Interview with Richie Rivera of Madison Paige

So how is 2004 going for you guys with the new CD "Famous Last Words"?

This year has been THE year for Madison Paige. We released our debut album, which was a two year-long ordeal in it's own right, and we're playing some very choice shows in and out of L.A. There's a buzz around the band now, but we don't take it for granted. We've worked hard, but the real work lies ahead.

Can you give some background on the band for those who don't know you:

I moved back home to L.A. in the summer of '99 with dreams of starting "the ultimate band." I threw out a bunch of ads looking for band members on the internet and this girl singer from Wisconsin responded. I thanked her for e-mailing me, but I'd have to pass because she's a chick. I'm not saying that women can't sing; it's just that I always had a very clear vision of what I wanted in a bandmate and ovaries never figured into the equation. She understood and put me in touch her boyfriend, who played guitar...enter Damon Valley. He and I talked on the phone a few times and he offered to fly out here to audition. We hit it off right away and a few months later, he moved out here and we proceeded to spend the next two years writing songs and auditioning every talent less hack in the L.A. area. We finally found Paul Caroul and our first bassist and were playing shows three months later. The bass player bailed a few months later, so we did some sporadic shows with friends of ours filling in. After a while, it got the point where we figured that rather than just sitting on our collective ass and waiting for the perfect guy to walk in the door, we would record everything we had and hopefully by the time we were done we would have found a permanent bassist. Halfway through the process, we found Will Arkosy, who eventually re-recorded the bass for the entire album. The latest addition to the band is keyboardist Jonathan Rheuben, who has been with us for close to a year now.

Where the name "Madison Paige" came from?

We took a pact as a band never to reveal its origin. Sorry to be lame, but it's the truth.

What got you guys into making music?

I think I can safely speak for all of the guys when I say that, as cheesy as it sounds, we didn't pick this as a profession. It picked us.

But was there, say, a lot of music around your household or does a musical background in the family?

Strangely, no. My environment growing up was fairly indifferent to music: it was never encouraged nor discouraged. Nobody in my family was particularly fanatical about any artist or genre. Nobody had any real musical aptitude, except for me. I have pictures of me when I was 3 years old wearing a cowboy hat and banging away on a Muppet bass drum with a shit-eating grin on my face; so for me, it goes way back. I may have ditched the hat, but the smile is still intact.

What's been the biggest obstacles so far to the band--professionally and personally?

Professionally it was merely the act of getting the album finished. Everything that could have gone wrong did, sometimes due to our own inexperience in recording and releasing a record, and sometimes due to just an unbelievable string of bad luck concerning factors outside the band. I'll be honest when I say that the biggest personal obstacle was keeping the faith in what we're doing under the previously mentioned circumstances. But we're a better band because of it.

You're playing a style that hasn't really been in the market for a while, the radio-friendly, lite-rock of bands from the late 80's like Bon Jovi. Since grunge is gone and Nu metal is dying as a trend, do you think more charismatic rock could be heading back into the spotlight?

I think it has to. American culture thrives on creating superheroes and rock music desperately needs larger-than-life personalities with uncommon abilities that can give audiences something to admire and emulate. Those fantasies of big houses, fancy cars, supermodel girlfriends, etc. never went away - the success of rap (ala Puff Daddy, Ja Rule, 50 Cent, Nelly, etc) demonstrates that. It's just that somewhere in the early '90s it became un-PC for skinny white kids to do so. So as we've been left with nothing but faceless, unremarkable rock music created by faceless, unremarkable "rock stars." That's why The Darkness is doing so well...not necessarily because they have the greatest songs, voices, or musical ability, but because they're willing to go out on a limb and be completely outlandish and over-the-top. Think of all the platinum-selling bands out there...can anyone but the most die hard of fans name the bassist for Drowning Pool? Or even recognize him if he sat next to you on a bus? What about anyone in Coldplay that isn't married to Gwyneth Paltrow? But throw out names like Tommy Lee, Gene Simmons, and Jon Bon Jovi and there is a perception in the public consciousness of who these people are and what they can do. You could argue that those guys are all older and more established and therefore have a higher-profile, but if in ten years you can name the guitarist for The Vines, I'll give you $100 on the spot.

Do you find that any of your peers give you any flak or discourage your style?

Sure, there are people who call what we do "dated" or they'll say things like "that kind of music died." But truly, and I mean this with all sincerity, they can blow me. I've never bowed to social expectation in my personal life and I refuse to do it in my professional life. That's Rock N'Roll 101. If they don't like it, they can listen to somebody else.

I tend to think that by having styles out there that appeal to women, metal and hard rock becomes more visible overall. What do you think?

