Riot V


After the listening session of “Armor Of Light”, Riot V’s second album we had the chance to talk with Donnie Van Stavern and Nick Lee. The conversation revolved around the new album, the previous one “Unleash The Fire” and “Thundersteel” that celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Also, Lou A. Kouvaris the Greek American guitarist of Riot between 1976-1978 was also at Ragnarok club and offered his insight about the metal scene of the late ‘70s and why Riot didn’t make a commercial success. Watch the video below. Interview: Sakis Nikas


...About the new album

Donnie Von Stavern: I think we have a record that is progressive but it’s modern sounding you know in the great tradition of riot and then you know nuclear blast they should be able to take this to the next level let’s hope…
Nick Lee: There’s a lot of pressure on both records for different reasons. I mean for “Unleash The Fire” was the first record with this lineup and you know there’s a lot of skeptics to whether or not it would be you know legitimate. So, we had little expectations to the response and then the response was so overwhelmingly good. Νow, the pressure was to make something better. Or, at least as good… But, we think it’s better! I think it’s a very logical continuation. I think that all the things we learned that we could do together with “Unleash The Fire” we have expanded upon. Αnd there’s more of everyone’s personalities into it… But it still has that classic Riot sound that Donnie and Mike keep in the band.

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…About “Unleash The Fire”

Donnie Van Stavern: This was very important record for us because Mark Reale the original member  had passed away, so we had to make a record in the great tradition of Riot music. We had many member changes and different styles through the years, so we tried to combine you know all the years… “Thundersteel” and the rock era of Riot but we knew we were up against something with the name possibly… Adding the five for the chapter five you know… for Todd being the fifth singer. But, it was challenging because Tony Moore wasn’t there anymore you know…  it was basically me and Mike. Collectively we’re in the band for 30 years. We said we have to make a record that could make or break us basically… We’re coming from the reunion record “Immortal Soul” with Tony and Bobby and Mark, so it was a challenge and we knew that to continue we had to come up with something special and basically see what would happen… if people didn’t accept it then we might not be here right now. But, fortunately for us we learned a lot with Mark Reale. Not only was I a member of his band, but I was a fan before I joined in 1984. So, I learned a lot about songwriting with him, so when we create songs I knew how he would wanted things and so that’s why we started writing in that tradition. Plus, we knew it was going to be my era or Thundersteel. So, we wanted to keep a kind of power metal, but have some of the rock influences. So, we made it and we had the support from the label. They said “okay well you know we need to keep going on, so basically make a record, see what happens”. And we had promoters who booked the band. And then, all of a sudden everybody was fine with. It was just great music and the continuation was successful… So, that’s why we’re here right now… Riot through the years had different styles but consistently they had great songs so that’s what we tried to do… that’s why it was important to us.

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…Signing with Nuclear Blast

Donnie Van Stavern: We’re writing music and basically deciding that we wanted to take the next step up and we felt like Nuclear Blast might be able to be that, you know a label that will help the band out finally. Because, I mean they are one of the biggest heavy metal labels in the world and I think we had shopped with them before but this time it got a little more serious… We figured we had to make a record, the follow-up to “Unleash The Fire” and that was important. Because, then you have people going that “Unleash…” was just a fluke! It happened to be a great record… We have to write great music to deliver to them. Because, you know people aren’t dumb… Riot fans are very smart people. Mark used tell me that Riot owes their longevity to good music. No matter all the member changes and styles… Hard rock and heavy metal with Tony and so forth.

