Right before their cross-country tour with the Editors, Ra Ra Riot singer Wesley Miles chatted with QRO. In the conversation, he discussed touring, making their self-titled debut EP (QRO review), their plans for their upcoming full-length, why going to the U.K. is less of a commitment than going to California, being in a band with electric cello & violin, his favorite memories of their late drummer, John Pike, and much more…
QRO: How were your two recent New York City shows, After The Jump Fest at Studio B and the KOR PROJECT benefit (QRO photos)?
WM: Those two shows were great. After the Jump was a benefit, and KOR PROJECT sponsors a charity, every event. So that was really good; it felt good to do those things.
QRO: Other than these local one-offs, you’ve been ‘off’ for a little while now, but on Tuesday, you’re going to start your tour with the Editors [September 4th, at Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club]. Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to, back on the ‘big’ road?
WM: It’s always good to have as much of a schedule as possible. When you’re doing all these one-offs, all the information is different from day to day. You can’t really have any expectations.
It’ll be good to be touring with The Editors, because they should be fun people, but also ‘cause it’s an official tour, you kind of know what’s going on every day. That kind of thing.
QRO: How did you get in contact with the Editors?
WM: We played a bunch of shows in the U.K., and their singer, Tom [Smith], came to a few of them and really enjoyed us, so he invited us to play with them.
QRO: Is there anything about touring that you’re not looking forward to?
WM: It’s good to be home, ‘cause we get home-cooked meals all the time, see family, and friends. But it’s still a very exciting concept for us, to be on tour. It hasn’t grown stale. We’re all very excited to do it.
QRO: How was your most recent tour, with Tokyo Police Club (QRO photos)?
WM: Oh, that was awesome. That was a very fun tour. Every night we played, we played for great crowds. Just playing with them was just such a joy. They’re such nice, awesome people, and we appreciate their music a lot.
QRO: How did that tour compare to your tour with Mason Proper?
WM: Tokyo Police Club is obviously much bigger, and we were playing bigger venues. But it was also fun with Mason Proper; they’re cool guys, too. It was fun to play Chicago again, with them. That was a great show.
QRO: Previously, you played a bunch of dates in the U.K., and some British festivals you also played [Guilford’s Guilfest, Glasgow’s Indian Summer, and Suffolk’s Latitude Festival, others].
WM: We played, I guess, like four or five festivals in the U.K., and then like a bunch of bars and clubs in the middle.
QRO: How was playing the U.K?
WM: It was great. The festivals, we hadn’t been used to playing them that much, ‘cause we only played a few times outside, before, when we’d gone to the U.K. last time. So it was a very different kind of tour. Just ‘cause the whole vibe was different, everyone’s outdoors, they’re kind of walking around. A lot of times, there’s a lot more people, but it’s a little harder to capture their attention, but it’s a really gratifying experience, if you felt like you have captured their attention.
QRO: You all met in college at Syracuse in Upstate New York, and you toured with Canada’s Tokyo Police Club. Have you played Canada?
WM: No, we haven’t yet.
QRO: Are you going to?
WM: We’re planning to do it in December, I think.
QRO: What was the recording process like for Ra Ra Riot?
WM: It was awesome. It was a studio in Brooklyn, called Headgear Studios, and we worked with this engineer, Scott Norton, an awesome guy. So every day we drove from New Jersey to Brooklyn, and recorded all day. It was over the course of three weeks, but it was just on the weekends.
QRO: Were you living in New Jersey?
WM: I live in New Jersey, and so does Rebecca [Zeller], the violin player. So we would drive back and forth from her house.
QRO: Will you be recording a full-length soon, like after The Editors tour?
WM: Yeah, we’re starting in November.
QRO: Are either of two new songs on your MySpace page, “St. Peter’s Day Festival” and “Anthony”, going be on it?
WM: “St. Peter’s Day Festival” will definitely be on it, and “Anthony” will most likely not be on it.
QRO: Is there an ‘Anthony’ (or narrator ‘Andre’) of “Anthony”?
WM: Yeah, they’re both real people, Anthony and Andre. They’re good friends of mine from high school.
QRO: What did they think of the song?
WM: Andre helped in recording the original demo of it, and he thought it was pretty funny. I think Anthony didn’t like how he was portrayed, but he thought it was funny, anyways.
QRO: How much other new, post-EP material do you have?
WM: We have a lot of stuff that’s still being worked out. We haven’t finished everything for the LP yet, but there’s a lot of material that we’re working on, right now.
QRO: Do you have an idea when you might release the LP?
