Two weeks ago, FrogDaddy sat down with musician Les Rios and had a frank discussion about him, his passion for music and his spirituality.
We sat in the living room, got some drinks, got comfy, turned on the tape and chatted for about two hours. I thought I’d start off with a few general questions to get the discussion going, but it didn’t take long for Les to show the real him.
Here’s what was on those tapes so graciously transcribed by Blue1moon.
FD: Tell me Les, how’s life in general?
LR: For the last three years, I’ve lived in vans more than my house. (laughs)
FD: What do you consider yourself? Musician? Singer/Songwriter? Guitarist? Or all of the above?
LR: I guess a professional musician, I try to stay away from singer/songwriter. But I am a singer and a songwriter, and first a guitarist. I knew the rythym was in me when I was young. I drummed on everything, at age 8 or 9 I started seeing and hearing people playing guitar, “Wipe Out” (The Ventures) really turned me on, it was so cool…I wanted to make that sound. I already had a drum set, but when I picked up a guitar at around age 9, I had a vision of myself as a guitarist.
My music is serious, but not overly heavy, sophisticated rock and roll. Strong lyrics, left-wing stance politically.. I do want to change the world. Like the 60’s, I still have that passion to change the world to make it a better place through my music.
FD: Your latest CD “Les Rios Live 03” has a song called “Man of Action”. I’ve seen you do this song live. It’s powerful lyrics are almost haunting. What’s it really about?
LR: That is my favorite, strongest tune so far. Its about the conflicts of being a man in society now. A man has to earn money, fight wars, take out the garbage, and also be criticized for not giving enough to his mate…being in the middle of society’s pull and a woman’s need for attention. Its also a warning about workaholism.
Yes, I am a go-getter, that song is about me – all men in this situation, any person feeling trapped.
FD: You are playing/choosing different songs nowadays. Why?
LR: I used to be in the folk track, genre, scene. I was playing exclusively alone. After a number of years I began adding people, I was mellower. The songs are ones which I loved for a long time, like listening to Buddy Holly on the radio. As I’ve grown, matured, I met more musicians and stepped out of folk and into rock and roll. Rock and roll really stirred me up. I was raised on folk and country, but it wasn’t until, like I said, I heard “Wipe Out”, that neeneeneenee, the rock and roll feel and sound was what made me want to become a musician.
FD: Right, it’s a blend of all those things.>br>
LR: Yeah, yeah
FD: So, what would you like to accomplish with your music in the end? When is Les gonna say, hey, fuck it, I did it. Is it a 20 million dollar contract ?
FD: Is it just getting old and saying “hey, you know what, I made my living this way, this is good”. Or maybe you feel you have already reached that.
LR: No, no! What I want to accomplish, or where I want to go, but not, as you say, a goal. Cause I could give you a very mathematical goal as well, but what I hope to accomplish is to support myself , and to support myself strictly on my music, no other work besides my music…. and um, to be respected by, as a creator of music, and as creator of, I should quantify that by saying, high quality music, ok, a creator and player and performer of high quality music, respected by a larger community and a few other musicians who you know, actually know, what they are listening to. And be respected, ya know, as that. Um, and I wouldn’t mind being able to get enough from all that to be able to actually somehow make an impact, change, help some people that, you know for people. So I want to go beyond just helping myself, go beyond just earning enough money to survive. I would like to, in a Robin Hoodish kinda way, get a bunch and then be able to spread it out to where its more deserved.
FD: Right, right, that sounds pretty cool. What part of that world, you know, the music world, cause there’s lots of parts: sitting down with your guitar banging out tunes…I don’t know how you write songs, but I know like for my brothers, they would either write a piece of music first by screwing around and jamming or they’d have some words and find some music to it. So what part of that world, I am going to separate them by saying music, writing, performing, recording gives you the most satisfaction. Like where’s the high, ya know? (laughter) You know sitting in your room alone?
LR: No, the biggest high is performing live.
FD: Performing live!?
LR: I mean, absolutely.