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Donnie Van Stavern: I think at the time we knew it was great material but we didn’t know how special… Because you know you’re dealing with classics like “Fire Down Under”, which was basically Riot’s staple album and “Thundersteel” came to be the second and the largest one. When we recorded it… you know I was friends with Mark way before I joined the band in 1984. He knew I was in a metal band from Texas, A.S. Slayer… it was the Texas Slayer and I was into heavy metal and the NWOBHM stuff. So, when Mark would come we would write music and I would write a little bit more aggressive stuff that was really kind of out of the realm of Riot. I was coming from “Born In America” so, we started writing music and Mark was getting a little more progressive in his approach. He wanted to be aggressive like he was getting in a Judas Priest style and stuff so he looked up to me to write a lot of the stuff. That’s why I wrote almost every song on “Thundersteel”. He trusted me. I would write the music and he would write the melodies and that’s kind of how we do it. Now, we write aggressive music but with a great singer and melody. Now, when we were writing material with Mark it was in a band called Narita, that was kind of a side band from his work with Riot, which eventually went on to become the lineup for “Thundersteel”. So, we just sat down and we wrote something that was aggressive… it was different. So, we knew some of the Riot fans were gonna be like “what is this, it’s not like the norm”… But, the same thing happened when they changed singers. When they went from Guy to Rhett Forester. A lot of people was like “who is this guy?” So, we had that challenge but when it came out we were lucky enough to get another big label to back it up, CBS Records. They took it and they shot it up with videos and Bloodstreets was on and all of a sudden… fffsssttt it took off. Some people consider it to be the best Riot record. And I meet people that don’t even know anything before that you know… So it’s kind of interesting…

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…Nick Lee as the “new kid”

Nick Lee: I was a fan before I joined, but more than that I mean Mike Flyntz was my guitar teacher from when I was 8 years to 18. So, I said this before, it wasn’t really so much like I found Riot as a band. Riot was Mike’s band so they were always a part of my life. I saw Riot with Mark Reale when I was 15. They came to Long Island where I lived and played a show and I got to shake Mark’s hand. I’ve never really felt like I was filling Mark Reale’s shoes because that would be an impossible thing to do. Mike asked me to do this and as he is someone I’ve known my whole life I. of course wanted to and said yes. He took Mark’s parts while I took his parts, so really it’s like I’m filling Mike’s shoes. Mike has to fill Mark’s shoes.

Donnie Van Stavern: Yeah, Mike took over Mark’s parts and I went over to that side of the stage and I covered Mike’s…

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…Lou A. Kouvaris offering his insight

Lou A. Kouvaris: I was listening to stuff like UFO, Michael Schenker, Ronnie Montrose, Rush… those are the bands that I’ve considered kind of heavier, but as far as the metal scene goes there wasn’t really a lot happening back then. The heavier bands I think were the ones I mentioned like Montrose. They were very heavy, very hard rock band and of course so was Riot… The metal scene wasn’t really happening yet but I think that was at the beginning, or it started happening you know. The type of music that was played at the time maybe wasn’t… when you say commercial success what are we talking about? Are we talking about writing a hit song like let’s say “Feels Like The First Time” by Foreigner, or “Can’t Get Enough” by Bad Company are you talking about something like that they weren’t really writing tunes like that. I think “Warrior” probably was the closest thing I think that you could say was a commercial hit. It got heavy airplay in New York and in Texas and I think that probably was the closest thing, but I think really the songs and the record company and the management I think had a lot to do with also or maybe Mark. The band wanted to go in a certain direction but I think writing the songs and becoming a commercial success you have to have a song that really hits home and I’m sure that Iron Maiden has a couple of’ em, Metallica has a couple of’ em that are really outstanding. Riot has them too, but for some reason it didn’t have the push that maybe this next album will have. They continue carrying the torch and continuing on… I think might happen it might happen. They got great tunes,  they are great players, great songwriters…

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…Donnie and Nick describes one another

Nick Lee: One word to describe Donnie… I will use a word I used before… he’s a “lifer”. Meaning he’s in this for the long haul, he’s the real deal you know… as a musician, as a rocker… Lifer!

Donnie Van Stavern: Thank you man! It’s hard to say – he’s a lot of things but inspiration… he’s the younger generation… he inspires me. Because, you know I was in his shoes once. When you’re the young guy in the band and you’re coming into a legendary band… That’s how I felt when I joined. So, you know I was inspired to be something you know and follow these guys such a legend… Nick, you know, I see him on stage and I see myself in him sometimes… Like he’s really giving it his all but he’s playing with a bunch of veteran players and stuff like that and he holds his own you know. He’s that guy we needed… I you man!

Nick Lee: I love you man!