Ra Ra Riot have had a tough few months. The death of their drummer John Pike was an unexpected fork in the road to indie fame, however where other bands of their age may have crumbled, this bunch soldiered on, showing no signs of bleakness in music and manner. On a sunny opening day of this years Indian Summer festival, I caught up with an evolving band to discuss the touchy afore mentioned subject, the making of their music and the progress of finishing their debut album.
A few hours before their set on the BBC 6 Music stage, I stand backstage, surrounded by every member of Ra Ra Riot and cannot help but feel a strange sense of surprise.
“Usually I don’t usually get this amount of members when doing interviews”, I chuckle, shuffling furiously through my notes. The quiet, reserved reactions tell me that the band are new to this also and indeed after a few uncomfortable moments, this is confirmed.
“Yeah we get a fair amount of coverage in blogs although not so much printed press.” confirms violinist, Rebecca Zeller.
The lack of exposure aside, I feel I should delve a little further into the development of this band. “Oh you want the band history?” quips guitar player and most talkative member, Milo Bonacci. After a few quiet mumblings between the band, it’s decided that bassist Mathieu Santos should ‘pray tell’.
“Well most of us didn’t know each other at first.” He mulls. “ It is kinda a long story. Milo and I first met through another band we played in. He was just wanting to do something else and get as many people involved as possible and so… he was in a class with Rebecca and she knew Ali through a string quartet she played in. I dunno it kinda just happened and we all just clicked.”
RJ: Were you guys all interested in making the same kind of music, I mean genre wise?
Mathieu: “Yeah well we do all listen to all types of stuff, most of our tastes are really eclectic… The band Milo and I were in was this very straightforward dance band. We played a lot of house parties throughout out school and we were doing it all with drum machines and stuff.”
RJ: Being that there are quite a few of you in terms of band members, what’s the process like when actually writing your music?
Rebecca: “Well someone will bring an idea to the band, a chord progression or a small idea or structure then we will say what we like or what we don’t like. Of course we will all go away and write our own part but it’s really a collaborative effort. Actually we’ve been able to pop songs out pretty quickly.”
Milo: “We’ve been together quite a while so we’ve got more and more comfortable when writing together.”
Sensing that time is getting on, I feel I’d better move on to the difficult subject of losing their drummer. John Pike was found dead hours after going missing from a party in the bands hometown and when the subject is put before the band, there is an understandable bout of initial silence.
“No one really talked about it for the first couple of weeks” states Mathieu. On the decision weather to continue with the scheduled touring, and indeed with the band itself, all are sure that they made the right decision to keep going.
“It was a very difficult decision to make.” Stresses Milo. “Although as difficult as it was, it was unanimous in the band to keep going. Also Johns family wanted us to continue so you know, as tragic as it is, we figured it was the best thing to do and decided that the best way to go was to stick together and deal with it. It also sort of helps to validate all of the hard work that he put into the band. We didn’t wanna lose all the good things that he had brought.”
Rebecca intervenes: “Someone else put it best in that, we had all made a lot of plans with him and the best thing we could do was to follow through those plans.”
RJ: “One may have thought that his death would have had an immediate impact on your songs… that doesn’t seem the case..
Mathieu: “The main thing with the band is that, when we started it, we started it to have fun and we’ll keep doing the band as long as we have fun. That was always the main priority. We didn’t want the band to become, you know in itself, the music to be instantly sad or reflective in that way…”
RJ: Where are you in terms of releasing your debut album?
Mathieu: We do try to work as much as possible and we do each write when on the road but we haven’t really had the time.”
Rebecca: “Hopefully we’ll finish writing the album by the end of October then record it November/ December. Hopefully have it ready for release in March.”