Interview with Tango Down guitarist and founder Scott ‘Rif’ Miller

INTERVIEW WITH TANGO DOWN GUITARIST AND FOUNDER SCOTT ‘RIF’ MILLER
Date: February 26, 2017
Interviewer: Olivier

ONE OF THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2016 IS UNDOUBTEDLY TANGO DOWN’S ‘BULLETPROOF’ ALBUM WHICH LANDED THE #2 SPOT ON SLEAZE ROXX’S TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2016. NOT MANY BANDS CAN LEGITIMATELY SAY THAT THEY ARE GETTING BETTER ALBUM AFTER ALBUM BUT TANGO DOWN MAY WELL BE ONE OF THEM. SLEAZE ROXX HAD THE PLEASURE TO INTERVIEW TANGO DOWN GUITARIST AND FOUNDER SCOTT ‘RIF’ MILLER IN THE BAND’S FIRST PRINT INTERVIEW SINCE THE RELEASE OF THEIR VERY IMPRESSIVE NEW ALBUM ‘BULLETPROOF.’

Sleaze Roxx: Tango Down are back with a new singer Chas West. After Tango Down and David Reece parted ways, how discouraging was that and did you have any thoughts that this might be the end of the band?  

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: Discouraging? Not exactly. Kind of a relief. Not in a bad way. See, David had a lot of fires going on when we did ‘Charming Devil.’ He had solo albums, EZ Livin, the Wicked Sensation album he did, then getting the Bonfire gig, all while we were finishing up ‘Charming Devil.’ Him leaving was a relief due to the fact we didn’t have to fight for his attention. Of course we were happy for him. In fact Keith [Tango Down drummer] went out and bought the Bonfire CD as soon as it came out to show support. I’m sure he will pick up his latest new band [Sainted Sinners] as well.

Now, did any of us think it was over? ABSOLUTELY NOT [emphasis added] — for several reasons. First of all, Tango Down has a sound that regardless who the singer is, you know it’s Tango Down. It’s always been about the “songs,” the hooks and a wall of phat sounding guitars. We always tried to have the singer fit our sound, not us fit the singer’s voice. Of course, we built off of the singer’s strength and would incorporate it to our sound. That’s why Chas is able to flow between the older songs to the new songs and we never miss a beat. That’s because it’s our sound. Secondly, John Kivel [Kivel Records principal] and myself are not the throw in the towel types, so if anything, something like this lights a fire under both of our asses. We both knew if Tango Down was to continue on, we had to raise the bar. David Reece is a tall act to follow — literally and figuratively! John and I had a very lengthy phone call one night on the next step. Somewhere through the course of the convo, we both agreed we had to come back strong. Somehow this exchange inspired the album title. We knew we would be put under a microscope and have people taking shots at the band, the album, Kivel, and whoever the new singer would be… So we are like, “Take another shot! We’re going to be Bulletproof.”

Sleaze Roxx: How did Chas and new bassist Axel [K. Gessner] end up joining the band, and what happened to [bassist] Ronnie Parkes?

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: Well, David and Ronnie had formed a bond, and when David left for his new gig, he offered Ronnie a spot in Bonfire. Of course, Ronnie couldn’t pass up such an opportunity. I love Ronnie like a brother. So I am happy for him. Now I wouldn’t say Axel is “new” though. He’s been with us for two years. So a little longer than Ronnie was with us. Anyway, enter the AXE MAAAAAAN [emphasis added]!!!! Now no dis on Ronnie, but Axel was the kick in the ass this band needed. He is a stick of dynamite wrapped in a nuclear bomb swinging from a lightning bolt! He reminds me a lot of me at that age. Yes, there is a small age gap. He’s like my little brother. Getting Axel was the missing balance I was always looking for. Now don’t get me wrong. Ronnie was great on stage. He had this cool in the pocket — I’m a bad ass smooth gangsta thing — going on. Axel is a wild man on stage. I’m a wild man on stage. And we just feed off of each other live. Kivel found Axel through the House Of Lords guys. They recommended him to John. So, John flew him out to New York and put him in a hotel to audition for us — which was kind of a pricey risk if you think about it. Axel nailed it. I mean, he knew songs we forgot.

As for Chas, we had some ideas of some people. But Chas was the only guy we really approached. We follow our guts and our gut said “Let’s pursue this guy.” John reached out to him on Facebook. Turned out he was in town and was playing a show minutes from John’s house. So John went out and caught him [live], filmed a song on his cell phone and sent it to me and [producer] Ty Sims. We both chimed in saying, “He was the guy.” John and Chas went out to a nice Italian restaurant, shot the shit, blah blah. Done deal. When we see something we want, we go for it. So Chas was the only choice for us. We wrote the album, did the pre-production demos, then road tested four of the new songs at Rock N Skull that October [2015]. To rave reviews from some diehard fans. There was no second guessing us at that moment. The hype machine was in full effect — one hour meet and greet in the VIP room followed by another one hour meet and greet at the Kivel Booth pretty much said it all for us. So we couldn’t wait to get into the studio. It was no longer a worry about proving ourselves all over. It was now about getting it done.

