Yesterday I got up and was looking forward to see Ra Ra Riot at the Magic Stick. I was in the middle of getting in the shower when I get a message from their Twitter asking them if I wanted to interview Wes after bombarding their Twitter with requests and being turned down by their publicist. I got that at 1:00 saying they would prefer to have it done at 8:30 without a camera and to call their tour manager when I arrived. The next 5 hours was me quickly scrambling for questions and doing all the research I could on Wes, finding something to record audio with (I ended up filming it with my camera but had the lens pointed at the floor) and other last minute preparations. When I arrived I called their manager at about 7:30, she told me they were out to eat and I told her that they wanted it at 8:30 anyway, so she just told me to contact her at 8:30. A half hour later I got a text from asking if it would be all right to do the interview after the show, I told her I was ok with that. After the show the band was walking around, I went up to Wes and told him who I was and that I was to interview him without trying to sound pompous. He was very accessible and friendly, and told me that if I could just wait around for a while he would be able to do it. After he talked to a few fans and the token group of 30 year old drunk girls who are having their night out, he approached me and we found a quiet spot by a billiard table, I thanked him for coming to Detroit and asked him how the tour was and such, then the interview began. The interview was full of a lot of laughs, positive attitude, and yeahs, which seems fitting with the type, style, and genre of music that he and Ra Ra Riot plays.
He's in blue, I'm in black
Ra Ra Riot, name kind of sounds like a thrash metal band, but you guys obviously aren't, so how did that come about? Do you know exactly?
Wes: Yeah that's kind of a boring story. We just sort of borrowed it from a friend, a friend of Milo's, our guitar player. He had a friend who had a band name but didn't have a band yet, seeing as we had a band and didn't have a name yet we sort of borrowed it, it sort of fit. I mean I think it's somewhat appropriate obviously it could be...
A thrash metal band?
Wes: *Laughs* Yeah something like that. We started off playing house parties and doing really crazy, noisy things. Yeah, it fit so it just kind of stuck.
You guys are generally a poppy band would you agree with that?
Wes: Yeah I think so.
Ok, there's something about you that makes you different from poppy, gimmicky, nonsensical music, what do you think that is?
Wes: *Laughs* Um...well I appreciate you not thinking that we're a gimmicky band. I don't know I think maybe part of it is you know at first look it might seem like having string players in a band could be a gimmick or something but, it's more about the composition. They write music with us, it's not just a direction that's given to them, they write their parts, they give us feedback, so 1/3 of the band has a totally different perspective than your average rock and roll band, so that might be part of it.
Ok, and your drummer recently left, why is that?
Wes: Yeah, Gabe left. He wrote us a letter that we put on our blog or something.
He wanted to simplify things?
Wes: Yeah he's older than us, and I think he was starting to feel like the things he wanted to do were more likely to be done at home.
Kind of like James Murphy?
Wes: I guess, somewhat yeah. He's also obsessed with the (Collapse/Claps/Claps/Clash I can't understand him, sorry!), you know like he's mapping out the fruit trees in his neighborhood and so forth.
So is your new drummer, Kenny, permanent or have you not decided on that?
Wes: I'm going to say no comment on that.
Haha kind of awkward
Wes: *Laughs* That's okay.
So your tour bus is named Mark Wahlberg?
Big fan of Entourage?
Wes: *Laughs* This was before any of us have ever heard or watched that show I think, how long has that show been on?
Wes: 2004? The van we got in like 2007, I don't think I ever heard of Entourage until like maybe the next year. I don't know it was just one of those things like "What are we going to name the van?" Someone said Mark Wahlberg and it just stuck. And our trailer is named Buddy so we call them Mark and Buddy.
You lived in Japan for 4 months right?
And since the tsunami you've been doing a lot for relief effort. How's that been going do you know how much you've raised?
Wes: I don't know the figures, but we played a benefit show and that was really great and sold out.
Zach Galifianakis was there right?
