Interview by Jason M Burns of The Green Room
RR: Hey Jason!
JB: What's going on Rikki?
RR: How are you?
JB: Good. I was just watching the Poison DVD actually. I just had it sent to me.
RR: Oh really? There are some embarrassing moments on there. (Laughter)
JB: You and I actually spoke two years ago when you first returned to the road in 1999.
RR: I know. I totally remember you.
JB: I was a fan of the band growing up and I'm proud to say I still am. You can't get showmanship out of other shows like you can out of a Poison concert.
RR: Thank you. Cool, man.
JB: You guys have been hitting the road consecutively for three years now...what's it like doing it now as opposed to the early days and what keeps calling you back out?
RR: In the earlier days you're worried about just trying to hang in there. You don't know what's around the corner. "OK, What if our next song isn't a hit? Now we can't tour anymore." (Laughter) "Until we have another hit." Now, it's obvious that we don't have to worry about any of those things because we don't have a hit right now. We're not on TV and we're not the flavor of the moment and yet we're still able to do these kinds of gigs and tour and have a really great career. We play for the people that we love to play for. I'm actually more relaxed about who we are and we're comfortable in our own skin now.
JB: Something that I've noticed is that you guys seem sincerely happy to be on stage and performing for the people.
RR: We've always been a touring band more than anything. I love to record and I know the band does but it's always about playing live. We started as a live band. I don't want to say that recording is necessary evil, but that's not what our career is either...that's just part of the equation. Poison is a performing artist band...you know what I mean? (Chuckle) We're a performing rock band so it's essential to our existence.
JB: Something else that is apparent in a Poison show is that it's like a real "ROCK SHOW" and you don't get much of that anymore these days.
RR: No, there isn't much of that out there. I think we're pretty good at what we do and we feel like it's been bestowed upon us to carry the torch and provide maximum rock n' roll entertainment the old school way. (Chuckle) We're proud of that and we wear that with a badge of honor. We're doing it because we like it and because the people like it and that's why we're doing it. None of this is forged or anything. These are the types of shows that we like to perform.
JB: And you've been trying to bring out different acts each year to kind of mix it up?
RR: Oh yeah. Each year it's nice to have other bands come out and offer a different package for the fans. And most of the bands that we bring out have strings of hits on their own so you really get to hear a lot of songs that you love...that you're familiar with. And that's pretty cool and I've always aspired to that. But usually in a concert situations there's always a band with a hit or two and maybe the opening act you really don't know. I think it's good to give people a shot and all of that but it is kind of nice to buy a ticket and know that every band that goes up there that you'll know stuff by them. That makes for a pretty exciting concert. I know I'd love it so I'm looking at it from a fan standpoint and we are fans of the type of music that we play.
JB: So if all things go well this year will you make the trek out again in 2002?
RR: Yes, with the exception of this...we're going to do a new record when we come off of the road this year and that's the plan. We want to be touring with a new record next year and we will not tour without a new record.
JB: It will be a full record?
RR: Right! A full-blown studio record. All guns are blazing this time.
JB: What was going on between the tour of 2000 and 2001?
RR: As far as Poison...not a tremendous amount of things. We did that Rock Star single, but besides that just a couple of photo sessions and really just ramping up for this tour. We've had some individual things going on. Brett was involved with some other things as well as CC and myself. We had some prior commitments but we have no commitments this upcoming year and it's all about Poison.
JB: I know you're a big animal rights activist. Are you still heavily involved?
RR: Yeah, I actually went to a couple of different states where there were some issues going on. I spoke at a few of those. I've gone to a few rallies and leant my support to a couple of different groups that needed Last Chance for Animals Help, who is the group that I am with our in Los Angeles.
JB: You mentioned the song Rock Star, which can be found on the Poison web site. That was something that you guys went in and recorded recently?
RR: Oh yeah, it's totally recent. Bobby came out for a photo session and we decided to just jump in my studio and put together a track and we just slammed it together. That's what we came up with. We were just like, "Let's do something with it." (Laughter) It's kind of hard to release singles in 2001. People don't really do that anymore. It kind of stopped back in the Duran Duran days. But, we figured, "What the hell". We don't need to be conventional. We're not living or dying by hits anymore anyway so let's put out something fun that we can go out and play on tour this year. It gives the fans a chance to hear something new until we do this new record.
JB: About that new record...is it written or will you be writing after coming off of the road?
RR: No, we have some things that are written but we definitely have our share of work to do when we get off of the road. (Chuckle) But you know...nothings better than coming off of the road and writing because we're very much in sync with each other. All the guys in the band are playing really well and we're playing well together. So, when you come off the road and you start writing, it feels very natural. You're not spouting from a stop. We're in a groove and we keep going.
JB: Is the group as cohesive as it has ever been?
RR: Oh definitely! I think more than ever. I think you just automatically get better over time and I've think we've gotten better. We're better players then we were. That's the way it should be...you should get better over time. (Laughter)
JB: After going what you went through early on, did you appreciate the success when it came?
RR: Of course. You can't appreciate the daylight until you've seen that kind of dark. We paid our share of dues back in Pennsylvania before ever hitting Los Angeles too.But, most of the story gets picked up in LA but there was an awful lot of stuff that happened before that. We do want to document that at some point in time. We want to come out with something and really tell the whole story...because there's a lot to tell. (Laughter) We may have to move out of the country afterwards, but we will put that story out one day.
JB: You guys had already established who you were as a band before singing to a label. By that I mean, your look, sound and attitude. But, did the business side of things try to step in and make changes?
