Riotgod's Mark Sunshine Explains Building an "Invisible Empire" on Quest to Stardom
Riotgod members Bob Pantella and Jim Baglino planted the first seeds of Riotgod while on tour with Monster Magnet in 2006. Because the two artists play in Monster Magnet—a group with resume that includes several radio hits—people are bound to compare the two bands. Both have retro-rock fittings, but there is no confusing the two. In fact, Bob and Jim started Riotgod as a vehicle to express ideas they couldn’t in Monster Magnet. The result is a collusion between 70s rock, modern stoner rock and alternative (grunge) influences.
“Invisible Empire,” Riotgod’s sophomore full-length release, may contain symbols and a title (as did their self-titled debut) that reference secret societies and Illuminati conspiracies, but the group seems to be using these ideas for show only, which is fine because these ideas aren’t tailored for radio-rock listeners. Although Riotgod keeps building on its fan base through touring, the band hardly boasts a large following. Having been compared to rock icons such as Chris Cornell, Robert Plant and Layne Staley, Riotgod certainly has the tools for its music to find regular rotation on your local radio station.
Metal Underground originally scheduled a live interview during Riotgod’s recent performance in Austin, Texas, but this didn’t happen due to unforeseen circumstances. Therefore, singer Mark Sunshine answered questions via email. Sunshine takes an humorous approach on many of his answers, and without the ability to offer follow up questions, some ideas may appear confusing. He did, however, provide honest answers concerning Riotgod’s professional goals, use of Illuminati symbols, association with Monster Magnet and other topics of interest. Read on to find out more about this group destined for stardom.
Darren Cowan (Rex_84): When you started kicking around ideas with Bob while on tour with Monster Magnet way back in 2006, did you have an sense of direction or were you just jamming and waiting to see what you came up with up?
Mark Sunshine: A lot of the initial music came mainly from the ideas of Bob, but as people signed on, myself and Garrett, other songs were added. Overall, a majority of the initial CD was comprised of ideas that had been stored away by each member of the band.
Cowan: Your bio states your members had their own pursuits that kept them from touring with Riotgod. What were some of the obstacles that kept you guys from touring under the Riotgod banner?
Sunshine: At first it was Jim and Bob's involvement with Monster Magnet. Primarily, we had issues with scheduling. Then it became so that three of our four members were involved with Monster Magnet with Garrett taking over for Ed Mundell after Ed's departure. Yet as well, Bob also mans the kit for the Atomic Bitchwax and he was required to go out with them for various tours.
Cowan: Do you ever hear people going into your music with a preconceived notion that it will sound like Monster Magnet because Bob and Jim play in that band?
Sunshine: Maybe in the beginning that was a concern or an expectation, but can that really be a valid issue? Honestly, what band would want to ape the music of their primary band at the time? Sometimes people will make expectable comparisons—depending on the sophistication of the listener or reviewer, how that is expressed is beyond our control.
Cowan: Did you bring Monster Magnet fans over to Riotgod?
Sunshine: In our earliest days, our main target group would be the fans of Magnet. We started with that audience initially for whom else would know who the heck we are? Honestly—the Magnet fans that have chosen to accept our brand of music have been terrific. So, yes we brought some Magnet fans over while attracting interest of other people over time.
Cowan: Riotgod album art usually contains symbols of the occult and secret societies. The eye inside the pyramid appears on both album covers. How do theses ideas fit into your art?
Sunshine: We really abuse them, appropriate them. It does cause some confusion. We take the power offered by those symbols for our own, and we will make up new symbols. So far, the Illuminati have not offered us a cease and desist or hired assassins to kill us in our sleep.
Cowan: Please explain the symbolism found on the new album cover?
Sunshine: Well, it fits into the above usage methods. It really is the co-opting of the symbolism of the "conspiracy" theorists if not the actual societies themselves. This is how I see it.
Cowan: “Invisible Empire” takes its name from the Jason Burmas film about the criminal cartel that runs the world and their methods and reasons for destroying America. Why did you allude to this title?
Sunshine: Actually, we are hoping that when they do take over the whole world, we might be able to get the gig as the house (planetary) band.
Cowan: Both albums have a mainstream accessible sound, especially when considering Mark Sunshine’s vocals. He has an interesting voice that hearkens back to hard rock and metal legends like Layne Staley, Robert Plant, Eric Wagner and Chris Cornell. Is gaining mainstream radio play a goal of your band?
Sunshine: Radio play—of course that is a goal. How that comes about or when or how much—who knows—radio play is just one in a group of goals. Getting our music—the music we have now or music yet to be created—exposed positively via as many genuine channels as is possible is incredibly desirable. Internet radio, such as the good people over at V103.net, college radio, and hell, soundtrack work for TV, whatever works in our favor we'll gladly involve ourselves with.
Cowan: “Fool” contains an opening chorus that resembles Alice in Chains. Was that intended or did it come out that way subconsciously?
Sunshine: It was an idea that was played with in the studio. That is what made it into the mix. Influence will bleed into choices, but it was not a contrived decision, spoken about or planned deliberately.
Cowan: “Crossfade” is one of the heavier, angrier songs on the album. You even use the dreaded “F” word. Can you tell our readers about writing this song and what makes it such an aggressive tune?
Sunshine: The song is about low level sexual predation or habits that are very similar—a deviant attention to sex that overrides all other practical concern. It’s like serial killing without all that death stuff—a continual habit.
Cowan: Bob and Jim started recording the first album before you had a complete lineup. Did you get more input out of your other members when writing this new album?
Sunshine: This new album contained another wealth of material from Bob's mind, along with Garrett offering ideas. Songs come about organically. Really, there is no "meeting.” where ideas are shared and voted on or some other imaginative scenario. One person will come with an idea or series of ideas and then it will be refined as we go. Lyrics are conceived after this process is finished. I don't know if this is how other people work, but it is how we work for now.
Cowan: Riotgod hits European venues next. How do you feel about this upcoming tour? How does your fan base in Europe compare to the United States?
Sunshine: This tour will be very exciting. Europe has a different feel than the US. Honestly, we have not toured enough for reasons already discussed: the more we tour the better. The European market has a different feel for those that love, really LOVE rock. If you present quality material, they are super-glad to see it, to come to the show and not stand there in some posture of apathy. Attendees, fans or otherwise, are pleased to support and enjoy music and appreciate the experience. I won't slam the US, but many classic elements that are evident at a US gig do not occur so much in Europe. For example, in the US an opening band might bring in 150 people and with depressing regularity, 140 of those people will leave after "their" band plays, choosing to ignore the headliner or any other bands. As a society, we Americans have evolved into a very compartmentalized, rigid culture, lacking true curiosity, originality and passion across the board. Riotgod will find those persons, across the demographic swath, that rebel against this putrid sameness. We play for those intrepid souls, whether they live in the US, in Europe or anywhere else on the globe.
Darren Cowan owns and operates Louder Than Hell.net. He has written for several metal publications. An avid metal head for over twenty years, he has attended concerts throughout several regions of the U.S.
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