Coming to Milwaukee
When: Thursday July 28, 2016 at 8pm
Where: Turner Hall Ballroom
Where they’re from: Brooklyn, NY
Their song 88Nine is playing: “Absolutely”
RIYL: Passion Pit, synth-pop with strings, Vampire Weekend
5 questions with Ra Ra Riot
From orchestral baroque-pop (“The Rhumb Line”) to synth-pop (“Beta Love”) and now finding themselves somewhere in between (“Need Your Light”), the Syracuse group has hit its stride. They’ll be headlining Turner Hall Ballroom on July 28th. Radio Milwaukee spoke with frontman Wes Mills about the new record, how it was written partly in Milwaukee, and growing up with a musical family.
1. How did Ra Ra Riot get started?
I met Milo earlier at Syracuse University just at a random house party. There was a vintage Wurlitzer piano and I was excited because I hadn’t seen one before and he noticed me talking about it. He said, “oh yea, let’s start a band!” And I was like, “yea that’s great,” because he was a year older than me which was exciting. But we didn’t end up really knowing each other and that was the only time we met until two years later when I saw him play with Matt and John, our original drummer, at another house party and I was like, “oh my god, these guys are so good, I want to play with them.” And then that’s kind of what started it. The show that I saw was December of 2005 and then we started the band officially in January of 2006.
2. When did you start playing music?
I come from a very musical family. My parents are both really good musicians and singers, not professionally. They made me take piano lessons when I was a kid. I didn’t stick with it because I really wanted to play the drums, then saxophone and then kind of came back to keyboard a little bit. My older brother is a really great bass player. You know, and everyone wrote music from the beginning, there was no decision like, “oh maybe I’ll try to play music.” It was just self-evident in my family.
Your parents weren’t freaked out when you left school to pursue music?
I think for Matt and Allie (our original cellist), they were a little nervous because they didn’t graduate at first. So I think that was a source of concern. But for most of us, clearly it’s paid off, it’s been the right decision. For me, my parents didn’t even put a lot of pressure on me to go to college and having a physics degree isn’t really like a thing. It’s not useful unless you’re going into academia or be an engineer or research or something. Which I wasn’t really that interested in. So I didn’t really have a good idea what else I wanted to do. I always knew that I wanted to be a musician.
3. Who is your dream collaborator — dead or alive?
One person that I would love to collaborate with is Thundercat. He’s so amazing, one of my favorite artists in the last few years. He’s such an inventive player with a fun attitude to his music.
I’ve done a lot of collaborating, too. Two songs that are on “Need Your Light” I wrote with Rostam [Batmanglij], formally of Vampire Weekend, and wrote a bunch with Dennis Herring, a producer in LA who produced our third record, “Beta Love,” and co-wrote some of those songs, too. I like collaborating a lot, I think its important. I think a lot of times it can help you break out of feeling too precious with your own demos or your own objectives if you’re stuck. I think new things can happen and that’s really important to be able to work with other people and create things that neither one of you would have on your own. I think its one of the great things about music. It’s an exciting time in music I think with all the changes and collaborations.
Being able to see how different things translate from record to performance has been a big catalyst for change for us.
4. Your style has definitely evolved from album to album. Do you think that a lot of that has to do with just being in front of live audiences or was it just a natural progression?
Definitely. Being able to see how different things translate from record to performance has been a big catalyst for change for us. On our first record, we had been performing live for two years before recording it. So we knew almost exactly what to expect from it when playing it live. But then for the middle two records, “The Orchard” and “Beta Love,” we made them before being able to play most of it with a few exceptions. That was a big learning experience and it took us awhile to figure out exactly what to do, but that kind of formed a lot the decisions that we made on “Need Your Light” about arrangement and what kind of energy and what is going to translate and what we know works for us. You know, exploit our greatest strengths.
Was it hard with all the synth elements added in?
Well, we did a lot of that in “Beta Love,” so that was something we were used to, but I think were able to perfect it a little more. There’s a lot of technology involved in the show. That was something that we kinda got used to but we wanted a little more control and ability to manipulate things on the fly while we’re playing. So we kind of steered a little bit more towards live instruments. We mixed live drums with electronic drums and synthesizers. A little bit more piano stuff so that we can play it. For us, it feels better when it’s more of an active performance. That’s something that we really focused on writing and recording “Need Your Light,” and something that we wanted to communicate more immediately.
Catch Ra Ra Riot when then come to town and listen to “Absolutely” below:
For more information and tickets to the Turner Hall performance, visit: http://pabsttheater.org/show/rarariot2016
For more from Ra Ra Riot, visit: http://www.rarariot.com/