Ra Ra Riot Keeps Rolling With the Changes

It’s been eight months since New York indie rockers Ra Ra Riot released Need Your Light, the band’s fourth full-length studio album, and since then, 2016 has been a constant stream of touring, press responsibilities and more touring. Ten years into its existence, Ra Ra Riot has got the recording/touring rotation nailed, and despite several lineup changes, the next level of commercial success remains tantalizingly within the band's collective grip.

Ra Ra Riot's sound has shifted from album to album, but its fan base is fiercely loyal. Singer Wes Miles knows not to take that for granted, even when on tour opening for another band and playing for new fans with eager ears. This week, Ra Ra Riot opens for Young the Giant in Denver for two shows, the penultimate stop on what has been an eight-week tour. Miles has enjoyed it, but he admits that he’ll be relieved when it’s over.

“We’ll put every last drip of performance out there,” he says. “I’d be lying if I said that I enjoyed every day on tour. The second and third weeks are the hardest because you’re not even halfway through and maybe you haven’t found the rhythm yet. But the show is the best part of every day. It’s all the waiting, setting up, moving around and changing of schedules — that’s the tough stuff. The playing is the best stuff, obviously.”

For Miles, the joy of touring as the main support to another band is watching that band’s fans slowly come around to his music. It is, he says, a challenge that he relishes. Forging new relationships inside of 45 minutes isn’t easy, but it’s possible and it's a lot of fun.

“You have an introduction, you have things you’d like to say musically, and by the end, you really want to hit them over the head,” he says. “It’s fun to have that really condensed conversation. This is one of the better matches that we’ve had, so that’s nice to see. But then, there’s nothing like playing for your own crowd. All the festivals are a little bit different, too — kind of a combination of those things. It’s good to have the mix. It’s good to come back to each one when you feel like you’ve had your fill of the other.”

Ten years after forming in Syracuse, New York, Ra Ra Riot has expanded its sound, most notably with third album Beta Love, which has the group embracing electronica to a far greater degree. The new album signals a return to the traditional live-band format, though Miles is quick to stress that the lessons learned with the last record weren’t for naught.

“We wanted to explore some more synth sounds, electronic things,” he says. “A bit more about writing just for the studio, and not really considering the live show as much. With this last record, we wanted to take all of the things that we learned from our third record but make the show a higher priority.”

Need Your Light came out in February, and Miles that he’s been delighted with the response he’s received from new and old fans, many of whom have been delighted with what they might perceive to be a return to form.

“It was a little bit different, but not so different that people were turned off from the get-go,” he says. “Which was maybe a little bit the case on our third record. It took a while for a lot of people to get into it. Most people came back around to it, but for this record, it seems like more of an immediate connection for a lot of people. That’s really nice to see.”

Ra Ra Riot has seen members come and go over the years, most notably and tragically when original drummer John Pike died in 2007. These are happier times, and the band is enjoying its most stable lineup to date.

“Our drummer, Kenny [Bernard], has been with us now for half of our existence,” Miles says. “He’s our longest-tenured drummer by a long shot, and that feels really good. Our cellist, Emily Brausa, she’s doing most shows with us — maybe 70 to 80 percent — and she’s great, but we have a few other cellists that sub in here and there. That’s fun, too — having a little bit of a difference here and there when she needs to do other stuff. We have to be understanding, because good cellists are in high demand.”

The band’s sets in Denver will focus on the new record, with a song or two from the other albums creeping in. Miles says that he loves playing Denver and will be giving his all at these two shows. And then? Rest.

“We’ve got some time off after this, which is really nice to see,” he says. “We have some meetings in New York, and the holidays to re-familiarize ourselves to our families and significant others, remind them that we exist. Then, more writing. We’re already thinking about new music and how to do that in this ever-changing industry. I’ll probably take a trip to L.A. to do some writing. There’s a lot of fun things to come.”

Ra Ra Riot plays with Young the Giant at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, November 1, and Wednesday, November 2, at the Ogden Theatre.
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