Nothing quite matches the touch of class a small string section can bring to a recording, usually added as an afterthought.
Ra Ra Riot has used a cello and violin to transport its Vampire Weekendtangent Afropop from an Ivy League frat party to a garden soirée, as cellist Alexandra Lawn and violinist Rebecca Zeller are permanent members and influential songwriters.
“We’re up there, playing our parts, and it’s exactly like what you hear on the album, and there’s not an aspect or feeling you are missing in the live show,” Lawn said. “Unlike a lot of bands, the strings aren’t a post-production thing.
It’s incorporated from the beginning, and depending on the song, it’s even in the foreground. The dynamic and feel of having strings really opens up the songs to other possibilities. They can equally distract … we try to be mindful of that.”
The New York sextet certainly has found that delicate balance, playing it as a strength and enjoying the spoils. After a stretch of turmoil in Ra Ra Riot’s early years (from lineup changes to the death of a band member), the past half decade has found the group releasing two acclaimed albums and touring with Death Cab for Cutie and Tokyo Police Club. Its latest accomplishment — an appearance playing on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” — saw the band rubbing shoulders with still more big names.
“It was cool to be playing with The Roots to your left and Jimmy Fallon to your right,” Lawn said. “Being sandwiched between those sorts of people is pretty far out.”
Ra Ra Riot played “Shadowcasting,” the latest single off last year’s sophomore effort, “The Orchard.”
“I’m proud of the time we gave ourselves to make that album, and within that time period, we wrote music that was very present and how we felt at that time,” Lawn said. “It’s a very Polaroidlike album, to me. I go back to that time when we perform those songs, and it’s a very comforting feeling.”
The band currently is conceptualizing its third album, with hopes to record it following this fall tour, which includes next Wednesday’s gig at ACM@UCO Performance Lab and an appearance at Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, Texas. The disc should recall its debut in some ways, as well as shapes and sounds still not touched upon in Ra Ra Riot’s back catalog.
“It’s very infantile, so it’s hard to say,” Lawn said. “As a band, we are everchanging. It’s hard to say in what direction, but it’s always a new one.”
Photo by Doron Gild