Forming a chamber-pop outfit can be a dodgy proposition.
It's not difficult to find players to fill the basic indie-rock roles the land is littered with guitarists and bass players, hopeful singers with pinched voices, and understated drummers. The challenge for those who want to follow in the orchestral-pop footprints of Belle and Sebastian, The National or Arcade Fire is finding the adjunct indie-rock orchestra to frame the singers' bedside confessionals.
Considering that, Ra Ra Riot guitarist and founding member Milo Bonacci was fortunate to come across violinist Rebecca Zeller. After meeting Zeller in an electronic music course at Syracuse University, Bonacci asked her if she would join an upstart orchestral pop outfit he was founding. Zeller a classically trained player who had never performed with a rock band before was intrigued.
"I always had an interest in [playing rock], but I had never pursued it," Zeller says.
In fact, Zeller had very little experience outside of performing already-written compositions.
"At first there were the obvious challenges, which included having to write your own parts, as opposed to having it all there for you," she says. "I think I'd dabbled [in writing] probably once or twice, but not on this level. It wasn't too difficult to come up with the parts to find a part that fit, that was appropriate. That took a bit of time, but the transition wasn't too bad."
Ra Ra Riot has developed a truly collaborative songwriting approach, rather than functioning as merely an indie-rock orchestra supporting lead singer Wes Miles' singular obsessions. Songwriting "works every way imaginable," Zeller explains. "We've written songs just by playing together, just from a chord progression to someone coming with a complete idea, or something in the middle."
The band faced disaster last year with the drowning death of original drummer John Pike. The members regrouped in testament to their deceased friend, and set to work on their forthcoming debut full-length album. After tours with the likes of Vampire Weekend and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, this tour finds Ra Ra Riot and its new songs taking center-stage.
"We're not focusing on the EP at all, but gearing up for the album," Zeller says. "With our demo and EP, we didn't have a lot of time to record, so it's really been our first opportunity to play around in the studio and find sounds that we like."
The band's tenacity in the face of tragedy has paid off, and Zeller, for one, is relishing life as a member of a rock 'n roll band.
"It's so much louder" than playing chamber music, she says. "You have to condition yourself to listen differently than you would in a quartet or orchestra but it's a lot more fun because everything doesn't have to be perfect."