SAM REID & THE RIOT ACT
by Kier Byrnes
In the interest of full disclosure, I used to play with a couple of the members of Sam Reid & the Riot Act in Three Day Threshold but eventually we parted ways. When T Max pitched a story idea for some of the staff writers about covering Sam Reid & the Riot Act, I jumped at the chance to write about my old band mates’ new project. Sam Reid & the Riot Act feature my good friends Johnny Ransom on left handed bass and vocals as well as Aaron “The Pipe” Goff on mandolin, drummer JC Campbell, Joe Kessler, fiddler and navigator of the band’s creepy tour bus, and of course, Sam Reid behind the wheel on acoustic lead guitar.
Noise: You guys have played with a lot of people over the years. Sam and Aaron were in a bluegrass band called the Smalls with Jess Fox, Eric Royer and Neil Helme, which had a long-standing residency at Atwood’s. Sam has sat in with the Summer Villains and the Highland Drifters as well. Johnny’s in a band called the Lefties as well as the Brown Note Ensemble. Aaron is in the Bean Pickers Union and Rockspring and Joe is pretty much every other band that plays out in Boston. How did this band start?
Sam Reid: Johnny Ransom and I started this band a few years after we left Three Day Threshold. We would hang out in my kitchen drinking cold stews and hanging out; playing bluegrass and old Irish fiddle tunes on old acoustic guitars. We’d start to get shows with different people sitting in as guests and jamming, like mandolin extraordinaire, Jimmy Ryan. The concept for the band grew out of those sessions, as a modular bluegrass band. Sometimes we’d have just a couple of guys with us jamming on stage, some days more. I met JC Campbell (the drummer) when I was working at Commonwealth Brewery and Aaron and Joe through Jimmy at Atwood’s Tavern. Our first gig with JC and Aaron was at Sally O’s in ’06. They just sat in and things fell into place; it was the first time we had all ever played together.
Noise: You guys are so active in the music scene. How does Sam Reid & the Riot Act stand out from the other projects?
Aaron Goff: We are all friends as much as we are bandmates and get along really well. That helps a lot.
Noise: Something must have felt right about that show, as you guys have done a ton of shows together since. In addition, you guys have played at a bunch of big festivals like the New England Americana Festival, the Art Beat Festival in Davis Square, and the Boston Food Festival down by the waterfront. Your new album A Slow Burn also sounds amazing. Congratulations all around. What are some of your future plans?
Sam: I’d like to do a special CD release party for our new album though Iím not sure where it will be yet.
JC Campbell: Toad and Atwoods in Cambridge have always been good to us and they tend to draw a regular audience that enjoys the style of music we play. It’s always a good party at those places. But we’ve also had some good times playing at Church, Johnny D’s, the Paradise, the Hard Rock Café, and others as well.
Sam: I’d also like to get down to New York, maybe a small tour and of course, play a few more festivals in 2012.
Noise: If you could open for one band (living or dead) on the planet, who would it be?
Joe Kessler: Doc Watson.
Aaron: Tom Waits. Or Frank Zappa—that would be even better. Heíd appreciate us more.
Noise: I really like your new album A Slow Burn. How have you guys evolved since your first album, Dreaming the Life?
Sam: Weíve become more of a consistent lineup.
Aaron: I agree. We are more of a band. We are more a cohesive band rather than a bunch of guys just getting together in a studio. The record was pretty much live so we weren’t in the studio long.
JC: We’ve learned to adapt to each other’s playing style and to overcome Aaron’s persistent need to be louder than everyone else in the monitor mix. As a result, I think we’re a tighter band and we’re able to take songs to different places without getting completely lost. Playing in front of a crowd has also inspired us to step up the energy in our playing. And Joe’s energy, channeled through his blue fiddle is incredibly infectious. It’s unavoidable. That’s pretty evident on the new album. There is definitely a better sense of band chemistry and energy on this album.
Noise: What are your favorite songs off the new album?
JC: It’s hard to pin down a favorite tune. Each song has a different feel, different approach, or is inspired by different things. We all brought our own influences into the studio and were lucky to capture a great couple of days of recording. Dave Westner did a genius job at capturing the energy and mixing it down to a highly listenable state.
Johnny Ransom: I enjoy “The Place You’re In” quite a bit. I think it’s a creative piece of songwriting and really powerful. But that’s just me.
Aaron: “New Year’s Waltz.” I could say “New Zealand” but I wrote that one so it would be cheesy.
JC: I could see Aaron’s song, “New Zealand,” being a good soundtrack to a twin-bathtub-in-the-woods Cialis commercial.
Noise: Sam, I always thought you were one of the most skilled guitarists in Boston, up there with Duke Levine, Kevin Barry, Russell Chudnofsky, and Lyle Brewer. Not a lot of people have seen you play, but the ones that have are floored. How did you develop your flat-picking style?
Sam: I played a lot of guitar with my dad growing up. He was a big influence on me. In high school everyone was learning how to play tapping solos but for me doing old bluegrass tunes was more natural.
Noise: Johnny, you have some musical family as well, as I recall.
Johnny: Well, my family has always been very supportive, but I wasn’t involved with music much until after college. I’d say the biggest influences came from some good friends from school and my cousin, Susan (Tedeschi). Seeing her perform and talking with her about music really encouraged me to take chances and get out and play. Meeting Sam and a slew of other talented musicians along the way made it that much easier.
Noise: You were on the cover of Metronome magazine in November and this feature was printed in the Noise's December issue, but where can people hear more Sam Reid & the Riot Act?
JC: Folks can purchase the new album in vinyl at shows or CDs on CD Baby.
Sam: We are working on getting tracks up online as well. We’re also on Facebook and Reverb Nation. There’s not a lot on there, but it’s there.
JC: Or they can simply come to a show and meet us in our sketchy van we park around the corner at the set break.
Sam Reid & The Riot Act played a special New Year’s Eve concert at Toad. At the show they had to choose the winner of their second annual “Golden Speedo Award,” a coveted prize which recognizes the fan or fans with the best attendance at their 2011 gigs. Kristin Hansen and Kate Sweeney took home the honorary tiny swim trunks. We're still waiting for the accompaning photograph. While we wait, we've solidifed our plans to attend Sam Reid & the Riot Act's CD release party on Saturday, February 4 at Atwood's Tavern!
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