Rich Bova definitely is an artist I had to interview for this ‘celebration interview’-series. He’s the operator/machinist of Neikka RPM, which I consider as a band with a very particular and unique sound; bombastic Electro-Industrial-Pop music mixed with icy, sensual female vocals of his wife Dominique Bova. But Rich also is a long-standing member of Side-Line. He’s editing the reviews, which means he’s reading and correcting hundreds of reviews a year. Without Rich’s work and involvement I probably would have stopped writing reviews years ago now. Rich is my first reader and first critic, but he first of all is a very humble and great person; an artist without star attitude and a precious collaborator. This interactive interview is a way to thank Rich Bova because without him, Side-Line would be not the same.
(Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)
Q: How did you get in touch with Electronic/Industrial music and do you have a music background?
Rich: It was a winding path to Electronics. Back in junior high school, I knew I wanted to write music and be in a band. I walked into a guitar shop and came home with the cheapest bass I could find.
Q: A bass guitar? Why not a keyboard?
Rich: I played viola in the school orchestra. Four strings on a viola, four strings on a bass. I figured, close enough for teenager logic, heheh. I messed around with the bass over a summer, made new friends who played guitar and drums, and we put together a garage band. Literally in a garage, totally Lo-Fi, instruments barely in tune, everything way too loud, and definitely annoying to the neighbors.
Q: Like Punk, or Rock music?
Rich: It was hard to describe, somewhere between Shoegaze and Goth Alt-Rock. But the band had only a singer, guitar, bass, and drums. No keyboards.
Q: That’s interesting, no Electronics in the early days of your influences, considering what NEIKKA RPM sounds like. Although I definitely get the Goth angle for that dark mystic vibe in all your tracks. And certainly in Dominique’s appearance and the look of the band, but more about that later.
Rich: Yeah, I get that, but I definitely hear the connection, especially in the percussion and the overall sonic tone of Neikka.
Q: Can we hear this for ourselves, did you make recordings?
Rich: Fortunately no! Back then it was all about playing live shows, and it was great at that time there were a lot of small clubs and venues to play in New York.
Q: How did you evolve away from a garage band? I’ve never heard guitar in any of your tracks.
Rich: In time, I picked up the guitar and then drums… and then I started substituting the bass and drums with Electronics using sequencing software. But it was only to emulate ‘real’ sounding bass and drums. I was basically a one-man band.
Q: So then the door was open to Electronics, let’s circle back to the live music roots. How does that influence your music now?
Rich: Oh, I can tell the influence… whether I like it or not. I absolutely hear a ‘Lo-fi cavernous -vibe’ in all of my mixes. To my ears, the typical Neikka RPM track sounds like it’s a brash-blasting garage mix right off the board, as opposed to a super clean, crisp studio recording.
Q: So you started with live instruments and progressed towards Electronics, how did you finally ditch the guitars and start using more aggressive synth sounds?
Rich: It wasn’t until I met an ‘Industrial’ singer, who would ultimately become a great friend. Jay also happens to have a doctorate in musicology and is now a V.P. at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Jay introduced me to a new world that included Skinny Puppy, Front 242…and anyone who reads Side-Line knows what happens after your mind gets blown away by the masters….
Q: People know you as the ‘machinist/operator’ behind Neikka RPM, but I remember you initially used a different more Ethereal-sounding name, right? Tell us a bit more about your personal course of music, this early project(s) and how you set up Neikka RPM?
Rich: Dominique and I were first involved with music production for TV, film. But soon we felt like we had evolved into a band. I thought we had an Electronica kind of sound mostly because of Dominique’s sultry take on the vocals.
Q: Really? I received your first demo, you thought that was Electronica?
Rich: Stef let me tell you, I didn’t know what to make of it. I wasn’t really thinking of how to fit into a specific genre. But yeah, it was pretty off-base to think a lofty-cerebral sounding band name would make sense for the Industrial’n’Beat-Heavy Electronic music we were making.
