Clint Baker is a child of the 80s, whether he actually grew up in them or not. Schooled by an older sister in the ways of The Cars and Men at Work, he’s developed a great love for a well-written pop song. His conversations are sprinkled with a healthy dose of awesomes and likes, tempered with sincere, southern hospitality. And he’s as excited about his music and his fans as his passionate fans are about him and his band.
For those not familiar with Riddlin’ Kids, the Austin, Texas powerpunk band, Clint rocks the singer/guitarist position and is joined by guitarist Dustin Stroud, bassist Mark Johnson, and drummer Dave Keel. In the years they’ve played together, they’ve been tested over and over, pushed to the breaking point and have come out of it a stronger, more cohesive unit than the foursome of former pizza delivery guys that started out. Their first album, Hurry Up and Wait, was successful by indie standards, but Riddlin’ Kids felt the pressure from being on a major label. Now with their follow-up, Stop the World, they are poised to claim their rightful position in the punk-pop court.
Clint talks to PopGurls about band rivalries on tours, how Riddlin’ Kids got through one of their most trying times, and the best compliment he’s ever gotten.
What was the first song you ever heard that made you think: “This is what I want to do – play music.”
That’s hard to tell. Actually, the first song I can remember hearing and being like “This is awesome,” I was in third grade and The Outfield – “(I Don’t Want to Lose) Your Love (Tonight)” – I don’t even know if that’s the song…
(singing) “Josie’s on a vacation far away…” You know that song? “I don’t wanna lose your love, tonight…”
I can’t believe I’m singing on the phone.
Trust me – it’s much better that you’re the one singing on the phone than me.
I heard that song in third grade. It’s funny, I can remember the girl in third grade, there was a school talent show and these girls did a dance routine to that song. It was the prettiest girl in the class dancing and I thought that song was awesome. I recorded [the song] onto cassette off the radio, and used to listen to it all the time.
You were in third grade heaven.
It was awesome! I can still remember her name and everything.
When you’re playing, what are your favorite songs to perform?
That’s so hard to say. Right now, we’re dialing in our new set so it’s really hard to tell, because we’ve only done one tour on the new stuff and we’re just kind of feeling out the songs and getting used to it.
Our last record, we toured for 26 months straight.
Oh my god.
(laughs) Yeah. Our old songs, we can play in our sleep with one arm tied behind our backs – we don’t even have to think. And the new songs, we actually have to concentrate a little better. Our new single, “Stop the World,” is probably my favorite because it usually gets a good reaction and it’s a little different from most of the songs that we’ve done.
How has touring changed for you?
Years ago, before we were signed to Columbia, we did one tour – it was a different line-up, but it was always me and Dustin in this band – and that was crazy. We booked our own tour and we had a van that we bought for really cheap and I don’t know how we made it through.
Then we get signed, and we get a real booking agent and a manager and the next thing that you know, we get our first major, real tour – with Goldfinger, of all bands. And so we’re spoiled because, our first tour was with Goldfinger and it was awesome. It was the “Crouching Fish, Hidden Finger” tour [with Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish] and the tour was anywhere from a thousand to five thousand kids a night. It was an amazing tour and I think it was really good for us because right off the bat we had to be good live. We had a reputation locally for having energetic and fun live shows, but instantly we’re like, “We’re on this tour with these guys” – Goldfinger’s one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen – “and we really have to be good.”
Also we got to steal a lot of their tricks. That’s what a lot of bands do, they watch the headliners and learn as much as they can, aka steal all their tricks.
What’s the best trick you’ve stolen?
I don’t know if you can really put your finger on it. It’s just being active: The way you talk to the crowd and interact with the crowd – it’s real important. Goldfinger [has] the whole set start to finish, dead-on. It’s mainly just jumping around and being exciting on stage. And making eye contact with kids in the crowd and making it more fun for them. With Goldfinger, I don’t know if it’s so much a particular trick as it’s just that they raise the bar for touring bands. Even before we toured with them, after we saw them one time in Austin when we were about to start touring, we said, “Holy cow. That’s what we need to do live, because this is one of the best shows ever.”
It’s funny now, we toured for almost three years straight and you absorb things – everybody does it, you absorb little things from other bands – and now I can’t even go to a show and sit and enjoy the band. I’m watching what they’re doing, how they’re doing things, what gear they’re using, what their guitar tech is doing. It’s kinda strange.
