Indie-pop band leaves college, jobs for limelight

Photo provided by Sacks & Co. -- Ra Ra Riot
Photo provided by Sacks & Co. -- Ra Ra Riot

Starting a Riot

Ra Ra Riot, the Brooklyn-based indie-pop band that includes violin in its instrumental palette, usually makes recordings during winter in such cold places as upstate New York and Washington state.

“For us,” bassist Mathieu Santos said a few weeks ago from his Brooklyn apartment, “recording was all about being inside 24/7, being cooped up and making tea and almost too involved. Because there was nothing else to do. You couldn’t go outside.”

Ra Ra Riot experienced a change in recording-session scenery during production of its latest album, “Beta Love.” The Northeast-dwelling quartet, which also features singer Wes Miles, guitarist Milo Bonacci and violinist Rebecca Zeller, recorded the album at producer Dennis Herring’s Sweet Tea studio in Oxford, Miss., in spring and early summer.

“It was gorgeous every day,” Santos said. “It was nice to be able to leave the studio and take a nap outside or go for a walk and get your mind out of total recording mode.”

Although the Southern locale and warmth didn’t overtly influence the sound of “Beta Love,” it did affect the band’s collective mood.

“It had a lot to do with our performances and the way we were able to solve problems,” Santos said.

Following Ra Ra Riot’s spring touring dates and performances at multiple summer festivals, the group’s fall dates began Sept. 1 at Seattle’s Bumbershoot festival. Touring through mid-October, the band returns to Baton Rouge Sunday for a show at the Spanish Moon.

“We always have a fun time in Baton Rouge,” Santos said. “It’s a cool place. I’m glad we’re getting to play there again.”

Having fun is one big reason Ra Ra Riot was formed in 2006, when its members were students at Syracuse University.

“Yeah, when we began we didn’t have any aspirations at all,” Santos said. “But that first semester we started getting a lot of notoriety around campus.”

Ra Ra Riot quickly developed a following. By the end of the semester it was selling out local clubs.

“So we decided, ‘Oh, we’ve got something going on. Let’s just book a small tour for this summer.’ We did that and it was fun. Things looked sort of promising.”

The fall after the exploratory summer tour, Ra Ra Riot appeared at the influential CMJ Music Marathon in New York.

“That was a big turning point for us,” Santos said. “That’s when we started getting some industry attention and some coverage from the press.”

Realizing they may have a future as a real band that tours the world and makes records, the members of Ra Ra Riot opted to pursue the band. The decision meant that Santos, still a year away from getting his art degree from Syracuse, put his education on hold.

Following Ra Ra Riot’s well-received visit to the South By Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin in March 2007, the band felt even more confident. The two members of the group who had actually secured real, post-college jobs left them to do Ra Ra Riot.

“They were forced to leave their jobs so we could put all of our eggs in one basket,” Santos said. “We bought our van and just started touring for, basically, forever.”