Q: Speaking of ‘Industrial’n’Beats”, It was Seba (A&R Alfa-Matrix) who coined ‘Industrial’n’Beats’ to describe the Neikka RPM sound. And also, what’s the meaning behind the name Neikka RPM?
Rich: Yes! It was all thanks to Seba who is the ultimate oracle of the scene’s landscape, and also to Benoit for the art direction, and to Bernard for the marketing campaign leadership. Talk about a solid team! Especially for newcomer bands. Looking back at it now, I think I was focusing on Dominique’s vocals which got me caught up in the ‘Electronica’ vibe. But that’s the thing, Dominique’s voice is captivating, sexy, very hypnotic. ‘Neikka’ comes from a nickname back in college. Dominique was, ‘Domi-Neikka’ to a bunch of friends.
Q: So let’s talk about Industrial’N’Beats for a minute. Sound-wise NEIKKA RPM has always been a truly sonic enigma to me; Electronic, dark, bombastic drums, sensual female vocals… but hard to label and so I get the ‘Industrial’N’Beats’ tag. But set that aside and tell me what does your style say about your personal sources of inspiration and your own perception of Electronic music?
Rich I think it all goes back to the garage band days, amps blasting in a sweaty packed warehouse, you know that brash, loud, crashing drums and sloppy reverberating bass bouncing off the walls. It’s just locked into my brain to mix Electronics to sound like a live garage band. But I very much admire the sonic-perfection of some of the scene’s music producers with amazing clarity and fidelity, but that’s just not me, I can’t erase my ‘chaotic live-sound’ DNA.
Q: Yep, it’s all about a band’s DNA. There are some bands that you know exactly who they are before thefirst measure ends.
Rich: In all of your music reviews, I’ve always appreciated it when you used your experience and knowledge to identify and perfectly describe a band’s sonic DNA, and I think you originated that perfect way of describing musical uniqueness as ‘DNA’. We definitely have a signature sound palette in addition to Dominique’s voice. I’m sure most of the scene’s Analog connoisseurs will recognize a well-known drum machine in nearly all of our tracks… At the heart of nearly all Neikka RPM tracks is a beating TR-909. This beast is nearly 40 years old AND still delivers speaker-destroying power…channel ‘1’ on my mixing-board has been abused!
Q: Let’s switch gears. I realized it’s already ten years ago now you released the last NEIKKA RPM-album. I know you’re working on new songs, but how come it takes so much time to release a new work and how are things evolving?
Rich: Geez it’s been that long?! Stef, honestly I really don’t feel the time gap between full lengths, I guess it’s because we’re always so active between our more recent “Battle Scars”-EP and a steady stream of remixes for other bands. Plus copyediting reviews always keeps me in the loop, I never feel like I’m off the radar.
Q: Aside from remixes, any new songs in the pipeline?
Rich: Yes, we are nearly complete with our next full length album. In terms of evolution, I think the new tracks work big analog layered basslines into the fold.
Q: What’s the sense of composing a full length album today when people are mainly listening to single cuts on streaming platforms? How do you perceive this (r)evolution?
Rich: I think about how fast the average person scrolls through their feed? Maybe spend a second or two on a picture, maybe read the first two sentences of a headline? And so it’s no surprise to me that fast consumable music would follow in-suit, but it is evolution, people want on-demand music and so bands have to deliver with firing off singles to stay in the race. But despite all that, I believe that the Side-line scene is not interested in fast disposable music. I think there is real symbiosis between the bands, artists, and the listener. There is relevance for a complete album, a collection of songs with purpose. Personally I approach an album as a complete story with an intro, rise, climax, and conclusion.
Q: I often get the feeling Neikka RPM is a kind of antithesis to bands with ‘star’ attitude, but also to artists where image looks are more important than the music. Is it something you recognize and what does it reveal about yourself; the ‘man’ hiding behind the ‘musician’?
