I recently got a chance to sit down with Adam Lopez, drummer for the locally-based pop-rock band To Write a Riot! to discuss their record, “The Party Law,” their recent national tour, their music, and their desire to spread their message of hope and inspiration to middle- and high-school students.
BC: Why don’t you start off by just telling me something about yourself or your band.
AL: Well, we’re in a pop-rock band; we’re called To Write a Riot!, we’re from right here in Naugatuck and we tour all over the country. We’ve sold a bunch of records, we have an endorsement with Pepsi, and we just try to spread a positive message as well as trying to play some pretty solid music. We’ve been to a few schools in the area; we’ve been to Bethel High School, we’ve been to New Milford High School, just going there and talking to students about following their dreams, you know, not necessarily about being a performer … if you want to be a doctor or an astronaut or whatever you want to be, you can do whatever you want, you know, regardless of where you’re brought up or your financial status, you can do anything you put your mind to—especially nowadays.
BC: It’s interesting to me, because there’s kind of, I don’t want to say stereotype, but people think a musician, a rock band … you say you guys have been all over the country, you’ve sold probably a couple thousand records … It’s unusual to see a group of people who are willing to talk to kids or give something back. What was it that inspired that?
AL: It was actually kind of a group effort; we were on the road, we were discussing, like, you know what, especially with all of our families and all of our friends and all the kids, what can we really give back to them besides music? Well, we have a message; our whole mentality going into it was, you know, we’re from a small town, a fairly low-income town, but no matter what your upbringing is or your background is, we’re living our dream, so we’re going to make it possible for everyone else to live theirs too.
BC: When you say you’ve toured the country, do you mean just the East Coast, or …
AL: Well, we’ve been to the East Coast, the Midwest, up toward Michigan and that area, pretty much everywhere east of the Mississippi [River], I’d say. We actually just got home like two weeks ago, which is pretty crazy. We’re just trying to get back in the swing of things.
BC: Have you done just one big national tour?
AL: We’ve done the one big national one, yeah, we’ve also done some stuff in Jersey and Massachusetts … some weekend gigs.
BC: What was [the national tour] like?
AL: That was actually really, really exciting. Some of us had some touring experience, but going out with five new people was like living with five new roommates, and everyone’s in a van and we actually got along really well. I think we got along better on the road than we do at home. Everyone was so excited to be out there … it was just a really rad time.
BC: So you were all crammed into, like a 15-passenger van, or what?
AL: (laughing) It was a Dodge Conversion van, so yeah. Not too glamorous, but it did the job.
BC: As you got farther away from home, were you still playing venues with a couple hundred seats, or a couple thousands seats, or …
AL: Yeah, the whole tour we were playing probably 200 to about 400-cap rooms, which is good for us because usually a band doing their first national tour, even of this magnitude, doesn’t get some of the luxuries we got. We had dinner buy-outs, catering, we’ve had, you know, writers and stuff like that … we have a good booking agent so I thank him. We got spoiled, quote-unquote, I guess you could say, but we worked for it.
BC: What can you tell me about your album?
AL: We put out one EP called “The Party Law” a little over a year ago, and we’re starting work on another EP, called “The Afterparty EP,” which is kind of ironic, a fun little concept. But we started working on that, we’re in pre-production. We’ve been talking to some pretty solid producers, we’re looking for someone who can really help us find our sound for a second album … we’re hoping this album will put us in a much larger scale. I mean that’s what it’s slated to do, so we’ll see. We’ve had a lot of amazing support and a lot of people behind us from the start.
BC: When you say EP, you mean about 5 to, say 8 songs?
AL: It was five songs, and the one we’re working on now will be about the same.
BC: Do you have a lot of material backlogged?
AL: Yeah, we try to write about 10 to 15 songs if we’re going to record five of them because, you know, you take 10 or 15 songs and you condense them into eight really solid songs, then five amazing songs.
BC: You play most of them live?
