In Part Two of their interview, cellist Alexandra Lawn and bassist Mathieu Santos got even closer. The cellist and bassist talked about bringing in a new drummer (or “adopting a child”), on-stage accidents, their “certain positions”, cold late night TV, cold videos, hot videos, still living with their parents, Mark Walberg, Iceland, and much, much more…
QRO: Has it been difficult not just finding a drummer, but also bringing him into the ‘collective’ and all, replacing someone who died?
MS: Drummers are hard to come by, as it is. And then the five of us have been together for like three years now, so it’s always hard to bring someone into the mix.
AL: It’s like adopting a child, who’s like five-years-old, I don’t know… [laughs]
MS: It takes a lot of adapting on everyone’s part.
AL: It’s probably a really weird scenario on everyone’s part. You gotta just play music and have fun.
Ra Ra Riot playing “Dying Is Fine” live @ Sound Fix Records in Brooklyn, NY on October 19th, 2008:
QRO: How did you find Gabriel [Duquette]?
MS: We had auditions.
AL: We’d played with him in a friend’s band.
MS: He played drums for Sam Rosen.
The band was kind of in transition. Our drummer at the time [Cameron Wisch] was going to go back to school, so we knew we needed someone else.
AL: It really kind of fell in our laps…
MS: He came in a suit and a tie to auditions. He really made a good first impression…
QRO: Did he play in a suit and tie?
AL: He did…
QRO: Wow – drums in a suit and tie. That’s not easy…
MS: He may have been hired because of the suit and tie…
QRO: On stage, he’s the only one not running around – has there ever been an accident on stage, running into each other, tangled cords, etc.?
AL: There’s been blood; there’s been bruises…
MS: Milo [Bonacci, guitar] almost broke his ankle ‘cause he jumped too hard on it. He jumped and landed on it too hard. I’ve hit Wesley [Miles, vocals – QRO interview]–
AL: We’ve had the heads of instruments hit real heads.
MS: The bows…
AL: The bows – we feel terrible; they are right at that level, you know?
The boys have gotten really good at dancing around the bows, though. ‘Cause those are not fun, I’m sure. So they’ve learned very quickly.
MS: Definitely have a ‘sixth sense’ on stage.
AL: It’s true; you do kind of get a sense. And you kind of get a sense of what each person’s going to do at a point in the song, ‘cause whether or not you like it, you do fall into some sort of ‘cha-cha’ pattern.
MS: Every now and then, someone will get a headstock in the face.
QRO: Have you ever tried to mix up where everyone stands, or is it always that same arrangement?
AL: We’ve been in the same way for a while now. It’s been in a trial period up until maybe the past year we’ve been in this formation, and sonically, it makes the most sense. It works.
MS: We used to have the girls on one side, and me & Milo on one side, but it seemed a little screwed up.
AL: Like, ‘they’re the band’ and then ‘the string section’…
MS: Then I was on Becca’s [Zeller, violin] side for a while.
AL: But that didn’t make sense because you had the bass end and the treble end, so then we put the guitar and the violin, ‘cause they’re more similar in range and tend to match each other.
MS: We get a lot of chances during the set to mix it up, too.
AL: As long as it makes ‘sonic sense’, I think we’re happy. ‘Got to get it right!…’ [laughs]
QRO: You guy have toured a lot – have you ever noticed fans that are similarly in the same place in the crowd at multiple shows in the same city?
AL: Yes! I actually had that revelation on this past tour, ‘They’re always in that corner…’ There’s definitely a couple of repeats, for sure.
MS: I would always stand in the same place when I would go to the 505 in Syracuse.
AL: Yeah, I definitely like my certain positions…
QRO: You just recently appeared on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and you’ve also done Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O’Brien (QRO Indie on Late Night TV) – what is it like, playing on late night talk shows?
AL: It’s always weird. Each one’s been a very different experience. Craig Ferguson wasn’t even there when we did it. We did our part weeks before he did his. Which is always weird, because he really wasn’t sitting right next to us, but that ended up being the most comfortable, the crowd, there was no waiting for him to do this or to do that…
Letterman we loaded in at like 4:30 PM.