Rich: Oh yeah, I totally recognize the imagery of Neikka RPM and its impact. Simultaneously hitting the senses of sight and sound is all part of the complete Art package. Everything about Neikka RPM is delivering a message of allure, seduction and mystery, colliding with muscled-physical beats.
Q: How would you paint this picture?
Rich: It’s a soft voice whispering in your ear, maybe you’re lying side-by-side in a bed, or maybe a seductive voice whispering to you in a dark hallway…the point is that it’s an intimate moment between NEIKKA and her prey…. a sensual interaction. She holds you there gently in her hand for a moment… and then you experience utter destruction, complete annihilation. Seduced and destroyed.
Q: Nice! And what about you? This sounds like a movie, where are you in this scene?
Rich: Eh, I’m just some random guy hovering in the background, heheheh. That’s the intention, a story playing out in your mind.
Q: So Dominique is the singer of Neikka RPM… and also your wife. How is it working together in a music band/project and who’s taking the final decisions?
Rich: It is, and always has been a collaboration, both with the music and in ‘regular life.’ But yes we work together on NEIKKA RPM, everything from the music, lyrics and photos.
Q: Most of the readers probably don’t know you’ve been involved with Side-Line for numerous years. How did you get in touch and what does this involvement mean to you?
Rich: From the very beginning, I wanted to help support the scene. So I’ve been copy editing Side-Line reviews for years and years now. I think it all started with making suggestions for album press releases of bands on the Alfa-Matrix roster. From that point Seba suggested that I help out with Side-Line interviews and reviews, this was when the magazine was still hardcopy, I loved it. I’m thankful to still be helping out over the years and seeing the paper magazine transform into an all-encompassing music information platform.
Q: So what happens if I find a typo in this interview?
Rich: Oh man….that would be embarrassing.
Q: One thing is for sure, you’re my most faithful reader for years now 😉 More seriously, what you’re doing is simply incredible and requires a lot of patience, tolerance, discipline… How do you hold on and do you get a kind of satisfaction by correcting reviews?
Rich: ‘Patience, tolerance?’ Those are some pretty tough words! Seriously Stef, I definitely don’t see it that way. Side-Line is an education.
Q: Do you sometimes feel the need to discover an artist/album after having read a review? Are there some bands you discovered this way?
Rich: Absolutely! And you make it easy by providing the web links in the reviews. You can go down the rabbit hole. I’ve clicked on countless links after reading a review. And it’s more than new discoveries, I also like to catch up with bands that I know from the past, and not just the legends, a great band I recognize, or maybe an artist I collaborated with, or remixed.
Q: Like checking in on friends?
Rich: It’s good to see what bands are up to, what realms they’re exploring and of course the new discoveries let you know the scene is alive and thriving.
Q: During the years there has been a serious decline of printed- and online music magazines. In your opinion, how important is this kind of ‘specialized’ press and what’s the impact on artists?
Rich: Maybe out of date thinking, but albums have a purpose of telling a story. I think bands need time to slow down, articles online certainly reach way-more people… but the problem is online lifespan is only seconds. Think about how fast people scroll through a page, or feed, a band has a fraction of a scroll to catch someone’s attention, where a magazine stays on someone’s table, bookbag for weeks, months, think about all that contact time!
Q: What do you consider as your biggest accomplishment in your music career and what are your secret dreams?
Rich: The biggest accomplishment has been successfully finding, and sticking around with like minded people. I’m not sure people realize just how fragile a scene can be. I’ve seen the New York City dark-club scene go from completely raging several nights a week at so many venues to nearly nil. Thankfully there are still solid labels and of course Side-Line is a strong hub, but people need to support the scene to keep the machine rolling. I can tell you that the ‘secret dream’ comes true every day. How great is it for any artist to have a music outlet over all these years and to be part of the Side-Line community?