I’ve always wanted to get into acting and I’m kinda dealing with the same thing a little bit. But I’m kind of almost scared to get really involved in it because one of my favorite things to do is just go see movies. I’ll go to a movie every day when I’m off – I just see movies all the time. And I’d hate to lose that innocence of just being able to enjoy the movie and just start dissecting the way I do watching bands.
Have you acted before, or are you just starting to think about it now?
I’m just starting. While we were in the studio recording Stop the World, I got a call from a casting director about me trying out for a part in a movie that just came out called Little Black Book. [She] asked if I could read – if I’d ever done it before and if I was interested. I’d never done it, but I was interested so they sent me a script. I read over it and the script was cool – it was a small part – and I ended up putting myself on tape and sending it to the casting director. [She] loved it and said it was great and I was really stoked. But a producer or somebody higher up hired Gavin Rossdale for the part. He’s in it, and they even cut that part down to really short. Like, 20 seconds. You see Gavin Rossdale for 20 seconds, selling coffee. I was so mad – damnit! Gavin Rossdale!?! He’s already stolen my woman! Now he’s stealing my movie role! What the hell! I was so mad!
He’s a troublemaker.
And girls kinda like him, so I understand.
Well, that’s gotta be pretty cool to be considered with him. That people are sitting around thinking, “let’s ask Gavin Rossdale… and Clint! From Riddlin Kids!”
Well the thing that was crazy was that I kept in contact with [the casting director] and she told me, “You can get into this if you’re really interested. From your tape, I really think you can do something with it. If you want, the next time you’re in L.A., I’ll set up some meetings with some agents and managers and some casting directors.”
I didn’t want to wait – so I booked a plane ticket for the next week and emailed her and said, “I’ll be in L.A. next week, what can you do?” She set up nine meetings and from the time I got there to the time I left, I had meetings back to back. And now I have a talent manager in New York. I’ve done stuff for Fuse, had meetings at VH1 – it’s been small things, but better than going balls-out trying to get me all this stuff because they know I’m really busy with the band. But if a small part comes up or something like how Benji and Good Charlotte [hosted a rock show on MTV] – that would be great.
Hopefully if you get into acting gradually you won’t find yourself breaking things down and dissecting movies like you do when you see other bands.
That’s what I’d want to do. Do little things here and there, and then later – I don’t see how I could, but – if I ever got bored of doing music, maybe I could start doing that. As long as I don’t have to have a real job, it’s just fine with me.
Where do you normally prefer to go out to lunch?
I love anything – I love Mexican food more than anything. That’s my favorite.
When you’re out on tour, do you normally get Mexican?
Being from Texas, I don’t trust Mexican food out of Texas. California is the exception. It’s funny, traveling with other bands from California – like Homegrown, for instance – we’d argue, get into almost, like, fights, where we’re really proud: “No, California Mexican food is weak!” and the Californians would be: “California food is way better! TexMex is crap!” And [we’d come back with] “Whatever, you’re stupid! TexMex food is WAY better!” We’d get into really heated debates over Mexican food – it’s really funny.
California Mexican food has a radish – it’s like eating sushi with ginger to clean your palate; they have a radish. And we’d be like “A radish! Oh god, what’s a radish doing there?” It’s really stupid, but it’s funny.
But, I’m really beginning to appreciate California Mexican food.
Have you admitted this to anyone from California? That you actually, kinda sorta like Californian Mexican food – or are you keeping it on the downlow?
I gotta keep it on the downlow, because of the whole Texas pride thing. But I really do like California Mexican food. Why? Because they make it with corn tortillas, and I’m all about that.
I can’t believe I’m sitting here talking about Mexican food. (laughs) There’s a place in Austin called Hula Hut that’s Mexican Hawai’ian. It’s crazy – they have pineapple fajitas, and the salsa has pineapple. It sounds weird, but it’s so good.
I think the easiest way to make something “Hawai’ian” is to put pineapple in it. I was just in Hawai’i for the first time and they certainly had a lot of pineapples, but it wasn’t in every dish.
I heard the highest selling meat there was Spam. Either that, or it’s the state that buys the most spam.
I wouldn’t be surprised – it takes so long to ship food there that it’s probably easiest to ship Spam.
And it keeps forever.
Maybe you could move to Hawaii and start a Mexican restaurant that only uses Spam.
(pause) No. (laughs) No way.
