In The Know...Interview with Ra Ra Riot

>> Thursday, 18 November 2010

While calling it a grower would be a gross overstatement (and a bad pun), Ra Ra Riot’s new record, The Orchard, certainly requires more time and patience from listeners.

Compared to its album predecessor, that is.

Whereas debut release The Rhumb Line was rife with immediate and familiar hooks, The Orchard houses less direct hooks in favour of more complex arrangements and layered melodies. Overall, the record is more accomplished and more rewarding that anything they’ve done before - just try not to get sucked in by the mellifluous, spirit-elevating strings on “Boy” and the thumping motorik on “Massachuettes”.

Yesterday evening I spoke with violinist Rebecca Zeller on the phone and asked her about the band’s recent appearance on Last Call with Carson Daly, the decision to record the album on a peach orchard, and how their first trek through Western Canada is going.

Catch Zeller and the rest of Ra Ra Riot – vocalist Wes Miles, guitarist Milo Bonacci, drummer Gabriel Duquette, cellist Alexandra Lawn, and bassist Mathieu Santos – this Saturday at the Garrick with Wintersleep.

Painting over Silence: You’ve logged some serious kilometers all over North America the last while, including a stop in L.A. for Last Call with Carson Daly. What was that experience like?

Rebecca Zeller: Well, actually, it was sort of non-traditional because they came to our L.A. show, and they just filmed it, so it wasn’t like we went on set and into the studio. They just came without Carson.

PoS: Oh. So you didn’t actually get to meet him?

Rebecca Zeller: Nope! *laughs* I know.  It’s weird.

PoS:  I read that the new record, The Orchard, was written in a peach Orchard located in upstate New York. What made the band decide to seclude themselves and pen the bulk of the record in such a place?

RZ: It sort of was the best option. We needed a place to write the album. We all live in New York City right now, but rehearsal and practice spaces there are expensive, they’re small, and you don’t really get any windows or anything. We didn’t really think that was, you know, an inspiring place to write our next record, so we started looking in upstate in New York. Milo, our guitarist, had friends who owned the orchard and were actively trying to sell it. It was a big coincidence and we really lucked out and were able to stay there and housesit it from them while they tried to sell it.

We were just looking for more of an inspiring place than what we were able to afford in New York.

PoS: And this experience made you christen the new album after the orchard?

RZ: It surprisingly came much later in the game that we titled it The Orchard. We written it, recorded it, mixed it, and put it in order. Analyzing the themes throughout, it sort of came to light that everything was really influenced by our time on the orchard and our overall experience. It made sense to title it after that.

And then after that came the picture – the album artwork is a picture of the house where we wrote the album.

PoS: Was the recording and mixing also done there?

RZ: No, it was also done in upstate New York but a bit further east: sorta between Saratoga Springs and Albany. It was done in Black Dog studio. We would’ve love to record at the orchard, but they had sold it.

PoS: Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie mixed the majority of the record. How did this relationship come about?

RZ: About two years ago this spring we toured extensively with Death Cab for several months in the early spring and then a bit more in the summer. Through this experience we became friends with all of them and Chris had expressed interest in being involved in our new record. We had decided to produce it ourselves, but when it came time to choose a mixer, it sort of made sense to go with Chris. We have a lot of respect for what he’s done in the past, and we really connected with him as a person. It seemed like a great option.

PoS: And Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend mixed a track too?

RZ: He actually co-wrote that song with Wes, our singer. It was something Wes and Rostam had worked on for the Discovery record, but I don’t they ever really developed the idea. Wes thought it would be a good song for us, so we thought we should give it to Rostam to mix and see what he could do with it. And we wound up really loving it. We thought it would add a different colour to the album.

PoS: Shifting gears to the tour…you’re playing Winnipeg, my hometown, with Wintersleep this Saturday night. I’m curious: is this your first time through Winnipeg and Western Canada for that matter?

RZ: Yup. We had previously been to Vancouver and Victoria, but already on this tour we’ve been up in Whistler and then yesterday in Nelson. Today we did the drive from Nelson to Calgary, which was about 12 hours.

PoS: That's a long journey!

RZ: *laughs* Yeahh….It’s been really long hours driving, but it’s been really beautiful, which is nice. It’s also nice to see different parts of Canada. It’s a beautiful area.

PoS: Where I live, Winnipeg, because of our population size and geographic proximity to other cities can be, well, unfavourable to bands. What motivates Ra Ra Riot to tour all over and not just hit the major metropolises?

RZ: In general, or on this tour specifically?

PoS: In general.

RZ: Sometimes you get better shows there.

PoS: So then how was the show in Nelson? (Population: 10, 000 or so)

RZ: It was *really* good. Unfortunately, we had low expectations and even when we started playing, no one came to the front of the stage area. But, within five minutes, it was rocking and actually really, really awesome. A lot of smaller cities have music fans that aren’t really as spoiled as people who live in major cities and they don’t get to see a lot of bands.

So people who appreciate music and bands are really enthusiastic because they don’t get it as frequently.


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