FD: What kind of books do you read?
FD: Do you read? (laughingly)
LR: I do know how to read. I (laughing) prefer non-fiction, I pretty much always have. Though, you know, as a kid I think most of us read fiction. But, uh, I tend to prefer philosophy and mysticism and religion, and that’s East and West. Karl Jung, is a favorite author of mine, um, I still read the I Ching, well, the english translation, obviously, not the original in Chinese thing, but I like to read that and I like to read you know, even obscure.
FD: That’s funny I just bought, re-bought, the Tibetan Book of the Dead
LR: I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never read that. And I also like reading magazines, too. You know, but mostly non-fiction.
FD: I asked that question, because some of our audience are readers, and it’s just a general question. This may be a repeat question, …but, what do you think the most important person or event in your music life or in life development was to you?
LR: One?, one musical entity or person?
FD: The most important, you know, what flipped the switch? You kinda answered that before by saying the Ventures, but I’m going to give you an opportunity to express more on that.
LR: Yeah, well I would have to add to that, Johnny Cash.
FD: Cool, we were raised on him. Are you, this is an off the music thing sort of. Are you helping underlings and wannabes develop themselves.
FD: Do you have young people asking? How do I get to do, what you’re doing? (laughter)
LR: Well, not a lot
LR: Not a lot, but yeah, I am
FD: You know, like, teach me to play guitar.
LR: Oh, oh, there are fans, younger guys, that are like actually, if I’d been a father at an average age, they would be like sons of mine. (smiles)
LR: that have admired me and supported me and showed up, that wanted to like, open up (the show) for me, to somehow get involved with my scene.
You know, use a little bit of my scene, to try to get themselves noticed, and I’ve said yes to that. Always.
FD: So you’ve taken the time to help others, ... that’s good thing.
LR: Yeah, I’ve said yes to that, I’ve done shows and had them, ask if they could open up, and I said yes, and you know I didn’t have to say yes. I could have just said no its my show, we’re not gonna do this. Ya know most of the time what happens is we are getting paid for one band, one band playing, one night.
FD: Right, and that’s it.
LR: But there have been scenarios, where other people have asked to join in and be the opening band. And I’ve said, yeah.
FD: Right or invite somebody up on stage with you.
LR: and use P.A. system, and run sound for them and start off the show, and committed my, what little, what you want to call business, to you know, three up and coming bands so that they could be heard by basically mostly my crowd. You know what I’m saying.
FD: Yes. I mean that’s a signficant thing for a young performer.
LR: I mean if I could do more I would, I am not a teacher. Although, I have been asked to teach.
FD: No, no I didn’t mean as a teacher. You know sometimes you get, you know, like the kids at the coffee house used to come and they’d do anything to stay there for free, and just to be part of it, the scene.
LR: Well, I have been asked by, not millions of people or nothing like that, but a lot of people about teaching guitar and I said no every single time, only because I don’t think I’d make a good teacher.
FD: You know, can make a difference in one persons life (smile)
FD: In the music world if somebody comes up and asks you a question, do you blow them off?
LR: I don’t do that, I don’t blow them off. Never.
FD: Do you feel your work is stressful? Or under pressure.
LR: Oh my Jesus, yes.
FD: (laughing)……that’s a good answer
LR: Pretty much all the time.
FD: I feel like mine is but ahh...
LR: I could go on and on about that part of it, but I am sure you’ve probably got more questions. Is that the only one question about the down side in this whole thing. I want to keep going. (Laughter) You know what I am saying?
You know, where I am at right now, and the ratio is getting a little better. But it used to be like a hundred contacts, I would get rejected by 99. Ya know, and when I am talking about a hundred contacts, I’m not talking just randomly picking up the phone and going on the internet and calling up clubs, I’m talking driving to Syracuse NY, driving to Toronto, driving to Key West, fricking Florida, ya know, on my expense, walking around the streets, getting in there waiting for people, taking people’s shit. You know, sleeping in my van, for extended periods of time. Not being able to clean and stuff, just so that I could, you know, and that’s not including the thousands of dollars that went into the cost of thousands of press kits. You know what I mean, which took me a frigging year and a half to get together before I could even go out into the world and pass these out, and give them away, you know what I mean. Even today its like 50 to 1, 50 rejections, fifty contacts, one gig.
