Ra Ra Riot from Syracuse, New York are set to release their sophomore record The Orchard on 24 August 2010 on Barsuk Records in the US, and via Arts & Crafts in Canada. Last weekend on Sunday at Osheaga music festival in Montreal, I sat down with guitarist Milo Bonacci and violinist Rebecca Zeller for a chat about the new album.
I’m pleased to be joined today by a couple of members from a band who combine two of my favourite words in their name – ‘Ra’ and ‘Riot’ – to create Ra Ra Riot! So how are you guys doing?
Milo – Great, apart from the jet lag. We got here about two hours ago from New York. We were in Tokyo a few days ago. I feel like I’m still 13 hours ahead.
Rebecca – We’re just getting used to the time change.
Have you been to Montreal much?
Milo – A few times…
Rebecca – I think we’ve been here twice.
Milo – I was here for a festival once, seven years ago… I saw Radiohead here.
Are you excited about any of the other bands playing Osheaga tonight?
Milo – Really excited to see Devo… and Weezer. I haven’t seen Weezer since 1999 or something? When I was in high school.
Rebecca – I saw them in high school too. Saves The Day opened up…
Milo – That’s later. That’s like Green album era.
Rebecca – I would have liked to see Arcade Fire but we couldn’t get up here a day earlier.
Arcade Fire’s set was really special. The really striking thing about Arcade Fire is their togetherness, their chemistry – it’s a real family vibe. I’ve heard rave reviews about Ra Ra Riot’s live shows; do you feel you have that same kind of family togetherness?
Milo – I think dynamically, sort of on and off stage, we function like a family. Everyone has their familiar roles.
Rebecca – I think it would be hard not to form some sort of familial environment or relationship just because we spend so much time together. I mean we see each other more than we see our families!
I’ve got your brand new record, The Orchard, in my ipod right now, courtesy of your label in Canada, Arts & Crafts…
Rebecca – Well, I’m glad you were given it by someone who has the rights to give it! (laughs) The album leaked while we were in flight from Japan to New York. And we got all the messages…
Rebecca – Oh yeah.
Well I got my copy legit, I didn’t know this album had leaked…
Milo – It’s inevitable. It’s bound to happy 99.9% of the time.
Rebecca – I think it’s pretty fortunate that we sort of made it to a month before the album release date and it hadn’t leaked. And then two days later it did. A lot of bands these days have leaks two or three months before the album is launched, so… pretty fortunate.
Have you heard anything from fans about the new album?
Milo – I’ve been trying to ignore that, somewhat.
Rebecca – I know that there are people that like it and there are people who don’t like it! (laughs)
That’s very diplomatic; so maybe not the most glowing reviews, or?
Rebecca – Oh, no no no. It’s just… This is what happened with The Rhumb Line – you read a lot of great reviews and there’s one not so great one, and that’s the one that sticks out.
Milo – One negative comment is worth one hundred positive ones.
Rebecca – And then you’re like: “fine, I’m done, I shouldn’t be looking at this.”
Milo – You learn to avoid it for your own mental well-being and health, happiness.
I can imagine. So, my perspective of your new record, there seems to be a bit of a theme going on…. If I can suggest this to you, it does seem a bit flowery, if you can take it that way, but I feel it’s a more positive album, overall perhaps?
Milo – Now I’m confused!
Rebecca – I know, we were talking about this today actually…
Milo – One of the reviews I think a few of us read, or not even a review, just a comment, was that people thought this was more of a melancholy album compared to the album. Which I hadn’t thought about it that way at all… and now you’re saying it’s positive, so, I don’t know….
So what’s your interpretation, I mean you made the music?
Milo – For me, I think it’s more positive. I think there are layers to it, definitely. Depending on your own particularly mood, you’ll tune into certain aspects, wether it be melodic or lyrical. Yeah, I think there are layers of different stuff.
They’re are definitely layers. With track #2 of the new album, “The Boy”, that song has some ‘melancholy’ lyrics, for sure, and the strings add to the pensive element but the bass-line gives the song a pulse and creates a different energy; an upbeat one. I love the bass in that song.
Milo – That’s Mat (Mathieu Santos) on bass – I feel very lucky to make music with him.
With The Rhumb Line, there was definitely some dark moments right? I mean we were talking about the family thing and Arcade Fire, and you yourselves obviously lost part of your family, when you lost John. So I’m thinking maybe with this new album – and yes I’ve only heard it a few times so far – but it does feel more positive overall. With the album being called The Orchard, does it perhaps symbolise growth, and even blooming, or is that too poetic?
