At the end of their U.S. tour, Wesley Miles of Ra Ra Riot sat down with QRO. In the conversation, the singer discussed this tour, the next one in Eürope, the last one over the summer outdoors, prior tenth anniversary tours, new record Superbloom (QRO review), synthesizers & Rostam, new old stuff, Daniel getting his check, “Bad to Worse” truck, and more…
QRO: How has this tour been?
Wesley Miles: It’s been good. It flew by – it was a bit shorter than our tour in the summer; it was like half the length. We feel like we kind of just got into a rhythm like maybe last week, and now it’s coming to a close…
It’s been pretty good. We’ve been playing about half of the new record, and I feel like that’s kind of the right amount. Those twelve songs – we want to play more, but…
It’s funny – every time you tour, you feel like the last record you put out, people are the most familiar with, you know what I mean? Last time, you know, “Water” had just come out, and it hadn’t really quite caught fire yet, so people really knew Beta Love (QRO review) really well. And now, we’re finding that people love the deep cuts of Need Your Light (QRO review), which is really funny.
We’re playing about half the new record. It feels like it’s going pretty well. We feel like we’ve found the right spaces for it.
QRO: That’s funny – a lot of times when bands tour, the record they play the least is not the most recent record, but the one before that, because they’re like, ‘Okay, we’ve toured that,’ and they’ve got the old songs they always play…
At this point your career, making a set list, you’ve more than enough songs. Each new record, you’ve got more old songs…
WM: Yeah, exactly.
Actually, some of the fans, there was someone I was talking to in Atlanta – this was like the second show of the tour or something – and she was like, “Oh, I only found out about you after ‘Water’ came out, but I came to the show, and I was really hoping you’d be playing the old stuff, like from Need Your Light…”
And I was like, “That’s not old stuff for me – I’m glad you think of that as old stuff…”
QRO: [laughs] That’s funny!
Ra Ra Riot playing “Dying Is Fine” live at Webster Hall in New York, NY on January 25th, 2013:
WM: It was a fun tour. Before we had put out the reissue, it was kind of like, we had stopped playing “Dying [Is Fine]” for a while, we had stopped playing some of the big hits – we still played “Can You Tell?” probably most of the time, but now, after having that big break, we’ve been playing more of those songs, in a slightly different way, which has been really fun. I think just sometimes you need a break.
[editor’s note: the “slightly different way” was Miles doing “Can You Tell?” solo, just him and guitar, and then “Winter ‘95” with him a ukulele…]
QRO: I remember at the EP show (QRO live review), you played the EP, but obviously it wasn’t going to be the whole show, and then you mostly played new (for that time)…
WM: We kinda made a pseudo-chronological thing – mostly the oldest stuff that’s not on the EP before, and then we played the EP, and mostly kind of working our way forward from there.
QRO: Is it all weird going from old to new?
WM: It is weird. Now, we can play some of the songs earlier in the set, that would have been, ‘Oh, we have to keep that as a closer, and towards the back.’ It’s kind of cool that we can surprise people, ‘Oh, my god, they’re playing this song first, or second…’
It makes it more exciting for us, too, to have it like that.
QRO: This is your final night on this American leg, and then you’re off for Europe, after Thanksgiving.
QRO: At this point, do you get to play any new cities – or even new venues?
Like, I’ve seen you at Webster Hall before (though it has been remodeled recently – QRO venue review)…
WM: I think this is our fourth time at Webster Hall, which is cool.
I think we’re playing in Switzerland for the first time.
QRO: You’re playing Munich/München, Cologne/Köln, and Zürich…
WM: We’ve played many cities in Germany I think, including some that aren’t on this tour, but we’ve never played Zürich before.
