The Rifles interview – Maturing… but not quite ready for their geriatric train set

December 30, 2011

The Rifles

One particularly cold and Christmassy night last week in the village of Highgate in North London, Gerry O’Boyle’s famed public house, “The Boogaloo”, had a queue that went out the door and all the way down the otherwise empty street. There was a buzz of excitement in the air and if you peered through the misted up windows you would have seen a gathering crowd of dapper looking young men forming a swift pile up around the bar. Every table and chair in the venue was occupied and they were turning people away at the door. What was the cause for all the excitement you ask? Well, it was a Christmas Party… hosted by The Rifles.

We first introduced you to The Rifles on Music Vice in 2009.

The Highgate party has become an annual event for the band and it is a massive highlight of the year for their legion of adoring fans. The band were back in town following an extensive tour in promotion of their [long awaited] new album Freedom Run; one which was received to mixed reviews by the UK press but high praise from indie concert-goers. One twenty-something footballer from Kent was heard declaring: “This is the best moment of my life!” only changing it to “second best..” [to the birth of his new son]… and then “tied second” [to his wedding day] when his wife glared back at him!

This is a band who are growing up and bringing their music with them. Frontmen Joel and Lucas are more “men” than “boys” these days – all grown up with kids of their own; plucking their artistic inspiration from the romance of their everyday lives.

When I arrived at the Boogaloo to interview ‘The Rifles’ the place was already packed out. Someone led me upstairs to a lounge where they were sitting. The room was decked almost like a museum – mounted and signed photographs of rock and roll greats adorned the walls, and there was a large golden sculpture of an elephant staring right at me as I took my seat… very swank! I looked around in impressed amusement before shaking hands and introducing myself. Outside a police car sped past wailing its siren in hot pursuit.

Ngawara Madison, – So, how does it feel to be back (playing) in a local pub? (I attended their album launch party for in Shoreditch a few months back, and I remember it being absolutely rammed full of people.)

“Ah MJ’s thing!” [Mike Johns], Joel smiles, “Yeah.. the promoter is a friend of ours. We went to school together. We’re playing the New Years Eve show [for “This Feeling”] too..”

There’s one of those XFM Djs who does it [“This Feeling”] too – Steve Harris right? He’s a character…

Lucas grins at the mention of the DJ’s name – He’s a good lad! Have you met him?

I have. I ran into Steve Harris backstage at Brixton Academy when I was interviewing a band earlier this year. Steve was hanging out with some of the same people and had come to check out The Lines and Peter Doherty

Lucas – Yeah, yeah, he’s a good lad, Steve.

Who inspired you to get into music? Do they cite Oasis as influential? [Everyone in this country seems to answer ‘Oasis’ when I ask that question…]

Lucas ponders –  “Yeah. I suppose there wasnt as much competition back then [when Oasis were ruling the scene].. Not like these days where bands are a dime a dozen almost. But perhaps now its quantity more than quality.

Joel – Back then when we were growing up it was a dance scene… and then Oasis turned up and changed the whole fad. They brought the attention back to live bands again, and were a huge influence at the time.

Do The Rifles have a similar appeal?”

Lucas – There’s an element of the Oasis crowd that are definitely our crowd as well, yeah.

What has the band been up to since the album was launched?

Joel – We did a live tour and then a couple of gigs and press junkets here and there.  It’s been pretty cool.

Lucas – Pretty much as soon as you’ve got the album out you’ve got to go on tour and play it out. its been really good actually! It is nice to be here though. This is kinda a regular thing we do . Every Christmas we come and play here [at The Boogaloo]. It’s a friend of ours’ who owns it, a guy called Gerry. Hes got this amazing place though look – here’s Johnny Cash!

Lucas points over to a large framed portrait of Johnny Cash pulling the middle finger at the camera. He picks it up and shows me the back of the frame which reads: “May the wind be always at your back and the road rise to meet you” and signed by Johnny and June Carter Cash.

Lucas – That’s a bit of history innit! He’s a bit of  a character Old Gerry.

Joel – He’s a lovely guy and hes got an old school way of working. You know what I mean.

Yeah, I know. The ‘lifers’ aren’t as common thesedays. People aren’t in it for the long haul so much anymore. So many bands and promoters give up when the going gets tough. “The online thing seems so important these days” I sigh.

….What are their feelings on the Youtube generation?

Lucas – Eventually everyone has to prove themselves the old fashioned way and only those with talent will hopefully make a career of it.

How apt that tonight we are having this conversation upstairs room in an indpendant pub. There’s no pretension here at all.

Joel – We’ve built our fan base up on playing live though really. Forever playing gigs.

Lucas – I think that that’s going to be the rarer thing, like, as time moves on; to have bands that have like six or seven albums. I see the Black Keys are just starting to break through now and they’re on their seventh album you know.

