Interview: Wes Miles of Ra Ra Riot
I recently spoke with Wes Miles, the lead singer of Ra Ra Riot in the hours leading up their show at the Theatre of the Living Arts in Philadelphia, PA on October 10, 2013. Ra Ra Riot is one of my favorite bands and this was my fourth time seeing them live. The band released their third studio album, Beta Love, back in February. Beta Love marks a shift in Ra Ra Riot’s style from baroque pop to more electronic-influenced mixes, due to the the departure of cellist Alexandra Lawn back in early 2012.
Jess Phoa (WRCT): Now that Beta Love’s been out for a while, do you think you could give me some insight on its reception? From its fans and like just reflect on it.
Wes Miles (Ra Ra Riot): Um…not really. It’s kinda hard to know cause we’re still sort of ending, but in the cycle cause this is the last tour for Beta Love, so it’s kinda hard to know. Um, I think it’s been well received. It seems that there are fans that come to shows that are into more adult stuff then there’s also some fans that are more into new stuff and, ah, but like last night we played at Terminal 5 in New York and that was really fun and one of the best crowd reactions was at the beginning of the the title song, “Beta Love”. That felt really good and that’s been the case more often than not that “Beta Love” is um, successful song live.
JP: It’s probably because you introduced it first and kind of like… and you gradually worked it in to the crowd I would say too. Uh, if I remember correctly, you recently toured in Japan?
WM: Yeah, we were there in January or February.
JP: Okay, so it was a bit while back, but I might be studying abroad there this summer.
WM: Oh yeah? Cool.
JP: I was wondering if you could give me any recommendations on like, what to do…aside from studying of course.
WM: Well, where are you going to be?
JP: Probably Tokyo.
WM: Okay. I actually studied abroad in Osaka.
JP: Okay! Oh they’re totally different.
WM: Very different. Yeah, I loved it There’s so many things to do. My…one of my go-to things is to go to the Meiji Shrine, Meiji Jingu and um, that’s near…Harajuku.
WM: Which is like fun to go to walk around and shop.
JP: Just people watching, really.
WM: The best ramen, possibly in the world, is right there; called Jangara Ramen. It’s right at the intersection of um…I guess the Meiji Jingu Mai train stop and the other main road, but…Jangara…it’s really, it awesome. And actually the last time we were there, the morning we were leaving, I like had to go cause we hadn’t been there yet.
JP: The ramen place?
WM: Yeah and one of the waiters came to a few of us, ah, a few of us were eating in there and, like, recognized us from the radio or something and gave us little ramen keychains, which I still have with me.
JP: Are they on your keys?
WM: No I’m too afraid of losing it. It’s in my bag.
JP: It’s just a nice memento.
WM: Yeah, I like to see it in my backpack all the time.
JP: So I watched your “Binary Mind” video, actually earlier today I saw it yesterday, but my Internet was kind of being wonky, so I couldn’t see it. But I saw that it was really colorful.
JP: And I couldn’t help but think of Yo Gabba Gabba while I was watching it and I was wondering if you had ever aspired to maybe perform on the show.
WM: Well, we have played with the Yo Gabba Gabba Live! show, which was really fun.
JP: I think Mathieu told me that when I interviewed him last fall.
JP: But if you were to perform on the actual show, what would you sing about?
WM: I don’t know. Um…
JP: Cause there’s some really random things on there.
WM: I haven’t seen the show too many times, um but I remember when we were talking about doing the live show, I saw them once and it was pretty crazy…but great.
JP: Yeah, of Montreal did a song about foods you should eat when you’re sick it was like bananas, applesauce, rice, and toast.
WM: Oh, haha
JP: My friend actually suggested this question, he wanted to know what Ra Ra Riot iss rioting about.
[Wes misheard me and thought I said “writing”, not “rioting”]
WM: Is writing about? Like, right now?
JP: Yeah, or just maybe when the band was created. You could give me a then and now, if you want to.
WM: What do you mean, like our songs? What our songs are about…?
JP: No, just your name. Like, “riot”.
WM: OH. What’s the “riot” about?
WM: I thought you said “writing”. Um, I donw know. The show, I guess, really. We started by playing house parties and like in attics, basements at Syracuse and it always felt a little bit of a riot, you know crazy, off the hinges type shows.
JP: How did you convince Milo to quit making buildings and make music instead?
WM: Well, he didn’t need to start making music because we were already doing that, but his place of employment was very cool about him leaving and–
JP: Oh wow, how long had he been working there?