AL: We play all the songs from the EP, and once in a while we’ll throw in a song from the new record, but other than that, it’s about a six- to seven-song set. We usually have about 35 minutes.
BC: What can you tell me about, well you said you cut this EP not even a year ago, yet here you are a year later on a national tour. I mean, that must have been a hell-ride. It must have just kind of snowballed …
AL: Yeah, there were a lot of nights where none of us slept. For a good portion of it, Shaughn and Zack (bassist and guitarist) lived right up the street from my house with a bunch of our friends, and they were all roommates. There were countless night where me, and Shaughn, and Zack would be there and the other guys would come down and we’d just be up all night, ‘til the morning just promoting, getting stuff ready, you know, e-mails, everything. You’ve got to account for people on the West Coast who are three hours behind, so you’re staying up until midnight to get e-mails … we knew it would pay off, but there were a lot of times where you’re broke, and your staying up real late and you’ve got work in the morning and you’re like ‘Oh my God, what are we gonna do,’ but it was all worth it, I’d say.
BC: Speaking of being broke, do you all have day jobs?
AL: Most of us do. Matt (guitarist) is a substitute teacher, Zack has a day job … my day job is to try and run the band, not as a manager or publicist or booking agent, but to just do what I can.
BC: Come out and do stuff like this.
AL Exactly … you know, just try to grind I guess.
BC: When did you guys start playing together, before an EP was even a thought?
AL: We came together, I want to say, maybe June of 2008. That’s when To Write a Riot! became a band. Me and Zack, the singer, have been playing music since we were like 16, and we wanted something really serious, and we found people who were crazy enough to pursue it with us, I guess.
BC: How did you meet the other three?
AL: Actually, we met Matt, the guitarist, at a music store, and we were like ‘Hey, this kid looks pretty cool,’ so we approached him, told him we were thinking about doing a project … we gave us his e-mail, a year went by and we didn’t really talk to him. But then we were getting started on this project and we were like, ‘Hey, let’s call that kid Matt up,’ so we called him up, he came down and we jammed, and everything seemed to click right from there. Shaughn’s been a friend of mine and Zack’s for a while … and we were like, ‘Hey, Shaughn plays bass, let’s bring Shaughn in.’ And then Corey (guitarist) was a friend of Matt’s so we brought Corey in and everything seemed to click right there—which we were lucky, we were fortunate it did, but it’s like a family, which is kind of cool.
BC: In terms of songwriting, do you all kind of contribute equally, or is there someone that really kind of takes the lead on that?
AL: I’d probably say that the four guys other than myself are really at the helm of songwriting. They’re much pretty much on the artistic end, and I try to hold down the business end, and give them freedom to do what they want. They’ll usually go to Corey’s house and jam, just throw some ideas together. It’s crazy because it comes to a point where everyone writes lyrics, everyone writes melodies, Shaughn writes guitar lines even though he’s a bass player and Corey writes bass lines sometimes, and it’s really a collective melting pot of ideas that makes our songs what they are.
BC: You mentioned that you hold down the business side of things, but you also mentioned before that you have a booking agent. Do you also have someone doing publicity for you, too?
AL: Yes. We have a manager, a publicist and a booking agent. And we have me.
BC: How long did it take you to get enough … even money just to be able to do that?
AL: That was actually funny, we had our first photo shoot with a band called “Let’s Get It,” who’s on Fearless Records—
BC: What’s your label?
AL: We actually don’t have a label. We’re still unsigned. But we’re managed by this agency called The Standard Agency, which is who our manager and our publicist and our booking agent all work for. But we did a photo shoot with them, and we’re like ‘Hey, I see you’re managed by this guy named David Marsh. What’s he like?’ And Taylor, the kid who did our shoot, said ‘He’s a really nice guy, he’s one of those managers you can call all hours of the night. If you have a question, he’ll answer it.’ He’s based out of Arizona so obviously he’s like three hours behind us, so I asked if I could drop him an e-mail …we had a couple preliminary label offers and we ran it through him, he was kind of like the dad. So we’d ask him, and he’d say, you know, it’s good for you if it comes through, but if not just hold out. So we let him guide us for a while and we got to work with him more and more until we were e-mailing on a daily basis, and eventually the company launched and we were fortunate to be a part of it. And with it came the publicist and booking agent.