RR: Not really. We had gotten hip with all of that stuff before we got a deal. There were lots of labels that said, "You know we might be interested in signing these guys but they've got to tone the look down." That's about the time that we amped it up another notch. (Laughter) We couldn't find a label until we found Enigma, which was an indie and once we proved ourselves there then Capitol was kind of like, "Don't fix it if it isn't broke." Whether they got it or not, it didn't matter. They were just like, "Well, it's working...let it go."
JB: And when you said "proved yourselves", what did you mean?
RR: When an independent sells 30 to 35,000 in a month is quite a feat and the reason for that is, again it's back to the touring. We were always playing. We are the furthest thing from a lazy band and I think that paid off for us because when the record did come out people went, "Hmm."
JB: Once things did break you were selling millions of records and filling up seats in huge venues yet you were still being dogged by critics. Did it ever seem like two separate worlds? How can you have all of these fans, yet not have the critics in your corner?
RR: Not all of the critics were like that but I do think there were a couple of reasons for that. One, we made the grave mistake of being modest. And I'm not saying modest is a bad thing but in our case we were a little bit too modest. We'd sit there and say, "Hey we're not the greatest players in the world but we're out here doing this." People would take that literally and go, "Oh see...they're admitting they suck." They were just taking what they wanted our of statements like that and I wish I never said anything about it because nobody was judging us until we decided to open that can of worms. It's one of the only things I regret.
JB: What was one of the other reasons?
RR: Well, that particular age group that was in positions to rate bands like us were probably part of the New Wave movement because after a few years later when rock started to kick in, people in that age bracket started to get those jobs. A guy in a skinny tie with short hair is not going to take too kindly to a band like ours that was over the top like that. And I think that probably had a lot to do with it. I think the reason people are starting to like Poison again is because a lot of the people who grew up with our music are out there writing...like you. There's a lot of Jasons out there right now who are going, "Hey, I like this stuff...this is my band."
Rikki knows exactly what I'm talking about. Like I said...we've got history...just me, my Flesh and Blood cassette and many lonely nights playing regular Nintendo and if I felt spicy...the Atari 2600.
JB: What is your take on critics?
RR: Well, you're not a critic...you're a writer. There's a big difference. I don't think critics are so important in music. Look, I can download the new Blink 182 song and tell you if I like it or not. I don't need someone to tell me. In music we exist in spite of the critics not because of them. We exist because of the fans and that's different than film, or Broadway or art. Critics are all but defunct at this point in my opinion.
JB: This all applies even more so when like Poison...you've already established yourselves.
RR: Right! And you know what? I don't care that much anymore. When I have somebody coming up to me after a show saying, "Look it was a great show and if it wasn't for you I'd probably never pick up drumsticks." There isn't a critic that can bring me down off of that. Come one! Who's telling them, "If it wasn't for you I wouldn't be writing reviews"? (Laughter)
JB: I found it odd that in your VH1 Behind the Music, they actually included critics trashing the music.
RR: Sure! Well, you have to have that. You have to have a balance when you're doing a show like that. You want to see both sides of the coin. I'm sure there were a few people that were sitting there and going, "Right on!" (Laughter) Whatever! But, I do think that it probably made more people mad than anything. The one guy from Rolling Stone never liked our band and that's fine but Ross Halfin was always out trying to photograph our band and then he turns around and says those things. That was kind of a slap in the ass but nothing surprises me anymore. I don't mean to sound jaded, but at the same time I've seen an awful lot at this point in my life and I'm never surprised when someone disses us. It's almost par for the course now.
JB: Something that you guys have been doing in your live shows is calling fans up on stage during the last song. Has anything out of ordinary ever come out of that?
RR: There's been a lot of out of the ordinary experiences. We've had to actually curtail that for awhile because people got close to getting hurt. We were catching a lot of flak for that. It's a cool thing to do and I dig it but I don't want anybody hurt. It was just getting too out of control some night and it was a bomb waiting to go off. We just got flooded a couple of shows ago and it almost turned into a big catastrophe.
JB: You guys are obviously getting older so do you have different views towards the band now?
RR: The short answer to that is...no, not really. We're all very comfortable with what are role is in pop music. I really wouldn't change anything. I really wouldn't...except for what I mentioned to you earlier. I think I see it for what it is now. We've really inspired a lot of people by what we do. It's turned out to be something that is very inspiring for a lot of people. Do you know what I mean?
JB: I do and I know for personal experience. Poison records were the first records I ever bought.
RR: So we were important and that's an accomplishment. I can keep that with me no matter what happens with this band. If we never play again I'll be able to take something with me that I feel is important. No I'm not doing heart surgery and saving lives but as far as music...I guess I've done something.
JB: When the music industry turned over did you feel that the Poison fans turned their backs on you?
RR: I don't think our fans turned their back on us. When the so-called grunge thing came in, I don't think Poison fans went, "I don't like Poison...now I like Soundgarden." I don't think that's what happened. I think there was a new range of fans that came in and those bands went to the forefront. When we decided to tour in 99, I don't think everyone turned around and threw away their Soundgarden records to come back and see Poison. I just don't think it works that way. Sure we lost a few fans...everybody does. You lose fans every year and you gain fans every year. The trick is to gain more fans than you lose. (Laughter) In spite of all the people who tried to put a nail in our coffin...it hasn't worked. We're like Return of the Living Dead over and over again. We're on the fuckin' tenth sequel. (Laughter)
JB: As far as rock n' roll cliches...how many do you think you can find in a Poison show?
RR: (Laughter) That's a really good question and you know what...it's probably all of them.
And that is what makes them so damn enjoyable!