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Friday August 22nd 2014

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Hangout ’13: Less Ra Ra, More Riot

By Sarah McCartan

Ra Ra Riot is perhaps best known for their chamber pop sound and sprawling stage performances. Unlike some bands who quickly rise only to all too soon disappear, the band has been doing the exact opposite since day one. Throughout their seven-year journey, Ra Ra Riot has been keeping a steady pace, growing a substantial, devoted fan base.

Within the past year, Ra Ra Riot has scaled down to a quartet and arrived at a simpler yet electronically charged place. They are now floating into a different orbit with the release of their third album, “Beta Love.” Recognizable advances in sound include a greater emphasis placed on synthesizers. Though strikingly more dance-driven than what they or their fans have grown accustomed to, “Beta Love” has its own unique charm. Despite the absence of their cellist, violinist Rebecca Zeller remains a core component of the mix.

Even amid a sea of change and with the influx of the new, Ra Ra Riot has not disbanded the old, or the fundamental elements they have built upon. Instead they seem to be exploring the limitless playing field that stands before them. “Beta Love” is living proof that although Ra Ra Riot is capable of surprises, they remain consistently thoughtful.

Recently coming off of a headlining tour, Ra Ra Riot kick-starts an eventful summer of touring with the Shins, immediately followed by tour dates with the Postal Service as part of their reunion tour. In addition to familiarizing audiences with their new songs, Ra Ra Riot fans will not be robbed of the opportunity to sing along with tracks from breakthrough album “The Rhumb Line,” or the band’s last record, “The Orchard.”

Bassist Mathieu Santos gave the IN a closer look at Ra Ra Riot’s unusual beginnings, as well as the recent shape-shifting.

IN:  Jumping back seven years to when you were students at Syracuse University, how did you first meet and start playing music together?
SANTOS: Milo Bonacci [guitarist] knew each of us from different avenues. It was all pretty random. None of the rest of us knew each other before the band, which is unusual. Our objective was to only play for our last semester at Syracuse and then that would be it, but the summer after graduation we had fun and so we kept it going and it grew from there.

IN:  Now here you are. And you’ve just released your third album to date, which is worlds apart from your first two records. Why the shift?
SANTOS: We made the first two records in a similar fashion as far as writing and arranging goes. In the past we were following a formula. This time we embraced electronic elements, drum machines and synthesizers. We decided to change it up to make it more interesting for us and for our fans.

IN:  Did working with an outside producer help shape the sound?
SANTOS: It definitely had a lot to do with it. We produced “The Orchard” ourselves, so this time it was important to get a strong outside perspective. We had to trust a lot, and knew that nothing was precious. Everything was open to change.

IN:  Where did the album title “Beta Love” come from?
SANTOS: That evolved from the title track. Wes Miles [vocalist] was writing about this sci-fi idea of the first android to experience true love, so we ended up calling it “Beta Love.” Halfway through the album we decided that it felt like a theme.

IN:  Were you nervous introducing your new songs to fans?
SANTOS: We were nervous about how people were going to react at first. So far the response has been incredible—everyone singing along and really connecting.

IN:  Is it strange operating as a four piece now, or have you settled into a new groove?
SANTOS: We have been really excited to function as a lean, mean stripped down quartet—a small tight unit functioning together, rather than a bureaucracy.

IN:  Hangout aside, what are you most looking forward to this summer? You are going straight from touring with the Shins to touring with the Postal Service.
SANTOS: These are two tours we are thrilled about. We look up to both bands so much.

IN:  You are also playing Field Trip Music & Arts Festival in Canada I see.
SANTOS: We are excited to be up there and be a part of that community. Toronto is always a great crowd. We’ve played with Broken Social Scene before so it will be nice to play with those guys again.

RA RA RIOT
Friday, 1:30-2:30 p.m.
Boom Boom Tent

Back to IN’s Guide to Hangout Fest ’13