With each recorded outing, Syracuse, New York's Ra Ra Riot seem to contract, not just in size, but with regards to their sound as well. Where once there were six people in the group, Ra Ra Riot is now a quartet, and their third album, Beta Love, finds the band deconstructing their previous sound in an exploration of futurism via catchy electro-pop. For the latest edition of Tell Me About That Album, we chatted with singer Wes Miles, who talked about the process of making the album, the work of Ray Kurzweil and his interest in interstellar cosmology. The band play The Neptune Theater, tomorrow night, Feb. 8th.
What fueled it to begin with though? Were you disappointed with how the songs were coming out or feeling like they were getting watered down or something? I don't think we ever felt like we watered anything down, but the goal of having six people in a band and all these different instruments was to recruit possibilities, but eventually it began to feel that it was really limiting us from things that we could do. Every song started to feel like, "Well what's the string part in this section?" or "What's the guitar doing in this chorus?" It was never, "What does the song need?"
I know the record was partially inspired by the work Ray Kurzweil, who apparently the entire band got into simultaneously. Is it unusual for the whole band to get into something like that as a group? Musically I could see it more easily than with literature or philosophy. It is sort of unusual for us all to be into the same thing at the same time but I guess that sort of made this record feel special. It was originally [bassist] Matt who got into Ray Kurzweil and we sort of latched onto a lot of his theories and concepts about the technological singularity and just generally the future of technology as a means of escape, like in the past when touring was difficult.
Those seem like some heady topics for a rock band to be discussing on a tour bus. Matt is really into non-fiction books and the last couple years he's been reading a lot of stuff about chaos theory and a lot of science. I was a science major in college and that stuff's not too far out for us. We're all definitely interested in it. It was kind of easy to get into for that reason.
A physics major, right? Does physics ever creep into your songwriting in some way? For me, I was more interested in like astrophysics and interstellar cosmology than the mechanics of sound. In terms of critical thinking, it's fun to think about those things and in terms of human identity they are interesting perspectives to explore.
Is there a correlation between creativity and scientific thinking? They both seem like problem solving to some extent. Writing music is a creative process and no music is made in a vacuum because it takes spontaneous iteration of ideas, but a lot of times that happens in science too. It can take a creative mind to solve a lot of problems with programming or to theorize about technology.
Did you know before the sessions for the record began that you wanted to explore an electro-pop vibe this time around? There was a conscious decision to not move away from things if they felt synth-heavy or too poppy. In the past, a lot of our songs started from me playing keyboards and a lot of time we would use that as a starting point and then move away from that in varying degrees, For this record, we decided maybe it would be an interesting approach to not deviate from the original intention of the song. We decided to just not be afraid of it.
Can you talk about the origin of the title, Beta Love, and why you liked it? The song itself is pretty special for me and the rest of the band. It started with this keyboard riff that I made on my computer and it always felt special. It was fun to play and fun to sing along to. At a certain point, the lyrics started falling into place and once the lyrics fell into place the rest of the record seemed to be in a different light because of the lyrics. It's sort of about the first android to fall in love or the first program on a computer that becomes sentient and is able to love. It gave us this interesting concept for the rest of the record. It just felt right.
And how about the cover artwork, how did that come about? The contrast, since it's such a bright record, at least the first half, with this dark image, was interesting to us. It was done by Chris Everhart, who did the art for our first record and we thought it was real interesting, this monolith, or maybe it could be a gateway or any number of things. We just found it compelling.