A guide to Brooklyn with Ra Ra Riot
Originally formed on the campus of Syracuse University in early 2006, indie band Ra Ra Riot has gone on to produce three studio albums as well as tour with bands Death Cab for Cutie and Tokyo Police Club. Their earlier albums have a chamber pop music effect (thanks to the string arrangements of a cello and violin), but their most recent album, 2013’s Beta Love, is an experiment with synth and electronic beats that added a whole new element to their sound and turned their songs into dancefloor-worthy jams.
Read on to find out what singer Wes Miles had to say about finding inspiration in Brooklyn, and why touring through Asia is always a good time.
Tell us about your city. It’s hard to say something about Brooklyn that hasn’t been said yet. It’s huge and heterogeneous. I’ve lived in a half dozen different neighborhoods throughout New York City in the last eight or so years, and each one has its charms and pitfalls. I currently live in Greenpoint, which is north of the (in)famous Williamsburg.
What is the best thing about your city? The opportunities to be inspired in Brooklyn, and the city as a whole, are countless. Every day there’s something to see or hear or eat that could change your perspective to varying degrees. These things happen in every city if you look in the right places, but it seems especially true here.
What is the worst? The air quality.
What are some of your favorite places to tour? We’ve had the good fortune to do several tours in Asia throughout our career. Japan is always a highlight among a whole continent of highlights. It’s got the best food and best hospitality. The sightseeing (if you can get away from the venue) is also among the best in the world. Every time we go there’s something new to discover and we’re treated like we’re there for the first time and leave feeling like there was some mistaken identity because there’s no reason for people to be so hospitable to us. The west coast of the US is also amazing. Some of the most beautiful places in the world. And the American crowds are always the best for us. The drives become long but the views make up for it. And of course, coming home to NYC is a happy time for every tour. It’s still the place for us.
How do you get oriented in a new city? I love maps. Analog and digital, whatever is available.
What does the band like to do for fun while on the road? Generally, staying active is always the best way to stay sane. We used to have all our bikes in the trailer of our van and would take them out and have band bike rides through whatever city we’d be in. We brought street hockey equipment for all of the tours last year, and we had a ping pong table with us for most of the year until our friends in the band Caveman shattered it with an epic body slam.
What’s the hardest thing about being in a band? What’s the best? It’s hard being able to balance a life in one place with a career that by necessity can’t have you staying in one place for too long. It’s not for homebodies. Traveling can be a great experience and extremely tedious at the same time. Maintaining an individual identity with that of a group of people that are almost exclusively identified as a group can be difficult. We often end up speaking for “we” when we really mean “I”. But being in a band is great. To be able to collaborate with people that you respect and enjoy without feeling stagnant is deeply fulfilling. Many bands break up when they feel like they’ve accomplished all they can, or when personal shit gets in the way. I’m very happy that we are still able to keep each other interested and surprised today.
What has been the most surreal moment in the band’s career? One that sticks out was getting to play in the Barclays Center. It was only built a few years ago, but already has a certain weight with people. I guess playing in any arena of that size would be really exciting, but the fact that it’s in our city makes it even more special. Being on stage was almost disorienting because it was so dark and cavernous that I saw nothing but black. And then every minute or so there’d be a flash from a camera from the upper deck on the other edge of the arena, and you’d realize just how big it is.
If you could tour with any band or artist from any time in history, who would it be? Maybe this is obvious but I’d love to play a show with Kate Bush. Aside from the recent tours in London she hasn’t really toured in decades. I would love to see her. Her show sounds like it was so amazing and theatrical. Or I’d like to be on a tour with the MC5 and The Stooges just to see Iggy roll around in broken glass, even though our band would be a horrible fit for a show like that.
What is the most useful career advice you’ve received? Never believe your own press.
Which bands/artists are you listening to these days? My favorite record at the moment is Mac Demarco’s Salad Days.
Brooklyn photos by James Chororos, EE Berger, Bryan Formhals and Whitney Reeder.
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