Interview with Tony Mengis from Portland Oregon’s Punk Band, The Riffs

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I asked my buddy Boombox to write a list of questions he would like to ask Tony Mengis and I finally have space in the blog schedule to post this interview. This was really fun to me for me to read this. I imagined all of us chilling on a couch drinking some beer while I listen to Boombox shoot questions at Tony. Day dreamer over here… Anyway, Boombox (His real name is James Mahoney but I’ve always known him as Boombox) is a buddy from Chicago of mine that I’ve know since high school. We used to go to the same Chicago punk shows and parties. I knew he’d be stoked to ask Tony some questions because he has always been a huge Riffs fan. If you’re interested in checking out a few Music Monday Playlists that Tony has put together for the Bird Trouble blog, find them here. – Alexz

 

BB // First, we gotta know about the dogs! How many do you have? What are their names?
Second, we noticed they have quite the wardrobe. What are their favorite things to wear?

TM // You picked a good week to send me this. I’m sick in bed. Bored, delirious and kind of pissed off so I have some time.  I have one. An English bulldog named Penelope I adopted about 6 yrs ago. My ex has a long haired Dachshund named Dieter. We watch each others dogs while the other one is working. We kind of hate each other but we really love each others dogs. Penelope has a sheepskin Levi jacket and a few polo shirts. Dieter has a yellow raincoat and a sweater. They both HATE wearing clothes but will do it for pictures if I make em. The bulldog in the Christmas sweater is my sister Chelsea’s dog, Penny. My sisters dog loves to wear clothes and will bring you clothes to put on her.

BB // I guess we’ll get right to the shit, most people reading this are going to want the dirt on why The Riffs broke up, since nobody seems to know. You guys fell off the Slaughter and the Dogs tour in 03, in what Ohio? Yeah, right? Right before the Chicago date (still kinda pissed about that) and Adam from the Exploding Hearts was drumming for you. So you (for whatever reason) are off the tour, then Death or Glory comes out 2-3 months later (which was weird because no one I knew even knew it was coming out, guess we should have caught a show in another state) and then the Riffs are never heard from again. 16 year old me was confused and pissed off. So, tell us….. what happened? 

TM // I don’t really know either. We had been on tour 9 months in 2 years and recorded 2 records. We were all just tired. Tired of being in a van, tired of eating at truck stops, tired of driving through Montana. We got back,said we were gonna take a break and just never got back together. I wish I had a better story. Next thing I knew we are all in different bands. Colin, Gabe and Alan were in the nice boys. Me and Kyle were doing a band called Bad Juju. The SATD tour was hard. Alan had quit right before that tour. It should have been a warning. We were gonna cancel but Adam said he would play drums for the tour. We were not making enough money opening that tour to pay for it so we just went home. It was really sad. We were friends with SATD but just couldn’t keep going. On our own tours if you have really good show you make enough to make up for a few bad ones. Opening you get the same amount no matter what. It costs more to keep 5 people and a van on tour than we were ever gong to make so we just had to go home. There’s a lot of different questions in this one so I will try to get it all. We had recorded Death or Glory at the end of the last tour we were on. That record kind of summed up the last couple years for us. We called it Death or Glory for a reason. We just ended up choosing death.

BB // What was with the nicknames? If there is no cool story behind them, just lie.

TM // We started calling Alan Carl cause when we first met him this big hillbilly punk was fucking with him and Alan beat his ass. Then he took an awesome Blitz button off the guys coat. The singers name of Blitz is Carl so we just started calling him Carl. Gabe was Amphetamine Blue cause when he did speed for a couple days he turned a weird color. Kind of a grey blue color. And turned in to a real dick. When we first heard that Fallen Angels song it just fit. Colin got kicked out of this bar we played one of our first shows cause he was only 17. They didn’t notice till he got really drunk and said he was under age. He went outside and passed out in an alley by the dumpster. There was a dead dog in a garbage bag. It smelled so fn bad from a block away. Someone started singing that Discharge song so we just called him Dogsbody. Kyle was just really into Hanoi Rocks and had an on and off problem with heroin. It just seemed to fit. 

BB // So, besides starting The Riffs and Defiance, there’s a pretty extensive history of that online… What about before then? Where’d you grow up? How did you get into Rock N Roll? When did you get your first leather jacket?

TM // The first band I was in called The Deprived. We put out a couple singles ourselves and a split on Profane Existence. A label in LA put it all out on LP a few years ago. I was also in a band called Resist. It’s a long story that basically just involves me being too strung out to complete anything but I am on some of the 2nd Lp that was released on Profane Existence. I’m from Portland. I was born here and just never left. I got into music from my older cousin. He was really into Kiss. I was too young to know any of their songs but loved looking at pictures and posters of them. I got my first leather jacket in 8th grade. It didn’t fit very well.   

BB // Who are your personal “style icons”? (Editors note: wow, that’s a lame term, makes me think of Cher of something)

TM // Ha, Cher looked pretty good in the 60’s and early 70’s. I like clothes that fit music and times. Ron wood looks good, Sid Vicious looked good. Paul Weller dressed great. The Small Faces always dressed good. The Specials always looked good. So did Blitz, except the mustache. I like how Generation X and the boys looked. The Jook look awesome. Early Who looked good too. Slade and the 70’s junkshop bands are some of my favorite but could never think the clothes look good.

BB // For the kids paying attention (and you know all of em are), let’s hear some of your favorite Punk Rock gear, whether it be brands you like, your favorite shit to wear, favorite creepers, anything. Hip us to some shit, TM. 

