JB: Basically Rod was putting out a CD on his own prior to meeting me and he's good friends with my best friend back in the day, Don Depaola, and Don was helping Rod do some stuff on his CD. Helping him produce a little bit. Actually played on the CD. There was a track called "Cry Of Love" that Rod sang on and he was telling Don that he'd actually like to have a singer on that song that sounded like Ronnie James Dio.
RR: Angela, you notice how he insulted my singing.
JB: Come on Rod. You've got a great voice bro. That's what happened. After a while this guy Don had a brain storm after, I don't know, how many months was that Rod?
RR: It took a while actually. He said that he had a best friend that could sing really good. It took him close to a year. Out of nowhere he came up to me and said "hey, guess what? I've got a singer. He sounds really good. He has a really cool voice and he actually sounds a little bit like Ronnie James Dio. I like your vocals on this song "Cry Of Love" but if you want to actually make it a little bit more Dio like, then I've got the singer." We hooked up.
JB: Rod and I felt an immediate brotherhood when we met. It's like we knew each other for years. That was the beginning of our relationship and we're brothers now. We're beyond just being best friends. We're brothers, you know what I'm saying? Rod and I joke about it now because at that time in my life, even though I was involved in some music projects, my goal was to open up a Tae Kwon Do school. I was starting Tae Kwon Do and I was saying to Rod "well, you know, I can't really be dedicated to coming to work three days a week or four days a week with the music and yadda, yadda, yadda." We just put it into God's hands and as time went on, I sensed God had a different purpose for me than owning a Tae Kwon Do school. He wanted me to put CDs out.
RR: Yeah, that's right.
You haven't totally given up on the Tae Kwon Do thing, have you?
JB: I do take a class occasionally. My former wife has her own school so occasionally I'll take a class with her. My son and I will spar occasionally but he kicks my butt the whole time. I don't know how good that is because I usually walk away very hurt and very bruised. He's a dangerous kid.
What sparked your interest in doing music with a predominately Christian theme to it?
JB: When we started deciding on what we were going to do, we had quite a few conversations on this. As we started writing together, we said to ourselves "do we want to be like say a Creed, a P.O.D., a U2?" We'll use them for examples that are Christians and they use innuendoes but they don't come straight out and talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Or do we want to be like what Stryper does? We prayed about it and realistically the answer came from the songs we wrote. We didn't come up with a decision on that. We just allowed whatever came out, came out. We just found that the majority of our songs were singing about Jesus. It's coming from our souls. Rod, that's pretty close, right?
RR: Pretty good, yeah.
JB: We weren't swinging one way or another. We just listened to the Holy Spirit.
Tell me a little about your CD, Invisible Force.
RR: Well, it rocks. It's my favorite album of this year to be honest with you. I don't want to be tacky or anything because I'm very picky about the stuff I listen to. It rocks. It pretty much has everything for everybody. If you're into heavy rock, it's got something for you. If you're into ballads, it's got ballads. If you like instrumentals, it's got instrumentals. Also, if you like to dance and get up and dance with your partners, it's got some live overtones to it which we love to do. It's got pretty much everything for everybody. A positive message on top of that which a lot of bands seem to miss that nowadays. I guess that's about it.
JB: Yeah, man. That's right Rod. Rod's so picky, he just gets upset with me when I put the country music on. He can't stand it when I'm putting on Alan Jackson.
Well, Rod, when you guys come down here, we'll just tie him up and take away his Alan Jackson CDs.
JB: So that means you're not taking me to the honky tonk?
I think I'll take you to Pantera's strip club.
JB: Hey, that's all right. We're into that.
RR: Actually it's funny you say that because we actually have a coming gig in a go-go bar, is it?
JB: Rod and I, we're the type of people to play anywhere, anytime, anyplace with anybody. We don't care who you are. If you're singing Satanic music, we're going to come up and we're going to be heavier than you and we're going to sing Christian music. It just so happens that there's a place up here called The Love Sexy and it's half go-go and half band thing. We're going to be in the other room but we'll play anywhere. Hey listen, we'll play anywhere. We don't care.
RR: The Bible says and Jesus said, love one another. That's what we're doing.
JB: And we do love beautiful women.
