Clint Baker – vocals/guitar
Dustin Stroud – lefty guitar/vocals
Mark Johnson – bass
Dave Keel – drums
When the Riddlin’ Kids lefty guitarist Dustin Stroud says, “it’s all about the kids,” he’s not referring to his Austin, Texas band in short form. He’s speaking, of course, about the group’s growing fan base and the constant philosophy that drives the four-piece pop-punk outfit.
Ironically, it has always been about the kids in the punk world, so what’s so special about these guys? Well, whereas bands of yore like the Sex Pistols would incite its youthful audience by spitting on them, the Riddlin’ Kids instead cater to their crowds, using a high-powered live set to thank their fans for helping them leave their pizza-delivering lifestyles far behind.
Say what you will about the influx and glut of pop-punk in today’s go-go music business. What holds true for the Riddlin’ Kids is you clearly get what you see – four guys who love what they do, with no other goal than to continue doing it. Prior to a recent opening performance for Face to Face at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Stroud spoke with us to discuss the keys to surviving and thriving in a commercial music market known for it’s “burn and turn” treatment of artists.
“We got signed off of the radio,” Stroud said. “We sent our stuff to every single indie record label in the country at least two or three times, and they all passed on us. They said we were a baby band, or we sounded to much like so-and-so’s band.”
If you’ve seen VH1’s show “Driven,” then you know exactly where this is headed. Neither Stroud, nor bandmates Clint Baker, Mark Johnson or Dave Keel were prepared to call it quits. In addition to touring constantly to spread the word, the Riddlin’ Kids decided to employ one of the oldest tricks in the book – hit up the deejay.
“We were really frustrated, because we had this $7,000 demo that we had pawned all of our equipment and worked 60 hours a week delivering pizza to pay for, and had nothing to [show for] it. So we took it to the radio station, and the program director checked it out and took it with him to Edge Fest in Dallas. He came back, called us and said, ‘This is one of two CDs that I heard out of a crate of CDs that I actually like, and I’d like to add it to the playlist.’ So we snuck in the back door of radio … and we owe pretty much everything to radio.”
No minor feat, to be certain. Given corporate radio’s formidable barriers and the payola loopholes they seem to be status quo, most bands wouldn’t have much success with this traditional method.
Not wanting to believe that any band could possibly have even a short love fest with its music business partners, I pressed on hoping to get the dirt on the old scenario of “embattled, jaded artist wrestles with record label over the control and direction of the music.” But Stroud wouldn’t oblige, instead remaining as matter-of-fact and cool as his persona lets on.
“Sure, it was a little weird going from a total D.I.Y. pop-punk band putting your own stuff out, booking your own tours, and selling t-shirts and CDs out of the back of your van, to being on Columbia Records and going to record for a big-name producer like Paul Ebersold. But our philosophy has always been ‘no matter what it takes.’ We take everything in stride. If we fall down and figuratively scrape the knee of our inner child, we try to learn from it.”
Realizing the talk of the inner child was perhaps a tad too cryptic and literary, Stroud finally opted for plain words.
“It is a rough industry. It might as well be the musical stock market. It’s like, ‘This band is doing good – buy, buy, buy!’ Or, ‘This band’s not doing good – dump it, sell!’ But that’s just how it goes; that’s how money exchanges hands. It’s a product like anything else, and you can’t take it personal. Why stress out about it?”
And that is precisely how Riddlin’ Kids carries itself, both on disc and on stage. With all the similarities to bands like Blink-182 and Sum 41, are they easy to hate? Yes. Do they care if you do? Probably not, but the Kids aren’t the type to tell you to fuck off just because you think they’re another pop-punk re-tread. If anything, it reinforces their resolve, and you have to admire a band that doesn’t do things half-assed or cry in their Spiderman P.J.’s about what you think.
Regardless of your opinion, it was clear from the crowd’s reaction at the Fox that plenty of people love the Riddlin’ Kids. And surprisingly, a good portion of them we’re over 21. Complete with drum-riser leaps and sprints across the stage, Riddlin’ Kids validated their namesake with a level of energy undaunted by the big, bad Colorado altitude.
The band ripped through a set that included some new tracks and a good sampling of tunes from its current “Hurry Up and Wait” album, including “Crazy,” “Follow Through” and the set-closing cover of R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.”
What I found most peculiar about the show was the dichotomy between the Face to Face fans and the Riddlin’ Kids crowd. Although they would never consider themselves a pop-punk band, Face to Face has never been guilty of continually keeping it real and hardcore the way that bands like The Ramones or The Business have. So it was somewhat surprising to see a lot of angst from F2F fans toward Riddlin’ Kids. After all, it’s not as if Celine Dion and Korn were on a bill together.
Just the same, you could sense the vibe change as Face to Face took the stage. The crowd was a bit older, and a different type of energy filled the Fox. And it was actually quite a welcome change. Whereas the Riddlin’ Kids relied on modern-day punk rock stage antics, Face to Face strapped on their instruments and did nothing more than simply rock your ass off, much in the same way that bands like the Cadillac Tramps or The Descendents used to.
Make whatever argument you want out of it, but I just came to listen to some music and drink some beer.
Print off a copy of this article, and take it into any Independent Records store to get your hands on a free, Riddlin’ Kids bootleg sampler while supplies last!!
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