TM // TUK were always the creepers that lasted the longest. There was some stripper store at the end of Hollywood blvd that sold knock off creepers in great colors for really cheap. It always had one of those fake sales “buy one get 1 half off”. You could get 2 pair for 70$. They were shitty but would last a while for the price. I used to have people peg levis for me but eventually just wore lip service stretch jeans. Then Dogpile came out with the denim colored stretch jeans and I liked those. Levi’s Jackets were always good. I used to get british leather jackets on a strip of pawn shops in this speed neighborhood a little outside of town. I used to make most of my belts and bracelts with stuff from a leather supply shop downtown that was really for horse riding. I’ve always loved thrift stores and estate sales.  These days I wear a lot of 60’s vintage button downs and 60’s jackets. Levis sta prest. and Sir Jac s. For new clothes I like Levi’s, Fred Perry and Penguin. 

BB // Do you have an idea of a better alternative for sewing other than using dental floss? If so, please share with our friends reading along at home.

TM // I have no idea how to sew.

BB // Who do you currently think has the best style in music?

TM // I don’t hear too much new music. In the past couple years though I really like Beady Eye and Miles Kane. 

BB // Can we ask what you look for in a chick? Style wise. We’re not talking physical looks, we aren’t doing this to play matchmaker. We just have a large female audience. Put it this way, if a chick wants to impress Tony Mengis, or at the very least catch his eye, what is she pulling out of her closet?

TM // HA I have never thought about it and broke it down. I know it when I see it. I guess I will always think punk girls look best. Not a purple mohawk and a plaid buttflap but punk with a little style and dedication. Even though I think Punk girls look best I think a lot of different styles look awesome too if it’s something that seems real and fits the person.

BB // We’ve noticed you’ve “cleaned up” your look, for lack of a better term. Does his have anything to do we lifestyle changes? You look really healthy. 

TM //  The healthy part came from my brother. He got out a couple years ago and made me start going to the gym with him. I had never really exercised but it was the easiest and almost only time we got to hang out so I would go. He was doing ridiculous weight, like benching 295 so I would just run. Then he showed me some weight things and I just kept going. I do a lot more running than weights so I feel less guilty about how much I smoke. The cleaned up look came around the time I turned 40. My mom had just passed away and I kind of lost it for awhile. I didn’t want to wear black anymore and dressing punk just didn’t feel natural. I started dressing more mod/suedehead I guess. As far as the lifestyle changes that happened a long time ago. I am 44 now. I got sober when I was almost 30 so it’s been awhile. I was sober before the riffs even started. That might be a whole other interview though.

BB // What do you look for in your clothing (if anything) before you buy it? Certain brand? The stitching? Material?

TM // All of that and fit. Other than Fred Perry and Levis I buy mostly vintage clothes so all of that is important. 

BB // How’s your bar doing?

TM // Right now it is doing awesome. That could change anytime, it’s always up and down. There are some great shows coming up at East End though. Paul Collins Beat, The Briefs are doing a re union there, the 60’s band POWDER are coming in May. The Ballantines from B/C are coming in march. 

BB // How do you get around? Car? Hovercraft? Your legs?

TM // Car for sure. My dogs cant get on the bus.

BB // Any vacation plans?

TM // Defiance is going to Brazil in July. During world cup so that should be pretty crazy. I would  love to catch an Italy game while Im there but touring doesnt really leave time for that. Going to Denver for a festival in June. TNT fest in Connecticut in August. Then we will probably break up again and/or become a festival band. Then I won’t be able to go on vacation. 

BB // Can we have at least one really awesome (or really bad) tour story? People love those.

TM // Riffs one? In Kansas City after a show we went back to a party and Colin and Alan were sleeping in the van. Everyone was passed out and we heard machine gun fire. Everyone jumped up and ran outside. This car was chasing another car and a guy was hanging out the window with a machine pistol just shooting up the whole street. There were bullet holes everywhere. In houses, cars everywhere. Colin was sleeping on the loft and a bullet went through the front windshield and out the back door 2 in from his head. It was fn terrifying. 

BB // Do you think you are responsible for the Rod Stewart haircut revival?

TM // HA, I might have been the first one dumb enough to get that haircut. I know the girl that cut it like that the first time laughed a lot. She did a good job though. I think I got more shit for that haircut the first few years I had it than when I was 15 with a mohawk

BB // Think he’ll join up with the Faces?

TM // They said it was happening next year. I know they have said it before though. There’s about 12 of us that are gonna follow the tour like the grateful dead if it happens. 

BB // Is the Faces reunion what lit the proverbial fire under Defiance’s ass to reunite?

TM // I’m the only one in Defiance that would even listen to the faces I bet. 

BB // What are you listening to right now?

TM // A friend is trying to get me into Jimi Hendrix and gave me some stuff to listen to. It’s not working though. I don’t hate it but it hasn’t grabbed me either. For some reason I have been listening to Dead Skeletons a lot lately. I cant even figure out why I like it but I can’t stop listening to it. And right this minute Partisans blind ambition is playing.

BB // Favorite flicks?

TM // The warriors, 60’s and 2000’s james bond, Escape from New York, Scum, Football factory, OSS 117

BB // 5 albums you’d want to wash up on shore if you were deserted on an island? 

TM // 
Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks

Any record from Small Faces
Geto Boys Def Jam lP
OASIS Whats the Story Morning Glory
The Jook Different Class

BB // Does “Saigon Shakes” still wear that hat?

TM // I have only seen him a few times since he moved to SF but I don’t think so……….

BB // Can I have a Riffs nickname?

TM // Ha. You kinda have one already.

BB // Thanks for taking the time to do this, Tony! Were all really big fans, as you can tell. Take care my man!

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