MS: That’s scary ‘cause you do it live.
AL: Yeah. But Letterman was cool because it just very quick. Load in, come back at this time, play.
Conan, it was load in, wait all day, get nervous, watch everything before you play, and then you play at the very end.
MS: We didn’t even see Conan in person until–
AL: Until he was standing next to us, and we were playing live. And it was our first one, too. We were SO nervous… [laughs]
MS: It was really, really terrifying…
AL: He’s a giant!
MS: But it was cool – he came over after and talked to us for a few minutes.
QRO: The Late Show, is it really as cold as everyone says?
AL: Oh, yeah – they all are.
MS: We were like in jackets.
AL: Hide your hands right up until. ‘Oh God, they’re getting cold!…’
QRO: How did making your most recent music video, for “Can You Tell?”, go?
AL: That was cold as well.
MS: Extremely cold.
AL: That was in one night, overnight.
MS: That was last year.
AL: The coldest part was when we were all sitting together, ‘cause we sat there the longest, in the snow. And they were like, “Do it again, do it again…” We were all like [mock shivers]. They were like, “Raise your flowers!”, and you were [shaking].
MS: The way we did the rest of it, is only one person would be shooting, one at a time.
AL: For like two minutes.
MS: We would all be inside with blankets and fires…
AL: Electric blankets!
MS: And then it would be, “Allie, you’re up next! In like a minute.” So you would get ready, and someone would come in, and you would run out.
AL: Bang it out quickly, and then come back in.
MS: But that scene where we were all sitting there was pretty difficult.
AL: But it got to the point where, at the end, you know how we walk away at the end, everyone walked away and we were like, ‘That’s it – we’re not doing it anymore…’
MS: As we were shooting it, we knew that it was going to come out pretty cool. After that day, we were all going home.
AL: For a month. So it was just like, ‘Whoo!’
MS: So we had that to look forward to.
Ra Ra Riot playing “Can You Tell?” live @ Union Square Virgin Megastore in New York, NY on August 19th, 2008:
QRO: How did it compare to making the “Ghost Under Rocks” video?
AL: That was very different.
MS: That was a bit more ‘clinical’, in the studio. We had a crew at “Can You Tell?” too, but–
AL: It felt like there was a much closer connection, maybe, to how we wanted [“Can You Tell?”] to look.
But it was different – they’re totally different songs, and totally different videos.
QRO: Why did you do the ‘The Rhumb Line Live’ videos?
AL: Those were in an attic, and those were also with [“Can You Tell?” video director] Taryn [Gould]. We just love what she does.
MS: We had this idea to do this little ‘homage’ to attics of student houses, house parties.
We were back there in the summer of 2008, and she just went around the neighborhood, knocking on people’s doors saying, ‘Can we shoot a video here?’ So she found a house, finally, got everything there, moved all of our stuff up four flights of stairs…
AL: Up like rickety little staircases…
MS: It was 106°…
AL: We had air conditioners – that would obviously be returned…
MS: We did the whole thing in like two days of really intense shooting. Each song, we rotated the set.
AL It was supposed to be like we went bam-bam-bam, so you’d get all sweaty, but your clothes had to be the same…
I remember, I lost my socks that I was wearing the first day. Continuity disaster – couldn’t show my legs for the rest.
QRO: You’ve done a lot of touring since The Rhumb Line came out – how do you fight ‘tour burnout’?
AL: We are really into food. It’s like a mission to get local flavor, eat at hot spots, legendary joints. Guy Fieri’s Dinners, Drive-Ins, & Dives, which are all the best junk food, all across the nation. And Whole Foods, obviously.
And we just try to ask the locals, like when we’re in New Orleans, ‘What’s the best food in New Orleans?’
We try to go hiking at parts…
MS: A lot of reading…
By no means do we go ‘un-burnt-out’. But I think everybody’s pretty good at making projects for themselves.