FD: But that’s you know ... business.
LR: I know that (smiling)
FD: If you took “Fuller Brushes” and you went around trying to sell them door to door, you get the same thing. (laughs).
FD: Are you nervous before you get on stage?
LR: Not anymore (smile)
FD: That’s not a stressful part of it?
LR: No, no
FD: I had a brother who used to pass out all the time just before walking on stage!
FD: They had to pick him up get him out there, You know they’d drag him out on the frickin’ stage
LR: No shit (laughs)
FD: Once he got out there he turned alive, but he hated that walking out thing, you know what I mean. They got tapes of him like, doing the Grand Ole Opry and stuff, ya know, you could see he was as white as a sheet. All the time, he’d faint in a little bar and faint in a big show. It didn’t matter.
LR: No kidding, he had bona-fide stage fright
FD: Yes, to the point where they almost had to put him on a dolly and wheel him out there. Once he opened his mouth and the music started he was a whole different thing, you know he was the funniest entertainer.
LR: What position or instrument did he play in the band?
FD: Lead singer , banjo and guitar. But he absolutely hated it – that part of the business. Live shows .... great in the studio though.
LR: Did he get over it?
LR: Never!, (laugh) ok, see because, I started out that way and it just slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly got less and less and less and less to now, when I’m nervous, it isn’t because of the actual, of there being a bunch of people there, and I’m worried about them looking at me. It might be nervous about this one guy in the band is weak and I’m scared that we won’t sound good. Or I have no clue if we are going to fit what they are expecting as far a style, genre and you know. I have more technical and political, social, but not stage fright type of nervousness. You know, I mean, that’s the kind of nervousness I have.
FD: Ok, so umm, Where would the ultimate gig be? Or the ultimate performance? That’s a rough frigging question. (laugh)
LR: I’d like to play Madison Square Gardens. That would be my ultimate.
FD: If you could play with any other person, or band? You now like step in with them for a couple of gigs or whatever. Who would be that ultimate, like “Oh shit”, I’d do anything to play with him/them be?
LR: To be asked to replace, well not replace, but step in place of Jerry Garcia, and sing and play lead guitar for the day, with all the rest of the remaining survivors of the band.
FD: Next question is, “Express something about life on the road”.
LR: Express something?
FD: Right, do you take it as a positive, as a fun thing, or this sucks but I gotta do it to make a living or you know, wish I could just sit home in the recording studio in my house, and just mail crap out. Like I do.
LR: Well, um, (laughing)
FD: You know like, I work from home, some people can, some can’t. It’s a self-driven thing to be able to and still accomplish yours goals.
LR: Yeah …
FD: Working from home takes this regiment, that you gotta sit down and do it, because you are tempted to go off and you know, wander off.
LR: Well, first thing I gotta say is there is living on the road, and then there is living on the road! And you know back one and I would say almost two years ago, when I essentially ripped the guts out of my house in Nova Scotia and made it literally unlivable in the winter time and with no hot water use, pretty much unlivable all the time. Ok, at that point I was playing and driving in such a large area that I said two years ago I have been literally a homeless gypsy living on the road, like really, there is no where to go, I have had an apartment no where, didn’t stay with nobody in their house for any extended period of time. Literally, I’ve lived in three different vans – a Ford, Chevy and now a Dodge, of course the van that I now live in is actually a motor home so, thank God I am actually living a half-way normal life, but its hard.
FD: That’s what my brothers ended up doing, living in an RV.
LR: An RV?
FD: Yeah, I mean there were more of them so they needed more space, but same concept.
LR: Yeah, … so I’ll say that life on the road – it is hard, but I think for sure about myself that I am actually a gypsy, a gypsy soul that just belongs there, because it resonates, it does resonate well with me, real well.
