It’s Going To Be Fun: An Interview with Ra Ra Riot
Indie band Ra Ra Riot is no stranger to playing Houston, from their performance back at FPSF in 2010 to their upcoming show at Revention Music Center, along with a few world tours here and there. The group is gracing our city again to support their 2016 album Need Your Light, performing alongside Young the Giant on Friday, October 7. Prior to their performance, FPH caught up with frontman Wes Miles about the evolution of the band over the last decade, changes at SXSW, and life on tour.
Free Press Houston: Your latest release Need Your Light — your fourth studio album — was released in February, the band has gotten good buzz about it, and you are now touring with Young the Giant. Realistically, when Ra Ra Riot was just a glimmer in your eye, would you’ve believed yourself if you told yourself you would be where you currently are? Where do you think the band will be next?
Wes Miles: You know, right at the beginning, I always doubted it, I’d say. But I think after — maybe after a year — it became really apparent that this was something that would be really fun to pursue. So definitely not at first, but shortly after I would’ve believed it, maybe. I don’t know what’s next. I wish I knew, but I think there are a lot of ways we could go. One of the great things we discovered about making our third and fourth record was that no matter what the expectations were for our band, we have to do what we want. We have to do what will keep us going and what makes us happy. We’ve got a lot of ideas and we’ll just continue to be writing. So a lot of options, but I don’t quite know yet.
FPH: The band has been on tour, on and off, since March, and you have a heavy schedule until November. Are you guys ready to go home yet and do you still enjoy touring as much as you did in the start?
Miles: Well, we did tour in the spring for maybe two months or something, but the summer was mainly one-offs. We got to be home for the week and just do weekend shows almost every weekend. It feels like we’ve been home for a while and I’d rather be out on tour playing five shows a week, rather than playing one a weekend and having to travel back and forth. It’s harder to get in rhythm that way. We’re only two weeks deep into this tour and we’re still settling in. Since we have such a long way to go, it would be pretty bad if we were ready to end it.
FPH: Are you more creative in the studio or the bus, whether that be in terms of lyrics or instrumentation?
Miles: It’s pretty tough to be writing in the bus, although we’ve done it a little more on this tour compared to the others. We also have more free-time than we did in the spring, so that’s helpful. It’s all about keeping yourself busy, but not so busy that you burn yourself out because that’s fairly easy to do on tour.
FPH: When you’re just relaxing on tour, what are you into doing? Any plugs for some good, current shows, books, albums?
Miles: I’m actually going to a bookstore today! I probably like to buy books more than I like to read books. I’m reading this book about the Super Mario Brothers soundtrack. [laughs] It, along with many others, is by a series called 33 ⅓, which I enjoy. They’re each about one record. There’s one about [Radiohead’s] Kid A and another on Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality. I played Super Mario Brother’s a lot as a kid when I was really young, but I didn’t realize how groundbreaking it was for a videogame to have a soundtrack. I just got this Yukio Mishima book. He was a Japanese author from the post-war era. He was a weird dude. In terms of music, the new Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam record, I Had A Dream That You Were Mine, was released today, which features a track that I sing on.
FPH: Is it fair to say to say that Ra Ra Riot started off playing “house music,” in the sense that the band’s early gigs were indeed house parties?
Miles: Yeah, I would say we started off playing party music. We did start off with a lot of covers. Not that many covers, really, but the main objective when we first started was “there’s a loud party going on and we need to grab everyone’s attention as quickly as possible and keep it for as long as possible.” There wasn’t a lot of time for quiet and emotional songs in that setting, so that informed how we arranged and wrote music for a long time. I think that’s something we got back to, a little bit, on this new record, which was really exciting.
FPH: The first Ra Ra Riot show — what went through your head and how did the crowd react to you guys?
Miles: Our first show ever? I don’t really remember how people reacted to be honest. I was thinking “I hope I can sing this Kate Bush song really well!” We covered a couple of high-vocal songs with difficult range and it was so fun. It was one of those things that I was really wasn’t expecting to be as fun as it was. But yeah, you could get a lot out of doing covers, sometimes, more than you think, even if you’re not performing them. You get to learn songs and figure out arrangements.
FPH: Being from New York, I think it’s fair to say that CMJ is a big deal for for the community, especially the local bands up there, but SXSW has also been a big deal for the band. Out of those two events, which is more important? Strictly talking about music, how are they different?
Miles: Well, we’ve only done CMJ once, and it’s really tough. It’s tough because the city is so difficult to get around in and it’s a lot more spread out. It’s a bigger space than Austin. Most of SXSW is in one small region of Austin, which itself is a much smaller city. It’s easier to do the five shows in three days at SXSW than it is in New York. The NYPD doesn’t care what show you’re doing. “You can’t park there,” you know? And you have to have someone wait by the gear, because it will walk off if not. We’ve done SXSW six or seven times now. I’m not sure which is more important, but it’s made more sense to play South By more.
FPH: SXSW 2016 had seemed to change the tone of the festival, being that both Barack and Michelle Obama spoke at separate panels, and in general featured a much different approach to the festival than previous years. Do you think it has changed for the better or worse?
Miles: Yeah, it has definitely changed. I hate to be the type of person that’s like “oh, it sucks now, it used to be so much cooler,” but I don’t enjoy it as much anymore because I think there’s too much going on. When we started — though I, as well as the band, was younger — it was more exciting to be a part of, but it just seems really unnecessary for a lot of the huge bands to go down and do, and it’s even more difficult now for smaller bands to get attention, so in that way it’s a tough sell, I think, for bands now. We got out of it by our first or second record.
FPH: For the people of Houston that don’t have tickets yet, why should come to check out you and Young the Giant?
Miles: Well, it’s just a great one-two for music. We’re going to be really fine-tuned by that point, so the show is going to be really dialed-in. We always kill it, and Young the Giant has always been amazing. They’re a band I love listening to. There’s going to be great musicianship all around. I think it’s just going to be fun, that’s all. [laughs]
Ra Ra Riot will perform with Young the Giant at Revention Music Center on Friday, October 7.