QRO: You all met at school in Syracuse, but are from different places – do you still all live scattered around? Have you all not had a chance to move, because of all the touring?
AL: Yes. When we go home, we go home to our parents… [laughs]
MS: Which is where I think most people were this past week. A couple people have apartments, kind of, but basically we still – we only have off-time every once in a while.
So we’ll just go back and be pampered by our parents.
QRO: Do you still have [tour van] ‘Mark Walberg’ – and [trailer] ‘Buddy’?
MS: Yeah, Mark just broke the 100,000 mile…
AL: He’s at 103 now – great, great, great friend…
MS: Buddy’s doing well – Milo & his dad made a bunch of custom shelves.
AL: It’s cool too, because, this is completely not us doing it, but Buddy, on the back, it says ‘HA MARK’, like he’s laughing at Mark, “Ha! Mark!”
MS: It originally said ‘HAULMARK’.
AL: It’s a Haulmark trailer. And then the U & L fell off.
And in the front, it says ‘HAUL AR’. [pronounced “Holler!”]
MS: Yeah, they’re doing well. Road-weary buddies…
AL: If things ever change, and we need to move on, I think there will definitely be a sadness. That trailer and that white van are home, in a weird way.
QRO: Is it difficult, traveling with the six of you, plus whomever else?
AL: It’s definitely not as comfortable as it used to be. But it’s still home…
MS: Every couple of days, everyone gets a bench to themselves to lie down.
AL: We have some sort of rotating schedule that we try to keep.
MS: It’s nice ‘cause we don’t have to sleep in it anymore. We used to sleep in it every night, but now we sleep in hotels.
AL: We’ve moved up a little…
QRO: ‘Cause you’ve blown up!
AL: [laughs] Obviously…
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
AL: We have some funny-sad ones…
We do have a lot of fun, overall – especially from being this close [puts face inches away from Santos’] 24-7, eight people together.
Every day kind of gets blurry – I can’t remember. There’s like a new story every day, a new joke, a new inside joke that nobody else thinks is funny, but to us, that is the funniest shit ever…
QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing?
AL: We really liked San Francisco.
AL: Iceland. That was our first mosh pit.
MS: We spent like six or seven hours in The Blue Lagoon.
AL: Because we went like a solid month without having a single day off, and then we finally had our day off, and it was in Iceland. So we all went to The Blue Lagoon, and we all just floated… aimlessly… for hours… Just like, in a pack, going, ‘Guys, guys, come here! I found a hot spot!’ And then we’d all float over, and hang out there, then we’d kinda float away, find another hot spot. For like six or seven hours.
MS: We all had the gel facemasks…
AL: [laughs] On our faces!
MS: Go into the sauna for ten minutes…
QRO: Have you had many mosh pits?
AL: Munich. Jamestown, NY, awesome fans who just pop out of nowhere and make you so happy – even if they are hurting other people.
It’s always like, ‘Wow, you’re doing this? There’s strings! Cool…’
QRO: Is it at all weird, having a band with a ‘string section’?
AL: We try – it isn’t ‘a band’ and ‘a string section’; Becca & I were there from the first practice, before some of the others were even there. Try to make it as ‘not weird’ as possible, or as noticeable. We want it to just be ‘the band’ and ‘one sound’, a thing on its own.
QRO: What are those instruments you & Becca play? They’re not like regular…
AL: They’re Yamaha Electric instruments. Having the real ones is a pain in the ass. They just feedback – if they’re not sounding like the acoustic instrument, you might as well go to the electric and be really loud.
We both have very old instruments, and taking care of those is like having a child. In that there’s just no time – there’s no time. They need to stay home with the babysitter while mommy goes to work…
MS: And you had beer spilled on yours…
AL: We played a show and someone spilled beer on my cello, and I had to spend a lot of money in repairs. I was like, ‘That’s it. It costs more to repair my real one than to just buy an electric one.’ From then on, we were electric all the way.
And we get to be loud. There’s nothing wrong with that… [laughs]