Very much so. It's no secret that hard rock/ metal enjoyed its most successful period in the '80s - the dawn of the video era. Bands like Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, and Poison opened up the genre to a whole new audience. Prior to that, you didn't see a lot of women at hard rock/metal shows. Once MTV came about, women started flocking to the shows and oftentimes outnumbered the men, especially once power ballads became the norm. Whether it was because they thought the band was cute or because they genuinely enjoyed the music is irrelevant. As long as women show up to the shows, men will follow. The female audience should never be ignored, but they shouldn't be pandered to either, which is why you'll never see us do an interview in any of those "teen" magazines like Tiger Beat, etc. We are a rock band, first and foremost, and if we do a ballad, it's because we believe in the song and want to show a different emotional side to the band. We have the ability to pull it off well and not every band can say the same.

...And it brought more money to the companies who then put more into Thrash and the harder stuff increasing the metal "pie" overall. Would the companies of today be willing to take those risks though?

I think that the relationship between the success of the heavier bands and the success of the lighter bands was more in terms of correlation, not causation. By that, I mean that undoubtedly the success of the more mainstream bands did, by definition, bring widespread awareness of metal/hard rock to audiences. But I don't think that the money those bands brought in necessarily funded heavier signings, just like the success of the heavier bands didn't necessarily fund lighter signings. Both sides of coin benefited mutually during that time.

As for whether or not record companies are willing to take that kind of risk today, I would honestly answer by saying that I don't think so. Major labels these days are not in the habit of being ahead of the curve. When one band hits big, A&R people make it their mission to find a clone of that band for their label to cash in. It's not because they're evil, they're worried about job-security in a field with an extremely high turnover rate. The problem becomes that in the 6 months to year between the time the band got signed and the record comes out, that trend my have passed. That's why if you are going to be different from what's currently hip, you have to eliminate the risk on the part of the label as much as you can. That's why we put "Famous Last Words" out independently first to prove that we have an audience and it needs to be built upon. A lot of bands who say that actually tried to get a deal but couldn't. We didn't even try. Doing the groundwork ourselves now will payoff down the road.

I said in my review that the band needed more of an upgrade to their image based on your promo picture, but after looking through your website (link), I see a lot of other various shots that look fine.

The deal with the promo shot is that it got to the point where we just needed something to send out and that was the best that we had at our disposal. We'll be taking more shots soon that feature our new keyboardist, Jonathan Rheuben. We'll make sure there isn't a sports car in sight.

Switching gears a little: Who are the hottest chicks in metal today?

I know I'm supposed to say Kittie or The Donnas or the chick from Evanescence. But none of them impress me. I've found that the hottest chicks in metal are usually in the audience.

What's the ratio of men to women at your shows?

Probably 60/40 in favor of women.
"American culture thrives on creating superheroes and rock music desperately needs larger-than-life personalities with uncommon abilities that can give audiences something to admire and emulate."
Any hot groupies hanging around you guys yet?

Well, being a rock musician doesn't come with many benefits - there's no 401K, no medical, no dental...so you have to take the perks where you can get them. A lot of actress-types tend to show up to our shows and, well, they don't usually put ugly people on TV.

Which CD is in your collection that you're most embarrassed to speak of?

I'm one of the few people I know who is not embarrassed by anything I own. I'm not somebody who says, "Oh, I used to like that and now I think it sucks." If I liked Debbie Gibson in the 6th grade (which I did), I'll like her now (which I do). Perhaps the most currently "uncool" CD I own would be the Clay Aikin CD. But damn, there are some GREAT songs on there and having great songs in my CD collection is nothing to be embarrassed about.

What do you honestly think of some of the hardcore/emocore trends out there?

They all suck - it's just a question of degree.

You [Richie] have "peace, love, goodwill towards man" listed as Pet Peeves at your site, but your songs are pretty lovey-dovey. What's up with that?

I know, I'm a complete hypocrite when it comes to that stuff. I personally don't believe that the search for peace is particularly desirable. Conflict results in either the reversal of convictions or the strengthening thereof. In any event, we win in the end through self-knowledge that could only have been gained through conflict, regardless which side of the issue that you happen to fall on. Plus, it makes the evening news more interesting for me. As for the love stuff, I guess music allows me to explore the more romantic side of my personality that, given the cold, heartless bastard that I am, I don't usually get to employ in my daily life.

Switching back:
You guys produced your own CD. What kind of trials and tribulations did you have to go through to make it happen?

Wow, that could be a novel in itself. I'll be straight up with you on this. We had this grand idea that we would record an entire album on a Pro Tools rig that had its limitations. None of us had any production or engineering experience, so there was a HUGE learning curve that I still don't think we've fully overcome. There was the recording and re-recording and then re-recording again of bass, guitar, and vocals. That ate up over a year. Then there was the mixing process.