BC: Their company launched?
BC: So you were probably one of the first bands they dealt with.
AL: Yeah, there’s about three or four bands they’re working with; we are one of the flagship bands, I’d like to think, of the company, but we’ll see.
BC: You mentioned that the target, or not the target, but the large majority of your listeners are between the ages of 14 and 17. You’re all 21, 22 … do you see yourself outgrowing, as a band, that type of music, or is that something you really love and that you really feel … I mean I got a chance to listen to it a little bit, and you know, it’s not my cup of tea—
AL: No, of course, of course.
BC: But I’m not 14 or—
AL: (laughing) Or 17. Right, yeah, which makes sense.
BC: But I think as people get older their tastes change, so that might be why at 17, 18, 19 people tend to get into other things, or whatever, but where do you see the five of you going in the next several years, even if you’re all doing separate things? Are there influences from other genres … I mean, I don’t want to put it distastefully, but—
AL: No, of course. Our mentality is that there will always be new 14-17 year olds. And let’s say 16-year-olds— when I was 16, I had a favorite band, and I still follow that band to this day, and I’m 21, so it’s like … hoping we can lay a core, grassroots fanbase out, between the ages of 14 and 17, and when the new record comes out we’re hoping to get a lot of 14 to 17-year-olds into it, and then growing, maturity-wise, and having them grow with us. So it’s like they’re getting older, they’re 18 or 19 and we’re getting to be 23 or 24 and we’re writing music that’s a little more mature, but they’re getting into music that’s a little more mature at the time. So, kind of like growing with your fans, because no one wants to hear the same record ten times. You can’t write the same record over and over again. So having a large fanbase and having them grow with us is really important, but also appealing to the newer fans who are still young.
BC: Musically speaking, you say you might end up writing more “mature” music— what would that entail?
AL: It would be something with less production, a more mature sound, song concepts would be more mature … Like we’d write a riff and think about it and be like ‘Oh, that’s a riff we would have wrote four years ago. Let’s graduate from that, let’s step ourselves up.’ Even little stuff, like thinking up a bass line or a guitar part that you didn’t think of two or three years ago … because we’re all going to evolve as musicians, we’re evolving every day. So as we get better, the music will evolve and you’ll be able to see that.
BC: Would you say that between the first record and the one you’re currently working on, any of that has come to fruition?
AL: Yeah. Absolutely. After we put this record out, you know, we were really stoked on it, we were like, you know, ‘This is one of the best things we’ve heard come out of Connecticut,’ I don’t want to sound full of myself, but it was a really solid record and we were really pleased with the way it came out. We really thought we could break out with this record. We did some research and checked out some other records from other bands and felt we were in a really good spot. After that record was written we just went immediately back to writing songs for the [new record] and it’s definitely a lot more mature of a sound. It’s a little more danceable, a little more mainstream, I guess—“mainstream,” quote-unqoute …
BC: Yeah, right, but what does that really mean?
AL: Exactly, nowadays it means nothing, but for what we’re trying to break into, on that level, it’s not generic; it definitely has a little bit of an edge, which we’re excited about.
BC: This might be, just, far too abstract …
AL: No, go ahead, anything.
BC: One of the fundamental dilemmas any artist faces, which certainly applies to music, especially pop music, when you’re trying to reach an audience … how do you balance your own artistic ambitions— maybe you’ve got this crazy idea for a song, something no one’s ever heard, but it’s going to be something that, for example, a 13 or 14-year old is going to listen and say ‘What the hell is that?’ How do you, you know, balance … making your music accessible and pursuing your own creative ideas?
