Universities are always great places for people to meet their very best of friends – take the band Ra Ra Riot. They formed in Syracuse University in 2006, later on showcased in SXSW in 2007, then released a full-length, The Rhumb Line, in 2008. Their efforts garnered buzz in the music scene, earning raves and fans for their unique indie rock sound with a mix of chamber pop. They followed it up with The Orchard in 2010, a 10-track record with that familiar Ra Ra Riot spin: falsettos ✓; catchy choruses ✓, strings ✓.
“Our second record, The Orchard, is certainly much more like our first than our third,” lead singer Wes Miles (far right on the photo) tells us. “We’ve always wanted to push ourselves to try new things, from the very beginning of the band. While we were recording it, it became clear that our process was becoming restrictive and burdensome. This was about the time when we started to consider making changes to the way that we wrote.” The brewing adjustments did not only apply to their songwriting. When they started working on their third album, Beta Love, they lost cellist Alexandra Lawn from the line-up, which “freed up a lot of room to make changes.”
The band carried out with their plan, evolving throughout the process as the members played different instruments than usual, while Wes spent more time working on songwriting with their producer, Dennis Herring. One of the tracks they came up with is “Beta Love”, the first release from the album about an android falling in love for the first time.
“I thought it would be an interesting experiment to write a love song from the perspective of someone who was truly in love for the first time,” Wes explains. “But also, the first of its kind to be able to fall in love. It’s about love but also about evolution, and the convergence of technology and humanity.”
As futuristic as the idea behind the track sounds, the music video for “Beta Love” is a different story. It was directed by one of their fans, David Dean Burkhart, who’ve decided to use footage from an eighties dance show – a kooky but trendy way of creating a music video. The band found it online shortly after their track was released and asked the creator if they could release it officially.
“It was a bit of a stroke of luck,” Wes adds. “We actually had nothing to do with making the video. We immediately asked if the creator would add titles in the beginning, and it just worked out that that was all we had to do. It’s one of my favorite videos we’ve ever had.”
For this endearing frontman, sticking along with the band’s 7-year ride – which mostly constitutes now of nightly shows and international tours post-album release, travelling to Asia for the last few years has been “amazing.” The band has been touring to support Beta Love, and in November this year, they’d be dipping their toes back in Asia for a few dates in Japan and Singapore’s Camp Symmetry. They made a detour in Taiwan with the Dirty Projectors earlier in January, but this would be their very first time in Singapore.
“Every time we go [to Asia] we discover something new and inspiring. We’re very excited to go to Singapore! We’ve all heard so much about it and can’t wait to finally be there to experience it.”
We’re guessing that it’s one of the biggest perks for anyone in a band – especially if they’ve started as one of those kids who hung out in the university, pitched in ideas, then realized that they could make good music with their friends. Only a few decide to carry on with their school bands, only a few are brave enough to risk security – and only a few really make it.
“I would be completely lost!” Wes responds after we asked him one of those standard questions: What would you do if you weren’t a musician? “Hopefully, I can make it last for a while.”
With their evolving sound and willingness to create music, we’d like to believe that Ra Ra Riot could make it much, much longer than that.
** This post was initially published in Music Weekly Asia.