Earlier this summer, Ratboys brought on the feels with the release of their sophomore album, GN.
What started out as a project between friends turned into one of the newest indie bands to keep your eye on. Whether they’re singing about a beloved pet cat or a lost first love, Ratboys has mastered the craft of reaching into the deepest corners of our hearts and forcing a numbed generation to experience all the love and pain the world has to offer. Now, the band is hitting the road to share these songs with the country, some of their friends joining them along the way.
Julia Steiner from the band spoke with Popdust about their most recent release, heading on tour, and more.
How did you guys start playing music together as a band?
Dave and I met as university students, and very early on in our friendship we bonded over bands we liked and our mutual interest in playing music and writing songs. We started jamming pretty regularly in my dorm room, and by the end of our first year we made a little EP of songs to share with our friends. I visited Dave in his hometown near Chicago that summer, and we started playing shows, which we really enjoyed. So throughout college we kept writing and playing together, and by the time we graduated, we decided to pursue music together full-time.
You guys are in a list of many awesome Chicago-based bands that are flooding the music scene now. What’s in like being a part of that community?
Chicago is really thriving right now, it’s awesome. Living here and creating music here in the company of so many talented musicians really motivates us to make music that our peers will dig and that will stick out to audiences who go to tons of great shows all the time. It’s cool because there’s not really a ‘sound’ that I would associate with bands in Chicago right now, so it allows us to fit in and stand out at the same time. And it’s really helpful and fun to draw inspiration from so many bands in the area who all sound unique and have a their own things going on.
You have called your sound “post-country.” What does that mean to you, and what has influenced it?
To me post-country is indie-rock music that gestures toward the bygone elements of country music that are so pleasant and special but that have become lost in present mainstream country music. These elements include instrumentation such as the pedal steel, slide guitar, fiddle, and accordion, as well as an emphasis on narrative song structures and storytelling. I think the term post-country points out the fact that a growing number of young musicians – folks like (Sandy) Alex G, Pinegrove, The Fever Haze, and Fishplate quickly come to mind – have an interest in these sounds and this style of songwriting. Growing up in Kentucky, I listened to a lot of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, as well as Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, and Shania Twain. As I was growing up I started noticing a difference between what I knew as country music from the 60s and 70s versus what country music had become by the 90s and 2000s, which was much more commodified and closer to mainstream pop music. Once I discovered groups like Wilco and Megafaun and Blitzen Trapper, I realized that there was a distinct space in between those two ends of the ‘country music spectrum,’ so to speak, and I set out to make music in that same space.
You recently released your sophomore album, GN. What was the writing and recording process for that like?
GN stands for ‘good night’ – there is a song on the record called ‘GM,’ though, which stands for ‘good morning.’ The writing and recording process was very enjoyable this time around, much more measured and planned out than our first record. Dave and I went to a house in Northern Michigan last May and holed up there to write and help the album take shape. That was really productive and fun for us because we were so isolated and focused on playing music together all day every day for a couple weeks. We then recorded the album back in Chicago after a long tour, so we were all really pleased to shift gears and be in one place and do our best to capture the songs. We tracked everything over the course of eight days, and mixed for another four days, so all in all it was a pretty quick experience. I liked that, though, because it allowed us to be deliberate and not overthink things. I’m really pleased with how the record came out.
There’s a real memoir-esque, storytelling aspect to your songs. Is this conscious on your part and what are the challenges of covering material like that?
It’s definitely conscious on my part – there are certain stories that I just find quite meaningful and powerful, so I want to share them and be deliberate about sharing them in an authentic way. I’m also really fascinated by the power of empathy and by the notion of memory, so I find it satisfying to reflect on those two larger ideas by writing about memories I have and/or memories of other people and their experiences. It’s challenging in a way because I want to honor those people and represent them honestly, but I would never want to impose or speak for somebody out of turn. I think that as long as that exploration comes from a place of respect, the end result will be a positive thing for everybody.
Do you have any favorite tracks off the album?
Definitely, I love ‘Crying about the Planets’ and ‘Westside.’ Those two are both so raw and different from any other song we have, I think they’re real standouts.
For your last album, you toured in Europe. What did you enjoy about that experience?
I loved trying different foods, taking stock of cultural differences and similarities, not being on my phone all the time, exploring different countries with my friends, going to IKEA twice in Sweden, going to the beach in Spain, grabbing a pint in Dublin, watching the NLCS at 6AM in Denmark, playing tug-of-war with a pit bull in Italy… There are thousands of things I could list. That five-week trip was the most fantastic opportunity we’ve had as a band; it was just unbelievably great.
You’re touring with some great acts all across the country. What have you liked about that thus far?
It’s great hearing quality music every night and getting to learn from our peers and be inspired by them. We love playing music and listening to music, so at the end of the day, getting to be surrounded by wonderful music is the best part of touring.
Rachel A.G. Gilman is a writer, a radio producer, and probably the girl wearing the Kinks shirt. Follow her on Twitter.