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Much Closer To The Flame with Riot Act

Much Closer To The Flame with Riot Act

Much Closer To The Flame with Riot Act

Rick Ventura and Lou Kouvaris were part of the early days of the legendary Riot – however they actually never played on an album together.  Kouvaris would appear on the Riot debut Rock City while Ventura would join immediately after, performing on Narita, Fire Down Under, Restless Breed, and Born In America.  A tribute show to the late Riot vocalist Mark Reale would bring the two guitarists together, and soon after that, the mighty Riot Act was born.  Co-conspirators in Riot Act would include lead vocalist Don Chaffin, Paul Ranieri on bass and Claudio Galinski on drums.  They would all record 12 classic Riot songs and even play a show together right before the dawning of Covid-19.  When Covid hit the world, Kouvaris sadly passed from the virus, leaving Ventura and Riot Act shaken and wondering if they should even continue as a band.

The era was Covid would change the lives of so many, and it would also prove to be a reflective and ultimately cathartic time for the remaining members of Riot Act – they were writing new songs!  The results are documented within an absolutely epic two-record set entitled Closer To The Flame — with disc one featuring 10 original tunes and disc two featuring the newly recording Riot classics with the final guitar performances of Lou Kouvaris.

Highwire Daze recently caught up with Riot Act founding member Rick Ventura to find out more about the making of Closer To The Flame, working with Lou Kouvaris on the dual guitar assault of Riot classics, future plans for the band, and more!  Read on…

How did the Riot Act project come about?
It sort of built its way up the past few years – just by matter of chance and events that happened. A few years back I was asked to make an appearance – there was a show that Riot V had done when Mark Reale was in the band – and Mark had passed away. And they reached out to me to play a show at BB Kings in New York – to make a guest appearance and play two tunes. It was the first time I had played any Riot songs in a few decades. So, I went there and did it – it was a blast – and it sort of lit a fire. After the show, I remember meeting some fans that were just shocked to see me play – they never expected one of the guys from the original band to be up there. And then after that, I was invited to play at Loud Park in 2016 and perform the Fire Down Under album. After that, Lou Kouvaris would contact me and say, “We should try to get together and do something.” So, we talked. And then in 2019, Riot was inducted into the Heavy Metal Hall of History – and after that, Lou and I said to each – we finally recognized after all these years – “Let’s try and get together and play and have some fun.” So that’s the genesis of it. All these events kind of just happened, and it led up to Lou and I getting together and forming a band – and coming out with Closer To The Flame. Unfortunately, Lou passed away in 2020 right at the beginning of Covid – so that was a very unfortunate period. We were all deeply saddened by it. But the result was the album – we came out with 10 originals and the 12 song EP – and it just happened…

Closer To The Flame – is there any overall story or concept behind that title?
Concept – it could be interpreted in a number of ways I think. Do you turn aflame? I had somebody view us as a take on climate change (laughs) – it was so interesting. Everybody has their own interpretation of what the title is. It just came to us really. Don came up with the lyric – he’d probably give you a bit more insight of it, but it’s interesting how people interpret the title.

Riot Act played your first show right before the pandemic hit in January of 2020. What was that experience like to play that first show with Riot Act?
We were so excited because we were invited back. The prior year we were inducted – and when we were invited back, Eddie Trunk was the host. We were so excited – we were so pumped because everything was on a roll – the band was sounding really good – and we were just really super excited to play. When Eddie introduced us and we hit the stage – we hadn’t played out in a long time and this band was new, so it was our first chance to actually let loose. And I think we played quite well, and the audience was really receptive. It’s actually on Amazon Prime – if anybody wants to check it out out there, you can rent it on Amazon Prime. And after two songs, Eddie Trunk was on the side of the stage smiling – he wanted to hear more. He loved the band – he loved Don – it was a real blast for us!

What was it like working with Lou Kouvaris on the Riot Act album?
Starting with rehearsal when we first got together – we just had so much fun. We would get together at his house and just talk about the old Riot days and talk about guitars – and just get to know each other as friends again. We had never played together because he had left after Rock City, and I came in on Narita. We actually never played – but when we got together and started to rehearse, it just gelled. Our guitar styles were meant for each other. It was just a good guitar team. And when we started playing the old tunes, we just had a big grin on our face. It was so much fun to play those songs and it just sounded so good. And the band just sort of happened, because I was playing with Paul and Claudio – because Lou said, “Alright, we need a band.” And I said, “Let’s use Paul and Claudio. They’re great.” And we all got together, and it just gelled. And through a friend of Lou’s, we found Don Chaffin – and that just took us over the top. We were like, “Wow, this is amazing how this just came together.” Luckily, we got to record those 12 Riot songs with Lou – and fans get to hear Lou and I play together on those 12 songs – unfortunately, he passed away. Then we did the 10 originals on Closer To The Flame. During the pandemic, that’s what we really concentrated on.

