Interview with Ratboys 【Japan Tour 2018】

-How did you guys meet? Can you tell us in detail your story behind you forming the band?

Dave and I met as university students in the September 2010. We went to a school called the University of Notre Dame, and most of the students there did not have much interest in playing or writing music. Dave and I instantly bonded because we liked a lot of the same bands (St. Vincent, Radiohead, Algernon Cadwallader, The Dodos, & lots more). Dave played in punk bands growing up, and I wrote many songs by myself during high school. We instantly fell into a groove jamming, and we found that combining our different musical experiences/backgrounds led us to have a lot of fun playing together.

Eventually we recorded 5 songs together in our dorm rooms, and we put them up for free on Bandcamp in April 2011. Our friends seemed to like the songs, so that summer we started performing at DIY shows as a two-piece. During the rest of our time at university we experimented with adding drums and other elements to our live show. Once Dave graduated in 2015, we went on tour as a 4-piece band all over the USA. That summer we put out our first album AOID on Topshelf Records. We have been touring, writing, and recording music pretty much nonstop ever since.

-Please tell us the origin of your band name, Ratboys and your experience or experiences when you decided the name.

We initially called the band ‘Ratboy’ because that has been my nickname for years. When I was 14 my friends and I were bored at lunch in high school, so we were giving each other crude nicknames for fun. For reasons unknown to me, I became ‘Ratboy’ that day. Dave liked the name, so we used it for our band. Eventually we changed the name to ‘Ratboys’ because another Ratboy contacted us and (pretty aggressively) requested that we change our name. I don’t remember any specific conversations that Dave and I had about the name – it just felt good from the beginning.

-You say your music is “Post-Country”. Please tell us what “Post-Country” is and the charm of it.

Post-Country is a term that I came up with in jest to describe our music and other bands who utilize elements of classic country music (narrative storytelling, cowboy chords, slide guitar, etc) in combination with an indie rock aesthetic and diverse poetics. Or really just a band who clearly respects & draws influence from classic Americana, but who also does their own thing. When I first met Dave, I had never heard the term ‘Post-Rock’ before. I found it totally funny and preposterous, and I thought it’d be great to add ‘post-‘ to another genre where that hadn’t been done before. So that’s where the term came from for me, mostly just a way to poke fun at the uselessness of trying to put bands/musicians in a box. I’ve pretty much stopped calling our music ‘post-country’ lately because I don’t want to limit the way that people perceive/enjoy our songs. I still think it's a funny and worthwhile idea though.

-What meaning and feeling are put into the title, “GL(aka Good Luck)”?

GL (and GN and GM) are little abbreviated phrases that we say to our friends on tour and at home. The song ‘GL’ details my frustration at a friend making mistakes and hurting people as a result. The title is basically me saying goodbye and offering hope that this friend can resolve their issues going forward. It was a feeling of relief and letting go.

-We felt this EP remains nostalgic in the same way as the last album “GN”, but we felt this EP is more bright and catchy than the previous album. Is there a difference between the previous album and this EP when recording your music? How did you create and record your songs in this EP?

Thank you so much, that’s my favorite kind of music, the kind that feels instantly nostalgic even on the first listen. The biggest – and really the only – difference between recording GN and GL was that we had different friends play the drums (Brendan Smyth played on GL and Danny Lyons played on GN). Otherwise, we recorded all of the songs in the same studio with the same engineer. I think the four songs on the EP just have a different feeling than the songs on the LP. The songs on GL are all about relationships, and they are all more personal than many of our other songs. We originally planned for the song ‘GL’ to be the last song on GN, but we changed our minds at the last minute. It felt a little awkward to end an album with such an angry and angst-ridden song.

So when we finished recording GN in January 2017, we realized that we had four songs leftover that we still wanted to record. We went back into the studio in May 2017 to record the EP. ‘You’ve Changed’ and ‘Figure’ were old songs that we had wanted to record for a while, while ‘GL’ and ‘After School’ were songs that we had written during the preperation for GN. Luckily all of them fit together pretty well, and we were able to make an EP that we are really proud of.

-In the previous album, “GN”, you sing mainly about Julia’s experiences and daily life, and so on…. We felt that you are focused more on the emotional part of you, including “GL”, which is a song about a heartbreak in a relationship. Is there anything different in your expression between your previous album and this EP? What did you try to convey in your lyrics and your music when you created it?