FD: That reminds me of a great Van Morrison song. I hear you. We’re on the last question. (smile)
LR: Really, cool.
FD: Unless you know if you’ve got more to add
LR: No, I’ve been effective then, huh, I haven’t been wasting lot of .. The thing is that if you print that word for word it wouldn't be too long, but it wouldn’t be too short either. Yeah, you won’t have to edit a bunch of garbage out.
FD: That’s ok (laughing)
LR: Oh, Im glad
FD: I’ve got like enough digital space, that we you can talk for 6 weeks and we wouldn’t even begin to dent it. A question for our audience, “have you ever had any unusual or paranormal experiences, you know religious or spiritual experience”, … maybe tied into music, or maybe not, maybe those are the things that bring songwriting.
LR: The answer is yes, many. Mostly fitting into not what I would call paranormal or extraterrestrial. Definitely not in that sense, but spirtual and what I would say even would be, just to keep it simple, I use the term God. That doesn’t lock me into only seeing things in a narrow Christian way, cause I don’t, though I was raised a Christian.
But I feel that God spoke to me and directly intervened in the physical world around me directly, directly communicating with me in written word, in spoken word, and also in emotional feelings. For example, I am going to give you an example that happened, real life, one of the most powerful of these experiences was when I was in western Massachusetts.
There was a massive thunder and lightning storm and I heard and felt, kinda semi-felt, semi-heard, it wasn’t like a loud booming voice in my ear, but I could almost kinda like hear this whisper and felt this feeling – ‘walk up to the top of the mountain, behind your house.’
This is a sizeable mountain behind my house in Chester, Massachusetts and I was alone, by myself in my house, and I even argued with it out loud, I said, ‘Well, its thundering and lightning out.’ “Go to the top of the mountain, boy.” So I got on a coat, it was summer time, I walked up to my favorite meditating and praying spot on top of this mountain that looked out over the little village of Chester and the Westfield River Valley. And when I was up there on the top of the mountain, it was thundering and lightning all around me. All around me, rain crashing right down, I was kinda scared, but at the same time I wasn’t scared. I went to the top of the mountain where it was obviously a very dangerous situation, because the lightning wasn’t off in the distance, it was all around me, and it was daylight, it was afternoon, it wasn’t nighttime. So as I’m up there on the top of the mountain, just kinda of standing around cause I had used this same spot for many prayers and meditations, long, deep meditations. So I was comfortable on my spot and I felt safe, right, despite the lightning. All of a sudden two lightning bolts come right down out of the sky like halfway between me and the mountain in front of me, a mile away, in the form of a ‘V’. They connected and they went down to the ground. The same voice says, ‘you’re going to move to Vermont.’ I shit you not! This is the God’s honest truth. Again, I speak out loud to this feeling/voice kind of thing that I am having, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know anybody in Vermont. Why move to Vermont” I walked down the mountain by this time the thunder and lightning is moving off into the distance. I go to sleep, the next day I wake up, I drive to Brattleboro. I get the Brattleboro Reformer newspaper, look in there in the house/stuff for rent, and I wind up seeing this one place that I could afford, met the guy in Grafton. My first place I lived (in VT) was in Grafton, seven or eleven miles away from Chester, VT, which one year later is when I met you. I was still living in Grafton, I moved after I met you. I moved from Chester, Massachusetts, accidentally one town away from Chester Vermont.
FD: That’s wild, crazy.
LR: I was going through this phase, a lot of prayer, a lot of meditation, a lot of reading spiritual books and Buddhist stuff. And, like for example, Tic Nat Huan (Sp?) who is a Vietnamese Buddhist, active today politically in the Buddhist world but also political peace teacher and protester. I was reading a lot of his stuff and also a lot of Native American Indian stuff. One author that I was impressed by, he’s dead now, was Sun Bear or Sun – can’t remember his name. So I was praying in that vien, in a sense almost like a mixture of Christian and Pagan prayers. Doing a lot of meditating, so there were a lot of other instances that little things would all come together at once and I would get this feeling that I was being communicated with, touched.