RR: That's right. There's nothing wrong with that.
That's a very healthy thing.
JB: Absolutely. Unfortunately, a lot of times our Christian brothers and sisters try and suppress all of that. We're just all about God and love. There's nothing wrong with saying "listen, we love beautiful women." There's nothing wrong with that if it's done in a good and respectful way towards the women.
I think all things are good in moderation and I think you can take anything way too far. Your album is described as anywhere from balladic to flamenco to calypso. Tell me about your musical influences.
RR: Well myself, I studied classical music. I also studied rock guitar obviously. I love melodic heavy metal. Yngwie and Ritchie Blackmore obviously have a big influence on my playing but I also love flamenco guitar players. I think they're one of the best players if not the best out there to listen to if you want to learn or try to learn their stuff. They're incredible. That's where I come out but definitely guitar players like Michael Schenker and Paul Gilbert. Obviously Stryper was a big influence on me back then. Those are my influences.
JB: It's funny. Rod and I have a lot of the same influences. I was trained classically myself. I learned under an opera singer. In fact there was a time I was told that I was never going to sing again or for that matter, speak again because I felt polyps on my vocal cords. Besides that, they were like spaghetti. Vocal cords are supposed to be very firm. After my operation the doctor said "listen, I don't even know if you're going to be able to sing again." With being very depressed, what I did was I took a Ronnie James Dio picture and put it up on my mirror. I just cranked Ronnie James Dio music all the time. I said "one day I am going to sing again. One day I am going to sing again." Because he was my biggest influence and lo and behold, here I am singing. Ronnie James Dio is definitely a major influence. Believe it or not, Elvis. I'm a huge Elvis fan.
I love Elvis. My parents raised me on Elvis and The Rolling Stones.
JB: I knew I liked you. That's a great mix. Elvis was versatile. His vocal range was incredible and some of the notes that he hit were incredible in the latter days. I'm also a huge Ritchie Blackmore fan. Most importantly, I am a huge Rod Rivera fan. I mean that from my heart. That guy is an animal. It's the truth. I'm his biggest fan.
RR: I hope that check doesn't bounce.
I interviewed Tom Keifer from Cinderella and he had a similar vocal problem. It seems that whenever your vocal cords weaken, you have to exercise and strengthen them because they're a muscle.
JB: This is very true. When I was told that and I went to see the opera singer, it took her six months for me to get my speaking voice back to where I could talk pretty much the whole day without losing my voice. It took me another six months to a year to be able to sing one song a day without me losing my voice. It was all total around two and a half years to where I was able to get my voice back to where I had to be. I suffer from asthma and very severe allergies so that also causes problems as well. I had to learn how to cough again, believe it or not. Coughing is detrimental to vocal chords if you don't know how to use your diaphragm when you cough.
You're the original vocalist of the band Hades.
JB: Actually back in 1980 I think it was, I met Dan Lorenzo through an ad in the paper. I wanted just to do vocals at that point. I didn't want to play guitar anymore. I just wanted to be the front man. You get more girls that way.
RR: He just wanted to get all the girls.
JB: Still to this day, that's why I'm the vocalist. Actually there was a singer prior to me with Hades but it was for a short stint. I started off with them and Dan and I went under the banner Hades for about a year and a half and then I lost my voice. Then they moved on and obviously have had worldwide success. They've put a few albums out since and one of them I recorded background vocals on and I sang an a cappella version of "Thee Our Father" on there and also I did one of their videos. Dan's a great guy. They were very big in the '80s. They were huge underground if you will. They toured with bands like Slayer and Megadeth. They warmed them up on top of doing their own venues.
Tell me about "Eclectic", the fifth track on your album. It's in five different parts.
JB: Let me say that I played the whole thing. Rod was coaching me along on that. I played all the guitar parts on that. Hehehe.
RR: Basically it starts off pretty mellow playing guitar. After that it goes into a very Ritchie/Yngwie influence. Neoclassical heavy rock. I decided to put my influences in the song so I put a little bit of jazz with this great guitar player who played who played some lead on the jazz part named Don Depaolo.
JB: The same guy who hooked us up.
