Interview: Ra Ra Riot owes new sound to growth and good-time vibes

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Calling from Santa Barbara, Wes Miles, vocalist for pop-rock band Ra Ra Riot, is having a bit of a moment. The group is about to perform at the sOhO — the first venue that their current drummer, Kenny Bernard, played with them five years ago. “It’s funny ‘cause these kinds of milestones don’t happen a lot, obviously,” Mile says, “but when they do, it’s exciting.”

Ra Ra Riot have been together for a decade (a milestone in itself) and are currently on tour in support of the recent release of their fourth studio album, Need Your Light. Congruently, the record reflects the band’s artistic evolution over the last 10 years by utilizing elements from previous efforts  — the experimental synths of Beta Love, the anthemic melodies of The Orchard — that have accumulated to create something brand new.

“One of the big things we’ve always believed in was in order to grow, sometimes we have to change,” Miles says. “One thing we have felt really strongly about since our beginning, and especially on the last couple records, is that we’ve never wanted to make the same record twice. And that’s been the case.”

What’s always been present, however, is Ra Ra Riot’s good-time vibe, much of which has to do with their early beginnings as a house party band. That celebratory aesthetic was especially important to capture on Need Your Light to maintain the core essence of the group. After demoing the first round of tracks for the record, Ra Ra Riot set out on a small house party tour; they then brought that enduring energy back with them into the studio.

“It sounds funny to speak about house parties in such a sentimental way,” Miles says, “but it is important to who we are and it helped us a lot in making this record, finding out what things connected and what exactly we wanted to do, what things didn’t work and how to change them, and it had a huge impact on how the songs finished being developed.”

Warm arrangements and smart pop sensibilities accompany lyrical subject matter that, too, has evolved. Miles admits that getting older means getting more comfortable in your own skin and certain topics are now easier to address. “Growing up is not being super self conscious about things,” he says. “Like, there’s a few songs that are about sex and I think in the past we would have been — I definitely would have been — a little uncomfortable or felt silly singing about it in these ways or at all.”

Age has benefitted the band when it comes to creating together, as well. Need Your Light also saw collaboration with longtime friend Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend), who co-wrote both “Water” and the album’s title track with Miles. “Another thing about growing up is that you’re not only craving to meet new people,” Miles continues. “When you’re young, you find a lot of joy and excitement out of doing that and it’s very valuable. But I think also growing up a little bit, maybe it’s silly to say that when we’re only in our early 30s, but part of it is finding a lot of value in relationships that you already have. Reinvesting and being able to explore them further.”

Experience has allowed Ra Ra Riot the opportunity to challenge themselves artistically and although life has re-located most of the band out of New York (save for Miles and Bernard), the close-knit group was still able to find time to work together and discover a fresh attitude in the process. “I think maybe it’s because once we start to feel settled, then we know something is wrong,” Miles says. It’s that drive to grow creatively, he insists, that has “really impacted where we’ve ended up [and] what this record is all about.”

Ra Ra Riot

When: March 31, 2016

Where: Biltmore Cabaret – 2755 Prince Edward Street

Tickets: $18 available online

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Yasmine Shemesh is a freelance writer who was born in Vancouver and raised on The Rolling Stones.
@yasmineshemesh

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