FD: Right, a definite spiritual experience.
LR: A very spiritual growing time and connection, such that a very shaken broken thing that I had at the time, was forever repaired and given to me. Given to me from what felt like outside of me. Also I remember one time during that same phase, I was awoken abruptly in the middle of the night. This voice, its more like a whisper, its not an authoritative loud audible voice, it more kinda like a whisper like the wind inside of me, says, get your guitar and your book, and the song followed. Which I called "Man of Action". This led to the full-length album, "Man of Action". It’s like I woke up with a big idea and couldn’t hold on it, and as soon as I got my guitar and paper, it came out of me, just immediately, already done. I went back to sleep after playing and trying singing it one time, when I woke up in the morning I think I had to edit out like three words from the whole thing, just to make it metrically fit. But the whole thing was done, and as it was coming out of me, it did not feel like my own. It felt like it was coming from God. And that’s also how “Follow” was written.
FD: Yes, I’ve heard similar stories to that. It seems a lot of artists have similar experiences. Hey, one more quick question. Have you ever tried to sell your songs? Not as a performer, as a song writer?
LR: No I haven’t. As far as I know, I don’t think today, I have an easy access that I am aware of, to that whole system, you know, its real hard to get in touch with people, its real hard to find artists that have an easy way in, just like knock, knock, knock, or pick up the phone. So no, I’ve never tried doing that, but I would be honored, and I certainly, if I was given the opportunity to sell a song, or was given a pathway towards that, absolutely. I’d be honored if someone would value a song I’d written enough to want to take it, and buy it, and record it, and do it. So its just lack of resource why I haven’t done it.
FD: And time, it takes time to chase those things.
LR: I gotta say something, I want to add that I already have framed, actually I didn’t frame it, some friends framed it for me, my first royalty check. (laugh) I’ve been paid for my songs already, by ‘SoCan’ which is the same as ASCAP, but up in Canada which I am a member of. I am so serious of a song writer that I'm actually not only a member/writer member of SoCan , but I registered a publishing company in Nova Scotia, the province of Nova Scotia, a legal entity, business entity, and became a publisher member
as well of SoCan, so now I actually own, absolutely 100% of everything I write, as opposed to when you walk in the door in a record company, because they are a publishing company, typically they publish you and then the way it works
FD: they own ya
LR: Well they own 50%. And the check from SoCan comes in first and then they distribute your half. Me, I am my own publisher, so I am self-published, and of course all of my songs are copywritten. So I am already stacked up, prepared to either walk in the door of the big corporate monolith and will not give them publishing rights. Self-publishing, self-written, self-produced and I own the record, I am the one putting all of the money into it.
FD: Right, nothing wrong with that.
B1M: Have you been up at your place in Nova Scotia at all? Have you had any weird experiences there, are you out in the middle of nowhere?
LR:I am not up there at all, in the past year and a half, I’ve been there literally three weeks. It was two years ago that I started living permanently in my van, different vans along the way. In that two years, I’ve probably only been there two months.
FD: Are you a Canadian citizen?
LR: No, I was born here. But I grew up there, I was a landed immigrant there, during my childhood.
With that, we shut off the tapes and relaxed a few moments and Les got up to leave. I told him I enjoyed the interview with him immensely and that I thought our readers will enjoy hearing and understanding how artists, musicians, and others like them live. I told him I thought it was one of the best interviews I’ve ever done and that it captured his spirit. I thanked him. We took a few quick pictures with my digital camera and he left.
I will say one thing for Les Rios, he is “A Man Of Action”. You can hear and purchase his music CD’s on his website http://www.lesrios.com . If you’re looking for music out of the mainstream and something soulful. I’d recommend buying one of his CD’s. Also … go see him perform live. It’s a show you won’t easily forget. His live performance schedule in also on his site along with lots of photos and other material.
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