Dead Rider bring spooky grooves back to Dayton
By Gary Spencer
Once upon a time, in the mid ’90s, Dayton underground rock legends Brainiac were doing a show at the now-long-defunct Aardvark Ballroom. Before Dayton’s fab four took the stage, a band from Chicago I’d never before seen or heard of set up shop and performed. With no prior knowledge or means to prepare for what I was about to witness, my ears and mind almost instantly went into sonic shock as the band commenced to wreaking havoc on their guitars and drums.
The sounds coming through the PA speakers were tense, noodley, scattershot, jarring, atonal and oftentimes just downright disturbing. Melodies were hard to discern and put together, and even when I could find a sense of melody or structure, it was the farthest thing from good ol’ rock n’ roll. The rest of the audience seemed to either be completely fascinated by this anti-musical spectacle, dumbfounded by it or just flat out fucking hated it. But the one thing everyone could agree on was they DEFINITELY made an impression.
That band’s name was U.S. Maple.
Unfortunately, U.S. Maple went on indefinite hiatus in 2006. In the wake of this event, guitarist Todd Rittmann began working on some new musical projects. One of those projects began life under the mysterious moniker D. Rider – that name was later amended to its current form, now known as Dead Rider, featuring Rittmann on lead vocals and guitar, keyboardist Thymme Jones, multi-instrumentalist Andrea Faught, and Dayton’s own Matt Espy on drums. As of last week, Dead Rider released their third full-length album, Chills on Glass, on Drag City Records. Listening to their newest disc, it’s easy to make comparisons to Rittmann’s former ensemble. Dead Rider also creates adventurous, arty, spacey and unsettling tunes, and could be seen as an extension of where U.S. Maple left off musically. However, the songs found on Chills on Glass are a bit more palatable than Rittmann’s previous work, as Dead Rider is a little more straight-forward in approach, weaving in oddly delectable melodies, danceable drum beats, funky grooves, ebbing-and-flowing electronics and heady vocal harmonies that make Chills on Glass a satisfying listen, even if you’re not entirely sure why you like it.
Dead Rider are making their triumphant return to Dayton on Friday, April 4 at the newly christened Canal Public House and are ready to make it a freaky dance party for all the hip kids of the Gem City. I got to chat with Dead Rider mastermind Todd Rittmann; here’s what he had to say.
How would you compare or contrast Dead Rider with your previous work in U.S. Maple?
I think what Dead Rider is doing is different in that we’re dealing much more with heavy grooves, complex sonic texture, space and vocal harmony. The other players in Dead Rider are a dream to collaborate with and have their own rich pasts. Matt Thymme and Andrea bring many fresh perspectives to my horizon. – Todd Rittmann
Suppose you’re talking to someone who’s unfamiliar with Dead Rider. What types of artists or music inspire what you do?
Personally, I’m drawn to artists that create a sonic world all their own. If someone can make music that fits in some boundary (like rock or jazz), but it speaks its own internal dialogue or creates its own world, that’s what I want to hear … and do. Influences leak in, of course, but we are always trying to sound like Dead Rider. – TR
Your song structures seem very fluid. What’s your songwriting process like?
It’s impossible to say! So far, we’ve never had one person sit down, write a song, bring it to the others who then learn it, rehearse it, then record it. The one thing that is typical of our process is that it starts about with a drum idea, then a bass part. After that it could go anywhere. – TR
Some listeners might suggest Dead Rider’s songs seem a bit free form. What are your thoughts?
That would be bold, but not entirely inaccurate. All of our songs are composed, but some do start with some improvisation and some have improv built in. You shouldn’t take that to mean there are long sections of free jamming, we don’t do that. We have passages and transitions that work like events where the details can be totally different but the big picture looks more or less similar. We like to take chances and venture into the unknown, but we are trying to contrast that with a sense of familiarity. I think improvisation is more dangerous when it exists in some agreed upon context rather than open-ended jams. – TR
You’ve got Dayton expatriate Matt Espy playing drums in Dead Rider. How is his style of playing ideal for your band?
Matt has great feel, touch and phrasing … impulsiveness. It’s almost as if he’s hearing some drumming tessellation in his head and, although it should only exist in some musical M.C. Escher fantasyland, he’s going to try to make it real – RIGHT NOW! And by god, he can fucking do it. We call it “Espilepsy.” – TR
What can a potential audience expect from Dead Rider once you hit the stage?
A terrifying mélange of musical barnstorming and confetti. We will take chances. We will crash and burn. Above all, we will entertain and confound. We are one of the few things in this world that is both dangerous and good for you. – TR
Dead Rider will perform on Friday, April 4 at Canal Public House, 308 E. First St. Motel Beds and Hyrrokin are also on the bill. Doors open at 8 p.m. and admission is $5 for attendees ages 18 and older. For more information, please visit deadrider.us.
Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.