Here it is, the apex of our week featuring Ra Ra Riot.
I had the opportunity to send them a few questions, and bassist Mathieu Santos was kind of enough to answer them for me.
Here they are, totally unedited.
Shimmy Shake: The album, The Rhumb Line, is truly fantastic. Tell me a little bit
about the process of getting all that together and what it was like recording it.
Mathieu Santos: Thank you! The album is basically a recorded history of our first couple of years as a band – some of the songs were conceived at our first ever practice, and some of them came together while we were in the studio. Recording was an absolutely amazing process. We worked with Ryan Hadlock at his beautiful studio in rural Washington state, just north of Seattle, where we also lived during the sessions. The studio is actually an old, refurbished horse barn, so there are a lot of high, vaulted ceilings and loft spaces and things like that. We did a lot of cooking and relaxing – it was just an incredibly positive and relaxed vibe, and we’re all really happy with how the album came out.
SS: The buzz surrounding your shows is intense. Every review I've read says a Ra Ra Riot show is just incredible. What do you do to ensure you have a great show every night? What's key?
MS: The key to having a good show is to have insufferably large amounts of down-time throughout the day, so by the time you get to the stage, you can hardly control how happy and excited you are to finally get to do what you want to be doing.
SS: This tour is going all over the place, and again, gotten great reviews at every stop. What have been some of the highlights? Low points? How do you keep it going everyday?
MS: There have been a ton of highlights on this tour! Most recently, we stopped by one of the white-sanded beaches in Pensacola on a day off, which was really exciting for us lot of Nor’easterners who are more accustomed to rocks and boring old TAN sand. We always try to get out and explore a little bit of wherever we are, which helps to diffuse the boredom that can set in at times. Lowlights, as usual, revolve around having our van broken into/damaged/ticketed/towed, but we’re slowly getting used to that kind of stuff.
SS: A friend pointed me to the 'Oh La' remix that you all donated to BarackRock.org. How'd you get involved in that? Any other events planned for Obama before the election?
MS: We’ve known Jack [Dolgen of Maricopa], the site’s creator, for a while – we opened for his band, Sam Champion, at our first ever show, which took place in our manager’s basement! (Our manager was arrested later this night for disturbing the peace.) I think Jack contacted us about getting involved, and we had just recorded some new arrangements for Daytrotter.com. We were particularly happy with how Oh, La came out, and were even more excited to share it with him. As far as other pre-election events go, we plan on continuing to boo loudly at the television whenever we see images of John McCain, and, conversely, high-fiving and doing Arsenio Hall-style arm pumps whenever we see Obama.
SS: Even though you have been getting good solid press, you're still an independent band (albeit an independent band on a major independent label). How do you go about getting your music heard? What's worked and what hasn't?
MS: We’ve toured pretty relentlessly during the past two and a half years, and we’ve always found that to be the most effective and direct way to build a solid, dedicated fan base. It’s really nice to see the size of crowds in each city build over time.
SS: One of my favorite songs on the album is Can You Tell. The character in the song is apologetic at first, but still plays rather coy in the song. I'd like to know what went into that song.
MS: Wes is asleep right now, and so this will have to remain a mystery for the time being.
SS: Another favorite is the Kate Bush cover of 'Suspended in Gaffa." Is she an influence? What other bands are influences for you?
MS: We are all huge Kate Bush fans, thanks to Wes, who first got us to cover Hounds Of Love when we first formed. There was a week last summer during which we were obsessed with Suspended In Gaffa, and during a lull in a practice one day, we started playing it for fun. At first we never intended to perform it live or to share it with anyone, and lo and behold, it eventually made its way onto the album. Other common influences among the six of us include The Beatles, The Police, Talking Heads, U2 – things like that.
SS: What are you currently listening to? What can't you get enough of?
MS: Personally, as far as new music goes, I’m really excited about the new White Denim and Walkmen albums, and I’ve been listening to a lot of The Virgins since touring with them earlier this year. Also, I just completed my U2 collection on this tour! I got the re-mastered 1977-1984 box set, with all the bonus b-side discs, and it is absolutely incredible.
SS: I haven't bought a physical CD in forever, though I do purchase all my music legally online. But I remember going to record stores and meeting bands and how that was an incredible part of the music experience for me. What's your take on the state of digital music?
MS: Digital music is definitely more convenient in a lot of ways, and that’s far and away its greatest strength. However, I can’t imagine not owning physical copies of my favorite albums, and I can’t help thinking that digital music has, in a lot of ways, de-mystified the idea of owning music. Lately we’ve been trying to fit in a lot of in-store performances at independent record retailers*, and it’s great to see the large, enthusiastic turnouts at these stores.
*The stores we’ve played at on this tour are: Soundgarden in Baltimore, Maryland; The Record Exchange in Boise, Idaho; Waterloo Records in Austin, Texas; and Cactus Music in Houston, Texas. If you’re ever near any of these areas, please visit them!
SS: Where do you put the cello when on tour? Do you strap it to the top of the van?
MS: Unfortunately we’ve never had to do this – though sometimes it gets its own seat when we fly to places (and, since the seat is paid for, it actually DOES get served snacks and a meal).
SS: I have no more questions. Anything you want to add?
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