A lot of the songs on GN deal with specific stories and people (my cat Elvis, my sister Molly, Peter the Wild Boy, etc). Only a few of the songs were more impressionistic and less defined by specific memories (Westside, Wandered, and Dangerous Visions to be specific). Three of the four songs on GL fall into this latter category; the lyrics were inspired more by feelings and emotional reactions rather than specific memories or stories.

It felt good to write that way, it was something different. I felt like I got to know myself better in the process of making these songs. A lot of our new songs are more introspective, in the style of the songs on GL, and I’m excited to open up a bit more in our songs going forward. It feels very healthy and validating to work out how I’m feeling by writing songs.

-It seems that this EP was recorded together along with the previous album. Why did you decide to do it in this way?

We recorded the EP 5 months after recording GN. We didn’t put much thought into the timing of that, it just worked out that we had some time to record, and the studio was open. Looking back, it worked out great to have a gap between the sessions. It gave us a lot of time to let the EP songs take shape.

-Your music is simply beautiful and smooth; it makes us feel good. Sometimes, it also has impressive arrangements here and there. It’s so attractive. How are these ideas created? Please tell us your favorite arrangements in this EP.

Thank you so much, that makes us feel good! We’re really proud of the arrangements on GL. One of my favorites is this guitar riff that Dave plays during the second chorus of ‘You’ve Changed.’ We had Pat Lyons (who played pedal steel on GN and GL) double that part on pedal steel, and it just made me swoon. It’s so dramatic and triumphant, they absolutely hit a home run with that riff.

Dave studied architecture at university, and I like to think that this background helps him provide good structure to our songs. He’s really good at picking out elements of songs that work well and having us repeat them or only play them once in a really striking spot. His songwriting instincts are excellent. He knows how to shape songs and build them from the ground up.

I’m specifically really proud of the arrangement we ended up with for the song ‘Figure.’ When I first wrote the song, I intended for it to be a slow, mournful acoustic ballad. I showed it to our friend Sean Eldon Qualls, and he recorded a demo version of the song that was super playful and jaunty. He gave ‘Figure’ a new life and totally inspired the way that we recorded it. Brendan Smyth (who played drums on GL) has a deep background in jazz music, and his performance on the song is so special. We are very pleased with how that one turned out.

-Certain impact sounding guitar parts leave an impression in the pleasantly glittering guitar sounds. Is there anything you are particular about in your guitar playing sections? Please tell us any guitarist(s) you are inspired by?

Both Dave and I like to layer lots of guitar tracks in our recordings. I always lay down an acoustic guitar rhythm track under everything – that is our secret ingredient. Then I do electric guitar rhythm tracks and distortion overdubs. I don’t use a pic, so I’ve always been super inspired by Courtney Barnett. I’m also so impressed by Ellen Kempner (of Palehound) and her guitar playing. She is incredibly deft and blending rhythm and leads in her live performances – I would love to be able to play the way she does. Dave always does TONS of guitar overdubs in the studio. It’s my favorite day of recording because he knocks out so many awesome takes, and then we get to just pick and choose. He is crazy fun to watch. Dave is very inspired by the guitar playing of Omar Rodriguez Lopez, Frank Zappa, and Kurt Cobain.

-Julia’s voice is so cute like an angel and is very expressive. It’s so fascinating. What made her start singing? As a vocalist, is there any artist(s) you are inspired by?

Thank you, that is so kind. I remember that I enjoyed to sing at a young age. My mom played The Beatles a lot on our car rides to school, and I loved to sing along to ‘Ticket to Ride’ and ‘Eight Days A Week.’ My mom is a wonderful singer, and we would sing songs together all the time. I sang in choirs in high school and university, and I loved singing by myself when I started writing songs. It’s just always been something that I love to do. I am inspired by so many vocalists – off the top of my head, I love Frances Quinlan (of Hop Along), Carly Comando (of Slingshot Dakota), Tegan and Sara, Conor Murphy (of Foxing), John Fogerty, and Grimes.

-Regarding your visit to Japan this time and performing, what made you decide to come? What is performing in Japan (and other countries other than yours) to you?

We were so lucky to be invited to come to Japan by The Firewood Project. Hajime from TFP brought over some of our friends in the past (football, etc. & You Blew It), and everyone had amazing experiences and stories to tell. We had no hesitation to come to Japan – it has always been a dream of ours. We have never been to Japan (or to Asia) so we are very excited for a new adventure.