Tango Down‘s “Carry On” live at Rock N Skull Festival in October 2015:

Tango Down “Carry On” Live at Rock N Skull 2015

Tango Down live from Rock N Skull 2015 in Pekin IL. Road testing a new tune from their upcoming 2016 release, BULLETPROOF !! Tango Down is Chas West Scott Miller Keith Michaels Axel Gessner

Sleaze Roxx: Axel recently joined a band called Once Around. Will Axel be continuing with Tango Down as well?

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: ABSOLUTELY [emphasis added]! He is here ’til the end. Also, we couldn’t be happier for him and Once Around either. Who knows? Maybe he will one day open for himself when we double bill both bands?

Sleaze Roxx: I was really blown away by the songs on ‘Bulletproof’ which not surprisingly landed the #2 spot on Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2016! The songs are for the most part instantaneously likeable and really well crafted. How do you find the songs on ‘Bulletproof’ compare to the ones from previous albums?  

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: Thank you! There is a formula we follow and it has always worked for us. This time it seemed to REALLY [emphasis added] work!! All the planets were aligned. Kivel will give me the green light to start writing and demoing. He knows how the timeline works best for all of us. Everyone has their piece of the puzzle. His is the evil ring leader! I’ll send him 20 demos of roughs, song ideas, etc. He then chops it down to ten songs. We go over the ten he has picked. He then chops it down to six. The other four get put in a folder for the next album. When we discard a song, it’s not because it’s a bad song. It’s because we may already have a song like that one. Better to have one song like that and allow it to stand on its own than have a similar song to it. I used to be, “I wrote it… I want it on the album!!” John got me thinking that it’s better to save it for the next album. Give it more space to shine on its own. “Change My World” off ‘Charming Devil’ was written for ‘Identity Crisis.’ We left it off as we felt we had the “heavy” song on that album. So we saved it for ‘[Charming] Devil.’

So now we have the songs I wrote chosen. John will send them off to his songwriting stable. We go back and forth over who should get what. Of course, it was a no brainer that we sent the music to what would become “Give Me A Reason” to Jason Pawlak. He is the fifth member of Tango Down and is just unreal talent wise. I’ll include some lyric ideas here and there or have a vocal melody on the demo that I sang. Some make it, some don’t. So now collaborators help flush out my songs and they become our songs. I have to say we were blessed with some awesome talent on this album — Pete Newdeck on two songs; Paul Logue on two songs; Jason Pawlak did his “thang.” Hell, even John Kivel has a co-write. I think this is his second with us. He co-wrote the song “Charming Devil” on the last album.  

This leaves a few open song slots, and John will get an outside song from Jason Pawlak or someone. In this case, he delivered “Going Under” from a talented guitarist Stephen Chesney. LOVE [emphasis added] this song as its one of my faves on the album. So, we build off of my guitar and songs and then try to bring in a few outside songs to add some spice, while making it our own. This keeps the album fresh and not getting tired or suffering from song fatigue. At the end of the day, it is the fans that decide if all the hard work paid off. Judging by the reviews, I think we nailed this one.

As for how we compare this album to the previous, well they aren’t that far removed from the older titles. I mean, we do our set and it has five new songs and four older songs, with one cover song set closer. All sit nicely next to each other and all could be on the same album. The new material though is the next evolution though in our sound. Even though it’s cut form the same cloth, I don’t think we could have done some of these songs on one of the earlier albums. I don’t think we were there yet. We don’t pick the material, it picks us.

Tango Down‘s “Punching Bag” song:

Punching Bag 7.20.16 by Kivel Records

Stream Punching Bag 7.20.16 by Kivel Records from desktop or your mobile device

Sleaze Roxx: Why are you really the lone band member that participates in the songwriting?  

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: It just is. If Axel, Keith or Chas want to contribute, they can, but only the best submissions make the cut. I’m no exception to that rule. Kivel sets the bar high on us. We joke each album after it’s done, “How the hell are we going to top this one?” Then we somehow manage to do it. We don’t know how, but we do. And shout out to Ty Sims and Erik Johnson for their mad production skills as they keep raising the bar as well with each Tango Down release. I don’t think Tango Down would be as strong without them on the album. By the way, check out their band Bombay Black. BADASS! And by the way, Chas had a co-write on ‘Bulletproof.’

Sleaze Roxx: Another particularity with Tango Down is that Kivel Records principal John Kivel seems to provide a lot of input and guidance to the band. What has John brought to Tango Down?

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: Kivel gets praise or flack depending on who you talk to. I am going to set it straight. I’ve been on the label now 16 years. He released my old band, No More Johnny. I then joined Adriangale and did two CDs with them. I then started Tango Down and have released five albums on Kivel Records. Can John be a jerk sometimes? YES! Pain in my ass? YES! But he gets it done and he is my friend. He looks out for his bands. Plus you can’t argue the quality of his product or the way he can snake oil salesman with the best of them. Have you seen how he rolls his set up at a festival?

