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BMP 2009: Mat from Ra Ra Riot on WFNX, touring, and his band's new album

 

When I was reading up on Ra Ra Riot in anticipation of this interview, I was surprised to learn they've only been together since 2006. It seems like we've been talking about them forever, yet they were never hyped to the point of oversaturation (like, say, their friends in Vampire Weekend). That's partly a testament to their ability to their ability to build a fanbase, something they began in earnest while still at Syracuse University, but it's also a reflection of just how eventful their brief career has been. They've already experienced more triumph and tragedy than some bands with fifteen-year careers. In 2007, John Pike, founding member, drummer, and one of their key songwriters, drowned off the coast of Buzzard's Bay after a show in Providence. But the band continued on, and is currently riding their quite enjoyable full-length debut album, The Rhumb Line, to greater and greater success. They'll play our Best Music Poll concert at City Hall Plaza in Government Center (it's free!) on August 1 - and, as bassist Mat Santos tells me over the phone while they're hurtling across Nevada, you can add them to the list of indie rock bands with ties to the area who grew up listening to our very own WFNX. Q+A is after the jump.

It seems like you've been nonstop on tour for a while
Yeah, we've been pretty busy.

Is it starting to wear on you?
It kind of was for a while. Luckily we just had the longest break in band history, which was really good. We had two months off, which was great, and much needed. Before then, I think we had toured twelve out of the last sixteen months or something like that. Touring is great, it's always a lot of fun, and it's good to get out there and play as many shows as possible, but the break was definitely good and we're really refreshed and everything.

Do you see your extensive touring schedule as a necessity these days?
I think so, yeah. It's been our approach from the beginning to play as many shows as possible. Even before we had an album or an EP released, we were out playing a lot of shows, getting the word out, meeting fans and everything, and really slowly building a loyal, dedicated fanbase, which has been really good for us over the years. Especially now with the changing music industry and everything, it really helps to be able to tour and tour often.

Is there a concern that you're spending so much time out on the road that there's no time to actually create anything?
That has been a concern for us. We've tried writing on the road before, but it's extremely difficult. There's a lot of people in our band, and once you get into the rhtyhm of touring, it's hard to get motivated and feel creative and inspired sometimes. So after this tour we're on right now, I think we're going to take most of the rest of the year to write the next album, which is going to be great. We're already looking forward to [it]. We've been playing these songs for the past . . . some of them we've been playing three years now. They're getting a little stale, so it's going to be nice to have some new material finally.

Seems fair enough. Do you have any sense of what the new album's going to sound like?
There are a ton of ideas floating around right now, which is good. The first album we recorded all the songs we knew at that point, you know? This time around, everyone's been writing a little bit on their own and getting into new things, so we've got a lot of ideas to choose from. A lot of them are in a rough state right now, but our guitar player is doing a lot more stuff with keyboards and moving away from guitar a little bit. Some of the songs might be more focused on elaborate string arrangements and some might be more electronic and synthy. We're going to try a lot of new things and try and do as much pre-production as we can and see where it takes us.

That was something I was going to ask you, actually, since Wes is doing the Discovery thing and you've been remixed so many times (including by BMP performers Passion Pit). But you sort of answered that already.
Yeah, basically!

Have you done any radio shows like the one you'll be doing in Boston yet?
I don't think we've done any like this before. We've done radio sessions before, we've visited stations and done live sessions in studio and interviews and stuff. I don't think we've done a festival like this, so we're all pretty excited about it. Particularly me, because I'm from Massachusetts myself.

Where?
I'm from Fairhaven. The southeat, near New Bedford.

So this is your homecoming, then.
Hopefully a lot of my friends will come out. I used to listen to the station all the time growing up, so it'll be really nice.

When was the last time you were in Mass.?
The time off that we just had, I was lucky enough to be home for most of if not all of May and June. It'll be nice to pop in for a day or two.

Where do you go after this?
I think I'll stay home for a day maybe, and then we're heading to upstate New York, to Geneva. To a peach farm, actually, a 100-acre peach farm, and that's where we'll be working on the next album, or at least starting to.

You're from Syracuse. Do you think that's helped you or hindered you?
We all met at school, and so had that insular community to support us and use as a sounding board. We just did shows on campus all the time, for our friends. We'd play house parties on campus, and then official university concerts and stuff like that. The semester we had at school was pretty successful, at least in that sphere. So once most of the band graduated, we decided to take the next step. A lot of our friends were heading south to the city, so we slowly started playing shows there, and sort of made the jump. It was nice, because we sort of had a loyal Syracuse fan base in New York, so that helped give us the confidence to book shows and get the word our there to the people.
 

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