As a child, he often found himself listening to his father playing various records from his vinyl collection. At the young age of 11, he started to play guitar. One year later, Alan Oakes realized that he wanted to make a career out of music.
“Some of my earliest memories are hearing stuff like The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Zepplin ringing throughout the house,” Oakes said in an exclusive interview with FanBolt. “I just fell in love with those sounds. It wasn’t until my first concert, when I was 12, that I realized I wanted to play music for the rest of my life. It was a Pantera and Skid Row show. A far cry from The Beatles and The Beach Boys, but watching those two bands absolutely own the crowd changed my life. And this is before I knew what “owning the crowd” even was. I had no idea that live music could be that loud and filled with so much energy.”
As the years have passed and now at the age of 30, Oakes is the man behind Let Em’ Riot. Through his experience as a musician, the lone member of the band seemed to find the sound he was searching for.
“I’ve always described [my music] as a foot-tapping, dancy, electro/pop/indie kind of thing,” Oakes said. “In the same vein as Hot Chip, Cut Copy, and Postal Service. Most people are like, “Huh?” Then I say, “Owl City?” And they reply with, “Oh, I love that song, ‘Fireflies’!”
Oakes says that he has been performing solo as Let Em’ Riot for over a year.
“It’s fun,” Oakes said, “but I think a lot of people who haven’t heart the music before have trouble getting it. I’ve spent years performing with bands took me a long time just to get used to performing without a guitar. I [feel] so naked on stage.”
Oakes imagines adding more musicians to his band and practices with other artists to enhance Let Em’ Riot’s on-stage performance.
“I’m currently in the process of jamming with a few guys and preparing a live set,” Oakes said. “There’s nothing that adds to the energy of the live show more than having live musicians on-stage, as opposed to standing up there by yourself, triggering samples off your laptop.”
Let Em’ Riot is currently an unsigned band, but used to be signed with a record label. Unfortunately, as most artists know, the music business can be cutthroat and the band was dropped from the label. After being relinquished of their duties, Oakes says he took the experience as a learning opportunity and concentrated on the positives instead of focusing on the negative aspects. He uses relationships as a metaphor for his involvement with the record label.
“Getting dropped from any label gives you a nice little dose of reality,” Oakes said. “The best way to relate it is to imagine a girl who is totally into you. She’s always calling wanting to hangout. She cute, not really your type but her persistence causes you to say, ‘What the hell, let’s give it a shot.’ You date for a few months and everything is going great until one day you hear from her friend that she’s completely over it and to stop calling her. It’s kind of like that. A little rejection every once in a while is good for the soul, though. Keeps you grounded and helps better appreciate the good times.”
Breaking into the music industry can be very difficult, especially when a band does not have a strategy. Oakes believes that the music business is a game, only to be played and not won. In order to survive, he has developed a tactic of his own to ensure that Let Em’ Riot stays afloat.
“No matter how many times I fall flat on my face, the end result is not what gets be out of bed in the morning,” Oakes said. “It’s the continuous struggle to find that note or that lyric that perfectly captures my emotion. If you took a game and stripped it of its point system and there was no winner or loser at the end, some would say, ‘What’s the point of playing then?’ I’ve watched countless musicians give up music over the years because if there’s no reward, then what’s the point? An artist doesn’t need a label or Grammy to validate his/her art.”
Oakes is not single-mindedly focused on finding a label to sign Let Em’ Riot, he says he is enjoying himself while making music.
“Finding a record label] is a lot like love,” Oakes said. “Once you stop looking, the right person comes along, sweeps you off your feet and shows you all he things you never knew you were missing out on. Finding a label isn’t the end of the road for me. It’s only part of the journey.”
Along his musical expedition, Oakes has produced several tracks on his own and has been known to release his songs for free. He has been recording music since he was 15 and used the “advanced technology” over a decade ago, to copy his work.
“I couldn’t tell you how many songs over the years [I have recorded],” Oakes said. “It’s funny, my first record was tracked in my bedroom on a Tascam 4-track recorder onto tape. The artwork was drawn and photocopied at Kinko’s and I made copies on my dad’s tape player one-by-one. A 20-minute recording took 20 minutes to duplicate. And if you had a Side-A and Side-B, then guess what? You had to flip the tape over and record onto that side too. Here I am, 15 years later and not much has changed. I’m still making records out of my bedroom. Thank God for CD burners though!”
The writing and recording process he goes through starts with developing a bass line on his computer or looping a drum pattern.
“[I] come up with a rough idea and build from there. I mix as I go, so by the time I lay the vocal tracks down, the song is pretty much finished. I’m a guitar player. I have a guitar player’s ear. I’m not good at hearing bass lines, drum fills or even key parts. There are a lot of opportunities I feel I miss out on with the music because I’m none of those things. I don’t suggesting recording an album by yourself, unless you’re David Grohl.”
After the tracks are completed, Oakes distributes some of the songs for free. His fans might assume that Let Em’ Riot releases their songs for free because they are passionate about their music, but Oakes states otherwise.
“I’m just not good at convincing someone that my song is worth his or her dollar,” Oakes says. “I make a lousy salesman. Labels are good at that, which is why I believe labels will always be around despite other’s opinions. One thing I will add to any artist thinking of giving their music away for free is, try and get something in return for that free download. Whether it’s an email address, a tweet, or a share on Facebook. Something that will help you stay connected or build your relationship with the listener. These things are the ‘new currency’ in today’s world of free music. I truly believe that.”
Let Em’ Riot has their “The App EP” available for sale, but a portion of the proceeds benefits The Fender Music Foundation.
“I wanted to add a little value to purchasing the recording for those who wanted to support the music,” Oakes said. “The Foundation helps support and preserves music education in the classroom. I have always enjoyed music classes as a kid. I chose this particular foundation mainly because Fender is a well-known name and is based out of Orange County. There are lots of great organizations like it and I wish I could support them all.”
Oakes says that his biggest inspiration for his music is music itself.
“When I watch a great live show or listen to an amazing new record, the first thing I want to do it run back home to my computer and start writing,” Oakes said. “It’s the best motivator. Living in Southern California, you never run out of inspiration. There’s such an abundance of new music and new bands. I feel quite fortunate to be in the middle of it all.”
The man behind Let Em’ Riot is very honest with himself – if not, brutally honest. Oakes says the message he is trying to express through his music is that there is not a particular message.”
“I’d like to say that my music is groundbreaking, life-changing and awe-inspiring, but it’s not,” Oakes said. “I’m not trying to lead a generation or anything. I make a terrible leader. I admire those artists who can though. Hell, I’d follow Dave Grohl into battle any day. To me, music is an expression of emotion. A certain feeling or thought. Every note, every lyric is an attempt to convey that.”
Let Em’ Riot’s music is available through online retailers such as iTunes and Rhapsody. Hard copies can be ordered through the websites as well.
“And of course,” Oakes adds, “everyone can download the music for free through http://letemriot.com/.”
Article By: Kimberly Gallagher