Performing in other countries is a thrilling experience and a huge honor for us. It is truly unbelievable that, because of the internet and word of mouth, people outside of our home (and across the world!) know and enjoy our songs. That is just amazing. We love to meet people and learn more about different places around the world. Enjoying music together is my favorite way to connect with other people. So we feel so lucky to have the opportunity to do that in a place as beautiful and fascinating as Japan. 

-Please tell us the impression of The Firewood Project who will be touring with you. If you listened to other supporting bands’ music, (falls・Lucie, too・Predawn・my young animal・Regal Lily), please tell us your impressions about them.

The Firewood project are very deft guitar players. When we first heard their music we were very excited to see them play every night. We love the driving drums and crunchy guitar tones that many of the bands have (especially falls). The sounds remind us of some of our favorite bands in the USA (Snowing, Motion City Soundtrack, Joan of Arc), so it’s so cool and pretty surreal to hear Japanese bands making music that sounds so similar to the music we love, but also so special in its own right. We love the playful vocals in Lucie, too and all of the catchy hooks. Every band that we’ve checked out so far has been hugely impressive, we just can’t wait to share the stage with all of these wonderful groups.

-We are interested to know what the music scene is like around your area. How do you feel about the Japanese music scene? What changes would you say would make the Japanese music scene more interesting?

The music scene in Chicago is very diverse and open-minded. Most musicians in the city appreciate many different types of music and go to lots of different types of shows. Lots of folks are friends and support each other across multiple of musical endeavors. I honestly don’t know much about the Japanese music scene going into this tour – I’m excited to go into this experience without many preconceived notions about the Japanese music community & its sensibilities. I’m excited to write down as many observations as I can and learn a lot about how bands in Japan operate and write and play together.

-What does it mean to you, having people from other parts of world the world listen to your music? Also, what does listening to music from other part of the world mean to you?

Having anyone that we’ve never met listen to our music is a huge honor for us. We write songs to share parts of ourselves with anyone who wants to listen, so to have that connection take place across oceans and time zones is a beautiful and mystifying thing. When I listen to music from other parts of the world, I enjoy the feeling that I’m learning more about a person who has experienced life differently than I have. It almost feels like I am traveling far and wide without leaving my room. I always come away with a feeling of respect for these places that I’ve never been. I have felt that way about Japan for a long time, so it will be amazing to actually visit this place that I have come to revere so deeply through listening to music.

-How would you like people to listen to this EP?

While traveling fast on a train, sitting very still. While doing the dishes or while riding a bike. In the company of trusted friends or totally (and blissfully) alone.

-What kind of things are you looking forward to doing during this visit to Japan? Please tell us your vision of your whole performance and what kind of “mood” you’d like it to be in this event?

We are looking forward to eating many types of food that we have never tried, and we are excited to take many photographs of Japan’s large cities. We are mostly looking forward to making new friends in Japan. Our shows usually feel very relaxed and intimate – I hope to make people feel comfortable and carefree so that they can either enter into the stories that our songs tell or think of their own memories and let our music tell their stories. We would like for the mood to be fun and lively and full of wonder.

-Please give a message to your fans, here in Japan.

Thank you so much for listening to our songs! We cannot wait to experience everything in Japan and to share the stage with so many amazing bands. We are counting down the days until we get to go to Japan and have this adventure!

--------- Answer from Julia


Julia Steiner - Vocals/lyrics, Guitars

David Sagan - Guitars

+ some friends



『GL』 Now on Sale

1. GL

2. You've Changed

3. Figure

4. After School

『GN』 Now on Sale

1. Molly

2. Elvis is in the Freezer

3. Westside

4. Control

5. Crying About the Planets

6. Dangerous Visions

7. Wandered

8. GM

9. The Record

10. Peter the Wild Boy

【Japan Tour 2018】

■ Oct 11 at Warp Tokyo

w/ Jupitar Styles (OA)

Doors 19:00 Show 19:30

■ Oct 12 at 9 spices Tokyo

*without The Firewood Project

w/ falls, Lucie, Too

Doors 19:00 Show 19:30

■ Oct 13 at Pangea Osaka

Flake Records 12th Anniversary Show

w/ Predawn

Doors 18:00 Show 18:30

■ Oct 14 at Party’z Nagoya

w/ my young animal

Doors 17:30 Show 18:00

■ Oct 15 at Fever Tokyo

w/ リーガルリリー (Regal Lily)

Doors 18:30 Show 19:00


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