Ra Ra Riot | Forging a Path

“When we first began, we never thought it would turn into what it has. We were just using our nice classical instruments at the time and we were playing these house parties.”

Getting a little help from friends Vampire Weekend and Death Cab for Cutie, Ra Ra Riot exploded onto the scene in 2006. In their first year together, they had already recorded a Daytrotter Session and been invited to SXSW. But it was not all smooth sailing. The band managed to play on despite the sudden departure of a frontman and the death of their drummer, John Pike. The band overcame this rollercoaster of ups and down and released their “grower” sophomore full-length, The Orchard.
Rebecca Zeller (Becca), the 20-year-old veteran violinist and member of Ra Ra Riot sat down with PLAYBACK:stl for a brief interview discussing the band’s upcoming 20-date tour and her part in string-heavy, indie-pop album The Orchard.
Your tour starts up March 3 in Baltimore. Are you excited to get back on the road?
Yeah, I’m excited. You know it always takes a little—well, actually, we had enough time off that I’m now excited to go back. We were just on tour for so long that I needed a break, but now I’m ready to go back to work.
Will your audiences have the pleasure of hearing sneak previews of any new material? Perhaps there is a new album being tossed around?
No, not really. We haven’t gotten together to write anything new yet. Maybe in the fall we’ll have something to play. I feel like we just released The Orchard and have been surrounded by all things Orchard. We haven’t had time to think of the next one.
The Orchard has taken the band on a more dynamic path. What tracks do you feel most proud of?
“Shadowcasting.” That song started in a different place, and it took a while to get it to where it was on the record. Along the way, things were a bit shaky and people were a bit unhappy about it, but I think we really powered through and got it to a place where everyone really, really loved it. And I think that it’s also one of my favorites to play live. Also, “The Orchard.” I really like that one, although we don’t play that live as much. I’m really proud of the violin part and the way that one came together.
Cellist Alexandra Lawn got the chance to take a stab at lead vocals on the track “You and I Know.” In the DVD in the deluxe edition of The Orchard, Ally showed some hesitation in playing it live. Has she conquered this fear?
Yeah, we’ve been performing that almost every night. It’s been going really well.
The strings on The Orchard seem more prevalent than on the other albums. How did this come together?
With the Rhumb Line and the EP before that, Ally and I had never really been in bands before. It was really our first go at it. And so, especially on the Rhumb Line, the parts we had written in 2006 and those were the first things we ever wrote. I think as time went along, we spent more time writing string parts and songs—we sort of got our bearings a bit. Maybe we just felt a little more comfortable in playing around and finding our place in the music.
This being you and Ally’s first band, have you encountered any obstacles in playing live?
Yeah, the early shows were really tough. When we first began, we never thought it would turn into what it has. We were just using our nice classical instruments at the time and we were playing these house parties. What we realized was that it was just too risky to bring these ancient beautiful instruments around. Then, after we switched to the electric, we had all these problems because you don’t have the natural acoustics of the instruments. So, in order to secure yourself, you need amplification and monitors. So finding the sonic balance posed some problems because we couldn’t really hear ourselves and we would be horrendously out of tune. You know, also the general things of being comfortable on stage and all of that definitely took a lot of time.
Do you have any memorable tour stories?
Well, this was a few tours ago. When you’re driving and you cross the border between the U.S. and Canada you expect to be searched, but when you’re driving along in the United States in Arizona it’s not something you think about. Even though you remain in the U.S., since you are so close to Mexico, there are border patrol stops and you have to pull over, and then they can just search you. We had been stopped for an hour and we were fine, but one of the bands we were with got arrested and thrown in jail for a night. It was absolutely insane and outrageous. | Kelly Glueck
Ra Ra Riot will be performing in St. Louis on Tuesday, March 15 at The Firebird. Tickets are $15. For more information visit www.firebirdstl.com.  

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