Rebecca – I don’t know. I think The Orchard works on many different levels. I think aside from The Orchard representing growth, I do think the album shows that we’ve grown. I think we’ve grown a lot as people, as musicians and songwriter, and our relationship between each other as well. I think it’s inevitable that that would be reflected in the music.
One of your close band friends is Vampire Weekend, you have a similar sound to them… by no means identical, but you know, ballpark.
Milo – Well, thank you for saying that. I don’t feel that way. I really like their music and I think they’re amazing songwriters.
Rostam Batmanglij produced one of the songs on The Orchard, is that right?
Milo – He co-wrote one of the songs with Wes.
Rebecca – He mixed it.
Milo – Yeah, he mixed that song, it’s called “Do You Remember”. I think that was originally going to be a Discovery song.
Rebecca – Yeah, originally, but it didn’t materialize. So they thought it would be a good idea for us and we thought it was great!
And Chris Walla from Death Cab for Cutie was also involved?
Milo – The record was mixed by Chris Walla. Produced by us, along with Andrew Maury who is our sound engineer on the road, he’s a friend of ours.
Rebecca – Andrew engineered the whole thing and we produced it. It was also a very ‘kumbaya’ experience…
Milo – Part of the family.
You’ve got quite a hectic tour schedule coming up?
Milo – It’s not so bad right now, we have a couple days off here and there, but come September it’ll be like every day for the rest of the year.
Rebecca – It’s sort of like the calm before the storm right now. It’s going to be crazy.
Milo – We’ve had a relatively relaxing and also exciting summer, so we can’t complain.
So I told you what’s in my iPod right now, with that copy of your new album – what are you guys listening to?
Milo – We’re sort of all over the place. On the road up here today, we listened to Burt Bacharach’s greatest hits compilation, the new, or newish MGMT record – which actually was the first time I have listened to it all the way through…
Rebecca – Me too. We listened to the Fall. My iPod is sort-of broken just now… it’ll sort of play five seconds of a song and then freeze. So I haven’t really been listening to do much music. I did listen to Beck’s Sea Change for the first time recently, and I don’t know why I’ve never heard it before, especially as I’m a violinist. It was pretty incredible.
Milo – I had no idea you hadn’t heard that…
Rebecca – I just for some reason had it in my head that I wasn’t into Beck, for no reason whatsover. But that album was magical.
It would be funny if your iPod broke the same way as mine broke. On the coach over here I was listening to Slayer, and I listened to the whole of Reign In Blood in about 2 minutes because for some reason every time I flicked my iPod onto hold, it was speeding up every song x30. So Slayer’s already 250 bpm, so yeah… it was nuts. Jeff Beck that fast would be interesting… You mentioned the Fall there?
Milo – That’s one of Gab’s [drummer Gabriel Duquette] all-time favourite bands. I’m not fanatical about them the way he is; he collects all their records and everything.
Rebecca – That was one of the most enjoyable Fall experiences I’ve ever had.
Rebecca – That’s a positive comment! (laughs) It was good today.
Milo – Are you a Fall fan?
Sort of… I’m a Peelite, and John Peel was a huge fan of the Fall, so yeah, I can listen to them.
Well you guys seem in really high spirits, it’s always great to see. Time for the final question: Aside from music, are there any other vices which you would like to talk about?
Milo – Um… well… (nervous laughter)… we all dabble in different things.
Rebecca – Common interests: we both like cooking, and running. Milo’s a great cook.
Milo – I’m in the process of designing and building an apartment for myself.
Rebecca – Oh yeah, he’s also an architect.
Milo – I went to school for architecture and I haven’t been able to do that for a few years because the band takes up all my time.
You guys are freakingly respectable for a rock band, huh? Cooking, running and architecture!
Milo – Yeah, so that’s sort of my project currently. Designing in my free time.
What’s it going to look like? What’s the vision?
Milo – It’s a loft space in a turn of the century factory building. It’s tiny. It’s going to be a micro… it’s going to be like 150 square feet.
Rebecca – Really?
Milo – But I don’t need much space, so that’s okay. Mostly I just want to design something.
© Brian Banks, Editor, Music Vice
The Orchard releases on Tuesday, 24 August 2010. You can catch Ra Ra Riot on tour from late August to November, as the band play dates across North America.