Interview with Ra Ra Riot’s Rebecca Zeller

Elissa Sanci

Photo Provided by Elissa Sanci
Photo Provided by Elissa Sanci

Ra Ra Riot, an indie rock band, started off at Syracuse University in 2006. Shortly after their creation, the band moved to New Haven to get their start. Nearly eight year later, they’re back; Ra Ra Riot performed at the Center Church on the Green in downtown New Haven Saturday Oct. 12.

Before the show, I was able to interview Rebecca Zeller, the violinist of Ra Ra Riot and ask about the band’s new sound, current tour and what it’s like to be back in New Haven.

Elissa Sanci: Ra Ra Riot formed as a band while you guys were attending Syracuse University. How did you guys get to know each other?

Rebecca Zeller: Milo [Bonacci], our guitar player, served as a catalyst. He and I had an electronic music course together and through that, he found out I played the violin and he had a vision for a band. He asked if I knew a cellist, and I brought in Ally [Alexandra Lawn, Ra Ra Riot’s original cellist]. Milo had played in a band with Matt [Santos], our bassist, and had heard of Wes [Miles] from somebody else and we sort of just came together for this band and obviously ended up becoming friends. The first time we had all met was at our first practice.

ES: I’ve read in interviews that you guys started off playing during campus parties. How did people receive your music, considering it’s not your traditional house music?

RZ: It started off more as a dance band, so we sort of catered to the audience. So a lot of the sounds had “dancier” beats and it worked out really well. Our first show was actually with a drum machine because our drummer was late.

ES: Where did you come up with the name Ra Ra Riot?

RZ: It’s not as exciting of a story. We formed over winter break going into my senior year, which was January of 2006, and we had already scheduled a show for two weeks after our first practice, so we sort of had to get our act together really quickly. Obviously coming up with a name was really difficult before we even knew what we sounded like. We had a good friend who had this band name with no band, and we had a band with no name, so she let us borrow it, and keep it.

ES: Obviously Ra Ra Riot has gotten very big since you guys started. Did you expect that to happen?

RZ: We just really expected it to be a semester-long thing, kind of like an extracurricular to pass the time and to record some music before we all went our separate ways on our own paths. Milo wanted to do something in architecture, and Wes was going to do something in physics.

ES: What were your plans for the future before Ra Ra Riot?

RZ: I had a job lined up out in L.A. to work in a talent agency.

ES: What happened with Ra Ra Riot before you were able to say “I want to take this, instead of, I want to take the job in L.A.”?

RZ: I guess we had gotten enough traction and response [to Ra Ra Riot]—but looking back, I think I was insane to do it. I did fly out to the job in L.A. and I spoke to them and they very generously said “That’s a great, once in a lifetime opportunity and when you’re done doing that, you’ll still have the job here,” and so that sort of gave me a safety blanket, the security to just dive in whole-heartedly into the band knowing that I would have something to fall back on.

ES: How do you guys write your material? Does one band member bring most of his/her ideas, or do you all collaborate?

RZ: It sort of depends—for the most part, ideas will come from one particular member and then they are brought to the group, but it really just depends on the song.

ES: Your first two albums have a very distinct sound, but your third album, Beta Love, takes on a completely different sound. How did you guys come up with this newer sound? What made you move towards a more electronic sound?

RZ: It was just something we wanted to experiment with. I think we felt a bit bound by following the same formula that we did for the first two records and we just wanted to have the freedom to do something else. Like I said, our first show was with a drum machine so it [the new album] wasn’t really a departure from what our interests were.

ES: Were you worried about how your fans would receive your album because it was so different from the first two?

RZ: Yeah, of course, there’s always a concern, but all you can really do is make something that you’re happy with and proud of, and hope that people respond to it in a good way, or respond at all.

ES: You guys are active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Do you feel social media helps you cultivate your fan base and keep in touch with your fans?

RZ: It definitely helps us keep in touch with them, and definitely keeps us engaged with them. It’s a platform where we can very quickly and easily get feedback and that sort of thing.

ES: Are you guys thinking about making a fourth album?

RZ: I think we’re planning on taking a bit of time off right now. We’re kind of burnt out; it’s been a really busy year, and we’re going to take some time off before we dive back into that.

ES: You’re finishing off your tour in Japan. How do you guys feel about that? Have you guys ever played internationally before?

RZ: Yeah, it’s going to be our fourth or fifth time to Japan and this trip’s particularly exciting because we’re going to Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea in addition to Japan so we’re really going to some places that we’ve never been to before and we’re pretty stoked for that.

ES: What’s your favorite song to perform live? Do you have any special connections to a specific song?

RZ: Off the new record, I really like playing “When I Dream,” but it depends on the day.

ES: I’ve read in previous interviews that you guys have a connection to New Haven. Are you excited to be coming back?

RZ: It’s always fun to come back. We did live there for a few months back in the day. Milo was working at an architecture firm, and we played at Bar years ago. We always go to Pepe’s to get some pizza. It’s nice to feel a connection to the places we go, and its nice to come back to it and for it to feel familiar.