Wes: Yeah he was there. *Laughs* he was like an hour and 15 minutes late. But he was there! Yeah, I made a bunch of T-Shirts just like stencils and spray paint, and sold them on eBay for charity auction, and they all sold. I was really pumped about that.
Obviously everyone somewhat in someway compares you to Vampire Weekend. Is there ever going to be a tour? That would be awesome.
Wes: Well there was a tour, in the U.K. for like five shows. It wasn't a long one, and we played one show in Montclair New Jersey which is just up the road from where Ezra and I went to high school.
You guys went to high school together? Is that how you know each other?
Wes: Yeah, we've known each other since like elementary school, so yeah that was really fun just like up the road.
Wes: *Laughs* Yeah. We've been to that theater as kids, I think separately actually, but it's just like right in our neighborhood, never thought that would happen, it was a lot of fun.
And speaking of that, anything with Discovery we can expect in the future? Possibly Ra Ra Riot and Vampire Weekend tour together with Discovery opening?
Wes: *Laughs* Well, I don't know, I hope so. I love working with Rostam and getting to work with Ezra again, that was a lot of fun, so I don't know, I really hope so, it's so difficult to get together, so much touring.
What have they been up to?
Wes: Uh...I don't really know, Rostam was just in India, he was tweeting from there. So we'll see, I hope it happens but we'll see.
And on your LP with Discovery you had a cover of the Jackson 5. Was that before or after you heard about Michael Jackson's death? Because the album came out like 2 weeks later, so probably before right?
Wes: Yeah it was way before. Yeah it was strange.
Do you remember where you were when you heard that?
Wes: Yes, I was playing tennis with my girlfriend and she got a text from her cello instructor.
Wes: Yeah it was crazy, it was really hard to fathom, but we felt like we wanted to put song on the record so that's no reason not to.
Well it's a good song and a good cover.
Being in Detroit Motown you know, huge fan of all that music.
Wes: Oh yeah totally. Then you might also be interested to know we use to do a cover of Madonna, also a Detroit native.
Yeah my uncle's backyard matches up with Madonna's dad's backyard.
Wes: No way, wow, that's crazy.
You have a major in physics, are you ever going to put that into use? Will you be working in a lab in the future?
Wes: Well I hope not *laughs* I hope that it just collects dust forever, because I've become a successful musician I hope that pans out. But if not that would be fun to do a little physics.
What's next for Ra Ra Riot?
Wes: We are going to finish this tour, and just keep touring I guess. And probably by the end of this year start working on a new record.
And what are you coming out with this August? August of 08 was The Rhumb Line August of 09 was Discovery and August of 10 was The Orchard. So are you going to have anything out?
Wes: I don't know, I hope so. Yeah it would be the first year I don't release a record since 2007. But yeah maybe it's time to take a break and regather and reassess my goals and readjust things.
Wes: Yeah maybe time to enjoy August for a change. Yeah well my birthday's in July.
Wes: July 3rd.
Oh I'm July 12th, my uncle is July 3rd. He keeps coming up.
Wes: *Laughs* Yeah, your uncle and I should be in a band.
He's like 58, he plays saxophone.
Wes: He plays saxophone?
Actually I think it's the trumpet.
Wes: I play saxophone.
Yeah with the Dirty Projectors right?
Wes: That's right yeah wow, you did your research!
Yeah I had like 5 hours to get this together so I just sat home and Google! Google! Google!
Wes: *Laughs* Well that's good you know more about than most people that interview me.
Thanks it's only my third interview so...
Wes: Well you're good.
Haha thanks, well I think that's it, thanks for doing this with me.
Wes: Cool man yeah man thanks so much.
I would like to once again thanks Wes for agreeing to do this with me. Looking back I feel like I may have asked too much about Vampire Weekend and less about him and Ra Ra Riot which I feel kind of bad about that, Wes if you read this, sorry! On the other hand I wish I would have asked if he had any funny childhood stories that happened to both a young Wes and a young Ezra.