QRO: That is a run of three umlaut cities in a row – Hüsker Dü would be proud…
WM: [laughs] That’s true…
Ra Ra Riot’s upcoming tour dates:
Dec 2 @ Paradiso in Amsterdam, NL
Dec 3 @ Häkken in Hamburg, DE
Dec 4 @ Musik und Frieden in Berlin, DE
Dec 5 @ Zehner in Munich, DE
Dec 7 @ Helios 37 in Cologne, DE
Dec 8 @ Exil in Zurich, CH
Dec 10 @ The Thekla in Bristol, UK
Dec 11 @ King Tuts in Glasgow, UK
Dec 12 @ The Deaf Institute in Manchester, UK
Dec 13 @ Oslo in London, UK
Every time you tour, you feel like the last record you put out, people are the most familiar with, you know what I mean?
QRO: How was the summer tour with Third Eye Blind & Jimmy Eat World?
WM: It was good. It’s just so easy to play twenty-nine minutes every night. Opening, it’s fun, because it’s low pressure.
And both of the bands, they liked us, they were really nice, and helpful & everything. They didn’t quite get along with each other as well as they did with us, which was kind of funny…
It was a lot of fun – it was long. It was cool to be playing a couple of our new songs.
QRO: That was just before the record came out?
WM: The record came out like the week we came back. But we still had three songs out from the new record, and so we played some of those.
QRO: Was the crowd a little older than your regular crowd?
WM: Actually, it was younger than I expected. A lot of people younger than us, in the band, which was a surprise.
QRO: I guess those big outdoor summer shows get younger crowds, just in general…
WM: I think Third Eye Blind, they’re having a resurgence, that nineties resurgence. And Jimmy Eat World, although I think they formed earlier, I think they’re considered a later band.
QRO: QRO had a photographer at the Jones Beach Theater (QRO venue review) show on Long Island (Third Eye Blind photos – Jimmy Eat World photos), only for an impending storm to force the drop of your set…
WM: Yeah, we got cut that night. It was pouring, by the end of the show.
That happened maybe two or three times, on tour, just because there were crazy winds, being outdoors. They had to make a judgment call, and not a lot of leverage opening on a tour…
The same thing happened in Chicago. We had basically our best turnout of any show, ever in Chicago, for our headlining set, just this last week, and I was thinking that it’s probably because we didn’t get to play then…
QRO: How was making Superbloom?
WM: It was fun. It was a little different. We went to a lot of different places. It was a lot of different producers & writers that we worked with. And then a few things that we did, just in my parent’s house, just the band in Jersey, just self-produced and writing there.
So it was kinda the full gamut, of hyper-pop type album making with a lot of different people involved in, to a DIY type thing. That’s kind of why we thought ‘Superbloom’ was a good title – all these things happening at once.
After a long period of doing things a certain way, just breaking it wide open.
QRO: I noticed more synthesizers – was that something that you had planned going in, or did that happen over time?
WM: I think that just sort of happened.
There’s a few songs that are just– like, “Emma’s Pain”, of course, there’s not really any synths on that, just like the five of use making noise in the carriage house.
We’ve been touring without a cellist now, and Rebecca [Zeller, violinist]’s been playing a little bit of both of the parts, to make it seem a little seamless. But some of the new songs, because we started touring that way, we weren’t like, ‘Okay, well, what’s the cello part now?’ We kind of felt a little bit free to be like, ‘Maybe there’s no strings on this song,’ or, ‘Maybe there’s not really any guitar on this song.’ We’ve had moments of that before, too, which have been freeing in that way.
It was kinda the full gamut, of hyper-pop type album making with a lot of different people involved in, to a DIY type thing.
As far as synthesizers, a lot of the people we work with are really good with that stuff. Milo [Bonacci, guitarist], in the band, he’s really good with that.
We’ve often had a Prophet, the Dave Smith synth, as well as a piano, to sample. But recently, we’ve just kind of had those more as a bed – Kenny [Bernard, drummer] triggers something, or Milo triggers something, and then it would kind of play itself.
For this record, it was kind of a lot of elevating the acoustic sounds with synthesizers. And then that would kind of free Becca to do something different. Like in “Belladonna”, she just was playing this arpeggio warm up thing, just to get her fingers ready, and I was like, ‘That’s really cool – maybe the song should just start like that.’ It feels like a symphony warming up a little bit; we don’t have a whole symphony, so we’re just a little synthesized to fill in the space. There’s a lot of different way to use it.
