The Last Great Riot has been playing their blend of melodic rock and garage punk since 2016. Guitarist/vocalist John Beavers and drummer Scott Durand began playing together when they both joined a “work band” at their shared place of employment that strictly performed at work events. The duo decided to jam outside of work and eventually recruited Durand’s friend, bassist Mario Mazzone, to complete the punk trio.
The band has released several EPs and singles over the past five years, including a live EP that benefitted Livewire Lounge during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of last month, The Last Great Riot released their first studio album, Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Rough. In this interview, Beavers and Durand discuss recording with friends, finding inspiration in the simple things & transitioning back to live performance.
Tell me about forming The Last Great Riot. How did you start playing music together?
Durand: I’m mainly a drummer. I do play some guitar and some other instruments here & there, but I’m primarily on drums — it’s kind of where my happy place is, I started when I was 12 or 13. I’ve played with other small bands, but The Last Great Riot is the group I’ve spent the most time with.
Beaver: I play guitar, and I think I’ve been doing this for longer than Scott’s been alive. I started when I was very young, and this might be my 10th, 11th, 12th band? Something like that. I’ve played metal, I’ve played punk, I’ve played hardcore, I’ve dabbled in blues bands, power pop bands, etc. But this is the first band where I’m singing and playing guitar at the same time.
When we started off, I had just a shell of some songs. I worked with Scott, and I knew he was a drummer. We had a work band that we played work parties with. Scott was a good drummer, so I said, ‘Hey, I got these songs, you want to jam at some point?’ We jammed and we brought in Mario, who Scott grew up with. We put the songs together, and now we’re here five years later with an album.
So you guys started playing together exclusively for work parties?
Beavers: It was a much bigger group that our company put together where we would just do crappy cover songs.
Durand: Specifically, we met when we were playing a Ramones cover.
Beavers: We did “Blitzkrieg Bop,” I believe. Whatever the song was, I remember I played bass on that. And I thought, ‘this dude can actually play some Ramones stuff better than the rest of the guys in the band’. So I figured I’d ask him if he wanted to try it out, and here we are.
John mentioned that he has a wide musical background. Why did you begin playing punk music opposed to any of the other genres you had experience with?
Beavers: I’ve always liked punk rock, but when I started writing some of these songs — some of the older ones and even some of the new ones, too — it’s cliche, but I started writing simple stuff on an acoustic guitar. The problem is that I’m not a singer-songwriter. You know that stereotypical, singer-songwriter voice? Well, I don’t have that voice — I have a punk rock voice. I come off angry all of the time (which I’m not, I’m a pretty happy dude.) I think the combination of who I am, how I sound, and what I wanted to do led to us playing punk rock. We’re all into diverse music, so this could drift off into other things. The next album could be a folk album or a death metal album. Now, it’s probably going to be in the same genre that we’re at right now, but we’re not going to limit ourselves. I think that’s the big thing.
Let’s talk about your new album, Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Rough. What are these songs inspired by?
Beavers: With this album, I started with simple acoustic stuff. A lot of times, I’m just inspired by every day things — I might be on the bus finding simple inspiration. The music and the riffs start to flow and come from that. Some of these songs are old; they’ve been around for a lot of years. Ideas for other songs would come before practice. They would pop in my head and we’d start working on them, and once we finally got enough songs we did a couple of EPs.
A goal of mine was always to do a full album. I love to listen start-to-finish, all the way through — I’m not big into listening to singles. Once we had enough songs, we made the plan and got together and rehearsed the hell out of everything. Our friend Chris Shern recorded us and it look a long time because the pandemic obviously sent us in to a bit of a delay, but it also made it really relaxed, too. We wanted to finally just get it out because we’ve been sitting on it for so long, but we were never in a big hurry.
Durand: All of the recording was done at our friends’ places, Chris Shern and Justin Birchard, shoutout to them. They’re in other bands that are friends of ours. It makes our recording sessions feel like we’re just hanging out. We’d block out the whole day and just record drums, or the guitars, or the backups or whatnot.
Did working with friends affect the recording this album in any particular way?
Beavers: I was in a band with Chris Shern for 11 years and we’ve done quite a few albums together, so our ability to communicate was really good. He knew when we needed more guitar parts, or more vocals, or whatever more instrumentation because we have a similar mindset on how we want to do things. He was kind enough to throw some extra stuff into the album — he did some backup vocals, added percussion, added noises, did a lead vocal part, and another part of one song, too.
Durand: When you’re talking about our comfort zone, that’s where Chris comes in, for sure. When we’re playing live and it’s just the three of us, being simple works because we’re allowed to play fast and it’s fun. But when you’re trying to put that on an album, it can feel a little bit empty, especially if you don’t get everything recorded perfectly. We’re not playing together or recording it live, and something Chris is good at figuring out is how to keep us sounding like we actually sound live so we come across a little more full in a recorded format. Sometimes he’ll throw out some ideas and we’re like, ‘hey, man, I don’t know if woodblocks are really what we’re going for, but let’s just go with it and try it.’
How has the transition from only recording and rehearsing during a pandemic to playing live shows again been for you?
Durand: We just played three shows over the last month or two, but it still feels a little weird if we’re playing a small venue where everybody has to be vaccinated to get in because it feels strange being the reason why a whole bunch of people are packed into a room with no windows. So we’re looking at the numbers and seeing what things are looking like because we really want to get back out there, but especially now that it’s getting colder, it’s hard to find places to play where we don’t feel like we’re putting people at risk.
Beavers: What was giving me anxiety was the thought of having to cancel a show; to start promoting something and get out there and then the city’s shutting down again. That was driving me fucking nuts, to have rehearsals and to get in the mental like space for it, and if we were to get shut down again, I don’t know if I can handle that. I’ll be happier when I know we can book something and know it will definitely happen without the potential of things shutting down again.
Durand: We’re getting to a point where someone will offer us something in January, and January might as well just be a made up month, it doesn’t mean anything. We’re definitely down to play, but who knows what January looks like? It’s just been hard to book stuff, not for lack of people reaching out, but we’re having a hard time committing because we don’t know what’s going on.
Any last thoughts you’d like to add?
Durand: Check out the new album. We’re a little bit scrappy and homemade, but we’re excited about it. We’re looking forward to making more stuff and getting out there for everybody. We already got some new songs that we’ve played live, so new things are getting written.
Beavers: Stream our album, a million or so times, and then we’ll be able to buy ourselves around a drinks or something. We won’t be quitting our day jobs, but maybe we’ll have a couple bucks in our band fund after that.