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Ratboys looked inward to level up on ‘The Window’

A woman closes her eyes while playing guitar on stage at a concert with a single spotlight shining behind her.
David Ross Lawn
Ratboys / Facebook

When I sat down to talk with Julia Steiner of Chicago’s Ratboys, the guitarist/singer was hanging in a hotel in the suburbs of Philly, where they were about to kick off the tour supporting new album The Window.

We’ve shared the tracks “Black Earth, WI” and “It’s Alive!” on our airwaves recently, and even if you’ve only heard those two singles, it should be clear that Ratboys have written one of the finest rock records of the year.

Steiner seemed relaxed and chill throughout our convo, even though she and the band were about to embark on quite the lengthy tour. The ambitious travel itinerary has them going from coast to coast, to Canada and the Midwest (including The Back Room this Saturday), and then directly to the U.K. and Europe for a string of shows in November.

There’s good reason the band’s in such hot demand. The Window — and Ratboys’ sound in general — holds a genuine, heart-on-sleeve Midwestern appeal through and through. Its dustily contemplative and scruffily unspooled rock ‘n’ roll blends elements of folk, country and punk throughout, elevating vocal harmonies as often as kick-y drum beats and guitar freakouts.

“When you finally reach the level of brilliance you’ve been working toward for so long, The Window is exactly what it sounds like.” The Line of Best Fit’s Kyle Sager proclaimed. I heartily agree.

The band’s storytelling is tender and real, and the sounds that swaddle those stories are captivating from song to song, never getting too precious or too raw. The pieces all dovetail. It’s a cool place for a band to be after 13 years of making music together and proof it’s never too late to try something new, as Ratboys chose the path to write fully as a band — with incredible results.

Steiner talked with me about their new, collaborative approach; working with Chris Walla in Seattle and his unique approach as an engineer/producer (including giving their songs “haircuts”); the Driftless region of Wisconsin; and their big show at The Back Room this Saturday, Oct. 7.

88Nine Music Director / On-Air Talent | Radio Milwaukee