Artist Interviews

Q&A: Hurray For The Riff Raff

By | Published on Tuesday 17 May 2011

Hurray For The Riff Raff

CMU Approved Hurray For The Riff Raff formed in 2007 around frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra, who ran away from her home in the Bronx at seventeen to hop freight trains across the grand ole USA. She encountered members of The Dead Man Street Orchestra mid-hop and settled with them in New Orleans, going on to form a band and self-release two LPs entitled ‘It Don’t Mean I Don’t Love You’ and ‘Young Blood Blues’.

With the group now signed to Loose Music, selected tracks from those initial albums make up Hurray For The Riff Raff’s eponymous UK debut; a chronicle of rootsy American folk songs, stripped-back to a no nonsense instrumental set-up and expressed with an old soul’s shrewd, world-weary wisdom. Ahead of a planned live appearance at London’s Brixton Windmill on Thursday night as part of the band’s current UK tour, we were intrigued to get lead singer Alynda’s well-travelled take on our Same Six Questions.

Q1 How did you start out making music?
I started singing with my father when I was a child. I was especially fond of musicals like ‘West Side Story’ and ‘The Wizard Of Oz’. When I’d visit my dad he’d play the keyboard and I’d sing. Those are some of my fondest memories growing up. Once I hit middle school, though, I went through some changes and became much more introverted and insecure. I stopped believing that I had any talent and felt like I would never play music, even though I yearned to. So years later, when I came to New Orleans and met some incredible musicians, I was amazed to find that they wanted to play music with me. I’d play washboard and sing. Keeping the rhythm built my confidence to try banjo and that led back to the guitar. Learning to play music is all about trusting yourself and believing that you can do it. When you have encouraging people around you it makes it that much easier to grow.

Q2 What inspired your latest album?
The latest album in the UK is a collection of songs from our first and second full albums, so I’ll say that what inspired the songs are growing pains. I feel like it’s a very interesting time to be alive and especially be young. It’s a bit terrifying, the world is going through immense change and most people (young or old) don’t know what the future will bring. My friends and I have dealt with a lot more death at this point in our lives than most, and I think that really shows through. So, I wrote these songs to feel strong.

Q3 What process do you go through in creating a track?
It changes a lot. I will have a bare-bones song and normally the other bandmates will add their own flair to it. Sometimes a strong instrumental melody comes to me, but usually I hear the vocal melody and an overall sound in my mind. Yosi, who plays fiddle and drums, is very helpful in this process. I can tell him I want the fiddle to sound “warm” or “loose” and he understands what I mean. It’s like we’re trying to get that sound in my head out and often he’s the key.

Q4 Which artists influence your work?
I am always falling in love with different artists. It’s one of my favourite things to do. Townes Van Zandt is a huge influence on my songwriting, I see him as one of the great poets of our time. Townes has the ability to blend harsh realities with myth and beauty. I feel like Townes wanted to be a poet for the bums, and I respect him for that. When I hear Townes I feel like I am with an old friend and that is so special. I also feel that way about John Lennon, especially because of the huge body of work he left us. I am very inspired by the songs he wrote towards the end of his life because they are so bare and honest. Songs like ‘Mother’ and ‘Look At Me’ have helped me in some hard times.

Besides them, there are a huge list of influences. Otis Redding, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash. Not to mention all of my friends that are always creating and changing. I feel like we have a common goal to blend the past with the present and make something honest. My friends and I here in New Orleans all share a love for old things: music, photographs, film. It’s not about wishing we lived in another time, it’s about keeping quality alive. Remembering that the quality of colour, and heart and sound is very important.

Q5 What would you say to someone experiencing your music for the first time?
Bring a tissue and a bottle of Jim Beam.

Q6 What are your ambitions for your latest album, and for the future?
I hope the record spreads in Europe and we get to tour lovely places and meet new friends. Besides that, I hope to keep feeling inspired and write songs and learn songs. Hopefully meet a pedal steel player that wants to marry us musically and hit the road.