Long before he formed Night Riots with a group of childhood friends in Templeton, California, vocalist Travis Hawley spent his earliest years moving around Europe. It was a rainy, foggy place to grow up, filled with grays, greens and blues. Those colors left a permanent mark on Hawley, who came to California years later with a head full of moody melodies and atmospheric arrangements.
A sleepy town located 25 miles east of the California coast and possessing a single traffic light, Templeton offered up few distractions for its residents, making it the perfect place to start a band. "Music was our focus," Hawley says, "and everything revolved around that. That's what the activity was. Every time you got out of school, you were racing home to play music with your friends."
Those "friends" were drummer Rico Rodriguez, who grew up in nearby Fresno, and three of Hawley's classmates from school: bassist Mikel Van Kranenburg and guitarists Nick Fotinakes and Matt DePauw. Armed with synthesizers, Stratocasters and a gaggle of razor-sharp hooks, the guys began crafting a sound that was rooted not in the sunshine and sea spray of California, but in the gloom, grit and glamour of some make-believe country in Eastern Europe. It was a sound that transported its listeners to another place, a sound that conjured up memories of the 1980s while still pushing toward new, uncharted territory.
In other words, it didn't really sound like anybody. It just sounded like Night Riots.
Maybe "uncharted" is the wrong word. In early 2015 — less than two years after Night Riots made their debut with Young Lore, a crowdfunded EP that was released independently and earned them a slot on Rolling Stone's list of the Top 16 Unsigned Bands in North America — the band climbed to No. 1 on SiriusXM's Alt Nation chart with their single "Contagious," the lead track from their EP, Howl. Released by Sumerian Records, "Contagious" is a call to action, an anthemic song about finding your own place in the universe.
"The song uses words like contagious, flesh and plagues," says Hawley, who wrote the song during the early-morning hours between midnight and dawn, "but the lyrics are about realizing how small you are in the universe, and knowing you can still find a place in it. You can take action and be a part of this world."
The band is definitely making its presence felt, sharing stages with the likes of Cage The Elephant, Walk The Moon, The Strokes, Hozier, Awolnation, Vance Joy, the Pixies, Death Cab for Cutie, Panic At The Disco, Meg Myers, OK Go, The Mowgli's, Wild Cub, Angels & Airwaves and many more, while garnering praise from the likes of Billboard, Earmilk, KCRW, MTV, Fuse, Huffington Post, KROQ, All Things Go, Nylon, AV Club and Filter, among others.
By spring of 2015, "Contagious" had amassed 1.5 million Spotify streams, the band had music featured on CW’s “Vampire Diaries,” and they were drawing comparisons to The Cure (by MTV) and the Killers (by Earmilk) and described as “new wavey bliss” (by Billboard).
They'll spend the summer on the Warped Tour, but playing for punk audiences one night and pop crowds the next suits Night Riots, whose members don't believe in the stark contrasts of black and white. They prefer to have their music toe the line, a combination of opposing factors that come together to form some new, unexpected color. It's modern rock music with retro pop influences. American music inspired by a foreign upbringing. An overcast soundtrack written in the California sunshine. Those extremes add depth and direction to Howl, and Night Riots' best songs pitch their tent somewhere in the middle.
"Our songs are based in reality, but they've got a toe in the surreal," says Hawley, who was born in October and considers himself — as well as most of Night Riots' music — to be a product of the Fall. "There's a bit of gloom, a bit of atmosphere, some rain and some fog. It envelopes you and transports you. There are moments of inspiration, too. One of the reasons we took the risk to be in this band was to prove to people that if you want something, you can have it. You just have to work for it. That's what these lyrics say, and if we didn't live that message and believe it, we wouldn't be here."