WM: It’ll probably be in mid-Spring.
QRO: Do you think you might put any of the songs from the EP onto the LP?
WM: Yes, most likely we will. At the very least, “Ghost Under Rocks”. Other than that, I can’t say for sure.
QRO: Have you signed to Rebel Group, or are they just distributing the EP?
WM: Yeah, that’s just a distribution for the EP. That’s just a one-off deal for that one.
So we’re unsigned in the U.S., in North America.
QRO: So you’re signed somewhere in Europe?
WM: We’re signed with V2, excluding North America.
QRO: Has the EP come out in Europe?
WM: Yes, it came out in July.
QRO: Is there anything specifically that you’re looking for a label in the United States?
WM: I guess a bunch of good people, that we can trust, and a good deal.
QRO: How did you all get together and decide to form a band?
WM: That was basically Milo [Bonacci, guitar], the catalyst of the formation of the band. He wanted to start playing music with a bunch of people. He, Matt [Santos, bass], and John [Pike] were in another band, and I knew John, ‘cause we’d played music through all college. And then Milo met Rebecca through an electronic music class, and Rebecca knew Ally [Lawn, cello] from orchestra.
So Milo just asked those people to come together and play, and that’s when it started, basically, in early January 2006.
QRO: What’s it like, having such ‘un-rock’ instruments as cello & violin in the band?
WM: It’s fun, ‘cause it feels like you’re doing a new thing. We wanna make rock ‘n’ roll music, but we have these unorthodox constraints – Well, maybe not ‘constraints’, but string instruments have a totally different type of vibe to them, normally. So it’s kind of fun to work those things into rock ‘n’ roll music.
QRO: What is that cello that Ally plays?
WM: She and Rebecca both play electric, cello and violin. They’re kind of the skeletal remains of normal, wooden instruments. They have pickups, so they’re designed to be plugged into amps, as opposed to the acoustic instruments, which you have to modify to make them electric.
QRO: How does the band take to being described as a ‘collective’?
WM: I guess in some ways, that’s kind of accurate, because the songwriting really varies, from song to song. It depends: Someone might come in with an almost-finished song, and teach it to the rest of the band, or we all might work on a song, writing it from scratch. Which has become, more often than not, the case.
QRO: Is it difficult, the six of you traveling, especially with all of your instruments?
WM: Not anymore. We have this sixteen-passenger van. Our van’s name is ‘Mark Walberg’, and our trailer’s name is ‘Buddy’, so we call them ‘Mark & Buddy’.
QRO: Was it tough, before getting those?
WM: For a while, we toured in family vehicles. We borrowed a Ford Expedition from a family member, and I had a Honda Santé Fe; we had to use two cars. Sleeping was basically impossible, on the road, unless we went camping, which we did a few times, or if we had friends on the road, made friends.
QRO: Can you sleep in ‘Mark Walberg’?
WM: Yes, we can. We do it all the time.
QRO: All six of you?
WM: Yeah, and our manager, Josh, comes along, and usually that’s fine, too. There’s four benches in the back, so one person can fit, can sleep pretty easily on those. One person or two people sleep on the floor, in between the benches, and then there’s the front seats.
And often we drive, after the show, to the next place, so we can hang out in the daytime. So one person will drive, then they’ll switch, and then the rest of us will wake up at ten A.M., or noon, or whatever, at the next place, and kind of hang out.
QRO: Before these recent tours with Tokyo Police Club and Mason Proper, how much, and how far, had you toured?
WM: We’d driven to Chicago once, and to Tennessee once or twice, and then we went to SXSW and back. And we went to the U.K., before this last one.
QRO: Why so much in the U.K., before going to the rest of the U.S.A?
WM: I guess there’s just more interest. It seems funny, but if you think of it in a time sort of way, it’s a bigger monetary, financial commitment to go to the U.K., but it’s shorter, because you have to fly, whereas if we’d drove out to California, that’d take a while.
QRO: What drove you to keep on touring after the death of John Pike?
WM: We all thought that John would want us to keep going, and it was the best way to honor all the things that he had done, how hard he worked in the last year and a half. We thought that playing on, and playing that music that he helped write – You know, he wrote a whole song – playing all that stuff.
QRO: What song is that?
WM: It’s “St. Peter’s Day Festival”. That’s actually him singing on the MySpace page.
QRO: How did the Pike family play a part in this decision?
WM: When we were at their house, the week after he’d passed away, we got to talking, and they encouraged us to keep going. We all thought it was the best thing to do for John’s memory.
QRO: Do you have a favorite story about John?
