Like many bands before them, Ra Ra Riot began as a way of passing the time, an avenue by which a group of college friends could explore their artistic side, have some fun and maybe make a few bucks in the process. Unlike most of their predecessors, however, the band has made a career out of that pursuit of fun more than a decade later.
“In the beginning, I never thought I’d still be talking about the band right now,” Ra Ra Riot front man Wes Miles recently revealed in an interview with the Press. “After the first year or so, we realized that this was something we all wanted to do and wanted to take a little further and keep going. Early on, it was mostly just something to pass the time, but it was just too much fun to leave behind.”
A decade in, Ra Ra Riot has more than proven itself as one of the nation’s pre-eminent indie bands, so much so that it will open for Young the Giant when both bands play Revention Music Center on October 7. Ra Ra Riot is touring in support of its latest, Need Your Light, which was released in February.
Ra Ra Riot began as a group of friends pursuing music, and the band is still very close to this day. However, Miles admits, the key to maintaining sanity – particularly on the road – is not spending all of one’s time with one's bandmates.
“We’re lucky, in that we still really get along with one another,” Miles said. “It’s mostly about letting people go off on their own when they want to. You really just have to let things happen naturally; that’s really the only way to describe it. You’ve got to make sure you don’t sweat the minutiae.”
Ra Ra Riot has also withstood the pressure that accompanies being an “it” indie band. The band did the whole South by Southwest thing and found modest success with its 2008 debut, The Rhumb Line. Its follow-up, 2010’s The Orchard, debuted at No. 36 on the Billboard Top 200 and produced the group's most successful single to date ("Boy").
The key to withstanding the early buzz, Miles admits, is humility.
“There are still a lot of people coming out to this tour who have never heard of us,” he said. “I think it’s cool to be in a band where you have that kind of room, that space and ability to get new fans every night. A lot of it has to do with expectations and being realistic and focusing on my job, which is to sing, be myself and interact with fans…In the end, it’s pretty easy to remind ourselves that we have the best job ever.”
Miles’s healthy outlook stems in part from tragedy. In 2007 drummer John Pike drowned after playing a show in Providence, Rhode Island. Heartbreak aside, Ra Ra Riot elected to move forward.
Nearly a decade later, the band still serves as a tribute to Pike’s memory.
“Aside from this band being a tribute to him in a sense, which is how we think of it, we like the music we made together and don’t want that to disappear,” Miles said. “We loved him, and he was one of my best friends. It really could have torn us apart, and it was certainly tough, but it just kind of felt like we had no other option.”
Miles was in his early twenties at the time of Pike’s death, and he admits he didn’t always handle things maturely during that time. But over the past ten years, he has come to appreciate his good fortune and learned how to better handle stress and setbacks.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Miles has also come to better appreciate the close friendships he has formed and maintained over the past decade. That’s part of the reason he recruited some old friends to help produce and collaborate with on Need Your Light. That includes former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij.
“It’s really nice to have an excuse like a new record to hang out with friends and people that you’ve not been able to see for a while,” Miles said. “Getting a chance to work with those close to us was really a great experience. We trust these people, which allows us to maintain control. That is something we’ve wanted since the beginning.”
It’s certainly been awhile since Ra Ra Riot was at the beginning, a gang of college friends playing house parties and enjoying themselves. Oddly enough, all these years later, Miles and crew now find more levity in their musical process.
“Perspective changes as you get older,” he said. “It may be easier to have a sense of humor about what we’re writing now. When you’re 18, you take everything so seriously. But as the world grinds you down, you realize that it’s probably best to not take things too seriously.”