“I tell other musicians, if you know me as an artist, you know I totally destroy any of the material you give me to work with so I can make a new song out of whatever samples you have.”
Who is that masked man? You know the one I mean — the super-ripped DJ/keyboardist/guitarist in the black Spider-Man/Venom-inspired mask who lays down some of the sickest beats around while performing a punishing, physically demanding live set that would put Stephen Curry’s training regimen to shame.
Well, that man happens to be Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo, the Italian born-and-bred spiritual leader and mastermind behind The Bloody Beetroots. The electro-house dance-punk masters are in the midst of bringing their third album, The Great Electronic Swindle (available now in various formats via Last Gang Records), to supercharged life on stages all across the globe.
With Swindle, Sir Bob made sure to take his sweet time crafting the exactly right sound-palette mixture of samples and live performance to suit his ultimate goals as an artist. “I hear people say, ‘How did you create a 17-track album with all great songs? That’s not possible!’ No, it is possible,” Rifo asserted to Digital Trends. “All the songs here are necessary to tell the overall story. And that’s why you make an album — to tell the story.”
Digital Trends caught up with Sir Bob (real name: Robert Rifo) early on a recent morning following The Bloody Beetroots’ heart-pounding set at Warsaw in Brooklyn to discuss the band’s fierce mesh of samples and live instruments, how living real life is crucial for creative songwriting, and what his own personally perfect everyday Halloween outfit is — and why you’ll never spot it.
Digital Trends: Over the course of three Bloody Beetroots albums, you’ve merged a number of styles to fit how your songwriting has continued to grow. Would you say there’s been even more growth in your writing for this album?
Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo: Yeah, absolutely. More than ever with this album, I was trying to use more lyrics to become more a part of with the music. I’ve been merging genres all through the years, but this is the first time The Bloody Beetroots have put so much weight on the lyrics. And that’s changed my songwriting as well.
Do the lyrics come first or do the music and the beats come first, and then you add the lyrics to fit the sound?
The story comes first. It’s always been that way. The more I live, the more I’m able to tell a story. And I can always tell from the title. If I have a good title, I have a good story to tell. Then I can relate to the song where I go, “OK, this is what I want to say and this is the title of the story, so can we translate the words into music?” That’s pretty much my creative process. After I have the title, then I can deliver on all the rest with the music, which is the other side of the story.
The Great Electronic Swindle is such a great album title. You were born in Italy in 1977 during the height of the Sex Pistols era, so I’m assuming your title is an homage to them.
Yes, of course, the title is inspired by The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle [the 1980 Sex Pistols mockumentary directed by Julien Temple]. I was always quite a fan of the Sex Pistols. A couple of weeks ago, I did an interview with [Sex Pistols guitarist] Steve Jones on the radio [on Jonesy’s Jukebox on KLOS-FM in Los Angeles], and we became good friends. To me, that’s quite an achievement, because the album is a disciple of that title. And since I got to meet Steve Jones, I feel I got an approval from him. (chuckles)
When I spoke with Cut Chemist last week, he was talking about taking live musicians and samples and putting them together in a way where you couldn’t tell what was live and what was sampled. Are you also trying to do something like that?
I want to create a new sound of music.
The main thing to me is, I want to create a new sound of music. If I can add samples in there with the live instruments and then somebody says, “Oh, that’s a new sound,” then I’m happy to get that reaction. My priority is to give the music a humanity to it that I think has been missing for years.
That’s an interesting point. Sometimes technology can wipe the feel right out of just about any song. Making the music match those perfect 0s and 1s doesn’t sound like what you want to do at all. Otherwise, it would come across as being too insular.
Exactly. I make music with purpose. I want people to feel my music and what I do, because humans are not perfect. I want my music to reflect that, and for people to feel my logic of doing it.
The vinyl packaging for Swindle is quite striking, I have to say. I love how you’re depicted as a superhero on the cover.
Yes! The cover was drawn by Tanino Liberatore, who’s one of the great illustrators alive. We have a long relationship, over 10 years. And in Italy, we really appreciate the art of things. Tanino is an older guy [he’s 64], but the kids seem to know he’s a part of graphics history. [Liberatore co-created the Italian punk-antihero graphic novel series RanXerox, and he illustrated the striking, fly-swatting cover for Frank Zappa’s 1983 album, The Man From Utopia.]
I always say I like to help translate the old stuff into the new contemporary, almost like a bridge between generations. If we can use The Bloody Beetroots as a catalyst to let people know the art behind the project, then why not?
