If you’ve been an avid follower of heavy music in Australia, a band you would have to have come across is Superheist. In 2016, after 13 years off the grid, they made their triumphant return to the scene after a rejuvenated Richie “DW” Norton – guitarist, songwriter and founder – started writing, got the band back together, released an album, toured and have already made plans for another album. Norton is also an ARIA Nominated Producer and Engineer who has produced many of Australia’s heavy and hardcore acts including Alchemist, Toe To Toe, Mindsnare and Day Of Contempt, as well as his own band. Which takes us to the next page in a very substantial resume; Rifleman.
Rifleman is the new solo project of Norton and I had the opportunity to chat with him about their debut album Silver and Gold which is due for release on 27 October through Dinner With Wolves.
You could be forgiven for wondering why after such an extensive and successful time in the industry we are only seeing a solo album now?
“Well, better late than never . I’ve been planning on doing something of my own for my whole career and it’s taken me this long to get around to it just because I always prioritise everybody else’s stuff before mine. If I am producing records or writing for somebody or doing Superheist always seems to come first. I have been writing this and working on this Rifleman record for about 3 years and saw a window of opportunity when the end of Superheist’s Ghosts of the Social Dead Campaign came about 2-3 months ago and thought ‘here’s my chance before we do the next Superheist record’ cause it was all done, just needed a few finishing touches – to get the mixes done, get the artwork done, do a couple of film clips. We’ve done all that and boom, here we are”
Why the name Rifleman and where did it come from?
“Rifleman is a name I had in the back of my head for a band or a project for quite some time. It comes from one of my favourite songs, it’s song by Midnight Oil called ‘Written In The Heart’ and there’s a line in the song that says ‘the god’s forsaken rifleman stands ridged at the bar’ and I just always loved that line and always loved that song and I just grabbed the word out there and use it as my project name for my solo thing”
Did you have any concerns or hesitations in releasing a solo album?
“Oh man yeah! I actually wrote and recorded a solo album in about 2003 and then opted not to release it. There’s always been a weird sort of confidence thing for me ’cause I’m not a lead singer y’know? I’ve always guitarist, backing vocalist, songwriter, producer, but I’ve never actually taken up the lead singer role, except for when I was in a cover band doing Faith No More songs when I was about 18 but we count that. I did this record under the moniker Burns Unit back in 2003/2004 right as Superheist took its first lengthy break. A couple of songs ended up on some compilations but I never actually put the album out due to not being not being confident enough, I guess to throw myself to the wolves. After working for 3 years working on this album and knowing the mark that I wanted to set to myself to set and getting the sound, the continuity in the songs and the right vibe and overall picture happening it’s come together now, so here we are.”
What was your process on writing this album?
“This album I actually started writing before I started writing for the new Superheist album. I had just come back from a trip to Egypt. My wife and I went to Egypt, we did the whole country and had a lot of amazing experiences there. Now I’m not a hippy but some of those places bring on some pretty amazing spiritual events and I decided I really need to get back into music ‘cause I had taken the best part of a decade off at the end of Walk The Earth and had kinda gotten disinterested in the music industry. This was me getting back into it writing music. I didn’t know what I was writing for, I just started writing and some of those early songs are still on this album now.”
“I wrote about 40 songs and they obviously sound a lot different to Superheist – doesn’t really sound like Superheist at all I don’t think. So, there was a definite separation between writing for Superheist and Rifleman and it was almost like I could take one hat off and put the other one on and just keep working my way through both albums. The Superheist one was ready first – obviously I don’t write the vocals for that. Zeke does the vocals for that so I’ve spent a lot longer on this Rifleman album. From those 40 songs that I had I picked 16 and they’re on the album now.”
“It wouldn’t make sense to make an album that sounded like Superheist but just have my vocals on it. I wanna show my diversity, I wanna hear my own diversity. I wanna show more of my influences. In fact, on the CD artwork, in my thank you’s I’ve included I thank all my influences as well so you get a really good picture of what makes this sound. I guess you’ll see what makes the Superheist sound and you’ll be able to see what makes this. All these bands that have influenced me over my life have ended up in my bloodstream and it comes out through my music y’know.”
How do you find taking the vocal reins on this project?
“That’s probably the toughest part. It took me along time to find my voice because I’ve not been a singer and I tried a number of different approaches – different ways projecting out of my body into a microphone and ways of delivering the lyrics and finding what works for me, finding my range – all that that was part of it. It’s been enjoyable doing that, I really loved the writing process; of writing the whole song with having no outside influences as well. My wife contributed to a couple of songs, y’know, some lyrics here and there and a couple of lines here and there on the album cause she’s a very talented musician aswell so she’s helping with a few things. The vocals were definitely the part I worked the most.”
Who else performed on the album?
“I’m playing all the instruments, guitars, bass, piano, synths, all that sort of stuff, and I do most of the lead vocals. There’s guest vocals from my wife, London Gabraelle. She’s about to launch her own band soon which is called London, so look out for that. Also, probably the most talented drummer going around Rob Brens played a lot of the drums, I did a bit of them and my good friend Richard de Silva who was in Walk The Earth with me and sometimes pops up in Superheist when someone’s not available lent some guitar parts to a song or two.”
Favourite Track and why?
“If I could mention two. One is ‘October Sun’ which really shaped the sound of the album. The rest of the album has been bounced off that song. It was the first one I was really stoked on. It has a bit of that 80’s feel to it. I messed around with different keyboard sounds, I’ve got Hammond organ on that one. I really love that one and I still enjoy listening to it.”
“The other song I would say is the title track ‘Silver and Gold’. I’ve always wanted to honour the life my older sister didn’t get to have. She passed away when she was young and I’ve always wanted to write a song and dedicate that to her and show what she still means to me. That one as well. But you know what, every song I’m happy with. There’s not a song on there I go ‘nah, that one shouldn’t have been on there’. I’m stoked on all of them and I’m really keen to hear what people think.”
Why was ‘Don’t Change’ selected as a cover?
“I’ve always loved that song and one of my favourite songs and I’ve always wanted to do a version of it so I gave myself the opportunity to do it on this one. stoked with how it came out. There’s actually two covers on the album. If you buy the Physical CD, there’s a secret track and it’s a cover of The White Buffalo’s ‘Come Join The Murder’. If you’re a Son’s Of Anarchy fan you’ll know the song from the very final scene of the Son’s Of Anarchy series.”
Are their plans for a follow up or is this more of a one off?
“I am definitely committed to doing more. I feel like I’ve hit my straps as far as got my head around what I’m doing and what my sound is and I’m really looking forward to developing that further so there will be more for sure.”
What musicians are you taking out on tour to support the album?
“Live we have Rob plays drums and Richard plays guitar, I play guitar and sing and we have Travis Presley on Bass. Travis is an American he comes from a band called Burn Halo (which had singer James Hart from Eighteen Visions). He has now married a girl over here and happens to live in Frankston, which is right next to me in Mornington so we’ve struck up a friendship and he’s playing bass for me live also plays guitar in London, my wife’s band.”
You can catch Rifleman on the ‘KEEP THE STORY ALIVE’ TOUR
Friday 10 November – The Penny Black – Melbourne
Friday 24 November – The Chippo Hotel – Sydney
Saturday 9 December – Prince of Wales – Melbourne **Support to FUEL**
Friday 15 December – Enigma Bar – Adelaide
Saturday 23 December – Corner Hotel – Melbourne **Support to MAMMAL**