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Music’s Perpetual Spin: A Conversation with Mark Sunshine of Riotgod

In 2006, Riotgod began as an exploratory shared vision between Monster Magnet drummer Bob Pantella and bassist Jim Baglino. Though both bands are relatively similar in their stoner riff groove goodness, the parallel universe of Riotgod was a necessity to outlet their creative juices to flow and escape the restrictive gravitational pull of brainchild Dave Wyndorf and his Monster Magnet. Despite monumental changes with Baglino’s eventual exit, lost time for Pantella’s multitude of side projects and even fellow Monster Magnet member Garrett Sweeney (lead guitar) joining the fray; Riotgod continues on its imperative mission with their new record Driven – Rise.

One could say that Riotgod is nothing more but another commendable nod to a bygone era between Monster Magnet albums but lead singer Mark Sunshine makes a strong case that this band is so much more with untapped potential. Mark took a moment from his various exploits to describe the blueprint and how each cog runs the Riotgod machine, the personal journey and absorption into his own music/art and his continued motivation to cultivate this force and ride its momentum through your town very soon.


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For those not familiar, can you please give Selective Memory readers a glimpse of Riotgod’s inception to your evolution on what they should expect with your new album Driven – Rise?

Riotgod started off slowly with a few ideas and has remained together weathering various challenges while trying to create the best music we can.

Give our music a listen and take away what you will. You can expect the expressions of four players from NJ, capturing moments of time, our time, uniquely. We are really into rock and that is what people can expect. You can make comparisons but comparisons are not capable of describing what ours or any other band is like. Though we have not had the fortune of gigging extensively, truly I would say to people, no matter what I offer in regard to expectation: come see us play should we be in your town.

What did you hope to accomplish on your new album from your previous 2012 effort Invisible Empire? Was there anything you actively sought out in studio to alter Riotgod’s sound between records?

Honestly? Our recording process is a refined crap shoot. The only real difference between any of our CDs, because our process is so insular and in-house, is, for the most part, how Bob (Pantella, who handles the whole recording process) chooses to screw around with what has been laid down. Yes, I had certain standards I wanted to meet and a few private concerns. We all don’t sit down and have a meeting or confer in the studio. So to answer your question: No decisions were made, nothing was sought out or agreed upon formally to differentiate the albums. It was and always will be an organic process with Bob being, come what may, the final arbiter.

How would you describe the song writing process of a typical Riotgod song?

We have a few methods. The most common is for Bob to give me a rough mix of some ideas he has put together. I take that MP3 and play the hell out of it in my iPod. I will do that until a melody comes to me. I will then let that melody and pattern sink in, placing phonetic sounds in the melody; those will then be translated into lyrics. The more inspired I am, the faster it goes. As a rule, I work with a degree of urgency. The second way will be for one of us to have a song Bob has expressed interest in recording. “Collapsing Stars” came via myself, “Crusader”, “Time is Now” and “Slow Death” came via Garrett (Sweeny). Our old bassist Jim Baglino lent a few ideas in songs such as “Pinata” and “High Time”. But then, same process, writing then recording with some re-working of arrangement possibly.

With a recent resurgence of Monster Magnet, as they just dropped their first album in three years; I’m sure Bob Pantella (drummer) and Garrett Sweeny (lead guitar) have had to split their time and attention between bands recently. Was that difficult on finishing up the album or regarding any other Riotgod obligations?

The Monster Magnet factor did not present a problem for our recording. The main challenge does not lie solely with Monster Magnet, it basically comes via Bob’s involvement in so many other bands whereby Riotgod does not get to effectively tour. This is plain and I do not point this out to be a hard case. Riotgod is left to be the weaker cub in the brood so to speak, never getting proper attention. Fans are the ones, more so than even myself who suffer, perpetually waiting for our live performance. This has always been the case, because at the beginning it was Bob and Jim who were the Monster Magnet representatives. I understood this factor at the beginning but I will say it hampers our true growth and also affects our bottom line. This inability to command quality time, to play prime gigs, to entertain as I feel we really can is for me, a challenge that becomes more evident and exacting as 2014 unfolds.

I happened to notice that you have a personal side project of your own nicknamed Armoredbaby. Can you go into detail on what this venture entails and what long term plans do you have for Armoredbaby?

My personal music is all about me HAVING to sing; To create melody, then to write and refine. Vocalizing for me both when I do it and as I watch others perform is pure magic. As my involvement in music has progressed, it has become super-apparent to me that above all I HAVE to sing. I have a project to finish right now, as a matter of tying up loose ends. I post examples of this at my Soundcloud, the latest development was uploaded today, https://soundcloud.com/marksunshine/carolina

Riotgod is my sole band right now. I cannot involve myself in too many band projects. I say this currently. Perhaps down the road with a dash of calm prosperity, I will be able to extend my efforts more broadly. Now what you’ve referred to as side-project is really what I attend to primarily, day to day. I am in the process of creating a solo vocal performance piece (quite apart from the standard rock-n-roll etcetera) incorporating elements of my visual art, graphics, improvisation and energy. I am beyond excited to get this achieved. I cannot sing in cover bands or do the wedding thing. Hell, the thought of such activity even makes me cringe.

You are a very talented artist as well. Do you find this a necessary distraction between gaps of time before Riotgod is reactivated? Do you think your art is an equal passion to your music?

Thank you. My daily existence deals with art and music, it isn’t a distraction but more of a balance of pursuits. Art is certainly an equal passion to that of music.

Do you or the band altogether have a favorite city/venue that you absolutely love to play? If so, what makes this a special place in your minds?

First let me say I would love to play more often, period. Secondly I would love to play more often around our local area (NY, NJ, PA, VA, MD) and as far as special places, Toronto has been good to us. Shout out to the Meades Bros. I myself happen to really like Gaswerk in Switzerland. The crowd is always cool and we do well there. Berlin is always a good time too and if he’s around, Banana does great sound and that is a plus. Big shout out to him.

I absolutely love bigger festivals. We have played a few (Baroeg, Saupfitz and to my sheer delight Wacken) and I await the day we can play a whole summer circuit.

Again, comparatively we have had extremely brief periods of touring experience so my choices are limited. My favorite place to play is where we have people who are into what we do and if we’re lucky, others whom did not know us wind up really enjoying our performance.

With Driven-Rise freshly released, what else should we expect from Riotgod in the foreseeable future? Any tour dates on the horizon?

We have released a video for Driven-Rise and one can vote for it at Noisecreep! Battle Royale Top 10:
http://noisecreep.com/battle-royale-korn-keifer-close-in-on-stryper-on-video-countdown

As is the case with us, Europe is mentioned for September. I have offered that we do a well-planned profitable US east coast run that would feed into the Europe tour. I want to be warmed up. I do love this band and our music and look forward to our further touring. Once we are out there, all in all we do have and have had some memorable times.

Cody Jones
is the weird chunky kid you barely knew in high school that could be found by the speakers at the school dance, hopelessly harassing the DJ to play some Clutch. Now he hides from his family in low-lit dive bars, sipping on a Sun King Wee Mac, waiting for some basketball game to end in the desperate hopes that they will do karaoke later. He writes music reviews for albums and live shows for Selective Memory. His reputation for strong opinions is only to conceal his deep insecurities.

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