It’s the primary sound on “War & Famine”, for example. And we’re playing it a little differently live, where there’s actually no synthesizers, except for on the bass.
QRO: Did you play the songs live first, or write them in the studio?
WM: Mostly, it was written in the studio. We had played “A Check for Daniel”, but Matt [Santos, bassist] wrote that by himself, basically, and we were just like, ‘Well, this is a great song.’
There’s a few songs that had been in existence for a really long time. “This Time of Year” and “Dangerous”, those are songs that I had, at least parts of, if not most of the song, written on piano, where we’d been playing for a while, just couldn’t figure out the right production for, until we had the right person that I felt like understood it.
It had been broken in, in different ways, but never performed live.
QRO: You worked with Rostam Batmanglij again, on “Bad to Worse” & “Flowers” – were those done separately?
WM: He & I, we started those songs actually in the same session we wrote “Water” and “I Need Your Light” in, but they just didn’t get finished first, for whatever reason. They weren’t the easiest ones to finish. Which can be fine – they’re pretty different. Well, “Flowers” was the first song we finished for this record, 2017, January, we were done, basically – and “Bad to Worse” was the last song we finished, so kind of nicely bookended everything.
QRO: It is more of a spring/summer record, yet you’re touring the fall/winter – I guess that’s just how things work out?
WM: Yeah – maybe we’ll do a second leg.
QRO: I figure there’s no “Belladonna” of “Belladonna”, but is there a “Daniel” of “A Check for Daniel” – and did he get his check?
WM: Oh, yes, and he did get his check.
That was Matt, he was just writing a song about moving from New York, kind of moving from a bad living situation to another, new living situation, and just the logistics that go into that, feeling free and new.
And it literally is about him trying to remember to give a security deposit to his roommate.
[“A Check for Daniel”] literally is about [Mathieu Santos] trying to remember to give a security deposit to his roommate.
QRO: At this point in your career, with multiple albums, how do you figure out set lists? I’m guessing that this tour has been focused on Superbloom, but for the rest of the set list, is it mostly just the older singles/‘hits’/crowd favorites, or are you able to pull ‘deep cut’?
WM: Of the older songs, it’s mostly the more popular ones, the crowd favorites, the small-time hits. There’s a few in there are that are ‘for us,’ “Bouncy Castle”, but it does go over really well.
But obviously, we can’t play a set without playing “Beta Love” or “Can You Tell?”
I think our favorites overlap a lot with the crowd favorites. Hopefully…
Ra Ra Riot playing “Can You Tell?” live @ Union Square Virgin Megastore in New York, NY on August 19th, 2008:
QRO: How was making the video for “Bad to Worse”? It looked relatively easy, you got to look all classy…
WM: That was cool. Becca, the production company she works for, they did it. So it kinda felt like a ‘family job,’ in a way, which was cool. We all flew to Seattle for it.
I got to drive a really old, like a ’67 standard transmission. It was very finicky, but it was a cool truck.
QRO: It looked cool, but you wouldn’t to use it on tour…
I was like 50% at getting into third gear, grinding all over the place.
Ra Ra Riot’s video for “Bad To Worse”:
Making videos is cool, and I love it as a creative thing, but I’m starting to think, ‘Maybe it’s time to get back to the studio, writing more.’
QRO: So you’re already thinking about the next album?
WM: Yeah, for sure.
We’ve got a few things happening next year, and a few tentative things coming up, here and there, but I’m just starting to think about the next stuff already.
Once the record’s out, and there’s not constant talk of like, ‘We gotta do this, we gotta do this,’ then it’s time.
QRO: When you’re not working on the last record…
WM: Right, exactly.
We may try to fit in an Asia thing, or Australia, but, like you said, if we’re not working on the last record, it’s time to work on the next record.