“The stage is a great leveler. It is the true yard-stick by which an artist can be measured.” These are the words of Steve Alex, frontman of the rock quartet Four Star Riot that is taking the Tampa Bay music scene by storm. After spending the last two years playing with national bands such as Nine Days, Lit, Sum41, Sugar Cult, and Alien Ant Farm, their newest release, Tonight & Tomorrow sets the stage for Four Star Riot to take their brand of Rock and Roll to a national level. Steve and the other members of Four Star Riot; Mike Chilton, Johnny Deliz, and Finn Walling have built a strong local following based on their high energy in-your-face live performances. With the release of Tonight & Tomorrow and a subsequent tour, they are hoping to share that energy with the rest of the country. Despite the lack of a big label push, their previous releases continue to do well and the live shows are attracting large crowds. Steve Alex recently took a break from rehearsals to sit down and talk about the CD, the band’s live show, and his views on the music industry in general.
Four Star Riot have built a reputation and a strong following through constant gigging. “The only reason to be in a rock band is to play live, period,” Alex says. “The energy that is given during the show between the band and the audience is the most exhilarating thing I know. It’s fun as well as emotional, but I guess the best part is the danger. My Pseudo-dance and swagger has in the past, produced sprained ankles and bloody puncture wounds. Y’know, the possibility that at any moment the whole thing can fall apart, but that is the beauty of live performances, it’s here, then it’s gone and on to the next song.”
It is the tension of the unknown that drives Four Star Riots live performances. “Live performance is very natural, non-synthetic. In rock and roll, it’s all right there in black and white. Other than electricity for guitars and microphones, the live performance is up to the artist.” Steve says. “The stage is a great leveler. It is the true yardstick by which an artist can be measured. There’s not a lot of technology to hide behind on stage like there is in a studio.”
Along those lines, technology has enabled the artist to have more control over his or her career by being able to sell direct to the public and eliminate many steps in the process of getting your work out in the market. How has this affected your career?
Steve: While it’s true that any Joe can now produce a CD and put it in local stores and on the Internet for the whole world to buy, music has always been an industry of marketing. If they don’t know about you, why in the world would they ever buy your music instead of the other million guys like you who produced and released their own CDs? The multinational corporations still own all the avenues of marketing. If you hear about Puff Daddy’s new record a hundred times this week and Red Tide’s (Tampa rappers) record zero times, and then which one would you buy if you were at the store with money burning a hole in your pocket? That and the fact that Pdiddy’s CD is right there on the end cap (which is rented for high dollar by the majors) and independent Red Tide’s is buried somewhere in racks. So short answer to the question; it has helped a lot of artists on a small level, but the huge successful artists are still products of major corporations who own the radio, TV, print and retail outlets.
How has technology affected your music? Has the Internet or more specifically the proliferation of all the file sharing websites affected you at all?
Steve: This has definitely been a positive thing for the independents. The ability to give the whole world immediate access to your music on the ‘net at least puts it out there as an option. There are many people that have my music that would not otherwise. It is also helpful in driving people out to the live shows. Once again, there are now some 5 billion websites out there, how would anyone know about mine, unless I directed them there (as the majors do). Nonetheless, it is out there and that’s better than having to put flyers up around town, and hand out cassette tapes. As far as the proliferation of file sharing goes: I think that it is only hurting the majors. There’s a good reason that they sue 12-year old kids for downloading songs. For everyone else it is a good thing. We’re at a crossroads now, where physical media is transforming into content media. It will be good for artist and listener alike when to purchase a recorded song, movie or book means that you own the right to use the intellectual property, to possess the recording in a variety of formats.
With the success of shows like American Idol that are cranking out seemingly cookie cutter artists do you think it is more difficult for legitimate artists who have paid their dues to succeed?
Steve: I don’t think the American Idol thing is really related to art or artists. Major labels are always cranking out pop stars anyway. Every time a specific artist becomes huge, the labels will produce handfuls more that look and sound exactly the same. This is true in rock, punk, reggae, and soul, whatever. Nothing has changed since the dawn of popular music. Music is one of those art forms that borderlines commercialism. There is the art and there is the product. So people who truly love music aren’t affected by the infiltration of pop idols. The general public will always eat up whatever the corporations dish out. Pop idols have always been at the forefront of the music business. Artists have always existed alongside. Art is a lifelong process. Those who are in it for the art will always be there through the various waves of cookie cutters that come along. And the people who are interested in becoming pop stars, well now they have a blueprint avenue to take.
Tell us about Tonight & Tomorrow?
Steve: It is the closest thing we’ve come to recording our live show. The energy on this one is ten fold that of our previous release. It’s pretty much in your face rock with pop sensibility. We’ve always been pegged as a power pop band. I think this record is gonna put some more emphasis on the word power.
A&R Guys. What are your thoughts? Visionaries or cowards?
Steve: Some are visionary (there are a lot of great artist out there, and someone had to discover them), but it seems many are just people with business degrees and a connection in the industry. I have met handfuls of people who tell me how great I am and I should keep in touch, keep sending them more songs. And when I send them more songs, they say send more. Fortunately/unfortunately none of those people have jobs in music anymore. Did they really belong there in the first place? I don’t know. Some are now private consultants, managers. Some are probably out of the industry completely. Then I have met some A&R who totally love music and everything about artists. They don’t seem to be making any money though. I don’t know if they are very successful at their jobs, but they seem to love doing it. In this day & age, I think all A&R have some bit of cowardess to them, as they should. One false move and their fired, they are playing with a lot of company money. I wouldn’t want that job.”