Ra Ra Riot: Independence Day
As a band, you have literally grown up together: you all met in college, moved to New York together and have spent the past six years touring the world in close courters. Have you felt that as you guys have grown up and the band has evolved, that your musical interests have stayed the same and have all evolved together? Or is it something that, as it’s changed, everyone has brought different influences and if that’s so, can you mention some of the influences individual members have brought in?
Obviously because we spend a lot of time together, if someone’s really excited about something, it spreads. Something that comes to mind is the [psych-rock] Delicate Steve record. I think it was [guitarist] Milo Bonacci who first found it and was instantly like, “Check out this band! They’re amazing!” They’re incredible! And fortunately, we did get to tour with them on the last tour behind The Orchard. That’s pretty common. I think some of us listen to a bit more new music than other members of the band. When something catches, everyone becomes passionate about it. Everybody really loves the last two Dirty Projectors records. It’s hard to say how they influence this record in particular. Obviously stuff has to be influencing us—whether you’re conscious of it or not, these things do influence and inspire but it’s hard to say directly how. I think some of maybe the more electronic parts to the record are probably more inspired by older things as opposed to newer ones.
Not the newer electronic-revival going on in dance music but some more retro synth sounds you have discovered?
Speaking of varied influence, I actually heard that Miles and [founding drummer John Pike, who tragically drowned in 2007] started off in a jamband. Is that true?
Wes played in a funk-jamband when we were in college. It’s funny because Wes’s good friend, we were all really into funk and actually opened a funk and waffles restaurant—The Funk N’ Waffle –in Syracuse, which is awesome. I’m not sure how into that style of music he was into before he met them but he played drums with them when we were in college.
Shifting back to the album, given that this Beta Love was work-shopped in so many different settings over a long period of time, did you shy away from playing these songs live before you finished the album? Conversely, given the varied instrumentation on the album, what has the process of tweaking these songs for a concert setting been like?
We started playing them in August. We finished the record in May and knew that we wouldn’t be releasing it until January. We did take a few months off and then, when we started playing them, we knew it would be a massive challenge. The songs off The Rhumb Line and The Orchard were challenging to recreate live but as we wrote thse songs, we all learned how to play them. We could essentially perform them, and then we recorded them. This has been the first experience where, because we intentionally wanted things to be spontaneous in the studio, we tried to prepare things enough that we could record them but not prepare too much so that there wouldn’t be room for improvisation and that sort of thing in the studio.
So come August, we had our work cut out for us. Everyone’s sort of doing different things. Milo’s playing keys and guitar. Matt’s playing guitar and bass. And I’m now playing violin and keys and singing—and sometimes doing it all at the same time! So it’s pretty exciting because everyone has these new challenges but getting them to feel good in a set has been difficult. We’re playing songs like “Dying is Fine,” which we’ve actually been playing for several years, and it has taken a lot of work and time. I’m actually in our practice space right now. We’re currently still practicing. We had a tour last week and we were able to play seven of the songs and we felt really good about them but we’ve had to be really diligent about putting the time in.
Have you felt that some of the band’s new instrumentation and each of your new roles as multi-instrumentalists has shifted or changed some of the back catalog songs that you still play? Have you incorporated some of the new sounds to the old songs?
No, not really. The older ones, aside from not having Alexandria as our cellist, are all the same.
Some advance promotional material from your new album pointed out that, lyrically, the album has something of a futurist theme. Was that something that a clear goal when the album was being written and can you talk a bit about where that concept initially came from?
Wes can do a better job talking about it but I will do the best that I can. I know when we were recording The Orchard, Matt had just gotten the book The Singularity is Near. And I think that’s something that just fascinated all of the boys. I think from touring The Orchard, we were talking about these concepts and how they were sort of escape tactics for the boys. I think it’s something they’ve really felt inspiriting to think about and something that changed everything. When it came time to write lyrics for Beta Love, Wes had it on his mind and found it really inspiring. I think he said that possibly in the past, he would have felt too self-conscious to write about something essentially dorky. But to him, it’s so fascinating and interesting that it was maybe liberating to just go with something that he’s sincerely interested in and inspired by.
Since you have a few records under your belt and toured so much, there probably is a freedom to try different things and experiment more and do things that you feel passionate about doing. It is a piece of a catalog now instead of defining your reputation.
It’s easier said than done. As I said, trying to go with our gut in the studio was a goal but it was hard to actually do that. It was nice to have Dennis there because it was his job to help us achieve that. I mean we’re sincerely excited to get back on the road. It’s been over a year since we’ve toured, and we’re basically starting our tour to Hong Kong and Taipei and Tokyo. We’re pretty excited about that. I think everyone’s in a really great place right now and everyone’s really happy. We’ve put so much time and ourselves into making this record that we’re excited to get out and tour it and play it and share it with everyone.