AL: That’s actually funny, he had this discussion when we were deciding what genre we wanted to go for, what we wanted the record to sound like … Matt is just full of ideas, if he has 10 we can maybe use three or four of them, and sometimes they’re very abstract. He finds ways of recording them—we’ll be with a producer, and he’ll ask ‘what do you think of this part?’—and he’ll play this really abstract part and he’ll say “Yeah, put that in,” so really all the parts we dream up will get snuck into the recording somewhere. You might not hear it on the first listen but after you listen back you’ll be like, ‘Oh, that part’s really different, but I just picked it up.” So we try to put that kind of abstract stuff subliminally in there, you know, for our own sake, and of course it helps the song most of the time. There’s not too much sacrifice going on.
BC: What you expect when you hear pop-rock or, you know, more like a, I don’t know what to call it, it’s kind of like punk, but it’s not what punk was in the 70s … but you know, the distorted guitars, the driving rhythm … I mean the tendency behind that kind of music is straight-up, power chords, 4/4 [time signature] … which certainly has its value. But you say you work in some of these little tidbits here and there; would you say the music is kind of layered, like something you listen to a few times and might pick up on something different each time?
AL: The thing is, there’s a lot of music out there that’s put together by the people who play the music … they’re not guitarists or drummers, they’re guitar players or drum players, you know, just people who are entertainers. We try to keep the level of musical integrity pretty high when we write music. Upon first listen, people might say ‘Oh, it’s just another pop-rock song, but I dig it, it’s catchy, I’m going to listen to it again.’ And every time you listen to it, you’re always finding new things and hearing new harmonies and hearing new guitar lines and new lead parts and new drum parts that you didn’t hear before. I like it because it keeps people coming back; it’s kind of like you never hear the same song twice. You keep listening and you find a new favorite part of a new favorite song. We pride ourselves on the level of musical integrity and thinking of things that people in normal pop-rock bands might not think of, kind of reaching outside the box.
BC: I always thought that was a telling point to an artist’s or band’s competence. If you can listen to a song six times or seven times and then still be hearing something layered in there somewhere that’s new, that you haven’t heard … I mean just from the first listen, the veneer of [“The Party Law”] … it sounds like the standard pop-rock of the last ten years or so … well, I don’t want to be offensive.
AL: No, no … (laughing) Oh, yeah. I’m so offended.
BC: We should probably move away from this abstract stuff. I mean I could go on forever.
AL: Yeah, likewise.
BC: Do you see you guys writing a full-length album?
AL: We’ll probably wait to cut a full-length until we have label support. A full-length is a very, very expensive undertaking, I mean it can run you anywhere between $10,000 and $30,000 – $40,000. I mean you have you have production, you have to press it, you have co-writer, you have to promote it, all the marketing budgets and everything. So we’re probably going to wait until we have label support. A label is pretty much like a bank until we have the finances to take on an endeavor of that magnitude.
BC: Have you had label offers that you’ve turned down?
AL: Um … I’m not going to really say. We wanted a label that felt like a family, where we’d be accepted. We don’t want a label that’s going to say “Here’s 50 grand, here’s $20,000 for marketing, now go—
BC: Yeah, now go double it.
AL: Right. Double it, or just don’t come back and talk to us. So we’re looking for a label that’s going to feel like a family, and I know it’s out there somewhere, but we haven’t struck it yet. We’re still incredibly young, so we feel like it’s around the corner.
BC: I guess you can’t speak for anyone else, but just you personally, what is your background in [the drums] and also in terms of influence from bands or different genres, I mean, is rock your M.O., or is there anything else that—
AL: I’d probably say, as corny as this sounds, I find a lot of pleasure in listening to just normal pop music. Anything from Michael Jackson to, I don’t know, Miley Cyrus. Hearing what those performers are doing, listening to what they write or what someone else has written for them to play, you’re listening to little things that they do that kind of step out of the pop boundary, and it’s different, its not a generic pop beat or pop rhythm. Growing up I was a huge fan of Michael Jackson. I was really into the rhythms and the beats, and I was just a huge Michael Jackson fan.
