‘Make it as much as it can be’

Ra Ra Riot talks to the Journal about The Police, keeping the fun and the beauty of peach trees

Miles’ yearning vocals are poured over the sextet’s vibe to exude sunshine
Image supplied by: Supplied
Miles’ yearning vocals are poured over the sextet’s vibe to exude sunshine

If you’re like me and have been living under a rock, it’s time to crawl out from under it and get into Ra Ra Riot.

I had the chance to speak with the American band’s cellist, Alexandra Lawn, over the phone and she graciously attempted to put the band’s overall sound into words for new listeners.

“At times, it can be really lush. I think we are very inspired by true classic pop music. It ranges from The Beatles, to U2, The Police, Fleetwood Mac … we have those kind of poppy sensibilities, you know, catchy melodies. We’ve got the violin, cello so the arrangement of the strings with the other instruments makes it a bit more intricate.”

Intricate is the perfect word to describe the sextet’s second album The Orchard, an enchanting combination of sweeping strings, tight percussion and elegant harmonies. The album was released in Canada in August on the indie label Arts & Crafts, which helped the band connect with their northern fan base.

“It’s really cool to have access to Canadian fans and be able to be out here more,” Lawn said. “Also [Arts & Crafts] are just really, really fantastic people to work with.”

The band formed in 2006 at Syracuse University and hasn’t wasted any time securing their spot on the map of today’s indie music scene. In 2007 they released their first self-titled EP, 2008 brought their debut album The Rhumb Line and the Can You Tell EP was released in 2009.

What distinguishes 2010’s The Orchard from their previous releases is experience and comfort.

“We’ve got about four and a half years of playing with each other under our belt,” Lawn said. “We’ve gotten really good at playing with each other. I think there was more of a sophisticated sensibility and awareness on this album. We wrote the majority of [the album] on a peach orchard in upstate New York.”

Lawn said the experience was a bonding one for the group.

“It was just a really good time in our lives. We spent a lot of time just writing and only having to do that in a beautiful area and getting to eat peaches all the time, be outside and be together, it was good.”

The Orchard had help in its production stages from two other contemporaries, Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij. Walla mixed nine tracks and Batmanglij mixed one, a contribution Lawn said she believes adds another dimension to the album.

“You usually send an album off to be mixed by a mixer. We’ve really been interested in working with Chris one way or another and we always love working with Rostam,” Lawn said. “Both of them are just super-talented and have other perspectives to add to it, you know, make it as much as it can be.”

The band has toured with Tokyo Police Club and City and Colour, among others, and has a clear affinity for collaboration, so I asked what other groups Ra Ra Riot would like to share the stage with.

“There’s plenty of current touring bands that would be great,” Lawn said. “We could really dive into the bands that don’t exist anymore. That would be even greater. If The Police ever had another reunion tour, that would be splendid. I think there are few bands right now that are very true to what music should be and how it should be done, that seem to have a very fun time and have such a happy vibe to them. It’s very inspiring to see a band still in that kind of mindset.”

Ra Ra Riot, known for their high-energy shows, has certainly maintained that happy vibe. Their persistence and passion for music is especially commendable considering the tragedy they faced in 2007 with the passing of the band’s original drummer, John Pike. Lawn said she isn’t sure how the band was able to push on following his death.

“Obviously that has been the biggest challenge. Sometimes I wonder what kept it going, and sometimes I feel like he wrote so much music and this is our opportunity to kind of keep him going. And that’s kind of a great feeling, to be able to do that.”

Ra Ra Riot have come a long way in a short while, and don’t plan on slowing down. “Keep having fun, keep trucking along, keep making music, keep playing music,” Lawn said. “I think as long as we keep having fun we’re happy.”

Ra Ra Riot play an all ages show tomorrow at Chalmers Street United Church with The Most Serene Republic at 8 p.m., doors at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door.

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