We did a tour with Autopilot a while back, and we had an RV with a kitchen. I got brave – I was experimenting and was like, I want to try going on Atkins. Everybody was on Atkins. We went to WalMart and I got a bunch of Turkey Spam. I had tried it once and [thought] “This isn’t bad.” I was expecting something really weird and it wasn’t bad.
I will never touch Turkey Spam again. I ran out of things to eat and just kept having to eat that all the time. Now, the thought… it’s horrible. It’s really gross.
I can’t believe anyone would make the effort to actually pick up Turkey Spam. It sounds really scary.
Dustin, our guitar player, he doesn’t eat red meat. He got that and I tried a little bit and thought, “This isn’t bad! I’m going to try this!” And never again, no ma’am.
You said that between Hurry Up and Wait and your new album, Stop the World, both your sound and the band have matured a bit. After putting your final stamp on Stop the World, what did you feel the most proud of?
The whole thing – I’m just proud that we finished it. On the whole record, there’s not a song on there that doesn’t really mean something. And it’s cool because on the first record, Hurry Up and Wait, we’d been around for a few years and had all these songs, so we went into the studio and recorded all these songs that had been around for years. Then we added a couple of new songs to the record: “I Feel Fine” and “Here We Go Again,” and it was like, “Okay cool! We’re recording all our stuff!”
This time, we went in and it was like this whole creative process of really creating something. It’s not like we went in with a bunch of pre-written stuff. I think that was way cooler and way stressful because we wanted the record to be better than the last one, we wanted to please ourselves, we wanted to please our fans, and we had to please the label. I’d like to say that I don’t care what the label thinks, but at the same time, that’s really important.
On our first record, we did really great record sales wise – if we were on an indie label, we’d be heroes. But since we’re on Columbia, our record sales looks like a failure, almost, to them. They have Beyoncé and for a band to sell just over a 100,000 records – they look at that like a failure. So, we had to really worry about making a record that would impress them enough not to drop us. We had all these stresses when actually, we needed to just go in there and try to create something really cool and not worry about what anybody thinks. But we had all these different pressures.
I think we did great – everybody’s happy and I think we did a good job of not worrying about what is the “in, cool thing.” Like Screamo is now gonna be the cool thing and everybody’s going dark! We didn’t try to think about that – we’re all influenced by bands that we listen to and whatnot, but let’s just try to make good songs and not worry about what kinds of music it is. And we went and did it – and I’m excited.
Was it a conscious decision to have the songs on Stop the World reflect the music that influenced you, or did it organically develop?
We don’t try to hit any kind of style. We just go in there and it happens. People are even throwing the word emo around. People are getting a lot looser with that word – you know, music people are saying, “Oh yeah, it’s very emo.” You don’t even know what emo is, you read that in Spin. Some old music business guys are saying, “It’s very emo.”
But if somebody said, “Hey, let’s make a song that’s a little more emo,” our drummer, Metal Dave, would be like “I’m not gonna play that crap.” He hates that. And Dustin, our guitar player, is straight-up rock. The band The Darkness? He loves that. He’s all about the 80s metal. He also listens to other stuff. Then you got Mark, our bass player, who’s way into Fall Out Boy, and all these new bands that have come out – hardcore bands. I’m not a fan of hardcore at all, but he’s into all these Screamo bands.
Me, I just like simple pop. I’m really excited right now because I have Social Distortion, Bad Religion and Green Day putting out albums at the same time. That’s where I came from. But at the same time, an Ashlee Simpson song will come on and I’ll roll up the windows so that nobody can hear outside my car and I’ll be like, “Yeah, it’s a good song.” I catch myself singing and then if I see the person in the car next to me can read my lips, and they’re on the same station, I’ll stop singing so they don’t know I like it. Even though I want to strangle [Ashlee] when I see the reality show.
I think there’s something that’s come about in the last five or ten years where you actually get embarrassed to like pop music. When I was growing up, I was all about classic rock and 120 Minutes with The Cure.
That’s where I come from: The Smiths, and I’m a huge R.E.M. fan. And now, even Erasure – god, I love them, I’m big into that. And I’m straight! So that’s weird. (laughs)
I think there’s a bunch of pop-music-writing geniuses that live in a hollowed-out volcano and write all these genius songs that are on the radio. And they’re awesome – the songs are amazing. Even though the [people] that sing the songs make you want to gag, you feel guilty and can’t help but like the song because they’re brilliantly written. Maybe in ten years, if I’m not doing this anymore and I’m not acting, maybe I’ll go join the group and hopefully be good enough to write songs for them. I think that would be really fun – to write pop songs for artists and then laugh.
