Most indie bands have built-in irony—be it Vampire Weekend singing about an oxford comma with a distinctive smirk, or Best Coast wishing for a boyfriend with so much hyperbole it’s like a seventh-grade diary, satire still reigns supreme. So for a band so young, it might seem surprising that Ra Ra Riot doesn’t have much time for irony or cocksure coolness.
Then you learn the band has already coped with a staggering tragedy: the death of a bandmate. In June 2007, drummer John Pike went missing after a show in Providence, R.I. His body was discovered later in Massachusetts’ Buzzards Bay, where he was believed to have drowned.
“I feel like we’re still in the wake of [Pike’s death], to be honest,” guitarist Milo Bonacci says.
“It both directly and indirectly impacts our lives daily—for example, having to incorporate a different person into our band every day,” violinist Rebecca Zeller says. “We had to write [our last] album just the five of us because he wasn’t here. We really felt his absence.”
“There’s a lot of reminders of how it would be different if John were here,” Bonacci says. “It certainly changes your perspective on things.
“John was an extraordinarily curious person, and he’d always have an interest in something and research it,” he continues. “He was interested in beer, and that started him brewing his own beer and growing his own hops. Then gardening became an interest, and suddenly he was growing his own pumpkins. He was always striving to learn more, and that would open up doors for him. That will always be a significant part of him that inspires me and my life to this day.”
Perhaps that inspiration makes Ra Ra Riot approach their music with a refreshing earnestness. Their sound is hard to pigeonhole, and maybe that’s the point: melding chamber music with plaintive love songs, their oeuvre is filled with indirectness; their melodies blossom instead of burst.
Making Music in an OrchardThe members of Ra Ra Riot first met on the snow-dusted campus of Syracuse University, during the last semester of their senior year.