by Matt Kelchner
Back in November of last year, indie pop band Ra Ra Riot swung by Broad and Ellsworth Streets for a special, intimate performance at Boot and Saddle. “The idea behind that tour was to go back to smaller rooms, the kind of rooms we started playing as a college band,” bassist Mat Santos explains as he looks back on night. 2016 marks 10 years of being together for Ra Ra Riot. As they ready the release of their fourth studio album, Need Your Light, Santos reflects how the band revisited the past to elevate them to the future.
Coming off the success of their previous album Beta Love, an album that took Ra Ra Riot into a completely new musical environment, the group decided to do something that they had not yet done, take time off. “It was the first real, significant break we’ve had in the past decade,” Santos recounts. “We all, you know, got back in touch with our personal lives.”
Without the busy day to day schedule of being in a popular rock band, each person was able to creatively recharge and refocus themselves. It wasn’t long until all of the new found energy brought them back to regroup. “The funny thing is the idea was to take a little sabbatical, but then individually we all started getting the bug and found ourselves compelled to start working on things.” This ended up bringing them back much sooner than anticipated. “It happened kind of naturally.”
To continue their journey down this new path filled with catchy, synth heavy dance tunes, Ra Ra Riot recruited to a few familiar friends to assist them along. “We were sort of looking back and we knew all these people, we just felt comfortable working with them. We knew what each of them could bring to the table.” Getting together with former producers and songwriters from past albums helped the band push their sound even further into their new direction.
For starters, much of the album was recorded in the same studio as their debut album was done. They ventured out to the Pacific Northwest to Woodinville, a town outside of Seattle, to team up again with Ryan Hadlock. “We had a great time working with him on The Rhumb Line all those years ago,” Santos details. “So that was sort of in the back of our minds, that one day we would like to return to Bear Creek [Studios] again and make more music there.”
Additionally, Ra Ra Riot went out to Los Angeles to join up with old pal (and now ex-Vampire Weekend member) Rostam Batmanglij. Two tracks from this session ended up making the album, the already released single “Water”, and the title track, “I Need Your Light”.
The band did not stop there in their walk down memory lane. Two other old faces were met along the way as well. The first was producer Dennis Herring, who was behind Beta Love. Singer Wes Miles met up with Herring to pen what would become four song on Need Your Light. The second was Andrew Murray, the group’s sound guy, as well as the producer from their second album, The Orchard. “It was sort like a trip through our history where we worked a little bit with everyone that we’ve ever worked with before.”
The gap between Beta Love and Need Your Light is the largest for the band in their decade long career. “We’ve never taken this much time off between records before. It’s kind of a strange feeling for us.” It had always been in the back of the group’s mind to circle back on their previous releases and collaborators. When it came down to it, careful tiptoeing was needed. “No one ever wants to retread old ground.”
The finished product is anything but a rehash of old sounds. Need Your Light will be released this Friday via their longtime home Barsuk Records. It features a collection of well crafted songs with melodies and hooks that are guaranteed earworms. Be sure to check it out when the album drops so you can prepare yourselves when Ra Ra Riot make their way back to Philadelphia on March 5th at Union Transfer.