RR: After that it goes into the flamenco part which is a big part of me. It came straight from my heart and then it goes back into the neoclassical. It's pretty much a big, big part of me. If you could sum up Rod Rivera, you would probably say eclectic. That's basically it.
Rod's an eclectic kind of guy. You guys said you're working on a new CD. Is that a sequel to Invisible Force?
JB: It's an extension of Invisible Force. It's going to be very heavy and melodic but it's also going to be very pretty too. We're not going to forget about our love ballads. On our European release, they want us to just be more heavy. Our European release has two bonus tracks on it. We took two of the ballads off to cater to our European fans. We're going to probably stick to that somewhat but we're definitely going to have some pretty love ballads on there such as "Cry Of Love" is on this CD.
RR: it's going to be more raw. Less keyboards. A little bit heavier but still keeping that melodic sing along sound to it. I don't think we're going to have as much on the softer side but you're definitely going to hear some ballads here and there. More of the heavier in your face kind of stuff. Something maybe like Dokken meets Megadeth.
They like that hard and heavy stuff in Europe.
JB: Yeah, they sure do. They call Christian music over there "white metal".
RR: And I'm Spanish.
JB: Just remember Rod, it's all about the vocalist.
When is the new album going to be released?
JB: We're still riding on the coattails of Invisible Force. Our European release came out officially I think four weeks ago. We're actually just sponsoring that CD now and that's why we're setting tours up throughout the summer. We're not going to rush into anything. We want to make sure the sound on the CD that we have is exactly where we want it. You probably figure sometime late fall it will be out.
<>What kind of a tour schedule do you have?
JB: Right now we're working small tours around the area where the radio stations are picking us up in the United States and starting two local events. Our public relations company and us are going to get something set up down by Dave Tedder. That's when we're going to do Texas. We're going to probably spend a week down there and do that. We're also going to be doing a concert out of Reno through one of the radio stations in September for some outdoor events. We're trying to get hooked up with Creation which is a major outdoor concert in Pennsylvania and Cornerstone. We're in the process of getting there. These are two local dates that are up here. We're playing some pretty large venues that we're right now just finalizing the details on that are up here as well.
Are you going to have the same guys out on the road with you that played on the album?
RR: No. We love the guys and they have moved on. It's time for a new chapter and better things. Let's put it that way. We wish everybody the best.
JB: In New Jersey there aren't too many places that you can play original stuff. They want cover tunes. The keyboardist is playing with a Bon Jovi tribute band and the drummer is doing something along those lines as well. We've got some monster players. In fact when we toured Puerto Rico, we were headlining concerts down there and we met up with a bass player named Saul who is an absolutely incredible bass player. He's actually moving here at the end of April to join us full time. He's going to be a full time member. The rest of the members for the most part are hired guns.
Are you guys played mainly on Christian stations or are you getting some mainstream AOR airplay?
RR: Pretty much a lot of them have been AOR. Just recently in the past couple of months a lot of Christian radio stations have come to sponsor us but it's been pretty much AOR which is great because that's the market that we really want to hit. People that really don't know about Jesus. It's also great to have the backup of Christian radio stations but we haven't really gotten that many Christian stations.
JB: We haven't really gotten too much of a response in the States with it probably because at least locally the Christian radio stations play very mellow stuff. They'll get a little heavy but for the most part you're just going to be listening to Amy Grant. There are a few people like John Michael Talbot and Michael Clark, great artists, but they're not playing heavy stuff here too much.
Rock is of the devil!
JB: Yeah, rock is of the devil. Let me tell you something. I see Jesus coming down here and just rocking and rolling louder and heavier than anybody out there. He'd kick Satan's butt in two seconds.
Any other thoughts or comments?
RR: Just want to tell everyone thanks for the support. If I can plug a little bit.
As Metal Sludge would say, this is the time to plug your shit.
RR: Yeah! The CD is still available. The U. S. release is still available at CDBaby.com. You can also get the international release through True Metal or it's also on E-Bay too. There are a couple of CDs we put out that are out of print.
JB: Yeah, we had a few CDs that we put out that are out of print. Collector's items. Also Amazon.com. They can contact us directly if for some reason they can't find these avenues on the computer. They can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RR: There's also MP3.com.