Q+A with Ra Ra Riot

In late 2018, New York alternative rockers Ra Ra Riot released “This Time of Year,” a brand new single produced by duo Kieran Menzies and Dean Reid (Lana Del Rey, Dua Lipa) and mixed by Dave Emery (The Killers, HAIM, Liam Gallagher) and was the first taste of what’s to come in 2019 with a new full-length LP titled Superbloom coming August 9th via a new partnership with Rob the Rich Recordings/Caroline. The track is their first release since their 2016 Need Your Light, their fourth critically acclaimed studio album which spawned the band’s biggest hit to date – “Water” – a collaboration with longtime creative partner Rostam Batmanglij (Frank Ocean, Maggie Rogers, Vampire Weekend) which has streamed more than 75 million times globally.

Ra Ra Riot consists of Wes Miles (vocals), Mathieu Santos (bass), Milo Bonacci (guitar), Rebecca Zeller (violin), Kenny Bernard (drums). 

Steven Russell: Summer Gods Tour just started, how has it been so far being on the road with Third Eye Blind & Jimmy Eat World?
Mathieu Santos: It’s been great. Before this run started, it’d been the calmest period in band history – we’d only played, like, a dozen times over the past couple of years. We’re used to averaging closer to about a hundred shows a year, so we’re mainly just excited to be back on the road and to have some new music to play. We’re hungry again, and I think we needed that down time to get back to feeling like that. Also, touring with Jimmy Eat World and Third Eye Blind is really special. We’ve got a ton of respect for both of these bands – they’re pros, and have had long, successful careers with some brilliant songs along the way. It’s inspiring to be around. And Third Eye Blind has been one of the most important bands in my life – their first album was one of my very first cassettes! I was obsessed with that record. And I went to see them in, I think, 2000 – one of the first big concerts I ever went to. So to be on the road with them is wild. I’d love to go back and tell eighth-grade-me that one day I’d be casually saying hi to Stephan Jenkins at catering.

SR: You guys dropped “This Time Of Year” in late 2018 as a taste of what’s to come this year. What has the crowd’s response been to the new record on the road?
MS: So far it’s been great. Aside from “This Time of Year,” we’ve recently released two more songs from the upcoming record: “Bad To Worse” and “Flowers.” Those are the two we’ve been playing at these shows, and they’ve been well-received. Maybe people can tell we’re excited to be playing new songs, maybe that comes through. We’re certainly very proud of these tracks and are happy to have them out in the world. These support gigs are always interesting, too, because you’re usually playing to a crowd who, for the most part, has probably never heard of the band, or heard their songs. So it’s fun for us to be playing them for people who have less expectations, sort of reading how they’re reacting to the songs as we play them. Winning over these kind of curious/passive crowds can be hard work, but also very rewarding.

SR: Recently, you guys announced your fifth studio album Superbloom is set to release on 8/9 this year. How do you see this project illustrating the growth from the Need Your Light album released in 2016?
MS: Well, I suppose it picks up more or less where Need Your Light left off. To me, it feels like it’s pulling more strongly between the two poles that kind of define the band – big, classic, arena-y pop/rock, and stuff that’s a little more left-of-center, a little more idiosyncratic. I think Need Your Light hit that sweet spot better than any of our previous records, and I think Superbloom goes even further. We always try to try new things on each record, and the big thing with this one was the amount of collaborators we had (both in production and co-writing), and the piecemeal nature in which we recorded everything. Some songs have seven or eight songwriters on them, and that was a real thrill – being in a room with some pop writers, throwing around ideas really quickly. We’re used to kind of locking ourselves away for weeks at a time and laboring over every single creative decision. It can be exhausting. This record was mostly two- or three- day sessions, rarely with all five band members present – it freed up a lot of creative space, I think. We’re really proud of how everything came out.

SR: That album was so critically acclaimed it brought about your biggest song to date in “Water” which is still in rotation at radio. How did the success of that record change things for the band?
I think it reinvigorated us in a lot of ways. Need Your Light was going to be our fourth and final record with our label at the time, and it’s not always clear what the next step is going to be. But I think the success of the song made us realize that we still have things to accomplish, that we’re not done growing yet. There’s always that nagging (but important) feeling that you get, fearing that your best work is always behind you. But with how “Water” connected with people, it sort of felt like a bit of a re-birth for the band, at least to me.

SR: From singles like “Water” to now ‘Bad To Worse’ you guys seem to have a great working relationship with Rostam Batmanglij. What is it like going in the studio with him to make magic?
Our relationship with Rostam goes way back to beyond the beginning of the band – he and Wes were already collaborating and making incredible stuff together in 2004/2005. They have a great natural chemistry that’s been dialed in over the years. The way it usually works is that the two of them get together for some open-ended writing sessions, and then the fruits are presented to the band. I think one of Rostam’s strengths is his understanding of mood, or vibe, for lack of better terms. But it feels to me like instead of building songs top-down, from a hook or a riff or something, the songs we make together are centered around something more ephemeral – like in our case, the tenor of Wes’s voice. It feels like that’s what drives the collaborations more, and so the songs somehow feel more “us” – they’re springing from a deeper personal connection to and understanding of the band and our specific strengths, our specific emotional territory.

SR: How do you see this tour helping with the success of Superbloom and the band as a whole?
The idea behind any support tour like this is mainly connecting with new fans. So that when Superbloom comes out in August, and we eventually do our own headlining run in support of it, there’ll be more people who’ll come out. It’s all about making new friends and expanding the band’s reach. Like I was saying before, sometimes with support slots, it can feel like you’re playing in front of people who have no idea who you are. The venue is maybe half-full, people aren’t really paying attention. But the fun part is starting there and trying to win over as many of them as you can during the set. We still have fans come up to us saying they first discovered us while we were opening for Death Cab For Cutie like ten years ago. You never know how many potential life-long fans are out there!

Ra Ra Riot are on the Summer Gods Tour with Third Eye Blind and Jimmy Eat World this summer for the tour’s second installment which kicked off in Los Angeles on June 14th. The tour will hit most major cities, including Indy, in the US over the next two months. Tickets can be found here.

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