Rifflord: Psycho Las Vegas Preview

Everyone planning to attend Psycho Las Vegas later this month is, naturally, expecting to swelter in the desert heat. But festival goers seeking one of the most scorching but under-the-radar sets would be remiss to miss the almighty Rifflord, the ultimate “band’s band.”

With their four band members living in three states, most of them many hours away from each other, they were accustomed to surviving as a band without the luxury of meeting up at a rehearsal space in the same city. By the time COVID hit, Rifflord had already mastered the ability to work remotely.

Rifflord’s show will be unique in that the members of the blistering heavy-rock gang reside in three states. Even more outlandish (pun intended), guitarist/vocalist Wyatt Bartlett lives in a teeny-tiny town in rural South Dakota, where he owns a successful painting business and enjoys a simple life. From that small town, Bartlett has successfully managed to keep Rifflord afloat since 2007.

After years of pining to participate at Psycho Las Vegas 2022, Rifflord will play at the festival’s kickoff pool party on Thursday, August 18, then again on Saturday two days later. You can probably infer what they sound like, at least to a degree, simply from the band’s overtly descriptive name. But theirs won’t be a run-of-the-mill desert-rock shows … Bartlett recently told The Bad Penny exactly why.

Thanks for chatting with me today. Wyatt. So whereabouts are you, exactly?

WYATT BARTLETT: We live in a rural part of South Dakota, kind of in the middle of nowhere. We have a 40-acre ranch right next to Nebraska, in the South Central part of the state. The nearest town to us has about 600 people. The nearest stoplight is 45 minutes away. There’s a quarter-mile gravel road that goes by a cemetery, and you have to take it in order to get to our house.

Sounds like a good setting for a future Rifflord video.

BARTLETT: [Laughs.] Yeah, maybe someday. Our band members are actually spread out all over the place. Our drummer [Douglas Jennings Barrett] was from Missoula, Montana, but then he got an opportunity to be the drummer for Whores, so he now drums for them as well as us. He’s currently in Atlanta.

Our lead guitarist, Sam Hayes, lives in Omaha, Nebraska, which is about five hours from me. And then our bassist [Matthew McFarland] lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which is about three hours away from me.

Are you going to have the chance to rehearse altogether before the festival?

BARTLETT: Yeah. Douglas is flying in from Australia the Tuesday before we play. So we are going to pick him up on our way through Denver that day. On Wednesday, our bassist flies into Las Vegas, and we’ll pick him up at the airport. Later that day, we’ll practice in a studio space we’ve rented out for the day. So we’ll get to brush up on our skills and get everything ready to go for our performance on Thursday.

Sounds like the plot line to a Metalocalypse episode.

BARTLETT: [Laughs.] It’s kind of always been that ridiculous for us. Nothing’s been easy and conventional.

“We’ve been a band since 2007, and we’ve probably played, to be honest, maybe 100 shows.”

-Rifflord guitarist/vocalist Wyatt Bartlett

With Rifflord having formed in 2007, are your Psycho performances a long time in the waiting?

BARTLETT: Yeah. I first heard about it in 2014, and I was immediately like, “We have to play this.” As a band, it’s kind of a struggle for us. Because we [live] so far apart, we’re not extremely active on the road. So people know us more for our online presence, not so much for seeing us live. We haven’t played that many concerts.

I attended Psycho for two years in a row, and the last year … I’m good friends with Kyle [Juett] from Mothership, and we had spent the day just having beers, hanging out. Kyle said, “Hey, I need to go introduce you to [Psycho founder] Evan [Hagen].” So we went up to Evan’s suite and talked with him, and he was a great guy. Kyle said, “You need to have Rifflord play here.” And Evan was like, “Yeah, we should do it.” I said I was down, and that was that.

We then exchanged a few messages back and forth, and then we finally got the invite. We’re all really, really excited.

What was Psycho like for you, the two times you went? I’m especially curious about the experience of a musician attending the festival and enjoying it from a fan perspective — not having to arrive or leave in a rush due to tour dates or other obligations.

BARTLETT: The first year that we went out there [2019], a friend from SPV Records got us free tickets. My wife, Tory [Jean Stoddard], is our keyboardist. So we flew down there and had a blast. We got to hang out with Matt Pike after his wedding, met his wife, made all these great contacts. The next time, we flew out there [in 2021] with our friends and had an amazing time again. That’s when we got to meet Evan.

It was such a kick seeing those photos of Mike Pike getting married at the small cathedral in Vegas during Psycho.

