[Photo credit: Jonathan Weiner]

SoCal alt-rockers Night Riots are bringing it raw with the release of Love Gloom on October 21. Everything from the lyrics to the recording to the cover art—which makes frontman Travis Hawley a bit self-conscious—proves the quintet couldn’t get any more fierce. Head below to listen to “Breaking Free,” a song that went through several transformations, borrowing elements from Phoenix, Lana Del Rey, Chris Isaak, Johnny Cash and Nine Inch Nails. Be sure to also check out what Hawley had to say about the writing process, the story behind the artwork and the non-musical influences that tinted many of the songs.

Is there an overall theme to the album, or are you just exploring a lot of different topics?
TRAVIS HAWLEY: I think there is. It got summed up with the album cover, and it’s kind of personal for me. It’s something that kind of makes me self-conscious, but I think in a good way. It’s silly, but the cover of the record is a picture of my hand, and on my hand, I have a finger that was smashed when I was a little kid by my dad when he was drunk. I’ve always kind of hidden it, not necessarily purposefully, but it’s just been something about me that I kind of just tuck away. It represents what this record is. It’s a coming clean and saying, ‘This is us—flaws and all.’ I think that’s what this record is. It’s imperfect in a good way. We recorded this thing live. We really tried hard not to overdo things—over-tweak or fix every single thing. I think that’s really difficult in this day and age. Most of our ears are used to hearing perfect quantized everything. Most of the music that we listen to is loops of the best take out of a thousand, and then it’s put into the computer and manipulated so it’s even more perfect. We tried to do everything vocally all the way through, guitars all the way through, and so if you listen to it, there are flaws. It’s the real us. Even my voice, I think it’s as real as my voice has ever been. You can hear the nuances in my speech patterns and things like that. That—in the long answer—is the theme of the record.

“…it’s as if you’re looking at somebody’s handwriting. Everyone’s handwriting on the music is completely clear.”

How is Love Gloom different than your previous releases?
I would definitely say that it’s more diverse. If you look at the songs that we’ve already released, the whole record is kind of like this. If you want a band that has one type of song, I don’t think that we’re your band. I think we’re definitely going to take you on a journey, and like I said before, it’s going to go from despair to almost yearning—kind of all over the place. I think that the rawness, that’s different from what we’ve done before. It wasn’t all done in the box. It was recorded live, and that comes through. You can hear every individual musician. When I listen to it, there will be a little solo, and it is our guitar player Matt [DePauw]—it couldn’t be Nick [Fotinakes, guitar]. Then there will be another one, and it’s as if you’re looking at somebody’s handwriting. Everyone’s handwriting on the music is completely clear.

“Contagious” is from last year’s Howl EP, and it ended up getting a lot of airplay. Why did you re-release it on Love Gloom?
First of all, I think it’s a great song. We had a really great amount of success with that song. It got a lot of people looking at us, but I still think there are a lot of people who haven’t heard it and deserve to, so we didn’t want to just let it go. We just moved forward with it.

That song hit No. 1 on SiriusXM’s Alt Nation, and you’re on the Alt Nation Advanced Placement Tour with the Shelters and the Hunna. How stoked are you for that?
It’s gonna be huge. I’m already blown away because the ticket sales have been coming in, and the shows are already doing really well, so to have people in your corner like Sirius and Alt Nation, it’s a pretty flattering thing. We play a lot of festivals, and every time we play a festival, we rent a car to get to and from the airport, so we always pop on XM radio. It’s just weird to be in all these different places from Chicago to Denver to LA to New York City to whatever it is, and you’ll just be sitting there, and if you wait a half hour, our song comes on. It’s a pretty surreal feeling to go from playing in your garage when you’re a kid to being a band that’s consistently played on the radio—it’s a pretty huge thing.

Tell us about the process of writing “Breaking Free.”
We had a bunch of different revisions of the song. Sometimes when you’re making an album, you write the song as a demo. Then you take it to the band, and you just play it again, record it and then that’s the song. I feel, we really restructured it and did all these different things to get it just perfect.

Were there big changes or little tweaks here and there?
No, there were big changes. The song started off as just a really basic chord song, and at one point, we took it and made it a lot faster and a lot more aggressive. Then we did the exact opposite and stripped it all the way down, and I think it just took a while for [us] to find out what the song  was. I think in my head, it was always a Lana Del Rey/Chris Isaak song. I don’t know why, but that was always what I had in mind.

“It’s a pretty surreal feeling to go from playing in your garage when you’re a kid to being a band that’s consistently played on the radio.”

If Lana Del Rey and Chris Isaak were some of the musical influences, what were some of your non-musical influences?
I think this one is a story about relationships. I think it’s about seeing people go in and out of relationships and sometimes the period of time where they are sleeping around [and] trying to fill a void that maybe they’re missing or lacking after losing someone.

How would you sum this track up?
I’d say it turned out Phoenix meets Lana meets Chris Isaak. [Laughs.] Meets Johnny Cash/Nine Inch Nails. There you go.

When you all sit down to write an album, do you go in with a bunch of tracks and have to narrow it down?
This one we did. I couldn’t even tell you how many songs. I don’t think I ever actually sat down and counted them, but we had massive amounts in all different stages of completion. Some were a simple melody written on a keyboard and on my phone, and some were fully fleshed out with lyrics and recorded. It was all over the place, so I feel really fortunate. It was fun.

No, actually I’ll tell you the truth: It’s really hard to sit there and try to parse down what songs are going to get on a record because everybody becomes attached in a different way to the songs. I think sometimes being the creator is the hardest, because you are so intimate with the music, and then all of a sudden you have to bring it to your team. We have management and a label who are going to check out the music. Everybody’s really, really good with us, and they let us express our vision, but man, sometimes it’ll be the whole band is in love with a song, and all the higher-ups are like, ‘No, that’s not a good song. You guys just like it because you wrote it.’ You have to choose your battles and make ones that are going to make the best cohesive piece of art. I think that a lot of the higher-ups are looking for what’s going to sell, and I think the artist is looking for what’s going to make the best art.

What was it about “Breaking Free” that made it worthy to put on the album?
I think because there’s a realness—there’s a rawness. I think we’ve all been in that situation where you’re with somebody and maybe you’re thinking about somebody else, and it could even be that question of what could have been or what are you going to miss? You’re in a relationship, and if you break up with somebody and you peel apart, you go down two different paths. I think all of us, every once in awhile, look over and try to imagine what could have been or what it could’ve been like. I think just in the context of the record, it’s really a searching record. There’re a lot of different emotions that come out of it. I think for us, we’ve written quite a bit of music, and it’s always kind of been down one lane. For whatever reason, whatever emotionally I was going through during this time [and] whatever the people around me were going through influences me. It all summed up to make this really emotional record, and it just fits. There’s a couple songs that are heated—they’re angry. There’s agitation and aggression, and then there’s some songs that are yearning and in love—that sense of love where you can’t quite get what you want. There’s a couple broken songs where you’re kind of just despondent and not sure what is going to come next.