"Don't Let Your Heart Stray" - The Fame Riot's first national tour pulses with love, energy

Shazam (on keyboard) and Liz leave it all out onstage every night on tour. (photos courtesy of thefameriot.com)

By Connor Buestad | connor@section925.com

Deep in the middle of their first national tour, The Fame Riot visited San Francisco’s Neck of the Woods in the Richmond District on the last Sunday prior to Thanksgiving. The electro-pop/garage-rock sibling duo arrived in the Bay Area in their trusted 12 passenger van, short on sleep and long on caffeine and the dream of becoming bonafide rock stars. The Tacoma, Washington natives were opening for Radkey (a trio of brothers in their own right) and made sure to deliver a passionate, loud, emotional and memorable performance for the city they call their favorite behind only Seattle.

“People ask us if we’re twins and we say yes,” explains Liz Scarlett, the green-haired younger brother of the band at 21. Shazam Watkins, 24, is the elder statesman of the duo, and on this night he was donning red locks to accentuate his dark eye-liner. Their appearance is the first thing you notice about The Fame Riot, aside from perhaps the music itself. But it all seems to tie in together nicely, as both brothers prove to be natural (and effective) showman both onstage and off.

Despite sporting different last names, “Liz” and “Shazam” are more family oriented than you might initially imagine. “Both of our parents are ministers and leaders in their church. They are both great people,” explains Liz. “We also have three older brothers, and yeah they’re all married. We’re like the reckless twins at the end of the tale.”

Part of the brothers’ recklessness can be traced back to their family’s decision to home school Liz and Shazam rather than send them to the potentially mind-numbing endeavor that is American high school. “We said ‘fuck the system,’” explains Liz in a matter-of-fact tone, with a smile on his face. “The system is fucked and we stayed out of it. And I think we benefited from that decision. I wish more people could do the same.”

Liz melting faces. 

Their teenage years spent outside the confines of “The System” were clearly not wasted, as both boys dove headlong into creative pursuits both in music, fashion and beyond, all more or less free of distraction. The result is a pair of brothers with more positive and passionate energy than normal, who seem most at ease when they are living a life as eclectic and original as possible.

By the time Liz and Shazam were approaching college age, the brothers had scrapped their gigs at the church and began showing their true colors, both literally and figuratively. Inspired by the bands they weren’t supposed to be listening to, the brothers began emulating various flavors of bad boy rock and rollers. Ones that stood for something bigger than themselves and made people think, move, and feel.

In 2014, after years in their garage, the brothers dropped their first EP, titled Dust Funk, complete with seven songs that have a way of waking you up and pulsing through your body in a positive way. Two years later, another couple songs were added to the original EP, giving the pair enough material to set off on their first coast-to-coast tour. “Heart Stray” is The Fame Riot’s current single in circulation, which has been a hit on the radio in the least likeliest of places (Kansas City, Missouri, etcetera).

In quiet conversation, the brothers are as intellectual and articulate as you could ever want when you’re dealing with a pair of budding rockstars. Self-proclaimed people who “won’t talk about politics,” Liz and Shazam are easily suckerd into providing insightful ideas on the direction of America since the travesty of Trump’s election. “Let’s stop talking about fucking politics,” says Shazam in his effective analysis of the mainstream media or “MSM” as he un-fondly calls it.  

Brothers feeling the love.

Onstage, The Fame Riot is not afraid to speak in British accents to go along with their edgy choice in attire. To them, the event and show is just as important as the music itself. They explain that “coming to the Fame Riot” is a highly charged event spurred on by the people in the room listening to the music. “It’s a show because of the people that are there,” says Liz in all sincerity.

Despite a small crowd of loyal listeners on this fogged in Sunday, these brothers certainly brought The Fame Riot to San Francisco. Shazam steadily bounced around on the keyboard, his muscular face rarely visible behind his extravagant mane of hair. Liz shredded on the guitar from start to finish, with each song bringing a fresh burst of loud energy that the crowd couldn’t help but feel and respond to.

By the time the set was finished, there was no wonder why this band is continuing to ascend to new heights within their genre. Yes, they’ve already been featured in studio on the famed KEXP radio in Seattle and have shared the stage with GroupLove and Chromeo, but the time is now where they are getting to spread their wings across the U.S. and share their energetic showmanship on a nightly basis.  

“The people we’ve met has been the biggest surprise on tour so far. So many people have stepped up and taken us in, setting us up with a place to crash and get ready for the next night’s show. Friends of friends, distant cousins, you name it,” explains Shazam. “This is like our demo tour, we are learning a lot. It’s not easy playing with that much emotion every night. Teas, essential oils, eating healthy, we are doing everything we can.”

Although the duo is willing to admit the hardships of touring on a shoestring budget, their passionate outlook on their music and the world at large easily keep their fire fueled. And while their music has strayed far from the confines of American churches or poetry found in classrooms, the intent is similar. “Strip the skin off of us and we’re all the same. We just want to make music that inspires people,” says Shazam. Spend a night at The Fame Riot and you might find you’ll see more than just a show. It runs much deeper than that.