If, when you see Ra Ra Riot in concert, it looks as though Wes Miles is simply staring into the ether, don’t be offended. Without his glasses, he can’t see shit. For effect, he removed them, and said he couldn’t tell if he was staring me in the face while standing no more than three feet away. The choice to perform sans spectacles was made after having a pair fall off of his face during a show, only to be subsequently stepped on.
His band on a lengthy stretch of tour that will include dates supporting Death Cab for Cutie and Cold War Kids, Ra Ra Riot made it to Rochester as a headliner with Cut Off Your Hands and So Many Dynamos in tow. Despite the inconvenience of having to speak with some bloggers after a long night, which in addition to their show also included his alma mater being destroyed in a men’s basketball game, lead singer Wes was ultimately very accommodating. He handled hard-hitting questions, all in the tough journalistic vein of whether or not he actually needed glasses, with grace and was curious what a tympanogram was. Whether or not this was customary to speak with someone after the conclusion of a show, he took up about ten minutes of his time regardless of his desire to do so. While this blog would never pretend to know him or anyone else in the band personally, following the questioning it was easy to come away with an idea about one small piece of the man and his band, that this is a job for them. It is also not difficult to determine for certain it’s a job they seem to take immense pleasure in, but they are nonetheless professionals in what they do. Taking time to speak with somebody must just come with the territory.
As the music world has documented so many times before now, the band formed while all were attending Syracuse University. Two members of the band decided to leave college before graduation, putting their studies on hold. For Wes as a physics major and for lead guitarist Milo, who was in architecture, there was a decision to put other careers on hold. According to Wes, Milo actually quit a job he had been with for eight months when deciding to join the band full time. Other band member’s majors were not discussed but each seemed to have their own distinct career path, perhaps not formed completely or ultimately desirable, but a faint idea set, at least until the music came along. When asked how after so many nights playing the same music the band was able to keep things fresh, Wes’ response sounded much like how anyone else might recount a normal day at the office. He spoke very nonchalant in describing just what it is that keeps this job exciting. Granted standing in front of a crowd playing music is a fairly intense daily routine, but it boils down to just that.
Evidenced by the effortless execution and tight arrangements of their songs, playing live seems to be the band’s natural state. In fact Wes’ voice sounds to be improved in performing live. High notes that would be difficult for weaker voices in recording, seemed to give no trouble at all when executed live. Both the cellist Alexandra and violinist Rebecca had dancing with their stringed instruments down to a science. Working as a six piece unit, the band’s live act is a pleasure to watch in its flow and the apparent joy in which it is given with. Evidently the band either takes immense pleasure in performing their music or have worked so hard at it for such a long time it comes as naturally as any daily task perfected through repetition. This craft of flawlessly executed live performances was evidenced by a perfect rendition of a new, as yet untitled track. Similar in sound to the band’s existing work, the arrangement was tight and the music catchy. They band clearly has future hits to come.
The band relied almost exclusively on tracks from their debut album, The Rhumb Line, which graced so many ‘best of’ lists at the conclusion of 2008. One song the band likely never performs, the excellent remix of Tokyo Police Club’s Juno, also came up in discussion. Curious how this and other remixes come about, Wes answered Tokyo Police Club approached with the track and asked them to give it a go at reworking the song for a different view. Described as half-cover and half-remix, in reworking the track the ladies of Ra Ra Riot wrote string arrangements and Wes recorded his part of the lyrics. The band worked on the remix with friend Andrew Maury, member of the Remix Artists Collective, which is also known to the blogosphere as the abbreviated RAC and as masters of numerous remixes out in the world.
Standing on the non-club side of Water Street Music Hall the roadies and band members of all three acts paid no attention while loading and carrying equipment out to their respective vans. Following this show in Rochester the band headed back to Syracuse for a night show but also a daytime engagement at a local record store named The Sound Garden. When it was disclosed the store’s vinyl collection was a source of enjoyment for the interviewers, Wes stated he actually got into Devo buying their vinyl at the same place.
For someone who is rather adept by this time at the performance aspect, it is also clear he has developed a knack for this part of the job. Likely one of the less thrilling parts of the job, think paperwork, it’s evident he and his band excel in all aspects of their chosen profession. It is also important to remember however, that in direct contrast to the experience and professional manner in which they carry themselves, they are still rather youthful. One band member, who grew up in a nearby Western New York locale, was delivered some dinner from two people who were clearly his parents. Both beaming with pride at the effort their son just put up on stage, a success so early in his career, it was easy to see professionals still need their parents from time to time.
Ra Ra Riot – Oh, La (STREAM) from The Rhumb Line
Ra Ra Riot – Run My Mouth (STREAM) from The Rhumb Line
Tokyo Police Club – Juno (Ra Ra Riot/Andrew Maury remix) (mp3)