Sleaze Roxx: Yes! He easily has the flashiest and best display!

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: If he could figure out how to have dancing girls in cages from the ceiling, I’m sure he would! Some guys write checks and say get it done. He is there every step of the way helping guide the ship. He has a vision and he has a great team with Ty Sims, Erik Johnson and Jace Pawlak, that all come together with him to achieve that vision. He’s helped build Tango Down up from nothing. This is just as much his band as it is mine. It’s more mine than his though! He is our John Koladner, Gene Simmons and Doc McGee. By the way, all our album cover concepts are all him!. So he brings a lot to what we do in every department.

Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of covers, what’s the idea behind the cover for the new album ‘Bulletproof’?

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: That you would have to ask John. I just think it looks sexy as hell. I do know a funny story behind the artwork I can share. We shot the band in front of this metal door in the basement of the photographer’s building. We shot the model and album cover in front of this door as well. For some reason, no one thought of shooting just the door by itself. Two separate photo shoots and no one said, “Hey, shoot the door.” When John and the graphic designer were doing the layout, there was a realization that there was no door shot. We wanted to have that door as the running theme. So Nello — who did an amazing job on our artwork by the way — tried to cut a piece and expand it. It didn’t look good. So John called the photographer to get a quick shot of the door. He was out on the road shooting Megadeth! So John snuck into the building — OK, he trespassed — and managed to get into the basement somehow — most likely illegally — and he took a picture of the door with his cell phone! So the picture of the door with just the logo, that was taken on his smart phone!

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] You definitely have a very resourceful record executive there! What are your favorite tracks on ‘Bulletproof’ and why?

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: I can’t pick one. I like them all equally for different reasons. That’s the thing about what we do. We pick only the best of the best songs for the final cut.

Sleaze Roxx: Tango Down hasn’t yet released any videos in support of ‘Bulletproof.’ Why is that?

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: Schedules, time and money. We do have plans to shoot a video. Hopefully in April [2017]. Plus we have been amassing live footage to use down the road for a video as well. Most of all, we wanted to make sure the CD was a hit before we sunk more money into a video.

Sleaze Roxx: I had the chance to see Tango Down play at Rock N Skull back in October [2016] and I was very impressed. How did you find the Rock N Skull show went for the band?

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: Thank You. So glad you enjoyed our set. Any standout moments from us for you that night?

Sleaze Roxx: Yes, for sure. Two things stuck out for me. Unlike a lot of the other bands, Tango Down seemed like the headlining act and a big arena style rock band. In addition, there seemed to be a lot of anticipation and electricity in the air just before Tango Down were to take the stage and you guys matched the hype.

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: Thank you! As for how we felt about it. We couldn’t be happier. We just go out there and do it. We never know if we will be great or suck. It’s just us raw and feeding off the energy.

Tango Down playing “Bulletproof” at Rock N Skull Festival in Joliet, Illinois, USA on October 30, 2016:

Tango Down- Bulletproof

Rock N Skull Day 3 10-30-16 The Tree Joliet, IL

Sleaze Roxx: The only other gig that Tango Down seemingly has booked since the release of ‘Bulletproof’ is an upcoming show opening for Y&T and Loudness in Poughkeepsie, New York [USA] on April 29, 2017? Why isn’t Tango Down playing more shows?

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: Well, no reason. The CD came out in August. We wanted to play, but decided to wait for the big show of Rock N Skull which was in October. By then, we were entering the holidays and bad weather season. So nothing got booked. We had some offers but we passed for now. No one wants to go to Buffalo or Syracuse in February!

Sleaze Roxx: That’s too bad because I would go in a heartbeat to see you Tango Down play in Buffalo in February [laughs].

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: We booked the April gig months ago. We have some other stuff pending and plan on some shows over the next year. Of course, it would be great if we got on something like the Monsters Of Rock Cruise. April will be our fifth show with Chas and there are more certainly to come in the new year.

Sleaze Roxx: When can we expect the next album from Tango Down and will it be with the same line-up as on ‘Bulletproof’?

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: Well hard to say. Like I said, we don’t pick the material, it picks us. It will be our sound but the next step in our evolution. We never go back… We keep going forward.

Sleaze Roxx: Do you have anything else to add that we have not covered?

Scott ‘Rif’ Miller: Thank you to you and your website for showing us support and giving us the #2 spot for 2016!!! Of course, a big show of appreciation to all the fans that come to the shows and festivals — thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! Everyone that bought our new CD. And shout outs to my fellow band members and label. We never fall back. We always move forward. Most of all, please support the scene, all the other bands, the other labels and all the festivals. We are a small scene so let’s support each other.

Thank you to Scott ‘Rif’ Miller for the interview and to John Kivel of Kivel Records for facilitating it!