Joel – An album that’s going to end up being something that’s solid, and something people will respect in the long run because there is so much there to follow..”

 It takes a lifetime of hard work to become an overnight success they say.

Joel – Yeah its getting rarer innit, bands that have a long career? Think what it’ll be like in ten years!

We laugh, but there’s a genuine feeling of almost disappointment at the artistic bleed that has resulted from the technological advancement of our generation. What do they think of the rise of the ‘Youtube star’ phenomenon, and the over-use of auto tune?

Lucas – Kinda goes against creativity doesn’t it?

Yeah or speeds it up, I don’t know…

Joel – It is exciting, I mean like, instruments.. Like when you get live instruments together. A live band, a live show is the ONLY thing, the only experience you can not get over the internet these days. It’s true innit!

Despite its downpoints though, its undeniable that Twitter can be very helpful for bands when it comes to keeping their fans up to date with their shows and music. Do The Rifles tweet?

Joel – Yeah I sort of do the tweeting but I’m not really precious about it. I think its nice for the fans to know and keep up with what you’re doing.

Like what kind of coffee you drink?

Joel – Yeah I don’t go into it like that! Im not weird, you know what I mean?! I just try to let them know what’s going on. I don’t understand like, if you’re just, like a normal person – you’re tweeting about what you had for breakfast and what you’ve been doing.

Yeah. Your bowel movements!

Joel – Yeah its very weird. I cant imagine being that fascinated by someone else to need to know their every single movement. Every second of every day. Its that whole thing. We’re losing the dance, the whole romantic thing… People used to do things in a certain way, and thats dying. Now its all like, we all tweet each other and the world will know about it and there’s no romance there. Nothing is private anymore…I mean I can understand people wanting to know about their favourite bands or fucking idols or whatever people they admire but to a point. It can be crazy yeah. There’s such a thing as too much!

Have you played outside the UK?

Joel – We’ve done quite a lot in Germany and Holland. We’ve got a pretty good following in Germany. It’s always been that way, it sort of our second watering hole really yeah?”.

Lucas – Yeah its like a second home isn’t it? We’ve been to America too. East Coast..We haven’t been to California and that, but we’ve been to New York and Chicago, and that way. East Coast.

 The Rifles have been together for almost a decade now and that’s like 50 years in “band years” [they’re like cat years]; how do you continue to find new things to write about?”

Joel – Things in life inspire you. If you’re alive theres going to be things that happen to you and things around you that pop up and grab your attention. I think its pretty much impossible to not have things around you that inspire you, daily, but it doesn’t have to be music [inspiration sources] basically.

I guess not, I suppose its like maturity in general. The subjects that you’re interested in at say 16 are going to be different to the things that are relevant to you as a thirty something year old…

Joel – Yeah thats very apparent. Our lives from the first album to the third, things have changed a lot for us. They’re not similar at all.

Are you guys settled down? Is that where the change extends from?

Joel – Yeah, we’ve both got kids.

Are they little rocker babies? (I always envy those kids at music festivals – the cool babies with a peace signs painted on their cheeks, tie dyed nappies…)

Joel – Kid with a Slash hat! Yeah he quite likes dancing but no I don’t think he’s ready for a festivals yet – don’t think a festivals ready for him!

Lucas – He’s really into trains innit!

Joel – Hey, if you’ve got a train in your hand then you’re alright!”

There’s this old guy down the road from where I live who has taken over a garage; he has this massive train set and there’s this club of old men, about twelve of them who play trains there in the weekend…

Joel – Haha, my kid would love that!

Maybe if you guys are still playing together when you’re sixty you can write songs about trains?

Lucas – Yeah!

Joel – Don’t know, don’t know.. if we could possibly get that boring! Please don’t say we’re going to get that boring!

As the rowdy crowd below starts chanting for their heroes to take the stage; I sense that train sets are no where in the immediate future for Joel, Lucas and the rest of the band… they’ve got some music left in them yet before that!

 © Ngawara Madison, Music Vice

The Rifles will play a headline set at the This Feeling NYE bash this Saturday 31 December at Vibe Bar, Brick Lane, London. Advance tickets are sold-out but 200 tickets will be available on the night at the door for £25 each. DJ’s Steve Harris and Mike Johns are also part of the line-up.

This Feeling 2011

The Rifles – “Tangled Up In Love”

The Rifles at Tunbridge Wells Forum, England, 26 November 2010 - photo by Lauren Towner, Music Vice, All Rights Reserved

The Rifles at Gibson Guitar Studio, London, 26 May 2011 - photo by Lauren Towner, Music Vice

Ngawara with Joel and LucasNgawara with Joel and Lucas

Find The Rifles online at

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