Jersey Arts Interview: Ra Ra Riot
JerseyArts.com had the chance to speak with Mathieu Santos and Alexandra Lawn of Ra Ra Riot during the XPoNential Music Festival. Tonight, they play Asbury Park’s legendary venue, the Stone Pony.
Topics included the band’s origins at Syracuse University, Matheiu’s upcoming solo album, and how band members pass the time on long flights such as those to Japan where the band was headed next.
Gary Wien for Jersey Arts: Ra Ra Riot seems like such a tight-knit band. Sometimes solo albums cause can cause a few riffs, how does everyone feel about Matheiu’s solo album? Are they excited about it?
Alexandra Lawn: We are. Matt is an extension of the band, but his album is his own. It’s cool to see someone who has always been in a group and in a family with you doing something completely on their own and different. We do everything really together and it’s very involved, which is great and works in a lot of cases, but sometimes you don’t get everything you want. So, it’s cool to see an album that Matt created from zero to a hundred percent with just him. He even did the artwork.
Mathieu Santos: Like she was saying, we all work really hard together all the time, but I guess it’s natural for any creative person to want to do any number of projects.
JA: It’s interesting how the band really got behind the project. The band not only embraced it, but literally crashed Turntable.fm while previewing it.
AL: That was fun. That was the first time a lot of us had been on Turntable.fm, it became a new addiction I think.
MS: We brought it down!
AL: Which was cool. I think we’re very supportive of where everybody comes from creatively. You can’t always get that when you’re a six-person band. There are compromises and sacrifices. So, it’s cool when someone has a back catalog of work that they’ve created. Nowadays it’s fairly doable to be like, “I want to give this album to people to hear.”
JA: Were you a music industry major at Syracuse?
AL: Becca was. I had switched to music industry my last semester at Syracuse, which I guess doesn’t really count. I was a music performer.
JA: Has having people with that industry knowledge helped the band?
AL: Definitely. Becca’s knowledge has gotten us through a lot of stuff that maybe we wouldn’t have seen as so important.
MS: We were lucky to have Josh in the beginning, our manager. What was he a marketing major?
AL: He was a management major with a music industry minor.
JA: So you guys were the college equivalent of a supergroup huh? Marketing majors, music industry majors, music performance majors…
MS: Yeah, we were really lucky. Becca was basically our tour manager for the first couple of years when we were just touring on our own. They know… I didn’t know anything about the industry.
AL: We actually started in his basement.
JA: When the band first started at Syracuse, did you think you’d ever go beyond school?
AL: No, it was supposed to be just for fun. We were a very different band back at school. I mean, there are songs that were created there and carried over, but for the most part they have changed and changed and changed as we have. For the most part, everyone was graduating that semester, it was like let’s just do something crazy and fun.
JA: Was the name an inside joke at the school?
MS: No, a friend of ours had come up with the name. We had a couple of shows booked and needed a name, so we said that name sounds cool can we borrow it. And we just sort of stole it!
AL: There was a funny rumor – like a real rumor – going around the school that it was an inside joke that we had members of Hot Hot Heat in the band for some reason.
MS: That’s right, I forgot about that! There’s no truth to that either. .. I just realized I’ve been holding this cookie the entire time. I guess I’ll eat it when we’re done. (see photo, left!)
JA: A little off topic and it probably deals mostly with sports, but do all Syracuse people hate Rutgers? Is that like a law or something?
MS: We actually played at Rutgers recently, so I guess we tried to make the peace. And the show was fine, no hostilities! I really didn’t follow the Syracuse sports much when I was there.
AL: I only went to the games so I could wear orange and blue makeup!
JA: Speaking of New Jersey, you’ll be coming back to the State on August 9th to play the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. That’s one of the venues that many people around the country would be able to name. What’s a place like that which you haven’t played that you’re hoping to crash sometime?
MS: That’s a good question…
AL: The Stone Pony!
JA: Will that be your first time playing there?
MS: The one that was on my list was Red Rocks, but we got to play there with Death Cab for Cutie.
AL: We also got to play a really cool opera house in Nashville with them.
MS: We got to go to a lot of cool places with Death Cab.
AL: We did two different tours with them. We did one really large, extensive U.S. tour and they play, obviously, much larger venues than we do. So, we got to do all those inside venues and then we did a summer outdoor one and got to hit up all of the awesome outdoor amphitheatres.
JA: You’ve got a pretty cool trip to Japan up next.
AL: Yeah, we leave on Wednesday. It’ll be our third time there. I think this puts Japan ahead of Europe now in the number of times we’ve gone over as a band. We’ve got a label over there and a great little team.
JA: What do you all do to kill time on the flight? That’s a really long trip.
MS: It’s like fifteen hours.
AL: We bring all of our nerdy books and computers.
MS: Sleeping aids!
AL: Yeah, there’s some talk about Canadian Tylenol PM.
JA: What kind of books do you read?
AL: Oh, all kinds… Matt reads a lot of biographies and autobiographies of musicians and artists and lately of science.
MS: I just finished reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” which I had never read before. I actually finished this morning on the way here. And I’m starting a new rock doc book.
JA: Somewhere I think I read that the band was trying to have a slow, steady growth. I don’t know if you can actually plan out any of those things, but where would you like the next steps to be?
AL: I don’t think we try to know where the next step is. I don’t think we’ve ever really known what the next step is in terms of success and all that. I mean, besides going on tour and writing a new album – those kinds of steps we definitely know about.