This is Ra Ra Riot (We went to Coney Island with Ra Ra Riot)
We caught up with our friends Wes and Mat from the band Ra Ra Riot at Coney Island in advance of their forthcoming album "Superbloom.” Congrats boys! Photos below.
Shot by Molly Kirk and Matthew Schonfeld
Name: Wes Miles
Astrological Sign: Cancer
Hometown: Glen Ridge, NJ (currently living in Brooklyn, NY)
Name: Mathieu Santos
Occupation: bass player, Ra Ra Riot
Astrological Sign: Taurus
Hometown: Fairhaven, MA (currently Brooklyn, NY)
RB: Tell us about your background. How did you get started in the music industry? When did you start getting involved in music?
Wes: I'm from a pretty musical family, so grew up taking piano lessons early on (which I hated for some reason), but then picked up drums, saxophone, bass, keys, and guitar throughout middle and high school. Although I always wanted to be a songwriter myself I was also often a utility man/engineer for other writers in bands I was in, trying to learn a bit about everything. After meeting Milo, John, Mat, and Becca in college, Ra Ra Riot sort of took off quickly and we started touring and recording.
Mat: Sports were kind of the main focus of my life growing up, so I didn’t even start playing music until high school - I got my first bass my freshman year. My family wasn’t particularly musical but we were always listening and singing along to stuff in the car, and my best friend growing up was (and still is) a great drummer from whom I learned a lot. When I went away to college, I knew I wanted to meet some cool people and start a band - that was definitely a priority.
RB: Where do you draw creativity from? What inspires your lyrics?
Wes: Real life, movies, books... For example our single "Bad to Worse" that came out earlier this year was inspired by two parallel trips to and from Cape Cod that my friend and co-writer Rostam and I talked about having recently. His involved trains, busses, and a car, while mine was just a car and a boat, but the song is kind of about how some places (like Boston for a NY'er), are so close geographically but so much takes place in between leaving and arriving that it can feel like an alternate timeline of your life. Another song on this record is inspired by the movie Belladonna of Sadness.
Mat: It really does come from anywhere at any time - could be a random line you read, something you notice on a walk or a hike, something you overhear. Something that sets you off. It’s always good to keep a working notebook of ideas and scraps that you can keep adding and returning to. Personally I just love those little moments where life opens itself up to you in a new or surprising way - that’s where you can really mine some fun stuff, try to get to the core of something from a different or more personal perspective.
RB: What is the best piece of advice you have received?
Wes: Remember good advice! (I find it's easier to remember bad advice than good unfortunately). But generally, don't go against your own intuition because someone told you to.
Mat: My dad once told me to never work for someone else, or for the enrichment of someone else, and my parents both always instilled in me the importance of pursuing something that you love - because otherwise what’s the point? I’m not sure they expected me to take their advice so literally, but here we are. Thanks and sorry, Mom and Dad!
RB: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Wes: 20 minutes of vocal warm ups exactly 1 hour before set time. Eat 3 hours before set time. Boring vocal care things are sometimes the only way to make it consistent. The best thing is probably playing ping pong to get the mind focused but not too rigid.
Mat: Nothing too crazy - mostly I just try and stay loose (one beer) and off of my phone for like a half hour before we go on. Usually we’ll all get in a little circle and put our hands in and do a little 1-2-3 type count-off thing right before walking onstage - a little moment for us to all get on the same page and focus together.
RB: Do you have any hobbies outside of music?
Wes: Tennis, spray painting, model trains, hiking/camping/canoeing, and ping pong.
Mat: There’s so much to do! I always have a few projects going on. I love reading, writing, making art; I love walking and wandering (particularly in nature), thinking and daydreaming, staying up late. I love obsessing about sports uniform design, working on uniform concepts and things like that. I studied painting in college, so am always refining ideas and sketches to be realized later. I watch a ton of hockey (go Bruins!) and a fair amount of baseball (go Sox!). I’m also an aspirational clothing designer and model railroader.
RB: How are you and your bandmates similar? How are you different?
Wes: We're similar in our generally mild-natured disposition. We actually enjoy touring with each other for the most part, and that we all kinda hate social media! We're different in so many ways. We all were studying different things when we met: physics & linguistics (me), Architecture (Milo), music business (Rebecca), and illustration/painting (Mathieu), oh and breakdancing (Kenny… just kidding, but he did take classes once). Also we've all lived in different places throughout our 13 years "together" so far: NYC, Seattle, LA, New Haven, Milwaukee, Oakland, NJ, etc.
Mat: It’s funny, because none of us really knew each other when we were all at college together - we weren’t friends before the band started. So we all had to learn about each other on the fly, and just hope that it would all work out. Our similarities have probably contributed to our longevity as a band - we’re all relatively chill, yet driven. I think we’re good at identifying and playing to our individual strengths and weaknesses, to the band’s benefit. There’s a healthy lack of ego - or, as Wes sometimes says, “a healthy amount of ego.” We share a lot of the same goals and have been through so much together - it’s really a family unit at this point. But we still all have pretty hilariously distinct personalities and sensibilities - again, probably for the best. We have a good balance in just about every department.
RB: What's your favorite song to perform?
Wes: Right now, it's probably "Every Time I'm Ready to Hug". It has the best balance of sense of humor, difficulty to sing, fan fav, silly/serious etc.
Mat: It’s gotta be Bouncy Castle, from 2016’s Need Your Light.
RB: Who are your favorite artists?
Wes: At the moment, Sandy Denny, Incredible String Band, and The Roches.
Mat: In no particular order, The Police, The Fall, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Miles Davis, Weather Report, and Devo are all perennial favorites. Robert Palmer, Panda Bear. Some current obsessions have been MGMT, Mac Demarco, and Dirty Projectors. I’ve also been getting back into Brian Eno’s ambient recordings, spurred by a Bill Evans song Wes recently shared: “Peace Piece.”
RB: How would you describe your own style?
Wes: Colorful mismatchy-sorta-sporty.
Mat: Dad-from-Massachusetts-meets-Jerry-Seinfeld (with a little Happy Gilmore and David Hockney thrown in)
RB: What's your favorite city to perform in?
Wes: Depends on which time but some of our best shows have happened in DC, San Francisco, Seoul, Lisbon, Tokyo, NYC, and Guadalajara.
Mat: So many. Boston, New York and DC are always amazing. Texas is always a blast. Tokyo (or anywhere in Japan), Amsterdam, Busan, and Reykjavik have been memorable as well. Some our our favorites over the years have been a bit more random, but unforgettable - Jamestown, NY; Little Rock, AR; Kelowna and Nelson, BC.
RB: What city would you like to perform in in the future?
Wes: I would love to play any and all of Buenos Aires, Rio, Stockholm, Oslo, Moscow, anywhere in New Zealand or Australia.
Mat: Have always wanted to perform in Scandinavia - Stockholm, Oslo, and Bergen would be fun! And anywhere in Australia and New Zealand.
RB: Do you have any future projects coming up that you are excited about (if you can share)?
Mat: Our fifth record (called "Superbloom") is coming out later this year, so that’s the biggest one. Just did a really short and fun tour in Mexico playing bass with a good friend of ours, Matt Kivel - will hopefully get to work on some recordings together at some point in the future! He makes beautiful records. And one of my goals for the next couple of years is to start making paintings again, and hopefully get a little show together eventually. And finally, I have to finish a record I started making like eight years ago. Always so much to do!