The Brixton Riot on Close Counts, Balancing Music & Life, & Holiday Jams

The Brixton Riot Band Photo
Photo Credit: Bryan Sargent

Have you ever listened to a record, and midway through it, you proudly and loudly exclaim, “Damn, this is a good album!”

That’s exactly what happened when I was listening to The Brixton Riot’s new record, Close Counts (Mint 400 Records). The album is an excellent, and infectious blend of power pop, and alt rock. The musicianship is tight as hell, and the hooks are addictive. This is an album you’ll have on repeat for a while.

Recently, we caught up with the band’s guitarist and vocalist, Jerry Lardieri to talk about the creation of the new record, why it took five years between album releases, holiday tunes, and much more.

The Brixton Riot Are (Band Members & Instruments They Play): Steve Hass – Bass & Vocals, Matt Horutz – Drums, Jerry Lardieri – Vocals & Guitar, and Mark Wright – Guitar.

Year We Formed In: We first got together as a band some time in 2006 but our first show was in February 2007. Nobody remembers exactly when those first sessions took place, so we use the first show (February 9th, 2007) as our “anniversary” date. Matt joined the band two years later.

We’re Based Out of: All over New Jersey – literally. Matt lives in Morris County, Steve’s in Hudson County and Mark and I are at the far ends of Monmouth County. It makes practicing difficult but we pick a spot in the middle.

The Story Behind Our Name: Finding a band name that we all agreed on proved to be a real challenge. We went through a dozen or so and some of them were really awful. Hot Decoy and The Off Season were two that I can recall. Steve finally suggested The Brixton Riot, which was partially meant as a homage to The Clash’s “The Guns of Brixton.” It sounds like it could be the name of a sports team, and we liked how that implies unity.

It’s strange, 10 years ago nobody seemed to bat an eye at the name but I think some of the racial tensions that have flared up over the last decade have caused a few people to raise an eyebrow at it. I think the band has responded to that as well as the song lyrics are starting to feature more social commentary. At the end of the day, we are fans of British music and culture and we’re really big fans of the English music of the late 70’s and early 80’s (The Jam, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, etc.), so the name is an easy reference point back to this time.

Our Sound Has Been Likened To: The Replacements, The Lemonheads, Guided By Voices, and Husker Du. We’ll take all of those comparisons.

Cool/Famous Bands We’ve Shared a Stage With: One of our first shows was opening for Cracker at Jenkinson’s. The thing that I remember most about this show (other than the fact that we were not ready to open for Cracker) was David Lowery being completely mesmerized by our drummer’s brand new iPhone. This was the summer of 2007 and the very first iPhone had only been released two weeks earlier. It’s hard to believe, but that was a big deal back then. David was incredibly friendly and Cracker was fantastic live.

We also shared a bill with Split Squad which was a blast. Clem Burke of Blondie is also the drummer in Split Squad and he’s Matt’s all-time favorite drummer. As we were loading in, Clem’s drum tech approached Matt and asked him if he would mind playing Clem’s kit. So there was Matt, opening up for his biggest hero and playing his kit. That was a special moment. We also got to chat with Josh Kantor about what it’s like playing the organ at Fenway Park. Even as Yankee fans, we thought that was pretty cool.

One of my fondest band memories was playing the first (and sadly only) Truck America Festival back in 2010. Lots of amazing bands and musicians performed at that festival – Gary Louris of The Jayhawks, Forgetters, The Joy Formidable, Atlantic/Pacific, Mercury Rev and Neil Halstead to name a few. It was at a beautiful resort in the Catskills and when the sun went down, the sky was completely filled with stars. I had never seen that many bright stars in the night sky. I hope Truck makes it back to our shores again.

It’s been five years since you released a record — why the long gap between albums?

With four guys juggling full-time jobs and families, finding the time to get together is always a challenge but we manage to work around all of the schedules and responsibilities. I remember how I used to complain about not having time to rehearse in my twenties – that’s completely laughable now. Life always seems to get in the way, in both good and bad ways. There’s also a certain quality control and performance level that we try to get to before making a record. Steve is in charge of quality control for the songs, and Matt is in charge of quality control for the overall performances. The two of them keep Mark and me (Jerry) in line.

