Catching Up With Rik Emmett of Triumph
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Rik Emmett is a true triple threat. His rise to fame started as one of the founding members of the rock band Tirumph before leaving the band to start his solo career.
After 20 years apart, Triumph reunited at the Sweden Rock Festival in 2008 and now the special show is available on CD and DVD for fans that couldn’t make the trek.
We recently caught up with Rik Emmett to talk about the special release, his career, and how he wants to be remembered. Emmet and Dave Dunlop havetwo New England shows this weekend with stops at the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, N.H. on Friday August 31 and Showcase Live in Foxboro, Massachusetts on Saturday September 1. (Get all your ticketing info here.)
Interviewed by: Roger Scales
For those fans folks who were unfamiliar with the events leading up to this show in Sweden in 2008 what was the catalyst for you to reunite with former Triumph band mates Gil Moore and Mike Levine after years apart from each other?
A former manager named Neil Dixon, who runs an event called Canadian Music Week, would annually make inquiries about trying to get us to reconcile to go into his Hall of Fame. In 2007, at the urging of my late brother Russell to get things straightened out in life, before it’s too late, I responded to Neil and gave him the opportunity to play diplomat. Gil & Mike proved themselves to be like-minded.
Is this release meant as a time capsule and thank you to the fans that have waited so long for the possibility of this reunion or is it a catalyst & springboard to the three of you touring together again or at the very least creating new music for a full length album?
I think option A is more real than B. But I never rule anything out any more.
Rik in your opinion is there a definitive Triumph album that if you had to choose just one release clearly represents what the three of you wanted to accomplish as a band?
I think [most of] Allied Forces marked a definitive point in the band’s life. But I personally also liked a lot of things on Just a Game, and we had some solid, memorable moments on Thunder 7 and Surveillance.
Two part question: While out on tour and you play shows as a solo artist does it bother you if older Triumph fans yell out certain tracks they want to hear instead of what you may have in mind for a solo set? Do you indulge them on occasion?
I indulge them, so that they will allow me to indulge myself. It’s a give and take proposition, isn’t it? It doesn’t bother me for a crowd to be energetic and responsive: but I do hope that I do a good enough job during my performance, that audience members will allow it to remain a performance that gets built upon the artist’s prerogative. On balance, I believe it’s still my job to challenge myself, and my audience, from time to time. I’m not a jukebox, and never really have been. A concert is a moment in time, and the communion of that moment is part of the trust / faith agreement between a performer and an audience.
You recently have played some shows billed as “An Acoustic Evening of Triumph”. Was it difficult to pick a set list? Have the shows been different playing select tunes at different locations? Any chances of a live CD or DVD of this in the near future?
Not so difficult, no. The repertoire derives from a studio CD that Dave Dunlop has produced for me, and on which we play [mostly] duo acoustic material together, called ‘Then Again… ’ Acoustic Selections from the Triumph Catalogue. Should be available on my website farily soon, actually.
What other projects are you currently involved with?
A solo concept album of mine called Marco’s Secret Songbook will also be released on my website before Christmas.
You now teach at Humber College in Toronto. How did that come about and do you see yourself moving into this type of role full time when you no longer wish to tour extensively?
I had been on the Advisory Board for the program there, and the director asked me, back around the turn of the century, to start teaching an elective Music Business course. It grew into a full-blown compulsory part of their Bachelor of Music degree program. I also teach songwriting, and mentor students in Directed Studies, on recording projects. I doubt it would ever become a full-time occupation, but yes, I intend to spend more time teaching and less time touring, as I age, and travelling becomes more onerous, and the offers for gigs start drying up.
You recorded a Christmas Album in 1999 called The Spirit of Christmas. Have you ever played any “holiday’ themed shows and would consider any in the future?
I’ve done a few with orchestra. Sometimes I’m asked to do a song or two for charity, or TV. I consider all serious offers for legit work.
Your working relationship with Dave Dunlop goes back many years. When did you first start playing together?
I think it’s been 16 or 17 years together now in my band, and as a duo … I originally had a jam session with him at a summer guitar workshop where he was teaching and I was doing a guest appearance: that might have been in the early 90’s …
With the plethora of Rock n Roll tell all tales that seem to be published by the day have you ever considered an autobiography? Are there stories about Triumph, touring with other artists or parts of your personal life that fans might find surprising or shocking?
Maybe, but the story of Triumph would not have enough of the prerequisite debauchery and celebrity name-dropping. We worked hard, and were a very insular kind of band: managed our own affairs, built and ran our own studio … Work ethic made us modestly successful, but it also makes for a fairly dull story. I was always in it for the music: not ever in it for the sex & drugs & fame & fortune. That reads like a dull cliché, right there: but it’s my truth.
At 59 years old what motivates you to still want to perform and are there any musical goals you still want to accomplish?
The guitar itself still seduces and motivates and inspires me. I also think of the pursuit of creative writing as an infinite one, and a spiritual kind of journey. The goal I’d like to accomplish is to find ways to keep doing what I do: writing, performing … Fairly simple, really.
When they write your epitaph what does Rik Emmett want to be most remembered for? Skilled vocalist, versatile guitarist, classic songwriter, or Rock Star?
Can I have a little bit of all four? Rock Star is just a funny kind of by-product, really: but it’s the integration of the other three things that always interested me. Not trying to separate them out, but actually trying to get them to depend upon each other. I think the most important stuff is still husband, father, friend, teacher. My music will be my epitaph. I have made far more recordings AFTER Triumph than I did when I was in it … So there’s a fair bit of stuff to check out. And I have a fair bit of creative ambition & energy left. But I’m aware of how commercial market forces affect perception. Still —- all that music is out there.
If you could go back in time & change one decision you made professionally as a musician would you do it? Any regrets?
I have all kinds of mistakes I’ve made, and regrets. But I don’t make current choices based on regret. I hope I’ve gained some wisdom from my mistakes, and that the energy moving forward comes from a positive kind of spiritual place, and not negativity. I do believe that regret, sadness, skepticism and cynicism, all have their time & place, and must be weighed & measured in one’s process. That’s Life. But I don’t think this should lead to pessimism. Final choices should come from optimism: a desire to move forward, to get on with things, and to try to raise the bar, not lower it.
Any final thoughts for your many fans across the United States and beyond?
I’m grateful for the fact that my professional life has been one of music-making. I’m grateful that some folks in some places are still interested in what I might have to say, and what music I might be still making. In this modern world, that is a lovely gift. I hope I can continue to reach them and move them and remain relevant to them as time marches on. An interesting thing about time is that it does have a tendency to bring the wheel back around: here we are, marketing a reunion CD / DVD, live Triumph songs from back in the day, redone on a Swedish stage on a summer evening in 2008. But it would not be fair to say it’s simply an exercise in nostalgia: that’s not what was going down on that stage. There was a lot of sub-text. We were trying our best to prove something to each other: we were trying to bring our brotherhood & partnership, gone missing for two decades, back to life, to see how we would feel about that.
And it worked out pretty well. In the here & now, that is something to celebrate.
For all the latest on Rik Emmett:
Rik Emmett Website