Interview: Johnny Rioux of Street Dogs
Ahead of May 15th's Futurum show, the US punk band's co-founder discusses politics, life on the road, and having a seizure onstage in Nebraska
Johnny Rioux: Street Dogs started in Boston, Massachusetts --Mike McColgan, myself, Rob Guidotti, and Jeff Erna. When we made a decision to tour full-time, Jeff and Rob couldn't do it so we found Marcus, Tobe, and Joe.
Marcus and Tobe coincidentally both were from Texas. Me, Joe, and Mike and are all from the Boston area. We all grew up in middle- and working-class Irish and Roman Catholic households.
My father was a Republican, Mike and Joe's folks were Democrats. In all of our families our fathers worked their way up through poverty through hard work to provide good lives.
In New England politics are from one extreme to the other in a very short distance. Democrats rule Massachusetts and Republicans rule New Hampshire.
For me in New Hampshire it was really hard growing up a punk rocker. Everyone thought I was on drugs, had a learning disability, or was gay. They tried to put me in hospitals, youth detention, and had me see psychiatrists.
Lucky for the next generation, Green Day came along and made it acceptable and "cute."
Needless to say, though, we all made it out alright and on the right side of the fence, and are better people today because of our experiences.
NB: How is that reflected in the music of the band?
JR: All of our collective experiences have made their way into our songs. Certainly politics, hard work, organized labor, and good partying, and excessive drinking, for starters. We have always only written about what we know and our own experiences and nothing more, and we are all products of our environment.
NB: From what I understand, all the members of the Street Dogs have now devoted themselves full-time to the band. Was that a tough choice to make?
JR: It actually wasn't a real tough choice to make. We have such a passion for what we do and the people who listen.
From a financial position it was hard. I had a decent paying job, and Mike had a great-paying firefighter job, so there have been huge sacrifices for our families as well.
That goes for everyone in Street Dogs, for that matter. When our first record, Savin Hill, came out, it turned from something to do in Jeff's basement, like a poker night, to "Wow, these songs really seem to strike a chord with people." Our early plans were to tour two weeks a year. On our first tour Mike and I had a conversation at a truck stop and we decided, let's do this.
NB: When I see the Street Dogs play, I am fully convinced that there is nowhere else each member of the band would rather be. How do make that energy happen and avoid letting the band become just another job?
JR: That is true. We try to get each other pumped up before we hit the stage. We have to leave all of our personal problems from the day in the dressing room. We also have to deliver the same show to a place like Prague as we would at a big Boston show. Our motto is whether there are five people or 5,000 we give 110 percent.
NB: As you get older and more settled in other aspects of your life, what challenges do you face in being a full-time musician? Have there been any recent incidents where this commitment/lifestyle has been tested?
JR: It really gets hard sometimes. You start thinking a lot about the 23 hours a day you sacrifice for the one hour you can play. I have three kids and it seems like you miss out on their first everything. The upside, though, is when we are home you can spend all day and night with them.
I recently had this put into perspective in Omaha, Nebraska. The fourth song into our set, I passed out and had a seizure. When I came to there was a medic putting me in an ambulance. I had no idea what happened.
When you live your life at 70 miles an hour it can be tough to take care of yourself. Through that experience, though, I'm taking better care and have a better appreciation for my family and music.
NB: The past few years has seen you on the bill with lots of fantastic bands from all over. What have been some of your favorite shows/tours? Why? What did you and the band take away from it?
JR: Our favorite tours are usually with Flogging Molly or Bouncing Souls. We have a lot of friends in those camps and really believe in the music and message they send.
However, some of the bands we have toured with have taught us what not to do. A band should always value every one of their fans.
Our favorite show was the Groezrock festival in 2005. We were touring Europe and Marcus's father was really sick and was about to pass away. Marcus had to fly home from Spain but he wanted us to carry on and finish the tour. We were really upset for Marcus and really down and out.
A week before Groezrock, Dennis Casey from Flogging Molly called us and said he wanted to play lead guitar for that show. It really lifted our spirits along with Marcus's.
We hit that stage with fury and there was 5,000 kids or more dancing, singing, and stage diving. I'm not sure if the people of Belgium knew how therapeutic that show was for us.
NB: Do you see a difference between the audiences in North America and in Europe? If so, what are they?
JR: Not a huge difference, really. I just hope our message means the same thing in European countries as it does here [in the USA].
NB: With the release of your new album, how has the sound and message of the band matured?
JR: I think we are getting better at writing songs that are topically more universal.
We are also more unafraid to say what's really on our mind. Specifically, about the war and our government. We don't care what the backlash is to speaking our mind.
[New album Fading American Dream] is a bolder record. I have never been more proud to be part of a song as I was on Final Transmission.
NB: What can we look forward to from the band in the near future?
JR: Shows, records, shows. We need to come to Europe more than we have in the last two years. See you soon!
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