Syracuse rockers of the group Ra Ra Riot — armed with an arsenal of indie dance-pop music — are poised to stage a triumphant return to the Empire State tonight at Castaways. The band toured the United States, opening for Death Cab for Cutie, and performed at the famous Lollapalooza. Now the band brings its act back to the upstate area where it all began at Syracuse University. Contributing Writer Jared Dionne spoke with Ra Ra Riot bassist Mathieu Santos about Lollapalooza, the band’s freshman album, “The Rhumb Line,” and the band’s newfound popularity.
Jared Dionne: How did you guys come up with the name Ra Ra Riot?
Mathieu Santos: When we first formed, we didn’t have a name, but we had a couple shows booked already. A friend of ours, who also went to Syracuse University, along with the rest of us, said, “You know, if I had a band I’d call it Ra Ra Riot.” So we sort of borrowed the name from her for the first couple shows with the intention of coming up with something later on, but it ended up kind of sticking.
JD: The band recently played at the Chicago music festival Lollapalooza on Aug. 7. What was that like?
MS: That was a lot of fun! It was the biggest crowd that we’ve played to date. It was pretty exciting. We played to about 12,000 people.
JD: Ra Ra Riot has toured not only North America, but also Europe. Many American bands get a taste of the European music scene and actually prefer to perform across the pond. Which do you prefer and are there any major differences?
MS: There’s definitely perks to both. I feel that people abroad sometimes can be more uninhibited overall. It just seems to be more of a constant thing abroad.
JD: Does your success seem a little surreal?
MS: Yeah, definitely. Our progression through our relatively short career has been really steady. It’s constantly surprising to us, particularly because we started just to be like a party band at school for one semester. Every now and then we sort of stop and collect ourselves and look back at how much progress we’ve made. It’s definitely surreal to think about it.
JD: One of the fan favorites off “The Rhumb Line” is the song “Dying is Fine.” Can you explain the context in which it was written?
MS: That was actually the first song that we ever rehearsed as a group at our very first practice. Milo brought it to the band. And then, I believe Milo had the idea also to adapt some of the lyrics from an E. E. Cummings poem called “Death.” Wes and Shaw, another guy who was in the band at the time, took to writing the lyrics for it. That’s been one of our favorites.
JD: Besides Ra Ra Riot, do you think there are any other bands out there people should know about or should be watching for?
MS: A band called Princeton. They’re actually going to be opening for us on this next tour. We met them last year. They’re from L.A. We had a couple of shows with them out West, and we kind of hit it off, personally, individually [and] also musically. Their first album is just about to come out: It’s called “Cocoon of Love.” It’s really, really well-crafted, classic pop music that you can dance to.
JD: As you said, you started off as a college band. Do you have any advice for college musicians today?
MS: Just get out there and try to view as many people as possible. When I went to college, I had the idea that I wanted to have a band. It took me a few years to finally track down the right people to make music with. Just get out there and look for the right people to surround yourself with.
Ra Ra Riot will perform tonight at 9 p.m. at Castaways. Tickets are $15 at the door.