There are a lot of bands out there doing the whole artsy-twee collegiate thing. But at the Blind Pig tonight, New York-based sextet Ra Ra Riot will show what makes them stand out from the rest of the baroque bands inundating today’s indie-chamber pop scene.
Ra Ra Riot
Monday at 9 p.m.
Tickets at $15
While its 2008 debut album The Rhumb Line offered a quirky juxtaposition of dizzying orchestration flourishes and kitschy, youthful lyrics (“My bed’s too big for just me” on “Can You Tell”), Ra Ra Riot’s latest album, The Orchard, has a more mature vibe complete with quiet moments of misery.
These mournful undertones are the product of events surrounding the band before recording the album. In the midst of making its self-titled EP, drummer John Pike went missing. Later the band was given the unfortunate news that Pike had passed away. Several weeks later, Ra Ra Riot released a statement expressing their intent to continue as a band, and in 2008 gained a new drummer in Gabriel Duquette. They soon started work on The Orchard with The Rhumb Line producer Ryan Hadlock (Blonde Redhead, Gossip, Islands).
In advance of their show tonight at the Blind Pig, the Daily spoke with cellist Alexandra Lawn about the band’s preppy-collegiate persona, the story The Orchard tells and how pals Vampire Weekend influence the music.
“It’s funny because I don’t think of us in that way,” Lawn said of the intellectual image the band is popularly perceived as projecting. “But maybe I can see where the reference is pulled up. There’s a lot of that going on in indie music right now and Wes (vocalist) was a physics major and Milo (guitar) was an architect major so there’s definitely that collegiate kind of smart thing going on there.”
Lawn and her bandmates met as undergraduates at Syracuse University, a time Lawn describes with nostalgia when she talks about playing current shows on college campuses.
“It’s definitely really fun. When we played there (at Syracuse) it was mostly house parties, which is still one of my favorite venues to play.”
While The Rhumb Line proved to be the product of a band finding their intellectual-pop bearings, Lawn describes The Orchard as a quest to find oneself.
“I think there’s something about it that tells a story about finding one’s faith and place inside and outside of themselves and I think we did that musically, creatively, together and individually,” Lawn said.
If anything, Lawn believes The Orchard is essentially a display of the band’s growth.
“We’ve been playing for almost five years together now and we wrote most of The Orchard a year ago. So that’s pretty fresh off the creative path in a sense, whereas on The Rhumb Line some of those songs were written the first week we were together.
“I think there’s a natural evolution that you can sense there.”
This tendency toward the natural may have to do with the band’s decision to record the album in a peach orchard in upstate New York.
“It was in this gorgeous farm house with a porch that our friends weren’t living in at the time and it was just a very good environment for us to be in and we found real happiness there and it proved to be productive and a great place for us to write music,” Lawn said.
Lawn then briefly mentioned the writing process without Pike, who had been an important contributor to the band’s artistry.
“John was such a creative force and so talented and he was amazing to bounce back and forth with on that level,” she said.
Ra Ra Riot is close to the equally famous collegiate prepsters Vampire Weekend. Lawn explained how the two bands became acquainted.
“Ezra (Koenig, Vampire Weekend) and Wes (Miles, Ra Ra Riot) grew up together and we’ve played many shows with them and become very good friends over the years that we’ve both been in bands. And Wes and (Rostam Batmanglij), who are Discovery, have been writing music together for the past four years and finally got a chance to release the Discovery album,” Lawn said.
Since Ra Ra Riot is composed of talented instrumentalists, it was only appropriate to ask the band’s opinion on the abundance of buzz bands today that neglect to use any form of traditional instrument.
“I was classically trained and have been playing cello for 21 years now, so I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to that and I always tend to gravitate to bands that have instruments in them and people who can play them well. That’s always a perk,” Lawn said.
Lawn couldn’t have sounded more enthusiastic about the upcoming fall tour, expressing her affinity for playing in front of a crowd.
“Oh, just the feeling you get when you play an instrument and playing with people that you love that are always inspiring you. It’s the best feeling ever.”