music promotion and connecting with fans, posting updates about the latest happenings in your career. That’s how me and you connected actually. How do you feel about that? Do you often use social media?
That’s a great way to end it actually. For me social media has been key in my career in the last 10-15 years. The Internet in general and that ability to connect with people around the world and again because so much of my career has been focused in Europe as far as touring and recording.
I’m on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Now I’ve got a YouTube channel which I took over the last month. I find it’s an incredible tool. When you think, I’m 58 years old and I can connect with people all over the world.
I still don’t believe that but okay.
Yeah I am. But you know, what does it cost me for my Internet access? I can just post a picture of myself rehearsing or heading off to the farm this morning or whatever. It works, it keeps people who are interested in my music, it allows them to be aware of what I’m doing and we can talk.
The Internet is so great, social media is so great for being able to stay connected and to let people know what you’re doing. For my career – I don’t know where I’d be without it, actually.
I’ve chosen to have, like I said, kind of a quiet, simple life. Social media allows me to have this simple little life and make the kind of music that I wanna make with the people that I love and release it myself and book tours and it’s just been so invaluable for me.
It’s really fun for me, it’s great to be 58, and it’s great to have made record when they were just on vinyl. The first record I made, there was just vinyl then. I was a teenager, I was in a choir and we made two records. When I got the record deal with the Riverdogs there were CDs but we made a vinyl version as well. Everything changed so much and I love it.
You made a cassette too.
Yes, that’s right. I forgot about that. So cassette too. I don’t know if those are gonna come back.
If there hadn’t been an Internet and social media, I don’t know where my career would be. I’m not like a road dog out touring all the time. I wanna be home, drinking my coffee and my purple smoothie that I made when I came home today. The internet lets me do that, social media just lets me make up my own rules and that is incredible.
And I see you young people, I see 20-year olds, 25-year olds that are literally just creating their own industries. I mentioned that band, Courage My Love – they just created their own music business. They don’t need the old music business, the new one. They just make up their own. I love that.
As you know my brand is followed by a lot of rock fans on social media and so many of them loved the album and love you as well. Is there something you want to tell us as a wrap up of our conversation?
I’m so honored that something that we create from our hearts is relatable to young people, that’s incredible. That gives me hope because it is something that we created from our hearts and a lot of old people *laughs*, a lot of my friends, they’re really sour about young people. They just think “Oh, kids these days, they don’t know good music, and they just have their noses in their phones all day.” I see people saying that and I disagree so much. Part of that is because I work with young people. They are wonderful. I have so much hope for this crazy, chaotic, mixed up world because of young people. Us, older people are not gonna solve the world’s problems. It’s gonna be you – you and your friends and your peers. I know that, not only is the future of music in good hands, the future of the world is in good hands and that makes me sleep a little better at night.
A beautiful response. One of the goals in my life is to guide people towards the ways in which music business should be done and this business should thrive in the future. I think somewhere along the way there was a mistake made and a lot of people forgot how music should sound like and what it should mean, especially in the business. I think the music industry lacks people who understand and value music and I want to change that. I hope in the future I become something more.
That’s a beautiful dream. Those changes don’t happen unless somebody dreams a crazy dream. It has to start with someone doing something kind of ridiculous and doing something that can’t be done and shouldn’t be able to be done or everyone says “you can’t do that”. I can say that following what you’re passionate about is unbelievably rewarding. You can imagine it when you’re 25 but when you live it – 25, 35, 45, 55 and every day is just a beautiful adventure, it’s incredible. So please do it.
It’s a very touching and emotional moment for me. I don’t even know how to thank you enough for this wonderful talk. It means a lot for a young person to get to hear those words. I will always cherish the fact that you were the first one to give me an interview and I’m really thankful.
I’m honored to be your first interviewee and we’ll talk again!