We spent a lot of time getting the arrangements and parts finalized before recording, and that takes a lot of time. Peter and Chris of The Anderson Council worked with us on pre-production, both as engineers as well as on tweaking arrangements. We recorded an entire “demo version” of the record with them that we started a year before we went into the studio. There’s no question it would not have turned out as well without their contributions.

There’s also scheduling on the part of the studio and finding time to make our calendar fit with their schedule. I think we were originally supposed to record Close Counts in November and then mix just after New Year’s but all of that got shifted. We knew that we wanted to work with J. so we were committed to making the schedule work no matter what.

Do you feel that time was beneficial to the band as both performers, and as writers?

Definitely. A lot of the songs go through an evolution process and sometimes those changes take months to creep in. We’ve played songs dozens of times only to have someone make a new suggestion long after something was considered “done.” I think it also gives you a chance to see if a song can really stick. There are lots of Brixton Riot songs that never made it to a demo, let alone a recording.

Then there are others that are abandoned for long stretches of time only to come back – that’s what happened with “Little Spark.” We played “Little Spark” at our first show and didn’t record it during the sessions for Sudden Fiction or the sessions for Palace Amusements. This version of the song is much shorter and leaner, which is never a bad thing. I can’t remember why it made a comeback but I am glad that it did, a lot of people have told me it’s their favorite song on Close Counts.

This album was recorded live to tape over a two days and 20 hours. That’s a pretty intense recording schedule — was that conscious decision? Also, did this schedule allow for any creative changes to your songs, or did it keep you guys on point?

That was mostly a financial decision. We knew we wanted to record at Magpie Cage with J. and we only had a certain amount of money that we could dedicate to the tracking. Even though it was driven off of a financial restriction, we were also trying to limit ourselves from adding too many extraneous parts to the songs. We wanted to try and capture what the band sounds like live and going into the studio and knocking out the basics in two days was the best way to do that. I’m sure everybody says this after they finish a record but we all love the way it turned out. It’s exactly the sound we were going for.

You’ve released a few holiday songs over the past few years — what song of yours would you recommend people add to their holiday playlists?

Well, they’re both free on our Bandcamp page, so add both! “Holiday In The Sun” is a pretty good Christmas song but “Flexible Flyer” is one of my favorite Brixton Riot tracks. We came very close to recording that when we were working on Close Counts in December.

The holiday songs are recorded for Jon Solomon’s 25-Hour Holiday Radio Show, which has become an institution at WPRB. He will be doing his 29th marathon this year. We’re hoping to go three for three but the clock is starting to run out. Just over a month to go.

Speaking of playlists, if someone never heard you guys before, but were interested in checking you guys out, what song would you recommend they check out in order to fully “get” what your band is about, and why?

That is a really difficult question to answer. Instrumentation wise they aren’t that different but I think there can be a pretty wide variation from song to song. If I had to pick one, I guess it would be “Signal To Noise”. That’s a pretty good summation of all the different Brixton Riot elements on a single track. And it was written as a completely collaborative effort, with each band member bringing something to the table. Steve always says that the best Brixton Riot songs are when everyone contributes. Can’t argue with that.

What do you absolutely love about being in The Brixton Riot?

Playing music in a band is a lot of fun, but there’s something special about our friendship. The band has been there for each of us when we needed something to lean on. That’s probably the most important role that TBR has played in our lives. We all seem to “get” each other. Rehearsals often dissolve into Goodfellas jokes and bad Van Halen covers. There’s also a shared love of the Yankees. So I guess my bandmates are what I love most about being in The Brixton Riot; they are some of my favorite people.

What do you guys have planned for the rest of 2017, and what are you looking forward to most in 2018?

We’ve got a pair of shows left before we finish up the year, starting with Friday night at Roxy & Dukes. That show features some of our very good friends in The Anderson Council and Lieder as well as Highland Park’s Hair Magic, playing their second ever gig. After that, we’re going to finish up a cover for an upcoming Mint 400 Records compilation and hopefully find some time to make a video for one of the Close Counts tracks.

The Brixton Riot performs at Roxy & Dukes in Dunellen, NJ tonight. 

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites