Written By: Mario R. Martin
From the Orange County music scene came the story: Band forms. Band gets signed. Band puts out a great record. And shortly thereafter, the band gets dropped from the label – only to go back to the garage unnoticed. It’s an all too familiar tale in the music industry. In almost every case when a young band has sampled a taste of reality from the business of making records, its members part ways lacking the motivation to start over. For whatever reasons, some continue playing and others don’t. For some, the end is just the beginning, and this is where the story of Let Em’ Riot begins.
The latest group to hail from Southern California, Let Em’ Riot, can’t really be called a group at all because it has only one member. His name is Alan Oakes. Oakes has been writing and performing for over a decade. After numerous bands and a handful of albums, he continues to move forward. But to truly understand the full story behind Let Em’ Riot and Alan Oakes, we have to rewind just a bit.
“Someone once told me that the music industry is a game that can’t be won, only played,” states Let Em’ Riot’s only member, Alan Oakes, while sipping coffee in the patio of his Orange County residence, “Once I let those words sink in, everything else seemed a bit easier to understand.”
Alan Oakes grew in Orange County and started his first band at the age of 15 during Orange County’s third explosive wave of ska in the late 90’s that gave birth to such bands as Reel Big Fish, Save Ferris and The Aquabats.
Oakes played guitar in several different bands throughout his formative high school years and it was during this time that his love for music became a passion. “I wouldn’t call it a scene back then. It was more like a home away from home. The kids, the bands, we were all a part of something. At the shows, everyone knew everyone. My bandmates were like brothers. I spent every weekend playing shows and that’s where it all started for me. It was about as carefree as it gets.”
His band was even courted by a major label during the signing frenzy that took place, but never landed a deal. “We were teenagers. We all had the ultimate goal of getting a record deal but wouldn’t have known what to do with it if we had actually gotten one.”
Alan got to work and began singing and writing on his own and fronted several bands. In 2004, however, a start-up production
company had approached him about putting a new project together. A full album was recorded that would eventually be picked up by a major label and released in 2007. “This is where I first got a taste of record labels, managers, lawyers and the whole music industry as a whole. There was no signing bonus and no big advance. I was signed and still living with my parents and working at a coffee shop making $150 a week. Nothing changed except that now I had someone telling me what to do. Once contracts come into play, band members become less like brothers and more like business partners. Which technically they are.”
Life on a label soon revealed itself to be no picnic and what was once viewed as an ultimate goal for a musician was quickly found to be the beginning of a long and uncertain journey. “I had friends who were getting signed and getting shelved. There’s nothing worse than sitting around waiting to see if your record will ever see the light of day. It’s not like you can tour or write another record somewhere else because you have to sit and wait until the label decides what to do with you – and that could literally take years! That’s why when the record was finally released, I felt it to be a huge accomplishment.”
But just as the album was hitting stores, promotional funding was cut. Within the year the band was dropped from the label and the members parted ways. To no avail, Oakes spent the next year searching for musicians and his next project. He decided to continue his search all while learning about home recording and the necessary software it takes to have a way to write, record and save his music.
As time passed Oakes’ computer hard drive filled up with song ideas until he decided that rather than wait for the right group of musicians to come along, he would finish the songs on his own. These are the songs that would later become Let Em’ Riot anthems. “The past year or so was pretty rough. I felt like I was playing the waiting game all over again. I finally decided that if I couldn’t find a drummer, I would just learn how to use a drum sequencer and record the drums myself. If I couldn’t find a keyboard player, I would buy a MIDI controller and record the parts myself. I recorded vocals, bass and so on in my room until the songs were all there. All I knew was that I had to keep moving forward, no matter what.”
So what’s in the future for Let Em’ Riot? When asked, Alan Oakes said, “This is it, just keep writing, recording and putting out music. It’s the only thing I know how to do. I don’t set goals for the future anymore. I’m not trying to win anything. I just love to play.”
Inspired by technology and gadgetry, Oakes is pushing his project to the limit. The concept is to release tracks on the internet for free, giving his music away to anyone within earshot. This model is obviously a rogue idea and very DIY in spirit, yet necessary for an independent artist just in it to make music for himself, and for those who appreciate it. By releasing a track at a time, the model satiates the fans of the underground, willing to consume piece by piece. This also takes the pressure off of Oakes to write, record and put out an entire record in a specific timeframe. This time he is creating for the sake of creativity – without boundaries. And in today’s world, filled with economic woes, war and unrest, the only answer is to Let Em’ Riot. Amen.