I think you’d be excellent at it. You remind me of a friend of mine to whom I made some offhanded comment about Britney Spears’ “…Baby, One More Time” which I happen to love with a great passion. He said exactly what you said, that it’s a really well-written pop song. You can’t deny the fact that it’s really well-written. And this is a guy in his own hard rock band that you would never think would dig on a Britney Spears song.
Circle Jerks is one of my favorite bands of all time. But at the same time, Hilary Duff will come on [the radio] and I’m like, “All right!” (laughs) If I’d said that at one of our shows, we’d probably get laughed or booed off the stage, I don’t know which.
The song “I Want You to Know” demonstrates a broad range in your vocal abilities. Where do your melodies get their inspiration from?
Men at Work is definitely a vocal influence on that song.
Men at Work?
Men at Work is an awesome band. There’s even a part in the song, when I sing (sings) “I kinda lose my mind” – I wrote that and thought, “This kinda sounds like Men at Work.” And after the song was recorded, way later, I [played] it for my [older] sister. [She’s] kind of where I got a lot of my 80s song influence, hanging out with her when I was real little. Anyway, she said, “Hey, that part reminds me of Men at Work!” and I opened up a spiral [notebook] I had and said “Look at this” – the lyrics to that song. And I didn’t have a name for the song yet but it said “Men at Work” on the [page].
In the middle of your last tour, your band’s management, tour manager and road crew bailed on you. That must have been incredibly overwhelming. Aside from channeling your frustration into song, how did you deal with it on a day-to-day basis? How did it affect the friendships within the band?
That whole period was really tough for us. That period – we really, really believed in our first record and we really thought that our label could have done more. And there were all these crazy things going on in the music industry – people getting laid off, and major labels also have the tendency to have a lot of bands on the roster and pick favorites and let the other bands dissolve and not worry about them. They push who they think is gonna be big and sometimes they make a lot of money and sometimes they pick the wrong band. They really didn’t focus on us very much and yet, from so much touring that we did, we developed a huge fan base. And when our first week sales came out, we had really great first week sales and they were like, “Holy cow, these guys are doing something: doing more than other bands that we’ve really been pushing.” And then they started trying to do stuff and it was too late. Long story short, we really expected more on our first record. Maybe it was wishful thinking or we were just being naïve, but we really believed that we could have done a lot better on our first record. Coming to grips with realizing “You know what? Our record is dead. We’ve sold all the records on this that we’re gonna sell, and it’s time to let go of this record and go back in the studio to record a new record.” – it’s really hard to come to terms with that. We thought, “No! This record has great songs, more people have to hear this record” and so there was a lot of frustration.
At the same time that everybody jumped ship, I think a lot of people thought we were probably gonna get dropped, or that we were done as a band. We all had little things internally from 26 months of sweeping things under the rug instead of communicating – there were all these little things and we built up little grudges between each other. There was just a lot of tension all the way around. Finally, we came to terms with the fact that, “You know what, our record’s dead, it’s time to move on. Let’s record a new record.” But first we had to sit down and Mark and I actually got in a really big argument, and almost into a fistfight. And we went back to the hotel and we talked, all night – all of us talked until, like, five in the morning. And we said, “We love this band and people might be leaving us left and right and might not believe in us, but screw them. They’re gonna do what they gotta do and we’re all on the same team and we’re gonna do what we’ve gotta do. And we cannot let this band die because we all love what we’re doing.” Even though little things get to us – we get to each other every once in a while – we’re a family. The four of us are like brothers. We just basically decided, “We’re gonna do this, we’re not done,” and we’re gonna have to go back and write a new record, write the best record we can, and conquer the world. That’s what we’re gonna do.
The next day, our show was twice as good. We were on tour with All-American Rejects and Homegrown at that time, and the tour manager for one of the other bands came over and [said], “Dude, what happened to you guys? The difference from yesterday to today is amazing.”
Now we have a record that we’re all extremely proud of. I think it’s way better than the first one. We’re a little older now and we’ve got experience playing together as a band, and got experience writing, and I think it shows on the record. On this record it shows that we’re a unit: Four of us working together.
Sometimes you just need to hash everything out before you can go further.
It happens all the time, it eats bands up. You don’t want to get into an argument because you have to deal with this person for the rest of the tour, so you just kind of let things go and sweep it under the rug. But after 26 months, you have a pretty tall pile under the rug and you can’t just walk by it. Now we try to deal with everything and just be straight with each other and not tiptoe around things and get it out in the open. And it’s really worked: We all get along much better.
