Less than two years ago, Ra Ra Riot formed as a Syracuse University student band. Already, they've been through more hype and tragedy than most bands ever face. Their lo-fi, up-tempo indie rock is a blend of strings, keys, guitar and soft vocals. Praise from Rolling Stone and NME preceded the shock of drummer John Pike's accidental drowning at age 23.
After an EP release in 2007, Ra Ra Riot's full-length debut is expected in May. Last weekend, I talked to guitarist and vocalist Milo Bonacci by phone.
How has the tour started?
I think we're under a dark cloud right now. We got into Toronto early this morning. We were up all night because our van was broken into in Montreal and five of us had our laptops stolen. We lost early demos and a lot of our personal files. Everybody in the band is very freaked out about it. We thought Canada was supposed to be safer than the U.S.
What most influences your sound?
I think the main influence is the context in which we formed. We were a student band. We played our first show before we'd all ever practiced together. It was a house party, and it made us all want to play music that would be appropriate for a house party. Our new album comes out of a different context. Our practice space has a wood-burning stove. It's a place where we drink hot tea together, and I think the warmth comes across in the music.
You were formerly in a hip-hop band, the Gym Class Heroes, that's had recent Top 40 success. Why did you leave that band?
You're the first person who's ever brought up my connection to that band in an interview. They were a high school band. I wanted to go in a different direction musically. Their sound has changed a lot since I was with them.
It's been seven months since John's death. Did you consider ending the band because of it?
To tell you the truth, we didn't know what to do. I'm not sure we know what to do now. We think John would have wanted us to continue, but it's something we still struggle with every day.
Were you surprised by the early hype you got?
We just told ourselves that we were lucky and that it was an early fluke. We try to take it with a grain of salt because a lot of overhyped bands end up being the flavor of the week, and that's not what we want to be.