Features, Print July 4, 2020

Drum As You Are: Eric Riley Throws Down The Beat As A Black Musician In Metal

by Valerie Vampola

Even with all the fun Eric Riley has thrashing onstage with his long-time friend Nate Valdez, there is always that one drunk person who has to point it out: a black guy in a metal band!

Riley grows weary of others tagging him as the “token black guy,” as they have throughout his life, either during his upbringing in Texas or in Denver, where he currently gigs with In the Whale (the rock duo he formed with Valdez) playing in a genre that isn’t regarded for its African-American diversity. 

“I mean, it’s Denver! There’s not a lot of diversity but it’s not really anyone’s fault,” said Riley in a phone interview for BandWagon.

Riley on stage at Hodi’s HalfNote in Fort Collins.

So while he’s holding down representation in the Denver scene, he looks up to other black drummers who play similar hard rock music, such as Thomas Pridgen of The Mars Volta and Jon Theodore of both Mars Volta and Queens of the Stoneage.

But Riley’s original inspirations simply came from music itself. He was a teenager watching MTV when Silverchair’s video for “Freak” came across his television screen. The sounds of rough distortions coupled with images of the grunge trio playing inside a laboratory furnace got him hooked on the heavy.

“That was one of the first things that made me go ‘holy shit, that is cool!’” said Riley.

Watching and listening to the music of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam was the inspirational groundwork for In The Whale too. He and Valdez took the dirty rawness of 90’s grunge and roughed it up with hard rock and metal, pulling influences from Deftones, The Smashing Pumpkins, and The Melvins.

Riley grew up listening to black soul artists from the 60’s and 70’s that his parents enjoyed, like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, and he even has a special place in his heart for MC Hammer and Boyz II Men. But the harder rock acts were where his heart was. He picked drums as his 6th grade band instrument, started jamming with his 12-year-old buddies to bands like Metallica in their garages, and hasn’t missed a beat since.

Eric’s band In The Whale is set to perform at The Oriental Theater on September 4 as part of The O’s Safe Sound Series. Click HERE for tickets and info.

For information on how to contribute to the Black Lives Matter movement donating to the organiztion of your choice, click HERE.