Ra Ra Riot finally releases debut full-length, the Rhumb Line

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:: Ra Ra Riot ::
 :: Hi-Dive :: September 16 ::

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By Emily Palm

Ra Ra Riot mixes an anthem-like urgency with a peppiness even the most ironic of hipsters could appreciate.

Their full-length debut album, The Rhumb Line, was released August 19. With most of the songs co-written by the band’s late drummer, John Ryan Pike, the album is both a tribute to him and a testament that life indeed continues.

Violinist Rebecca Zeller talked with The Marquee while the band prepared to hop the pond for a musical jaunt in Europe before a cross-country tour in the States. Despite the long hours on the road, Zeller noted that their enthusiasm for playing propels them. “It’s genuine energy,” she said. “We’re doing something we love doing.”

In the beginning, Ra Ra Riot consisted of six band members and two cars. Couch-surfing along the way, they brought their upbeat revelry to venues across the country. (Their first tour came only five months after forming.) Soon after, they got a van, which, of course, also served as their sleeping quarters, but at least it was one vehicle. Two years later, they’ve acquired accolades from SPIN magazine, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and the wherewithal to pay for hotel rooms. “It’s only gotten easier,” Zeller said of their touring regimen.

Zeller is living the new American Dream of Generation Y. “If the band hadn’t formed, I’d probably be working in an office,” she said.

The band came together during Zeller’s senior year at Syracuse University in 2006. Zeller met Milo Bonacci in an electronic music class. Ra Ra Riot began as a group of talented undergrads: Zeller (violin), Bonacci (guitar), Alexandra Lawn (cello), Mathieu Santos (bass), John Ryan Pike (drums) and Wesley Miles (keyboards/vocals). A friend suggested the name, Ra Ra Riot — a very appropriate moniker. “It works really well,” Zeller noted.
Ra Ra Riot was Zeller’s first foray away from the classical genre, having been a violinist since the second grade. Such lifelong dedication comes through in the band’s music. “It teaches you that hard work can get you somewhere,” Zeller said.

A year after forming, after the band had already gained momentum and garnered national praise, tragedy struck. In the summer of 2007, Ra Ra’s drummer, Pike, unexpectedly passed on in a drowning accident in Massachusetts, leaving the band to cope with the tremendous loss. “We think it was really important to continue,” Zeller said, noting how it allows them to continue expressing Pike’s everyday joy and happiness.

And, the title of their new album gives a bit of a nod to that happiness. The title, The Rhumb Line, is the name of bar in Gloucester, Mass., near Pike’s home. Pike mentioned it in his song, “St. Peter’s Day Festival,” which is the third track on the album. While that is how the name initially came to the band, a rhumb line by definition is a path of constant bearing. “There are reasons on every level,” Zeller said of the title. “We have really held and stayed the same course.”

That course, though, is not without its twists, turns and just damn, plain boring straight drives too, which is why Zeller said the band is looking forward to getting back to Colorado. “It’s nice to get back to someplace that’s grand and beautiful,” she said, noting how Colorado is particularly refreshing after touring the Midwest.

:: Ra Ra Riot ::
:: Hi-Dive :: September 16 ::

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