When Ra Ra Riot signed with Barsuk Records in late May of last year, it was a testament to the band’s strength as people and as musicians. The Syracuse pop-rock unit lost an integral part in 2007 with the sudden death of its drummer and songwriter, John Ryan Pike.
It was not only important that the members press on but that they create passionate, powerful, and honest music to honor their departed friend.
Ra Ra Riot consists of Milo Bonacci on guitar, Wesley Miles on vocals, Mathieu Santos on bass, Alexandra Lawn on cello, and Rebecca Zeller on violin. When originally forming the band, Bonacci decided to test how different voices and instruments could open up musical possibilities.
“I think with us, the violin and cello aren’t at all decorative,” he says. “They’re just as much as part of the music as the drums, guitar, or vocals. It’s not an afterthought, and they are involved in the songwriting process. It’s interesting to us that we do it that way because we can share melodic leads or complement each other. It’s part of the music.”
The music’s emotional and spiritual essence is also undeniable. Pike had his life tragically cut short when he accidentally drowned at the age of 23, and many songs on the group’s debut full-length, The Rhumb Line, have music and lyrics credited to Pike.
“He was the reason that I felt comfortable in the band at first,” Miles says. “I was trying to start another band with him at the time, and Milo and he just said, ‘Why don’t you come play in this band?’ He was not only a creative force but a huge influence and inspiration for me.”
Ra Ra Riot’s carefully crafted debut was released in August of 2008 with songs that are dense and thoughtful. The track “St. Peter’s Day Festival” weaves from 1960s pop innocence to the soaring heights of The Arcade Fire, and the album is a beautiful work that serves as much more than aural stimulation.
While many indie-rock bands are busy toiling in self-absorption, Ra Ra Riot is ready to enlighten all those that listen.
– Richard Giraldi