How much did the pandemic influence the writing and recording of those 10 original songs?
Well, you know, it was quite difficult after we lost Lou – it was right at the beginning of it actually. Everybody was isolated – I worked from home and sent demos out – Don would work from home. Once in a while the three of us would get together in the studio and try some new music out. Don was never at those sessions, so we would try to work out stuff musically. It was nerve-wracking, because we would constantly hear about friends and people around us passing away because of the virus – it was really scary. I should say that after Lou had died, I didn’t know if I even wanted to continue with the band – I hadn’t picked up a guitar in a few months. But we all wanted to play – there was a lot of music in us. So, we decided to work on tunes. We sent Don at least a dozen tunes and he responded, “Wow, I really like what I’m hearing here.” But when we got together and played, he was never there, so we didn’t get to hear what the vocals were going to be – like “what’s he going to be singing over here?” When we finally did everything in the studio, and he showed us what he had, we were like “Wow! This is just great!” And we all worked together and made the best album we could under the conditions – and I think it turned out very well under the conditions we were under. It was very frustrating and a very different recording experience – but we were on a roll. The band was still new – there was music we wanted to get out and play – and the music was kind of our savior.

Tell me a little bit about Don and his background and how he became involved with Riot Act?
Don was doing projects of his own – he had his own band. He had a band Red Lamb, the Voices of Extreme – he had worked with Dave Spitz. I never knew him – Lou had heard about him, but I never him. A friend of Lou’s recommended him saying he’s good. He had his own studio, so he worked on projects, so we didn’t think he’d have the time to do this – we didn’t know where his head was at. So, we sent him a few Riot tunes – he heard the band play, and he was like “Wow, you sound great!” And when he came down and played those tunes, we just looked at each other and thought, “Wow, this is really something! This sounds really, really good!” So, he jumped on board, and we were all just ecstatic.

What was it like revisiting all those Riot songs again for the album?
That was really interesting, because you’re really hesitant to touch something that’s documented. And a lot of fans hold those songs quite close to their hearts. When you tend to re-record something it’s like, “What’s the point? What are you doing?” But Lou and I picked songs that were favorites of ours, favorites of fans, and songs that were fun to play. And sonically, we wanted to bring them up to date because the first album sonically is not the best sounding album. So, it’s nice to hear these songs refreshed with modern technology – and when you put it on, it really kicks ass – let put it that way! I think we did justice. Don really respected Guy (Speranza – original Riot vocalist). He really didn’t know much about Riot – he had heard Swords and Tequila – but he really didn’t know much about the material. But as he was learning the songs, he was going “these are really good songs, well structured, very catchy!” And he really liked Guy’s delivery – and he really wanted to stay true to Guy – we really didn’t want to stray too far – some solos are different, but we kept the structure the same. We played around with one or two slight variations, but we remained true to the originals.

I looked on your website, and it looks like you have some shows coming in up August and September. What are you looking forward to the most about these upcoming shows?
Wow! Plugging into an amplifier. (Laughs) I think all mayhem is going to let loose. Just getting up onstage and being able to play what we were meant to play.

When you look back on those four albums did with Riot, what do you think of them now in retrospect?
That interested – because when you record an album and you listen to it a few times, then you go touring and play it – I tend to never really put the record on and listen to it. But decades later when you revisit it, you go,” Wow, this was pretty damn good! The band was pretty damn good!” And I’m constantly hearing from fans or friends that talk about the band or read about it or hear it from other bands – or you see bands like Metallica, and you see Lars with a Riot t-shirt. So, it’s just like, “Wow! The band had an impact and influenced a lot of the newer metal bands.” And there were always very kind words mentioned about us, so I really got to appreciate it even more later on in the years – the influence we had and what a good band it was.

What’s up next for Riot Act in the immediate future?
We’re going to be working on new material. We intend on going forward and do a second album – but the immediate future is playing, so we’ll hopefully be in the States in September and October. But August and September we’ll be in England and Spain and we’re looking forward to playing North America right after that. We’ll be coming to a town near you! So, check out for all the latest updates on what we’re up to.

(Interview by Ken Morton)

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