BARTLETT: It was wild. We were down at the Rhythm & Riffs stage. I was actually drinking with Joakim [Nilsson] from Graveyard, and all of a sudden, Matt came walking up. He still had his wedding attire on, and Joakim grabs him and says, “Matt, I want you to meet my new best friend, Wyatt.” And then he kissed me right on the face. [Laughs.] It was absolutely hilarious. We had a lot of fun after that, sharing stories and contemplating UFO landings and whatnot.

Given how long you’ve looked forward to playing Psycho, are you feeling nervous at all about it?

BARTLETT: No matter what size of stage I play at, I always get nervous beforehand. So I’m sure I’ll experience that once we get there. But right now, we’re just in the trenches getting our ducks in a row. I’m mostly overwhelmed with gratitude.

Earlier you alluded to not having played many live shows. Would you guesstimate the number at a few hundred?

BARTLETT: We’ve been a band since 2007, and we’ve probably played, to be honest, maybe 100 shows. And we’ve been really fortunate. The first show we played was with The Sword. We’ve gotten to play with Crowbar, Monolord … we’ve had some amazing opportunities.

Are you going to be debuting any new material during your set?

BARTLETT: Yeah. We have an album that’s been done since 2019, and we’re currently label-shopping it. We’re going to perform three new songs: “Tumbleweed,” “Ohm Ripper” and “Grim Creeper.”

Is the album going to be called Tumbleweed?

BARTLETT: No. With each album, we draw a tarot card from this deck called Secret Dakini Oracle. There’s a whole long, mystical relationship we have with that deck that began with a friend of ours finding it on a bus. We draw a card from the deck, and that’s the name of the next album. So this album will be called 39 Serpent Power.

Now that is a badass way to name an album. Who are you most excited to see perform at Psycho this year?

BARTLETT: I absolutely love Boris. Last time I saw them was, I think, 2007 with Sunn O))). Really excited to see Mercyful Fate. Huge fan of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. I have four older sisters, and I remember being in the back of their vehicle, driving around while they were blasting Bone Thugs. I thought it was the coolest damn thing on the planet.

Lastly, what appeals to you the most about Psycho fest?

BARTLETT: The lineups. They’re diverse enough but still make sense. Everyone’s listening to the same circle of bands, but they’re far enough apart that they still keep you interested. And the communal aspect of it. When you show up there, there are at least 20 people that you know. It’s an absolute blast. I’m not a fan of Vegas in August, but whatever, it’s all good!

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Check Rifflord’s Facebook page for tour date info.

Psycho Las Vegas runs from August 19-21, with a kickoff pool party happening Thursday, August 18. Get your tickets here.

For other Psycho Las Vegas 2022 features, check out The Bad Penny’s new profiles with:

• Jason Shi, frontman for North Carolina psychedelic stoner-punks ASG
• Sidecar Tommy, co-founder and drummer for electronica/world-music/dubstep act Beats Antique
• Alky Dude, guitarist for Polish stoner-rock band Belzebong
• Brother Bill, frontman for British psychedelic-rock ensemble Church of the Cosmic Skull
• Jarvis Leatherby, manager/bassist for power-metal legends Cirith Ungol
• Chad Green, frontman for old-school death-metal revivalists Frozen Soul
• Alternative hip-hop producer and DJ The Gaslamp Killer
A.L.N., frontman of black-metal miscreants Mizmor
• Kyle Juett, bassist/vocalist for “supersonic intergalactic heavy-rock trio” Mothership
• Nathan Carson, co-founder and drummer for Portland, Oregon’s original doom band, Witch Mountain
• Bruce Lamont, saxophone/singer for avant-garde jazz-metal fusion band Yakuza

For more features on bands playing Psycho this year, check out our interviews with:

• Colin H. Van Eeckhout, vocalist for Belgian post-metal purveyors Amenra
• Tomas Lindberg, vocalist for Swedish melodic death-metal pioneers At the Gates
• Alex Mass, frontman for Austin psych-rock princes the Black Angels
• Jeff Walker, vocalist/bassist for extreme-metal behemoths Carcass
• Scott Taysom, frontman for Atlanta black-metal band Cloak
• Greg Meleney, vocalist/guitarist for Portland psych-rock mainstays Danava
• Darkest Prince, lead guitarist for black-metal punks Devil Master
• Judas Priest worshipper and Psycho fest mainstay DJ Painkiller
• Mika Häkki, bassist for Gothenburg doom trio Monolord
• All-female Motörhead tribute band Motorbabe
• Ethan Lee McCarthy, frontman for blackened-doom trio Primitive Man
• Tobias Grave, frontman for shimmering post-rock trio Soft Kill
• Sean Killian, vocalist for cult-favorite Bay Area thrash band Vio-lence

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