Bass player Mathieu Santos talks new album and ambitious band goals.
Ra Ra Riot’s band interests include spaghetti, “Scrabble” and planet earth, according to their Facebook profile.
But individually, a longtime interest for bassist and founding member Mathieu Santos has been enjoying the music of Third Eye Blind, one of two bands Ra Ra Riot is currently supporting on the “Summer Gods Tour” with Jimmy Eat World. Third Eye and Jimmy are co-headlining the tour.
“Third Eye Blind was like my first favorite band. The first couple of records I was obsessed with,” Santos said. “I got to see them in middle school and high school. To be able to tour with them is surreal.”
Ra Ra Riot, formed in 2006 and based in New York, is touring with their newest song, “War & Famine.” The tune is off their new album titled “Superbloom,” dropping Aug. 9.
Indie rockers Ra Ra Riot will play the BB&T Pavillion in New Jersey on Sunday, July 14.
Santos dished on his band’s ambitious future goals, some of their main goals from their early days, things outside of music that influence him as an artist, and what he’s learned from touring with Jimmy and Third Eye.
Ra Ra Riot adds extra pop and weirdness on "Superbloom."
Even though you’re a veteran band, have you learned anything from touring with Third Eye and Jimmy?
Definitely. This is a real treat for us. It’s funny like you’ve mentioned, we’ve been together for a long time now. So for us to feel like the young band on this tour has given us a little bit of an energy boost, I think. For these two bands, we have a ton of love and respect for both of them. And we’re honored to be asked to be able to tour with these two super heavyweight bands.
Particularly for me, Third Eye Blind was like my first favorite band. The first couple of records I was obsessed with. I got to see them in middle school and high school. To be able to tour with them is surreal. You do some tours and watch the other bands a couple of times and go, “Okay. That’s cool, I get it.”
But on this tour, Kenny (our drummer) and I have been watching Third Eye Blind’s set just about every night. We’re usually pretty busy packing up during Jimmy’s set, but we try to watch as much as both bands as possible, because they’re pros. They’ve been around for a long time. They’ve booked and toured for like 25 years and have had tons of success. So yes, we definitely pay attention to the things they do, whether it’s the live production, how they interact with the crowd and the moments that they create. It’s really inspiring being around two huge successful bands like this and getting to study them every night.
On this tour, what response have you gotten from the new songs you’ve played?
So far it’s been really good. We’ve released [a couple] songs from the record so far. And two of those we play every night on tour. People may be a little bit familiar with them, from having been on Spotify a little bit. But I also get the sense that when we play these songs that there are certain moments that get these great reactions from the crowd, and I think those a little more organic.
Maybe people who are hearing it from the first time are reacting pretty positively. That’s been exciting. We’ve never really done a tour this big this far ahead of our album coming out. It’s sort of a new experience for us getting to play these songs live and we feel like we’re breaking them in and getting them ready to sound even better when the record comes out.
If “Superbloom” is a continuation of your last album, how has the band pushed the limits on this new record?
Naturally on some level every album picks up where the last one left off. The biggest leap you took on the last album should be the jumping-off point for the new record, usually. I think a big part of our band over the years has been this pull or tension or interplay between really poppy sensibilities and a little sort of weirder, more idiosyncratic kind of stuff we like.
We’ve been trying to combine these two things over the course of our career, [exploring] how to make pops songs that are a little strange. We’re still interested in that. But on this album we went in both directions simultaneously, more exaggeratedly. The poppier stuff on the new record is the poppiest stuff we’ve every done, I think. We also recorded some songs by ourselves at Wes Mlies’ parents’ house. They’re gritty and we setup a dirty little studio and recorded a few punkier songs like that. DIY stuff is a little more grittier and weird to me. The poppier stuff is more poppy. Overall the album is real dynamic.
What are some things you enjoy outside of making music that inspires your art?
A big thing for me is I love reading. I’m constantly reading. It could be anything -- fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, new age stuff like Eastern philosophy. Whatever is there will always bring a new moment every few pages that sparks something, and I’ll write something down in a notebook or it’ll send me on a tangent, or I’ll go on Wikipedia. There’s always lots of fun ideas and lyrical ideas to get from that kind of stuff.
Personally, I love art very much. That’s what I studied in college. When we’re not on tour, I’m usually working at a art gallery or something. I’m inspired by being around art and trying to pop into museums, and that kind of stuff. When we’re on tour, on days off you want to relax. But you also want to do something that gets you out of the routine and jolts you a little bit. So we’re always trying to find cool museums. Another big thing is nature and being able to get out in nature. Most days off we try to go on hikes or spend a few hours in the woods, wherever we are. That’s always extremely inspiring.
Can you describe what the band’s goals were when you started, and what your mindset is now in 2019?
When we started, it was mostly everyone’s last semester at college. Milo our guitarist put the band together and the idea was, “School’s ending and I want to make a band. Let’s play a bunch of college house parties and college shows and have fun.” That was really the main plan. None of us knew each other ahead of time. Milo sort of picked each one of us from different friends of friends or from classes.
We all met the first time at the first rehearsal, which I think is a little strange for a band, because none of us were friends. So we had no idea if we’d get along or what the band was going to sound like. But we were like, “who cares. Let’s party and play these raucous shows.” We started doing that for that semester and began gaining a little momentum at school and it felt like it was picking up steam. We were like, “maybe this could be a real thing or we should do a tour this summer or something.” We sat in the basement of our student housing back in 2006, and decided if this is going to be a thing we want to do, we should make some goals.
We made ridiculous goals up. We were like, “Let’s sign a record deal and buy a tour van and tour the country. We’re gonna play ‘Letterman’ and tour in Japan.” We wrote everything down. It was a fun little exercise. Our manager at the time hung on to that paper and he found it years later, probably in 2013. He dug it up and we were cracking up. Then we looked at it and realized we had done everything that was on this made-up dream list years earlier. That was really fun and surreal.
At that point, we decided we needed a new list. So we made a list with even bigger goals like having a gold record and a song that ranks in the top 10 on the charts. That’s our next phase. We’re going for the bold, chart-topping, world-domination, arena-band kind of thing.