WM: It’s hard to pick a favorite. It’s a cliché and everything, but he made you laugh, every second of every day. He was the best at coming up with these random jingles. He’ll just bust out this hilarious song about driving, on the road trip. Or he’ll make up these funny characters. He would leave me messages, and start rambling, call me up, “Hey Wes, it’s Stanley Steamer. I’m waiting for you to sign these papers, so I can ship…” You know, one of these ridiculous stories.
He was a comedian, every day. It was just a joy to be around him.
QRO: Where did you find your new drummer, Mike Ashley?
WM: He was a friend of Matt’s from high school, and he could help us for the last two months. And now we have a new drummer, who just played yesterday’s show. That was his first show, yesterday. Cameron Wisch.
QRO: Will he be on the recording sessions?
WM: Hopefully, most likely, yeah.
QRO: Where do you all live now?
WM: Rebecca, Cameron, and I all live in New Jersey. Matt lives in Massachusetts, in Fairhaven, and Ally lives in Florida. But when we practice, we stay at my house.
QRO: Is it hard, getting everyone together?
WM: Not really, ‘cause usually we discuss it before we disband. And when we’re practicing, we all stay at my house, basically live there with my parents. Pretty easy, if you want to get in touch with someone, you go upstairs and wake them up.
QRO: What’s it like, having everyone stay with you in your parents’ house?
WM: It’s great. It’s kind of out in the country, so there’s space for everyone to relax.
QRO: Do you have any preference between being the first opener, like you will with The Editors, the second opener, like with stellastarr*, or headlining, like you did at South Street Seaport?
WM: Well, you gotta have a good balance. I think, categorically, we can say we like being main support, rather than opening. But it’s fun to be main support, and it’s also fun to headline shows. They’re both important for different reasons, I think. It’s good to have a balance.
QRO: Are there any songs you really like playing live?
WM: Yeah. Most of our songs, I really like playing live. I guess my favorite song to play live now is a new one. The working title is “Too Too Too Fast”.
QRO: Are there any songs you don’t like playing live, or just don’t play live?
WM: We’ve retired, so to speak, a few songs, since we’ve written them.
QRO: You’ve toured pretty extensively recently. Are there any cities you particularly liked?
WM: I liked Austin and New Orleans the best. Austin is a really fun place to be, especially when you’re playing Emo’s. I love that place.
QRO: What was it like, playing in New Orleans?
WM: That was cool. I’d never been there before. We drove through the night, and we got there in the morning, so we went to the bayou in the afternoon, and just went for a hike. We walked around a little bit in the French Quarter. It’s really cool. It was very unique, the whole time I was there.
QRO: Are there any places that you haven’t played, that you want to?
WM: Many of places we’re playing with the Editors, we’re pretty pumped to play, at Red Rocks [Colorado], at Seattle, at Fillmore, in San Francisco, L.A., San Diego… Those places will all be exciting.
QRO: At Red Rocks, you’re going to be playing the Monolith Festival. Do you have any preference between outdoor, festival-type shows, and indoor, ‘regular’-type shows?
WM: I like outdoor festivals a lot. Sometimes, it’s fun to play indoors, too. Playing outdoors is fewer and farther between, so I guess that makes them exciting.
QRO: You said you started in January of 2006. Did you all graduate in 2006?
WM: Yeah, we all graduated, except for Ally and Matt.
QRO: Did they take a year off?
WM: Well, a year and a half, now…
QRO: How have things changed since then?
WM: We’ve kind of changed our songwriting process, a little bit. A lot of times, it’s more collaborative now, which is fun. And I guess the pace has changed a lot.
QRO: Do you have any favorite tour stories?
WM: Nothing that crazy, I guess, but we try to camp – we’ve only camped a few times, but one of the times, was in Tennessee, and that was awesome. We stayed in the woods, went hiking, and stuff like that. Nothing too crazy.
One of my favorite memories of John is, we went for a drive around my house, right before we left for a tour one time. There’s a river, there’s like a bridge you can drop off of, into the river. John wore glasses, so he needed to see where he was jumping. So he would run up, do some practice runs, and he would run up to the edge of the bridge, to see if he could take his glasses off, efficiently, before, so there’d be time to time to land in the water before they’d come off.
So he went, for like five, ten minutes, trying to time this, perfectly. I don’t know; it’s just kind of a hilarious experience.
QRO: What ended up happening?
WM: He ran, and he took them off, and I think he kind of, basically, had his hand on his face, while he ran, and his glasses came off perfectly. It was funny.