BC: Well who wasn’t?
AL: Right, exactly, who wasn’t? I was wicked young at the time, and I had like a little tape, and I listened to that record on it. But yeah, as far as music goes, pretty much just pop music and a lot of classic rock; I’m a huge classic hip-hop fan, pretty much anything. As far as my background, I’ve been playing drums for probably about seven years.
BC: You started out on a kit?
AL: Yup, I actually found a drum set on the side of the road that was all broken down, and I begged my dad, I begged him, ‘Dad, please, can we pick this drum set up, please?” And he was like, ‘No, it’s junk.’ Then I went to my friend’s house to hang out, to play video games or whatever, came back, and the drum set was in my room. He had brought it back for me. He was like, ‘It’s not fixed up or anything, but we can go down to Sam Ash and get some heads.’
BC: It just needed heads?
AL: Yeah, just heads and some TLC. There weren’t any cymbals with it so I had to buy all that stuff. My dad would show me, you know, simple rhythms …
BC: Your dad plays drums?
AL: He dabbles, you know, he plays drums and sings a little bit, but he’d show me stuff and I’d say ‘I’ll never be able to play that rhythm like you do, I don’t know how you do that,’ and he’s like ‘Soon enough you will.’ Yeah. I attribute pretty much everything to him drumming-wise, because if he’d never let me bring that drum set home, that piece of junk, so to speak, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
BC: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a drum set on the side of the road. I’d pick that up immediately.
AL: Yeah, I was a huge athletic buff at the time, football team, baseball team, and I saw this drum set and, you know, my dad would always tease me, like ‘Why don’t you do something cool? Be in a band, be a drummer, forget sports.’ He’d always joke around and tease me, but sure enough, push came to shove, and this is what happened. I guess he got the last laugh after all.
BC: Alright. If you could just tell me a little bit more about when you go to these high schools, I’m assuming it’s something that’s organized, where all the kids gather in the gymnasium or something, and they’ll say, okay, these guys are in a band from town and they’ve been around the country, they’ve put out records, everything else. You just speak to them?
AL: Pretty much we go there, and we really try not to address them on a mentor level. We try to address them as peers. You figure if your dad is telling you to do something and your friend is telling you to do something, you’re more apt to listen to the friend. So you figure, yeah, we’re on the same level as you guys, you figure a senior in high school is 18 and we’re like 20, 21. So we try to address them on a peer level and we just say ‘Listen, there’s not reason you guy’s can’t go out and do whatever you set your minds to.’ We’re really trying to send a positive message and tell them that no matter who tells you you can’t do something, hope and drive are the two things no one can ever take away from you. And no matter what you set your mind to, whether it’s something huge like being an astronaut or something small like being a friend or a mentor to someone else, or just being nicer to your parents, you know, you can do it. There’s nothing that can stop you as long as you have the right mentality and you’re in the right mindset. We’re just trying to promote a solid message.
BC: Is that what you all truly feel?
BC: I mean that’s pretty idealistic.
AL: Yeah, it absolutely is, of course. I mean in today’s world, idealists might be the crazy ones now, but you know what? All the best ones are crazy. We’ve all been here and we’ve lived in Naugatuck and we’ve understood that nothing really crazy ever really happens here, the biggest thing we have here is the duck race, and we’re all stoked about that, we’re huge fans of the duck race—my girlfriend makes me bring her every year, still—but yeah, if you’re from a small town and you have a solid group of friends, even if you don’t have any friends, that’s what we’re here for. We’re always here to answer e-mails, talk to you on AIM, whatever you want. We’re here to help you. You’ve gotten us to this point, so now we’re going to help you out. So yes, we truly believe that.