When talking with your fans, there is a real conversational tone, as if you look upon them as friends instead of a necessary evil attached to music making. When you first toured you were so excited to talk to your fans, and this really hasn’t diminished much. How have the fans affected you as a band? What have you gained from their support?
Someone asked me the other day if we had a persona – if we’re different on stage than we are when we’re in public. Some people go on stage and they’ve got this crazy stage persona, but then if you meet them, they’re a completely different person. I said we’re pretty much straight up the same on stage as we are in person. And we go on stage and we’re basically on stage hanging out with our fans, playing songs and talking to our fans and trying to entertain people. When we walk off the stage, we’re the same. We are just there to hang out. It’s weird to me that other bands don’t go talk to their fans more, because that’s how we built our fan base so quickly. That’s how we have such a cool fan base.
The way you worded it was really good because it’s almost like they’re not just fans, it’s like they’re friends. When we started touring it was a thing where our manager said, “You guys have to talk to your fans at every show. You need to develop a relationship with your fans so you can win over new fans.” And it was a smart thing – “Of course! We’ll go talk to the fans every show.” Well, we started making friends with everybody. We’ve toured the United States so many times and we can go to any town and know everybody who comes to the show. “Hey! How’s your brother, is his foot still broken?” anywhere we go. The last time we played in Colorado there were some girls that came and it was their 17th time seeing us. We know ’em by name. We did start going back trying to win kids over – “Hey, please buy our record!” – but very quickly, it turned into the coolest part of the night, just hanging out. We always had the opening slots, so we’d play, drink a bottle of water after the show, wipe the sweat off our face and go and hang out and watch the show and talk.
We definitely have the coolest fans in the world, and we’re really lucky. We have friends in every city and that’s really cool. It’s more than some moron in a band who thinks he’s too cool to go out and talk to kids.
It had to be helpful when you were on the road for 26 months, knowing you were coming into a town where you know people, and have that comfort level.
(laughs) There’s good and bad with that. There’s some people when you’re like, “Oh GREAT, this person AGAIN.” Because, we’re human. There’s definitely some annoying people and there’s definitely some great people. But it is, it’s awesome – there’s some people we bump into and it’s like seeing an old friend. It makes your day – “Oh dude! So-and-so’s gonna be at this show: AWESOME!” and if they’re not there, you’re like, “Did you notice that so-and-so wasn’t here?” By the same token, we’ll play places and people will come out – somebody from Connecticut will show up at a show in Dallas. Holy Cow! In Phoenix, there was a girl named Michelle from Portland who flew in just to go see us, because she hadn’t seen us in so long. That’s really awesome too. We’re really lucky to have the fans that we do.
What is the best unexpected compliment that you’ve gotten from a fan or otherwise?
The best unexpected compliment – that’s really easy and it wasn’t from a fan. We played Portland, Oregon at a [KNRK radio] show called The Big Stink a couple of years ago. And I’m hanging out on the side – we’re about to start playing – but Art Alexakis from Everclear (I’m a huge Everclear fan) went out [on stage] and I was like, “Dude, that’s Art from Everclear! Wow!” I was excited. He’s talking about all this radio stuff and says “We got a band coming up, they’re a great new band, I play them on my radio show all the time. They’re amazing, their record rules, go out and get it.” So anyway, I’m [wondering] “What band is he talking about?” and then I hear, “Everybody scream for Riddlin Kids!” and I was like, “Wow, that’s awesome.”
We’re walking out with the guitars, we’re just about to start playing and he leans over to me and he whispered in my ear, “Hey man, I love your voice, bro.” And patted me on the arm, and walked off stage so we could start playing. I was like a deer in headlights after he said that. I was like, “Oh my god. That is the coolest thing EVER.” He’s definitely – Everclear definitely was an influence. And for him to say that was really, really cool. And it made my day. So after about 15 seconds, I shook it off and then was able to play. But that was pretty crazy.
Talk about unexpected compliments. That was definitely unexpected. Not to mention, I was standing in front of a crowd – we were about to play for a crowd of 10 or 15 thousand kids. And I was just sitting there with my eyes glazed over, looking at the crowd thinking Art Alexakis from Everclear just complimented me like that.
That’s a great story. And a great place to end. Thank you so much.
Well, thank you so much!
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