Were the songs all new or were there some that you had been sitting on for a while? Two of the songs were written by our bass player, Rade Pejic and I’m assuming are current. Of my five songs, all were newer, with the exception of ‘Set Your City Free’ which was written awhile ago. The line “were gonna march into your town. Knock all your statues down” was about the invasion of Iraq but in New Orleans, everyone thinks it’s about the removal of Confederate monuments.
Does the name ‘Hurray for The Riff Raff’ reflect a personal or band philosophy of sorts? I would say the name comes from my love and feeling of camaraderie for the underdog of all walks of life. Growing up in New York City exposed me to people who live on the fringes of society and sometimes go unseen yet they have so much unique energy they give the city. The homeless subway singers, the runaway teenagers from middle america, the gender benders, and the Puerto Rican Poets of the lower east side. I felt at home with this lot of folk right away.
Do you have a favorite track on the new release, Look Out Mama? I’d say my favorite track is “Ode to John and Yoko”, it was really fun to record and mess around with. Andrija Tokic really helped me bring that song to life. I had the song and some ideas but him and Sam Doores had a lot of great ideas about how we could use Beatles-esque recording tricks etc to make it what it is. Dan Cutler is the man when it comes to vocal arrangements, so with the help of the whole team this recording came about and I couldn’t be prouder.
How did the relationship with the HBO show ‘Treme’ come about? Treme has been awesome about wanting real New Orleans musicians on the show, the crew really respects New Orleans artists and they want us to benefit from the success. I was just lucky enough they decided to use us.
Could you have become the artist you are today had you not run away from home and the Bronx at 17? I’m sure I’d be an artists of some sort since i’ve been making art since childhood, but I think everyone has a path and a purpose in life and great things come to you when you follow your path. It’s not always easy but it’s rewarding. It was very hard for me to leave and the life was not easy by any means, honestly I wish I could have some of that time back to connect with my family. But it was what I think I needed to do to come to the place I am now mentally and artistically. It brought me to New Orleans and to the musicians who taught me how to play, in that respect I am so grateful I took the plunge and now have this outlet.
Is that when you became ‘riff raff’? I have always felt like riff raff since I was born. I have always felt a little different than your average bear. My aunt who raised me can attest to that! But being on the road opened my eyes in many ways. There are a lot of people in this country who have no where to call home, they don’t have food to eat. There’s also people who have an extreme amount of wealth. I learned about the privileges I have and don’t have, it taught me that balance more than anything. What I want to fight for and what I want to remember how lucky I am to have. Now I’m trying to make music that I hope will have some kind of positive effect on this country and our world.
How does your Bronx upbringing inform your music today if at all? The Bronx is a beautiful place to grow up, there’s a lot of the hard working people there. It’s unpretentious as it gets. These folks are also Riff Raff in my mind, the person who’s just working really hard to raise their family and seems to not be able to get a break. Where I grew up it was a lot of Irish, Puerto Rican and Dominican and Jewish families. A great mix of people. I had some a great best friend who would walk the neighborhood with me. We both grew up with a respect for our elders and a longing for the New York of the 1960’s we heard about in song and stories. We both wanted West Side Story and Doo Wop music. A lot of Puerto Rican artists sang in those groups, gals and guys from the neighborhoods singing on the street corners. In that way it effected my music very much and that Doo Wop influence is growing. I was just singing on the corners in New Orleans with a banjo.
Do songs just ‘happen’ for you or do you have to work hard on them and build them up over time? I do both. Sometimes they fall on you from the sky, and sometimes you have to craft them. I just try to follow my inspiration.
What comes first for you; the content? melody? chords? Most of the time it’s melody, I normally sing something and then pick up the instrument.
What’s your feeling about categories and genre’s when it comes to your music? I feel like it’s hard for me to pick them, but if someone else wants to go ahead. Just listen to it is what I say! If you want to call it anything, call it folk music.
What are some of your influences growing up and are they still today? Growing up I loved Judy Garland, Madonna and Marilyn Manson! I was a strange child, I had all sorts of role models. I was also very influenced by the songs on the oldies radio station that I’d listen to with my family. But as I got into middle school I began getting really into the Punk scene. That influenced me too, I loved the energy of the live shows, the political views and the community feeling. Punk led me to American Folk music, old time, Woody Guthrie, traveling songs. Punk music led me to travel and learn songs from people I met on the road. But it’s more recent that I’ve found John Lennon, Townes Van Zandt, Gillian Welch and Bob Dylan. When I met Sam Doores in New Orleans he introduced me to a lot of music I missed somehow. He taught me about the beauty of a well written song. I loved his appreciation and dedication to songwriting. He became a big influence of me as well, as we all down here in New Orleans inspire and influence each other.