I appreciate you bridging that gap on both the art and the music sides, because music shouldn’t be generationally divided either. We should be able to enjoy the new and the old at the same time. I mean, how great was it that you, Paul McCartney, and Youth all collaborated together on the track Out of Sight a couple of years ago? That must have been something.
It was something! That was quite a story too. I had produced a song with Youth called The Church of Noise [a 2011 Bloody Beetroots single also featuring Refused vocalist Dennis Lyxzén]. At that time, I was preparing my second album [2013’s Hide], and I knew he and Paul had a project together called The Fireman. I asked Youth if there was a chance to collaborate with Paul, and he said, “Yeah, it’s possible. Let me make some calls” [McCartney and Youth have produced three ambient/electronic-driven albums under The Fireman moniker to date: 1993’s Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest, 1998’s Rushes, and 2008’s Electric Arguments].
I told them, if you know me as an artist, you know I totally destroy any of the material you give me to work with so I can make a new song out of whatever samples you have. When Out of Sight became a new song, I called Paul and said, “Hey, do you want to redo the vocals, because this is a new song now? You should come up with something fresh and original.” He said yes, and we spent an amazing day together recording the vocals. It was quite an incredible experience for me.
If you were given the opportunity to “destroy” a Beatles song, which one would you tackle?
Oh wow. I don’t know how you could pick just one. When I say the name “Beatles,” it’s just something so magical.
Well, I think if you did a search and destroy mission with Helter Skelter, that would be pretty cool.
Search and Destroy, that is a good title.
Right? And then you could call the group The Bloody Beatles.
That’s it! OK, I’m going to call Paul and see if he likes the idea! (laughs heartily)
Keep me posted! I like that earlier phrase you said, “create and destroy,” which is a callback to the punk aesthetic of what I just mentioned, “search and destroy.”
Music is such a pure tool to express our emotions and feelings.
When I approach sampling, the fundamental is to create something new — which is very, very important. Re-piecing together something that is not there anymore gives it a whole different perspective, and that’s what I love to do. That is my job.
When you do things like going from the string arrangement on Invisible to the outright headbanging of All Black Everything, you really are covering all the bases.
Thank you. I mean, I try to explore different territories. And that’s probably because I listen to all kinds of music I feel is good music. All throughout the day, I listen to different genres, and I don’t mind expressing myself in multiple genres as well. It all goes with the common denominator, which is me.
There are no boundaries in my work anymore because it’s all about making good music, and that’s what I wanted to do with this album. Music is such a pure tool to express our emotions and feelings, so why not do it in full? Prejudice against free expression doesn’t belong in the music business. We do not need to deal with those things that block us and prevent us from doing what is pure and simple.
The word “energy” is probably an understatement for what you do onstage, since you are a very physical performer. Wouldn’t you agree?
Yes, I am a very physical performer, because that’s how I want to translate the music. We have very big installations with big screens that show big images, but I want the performance of the music to be as human as possible. That’s how we want to communicate. We want the message to be clear and clean, and be accessed by the biggest amount of people.
That must be freeing for you — to be involved in that human element without the celebrity thing getting in the way of how people interact with one another. The last thing you want as a songwriter is to be stuck in the ivory tower.
That’s right. I need to be involved in those aspects of life to be able to express what I want to express. Being put in a celebrity role, I would not be able to tell a story or be able to experience that community sense anymore. I would have nothing real to tell from the beginning to the end.
Do you have a favorite album you still love, one you loved growing up?
It would have to be Sex Pistols, Never Mind The Bollocks. I got more from that album than all the others put together. (chuckles) And, you know, we need that kind of counterculture back. We need another kind of Sex Pistols who can cause another social revolution.
Halloween was a few weeks ago. Do you wear a different “costume” for Halloween to totally trick people out?
Well, I live in a perpetual Halloween (both laugh), so I’d have to change my mask. But I perform in one every day, so … (more laughter)
I guess daily Halloween for you would be to not wear a mask, and walk around in public that way. Nobody would even know it was you.
Yes, yes, I love that idea! I love the idea that nobody knows who you are. That’s how you get to experience the community, and be a part of the human experience.
Finally, is it too early to think about album number four? Do you already have ideas in the works for what you want to do next?
I’m always creating new music, so I’m not worried about what it will be. It may not come out until sometime in the next four years, but it’s not because it takes four years; it’s just that I want to live life in that time. Life is when you access yourself and all the music that’s within you, and having those relationships with your friends and the ones you love. You’re examining the life you are living, and that’s how you start the process and begin to tell the stories.
Before I get to the fourth album, I need to live a little bit more. Maybe I’ll do something different with the sampling and step out on a different level and do some more writing, because I always want to take those next steps and move ahead with my music.
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