Originally, we were going to have this big name mixer do the project. There was the learning/technical curve on his end due to the fact that we were going to be the first project in his new home studio, thereby delaying the album. Once it officially got underway, we found that he had a very different vision of the kind of record to make, so there was conflict there. Add to that the fact the at the end of 3 months we only had 5 songs mixed to show for it and while the sonic quality of what he was doing was acceptable, the mixes didn't accurately reflect the direction we wanted to go. He was due to leave the country soon for another mixing job and by our math, the record wasn't going to be done before his trip. So, we paid him for the work that he did, but that put a big dent in our budget and we couldn't afford another mixer. So, we took the project back and mixed the whole record from scratch on the aforementioned Pro Tools rig. Once again, there was another HUGE learning curve. It would sometimes take us 3 weeks to figure out how to do something that, had any of us taken a class on the subject, probably would have been covered the first day. Days on end were literally spent doing nothing but mixing...10, 12, 20, 24 hours a day at times. This went on for virtually three months straight.

Finally, when we couldn't take it anymore, we had the album mastered. But the mastering process buried the bass drum and most of the low end of the album. So we remixed the album and had it re-mastered, which naturally cost us even more money and delayed the project even further. Then we sent it off to get manufactured, but the pressing plant (FYI - it was Discmakers) had two machines break down right before our project was set to be pressed, which even further delayed the album. Because of their screw-up, we missed the ability to sell CDs at this major show we had booked to take place three weeks after the promised delivery date. Once we got the record back, we had a choice: we could either sit on the album for 3 months while we properly set up the release of the record, or we could get it out on the streets as soon as possible and go for a slower build. We opted for the second option and that's a decision that I do not regret. But in general, whatever could have gone wrong, proceeded to do just that.

The CD cover has flaming tombstones in a graveyard, blue sky and a rainbow. What's going on with the imagery assuming there's some symbolism at work there?

When I say that everything that could have gone wrong did, the one thing that didn't was the album artwork. Aside from just looking cool, I suppose the symbolism could embody the uplifting and depressing nature of the album's lyrical content.

People are still being sued by the RiAA for file-sharing. What's your opinion on the matter and has it had any kind of effect on the band?

I think that the attacks of the RIAA on file-sharing are comedic. If they were really concerned with the rights of artists, as they claim, they would launch a formal investigation into the recording contracts of the major labels, which routinely include over inflated manufacturing costs, obsolete breakage deductions leftover from the days of vinyl, reduced mechanical royalty rates, and the outright refusal to pay on 100% of all records actually sold. I think they would be better served to examine the reasons why file-sharing arose in the first place. I think that people can only pay $18 - $20 for albums with only one or two good songs by artists of questionable merit and longevity for so long before they get tired of being screwed. So they got creative.

The real way to fix the problem isn't to sue people...it's more systemic in nature. They need to start signing career-minded artists capable of delivering quality albums, not singles that rise as rapidly as they fall. They need to allow for more artist development and be less concerned with appeasing shareholders of the label's parent company on a quarterly basis. And finally, they need to drop the prices of CDs.

As for how file-sharing has affected the band, it's actually been a tremendous help to us. We used to throw demos out to crowds at our shows and they would come back singing along to the lyrics. When mp3.com came around, we put the same songs on that demo up there for downloading and it was like throwing out a demo CD to the entire world. It's been a tremendous asset to us.

What kind of plans do you have for the next couple years with the band?

The plan right now is to finish off this year promoting the hell out of "Famous Last Words." We've already started writing material for the next album and we'll probably begin demoing it soon. The next album will be done in conjunction with a label (preferably a major or an indie with major distribution), with a real producer, mixer, etc. Given the groundwork we've done for them on their behalf, a label would be foolish not to snatch us up. From there, we make the best record we can and then throw ourselves upon the mercy of the court of public opinion.

You're starting to get some local radio play out in CA, correct?

Yes, the big rock station here in L.A., 95.5 KLOS FM, just did feature on the band where they played 4 songs from the album. It was a real trip and we're just grateful for the attention. We hope to do more things with the station whenever possible. More airplay in the L.A. area is being set up as we speak.

Are any bigger labels looking into signing the band?

We're not really focused on that right now. We're more about building the story at this point. We'll be ready to actively shop the band soon for the next record, but there have been a couple encouraging signs that indicate when the time is right, the industry will be very receptive to us…more so than I would have imagined.

How can somebody get a copy of your new CD ""Famous Last Words"?

If you live in L.A., you can walk into virtually any Tower Records and buy it. If you're outside of L.A. (or just plain lazy) you can pick it up at amazon.com, towerrecords.com, cdbaby.com. You can also check www.madisonpaige.net for a complete list of where it's available. New vendors are being added all the time.

Any last words for everybody?

We're just extremely grateful to everyone that has been supportive of the band, including everyone at Maximum Metal. If you haven't checked out the band yet and you want to support the new generation of melodic hard rock, head on over to www.madisonpaige.net and pick up a copy (or 20). We're very proud of the album and people really seem to love the songs. We're in this for the long haul, so if you love us you'll have years and years of great hard rock music to look forward to. If you hate us, you're in for one hell of a long headache.


Richie RiveraFrank Hill6/21/2004

Famous Last Words
Frank Hill6/4/2004

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