WM: Not even a year.
WM: Maybe about a year, just under a year. But he’s a smart guy, he can always go back to that.
JP: That’s awesome.
WM: Music’s kind of…if you don’t start it early, it’s more and more difficult to get into it.
JP: It sounds like learning a language. Well, people argue that music is a language.
You’ve got 99 problems like Jay-Z, could you tell me what your 65th problem would be?
WM: Sixty-fifth problem? Um…
JP: It could be…anything!
WM: I guess it would be that our ping pong table is broken.
JP: Aw, I’m so sorry. Is it still broken?
WM: Yeah, it is.
JP: Ow, oh man.
WM: It’s been broken for like two weeks, three weeks now. And that was like a major part of my cardio regimen for the springtime.
JP: If you could take a ride in a time machine and travel back to any era of your choosing, which one would it be?
WM: Any era? I dunno.
JP: Like a Renaissance man?
I think about this a lot actually because…I’d be a little afraid to go back in time too far because.
JP: Like dinosaurs?
Haha, not that far but um, food used to be really dirty. Like people used to be sick ALL THE TIME.
JP: They drink beer because water [was dirty].
WM: Yeah and medicine sucked! Yeah and nobody knew how to fix anything. So if I was to go back, yeah, I dunno. I would probably go back not that far.
JP: Well putting those negative things aside and just focusing on the positives of an era, maybe you could narrow it down a bit more.
WM: Yeah, there’s always wars…you know, and inquisitions…
JP: You’re just like, “reality, man…”
WM: The world is f***ed up, it’s slightly less violent now than it has been historically, unless you go way way back. I think it’d be cool to be like a nomadic person.
JP: In what [geographical area]?
JP: That sounds really neat.
WM: Like the Native Americans…a cool era.
JP: What’s your favorite song to perform off of Beta Love?
WM: Probably “Beta Love”…yeah.
JP: Okay. Fair enough…and did you know that Beta Love made it to WRCT’s most played albums of the week back in February when it was in rotation?
WM: I…don’t think I did, but maybe I did then.
JP: No no, don’t worry about it, haha. Just know it was well played at the station!
WM: Thank you!
JP: In a parallel universe, you are not a musician, instead you are an Olympic athlete, which country would you represent and what sport would you compete in?
WM: Ah well, I mean, I guess I would be…
JP: Ping pong.
WM: That’d be cool. I would, you know, I’d represent U.S.A. if it existed in this parallel universe. I don’t know…yeah ping pong would be cool, tennis would be cool. I’m definitely partial to skiing maybe like the biathlon, like skiing shooting biathlon.
JP: Like in James Bond.
WM: Yeah, exactly. That’d be a cool one.
JP: Synchronized swimming.
WM: Many cool sports to choose from I’d probably chose before synchronized swimming.
JP: I don’t think you’d pass the gender category.
WM: Are there no male synchronized swimmers?
JP: No. It’s all females. It’s a completely gendered sport.
JP: If you could dance with any star, who would it be?
WM: This may be a copout, but prolly Kate Bush. Although, she’s kind of an actual, like, dancer. Like a modern dancer, not like a ballroom dancer.
JP: Oh, is it more interpretive dance? I’m not familiar with her.
WM: She’s a great musician. She was a big influence on us, particularly in the beginning. You see some of her old videos from the 80s and she’s like just doing these crazy dances.
JP: Beyond her time?
JP: Do you have a comfort food or is there something you really like to eat when you feel sad?
WM: When I feel sad?!
JP: Or if it’s really rainy like today? Just like, “I really want this…”
JP: Ramen? From that place in Japan or just in general?
WM: In general. Yeah, I had it yesterday too because it was a little rainy in New York and it was great.
JP: Do you have a favorite brand of ramen? This will appeal to all the college students.
WM: No, like real ramen, at a ramen bar.
JP: Oh, where did you go in New York? Ippudo?
WM: No, Totto Ramen. It’s like…
JP: Oh! Is it on St. Marks?
WM: No it’s on 52nd…
JP: Ah cause you were already at Terminal 5, so you were already there.
WM: Yeah, it was just a ten-minute walk from there.
JP: How was it?
WM: It’s really good.
JP: Cause I’m originally from New York.
WM: Ah, it’s quite good.
JP: Since you were in Pittsburgh earlier this week and I go to school there and I’m kind of biased and you’re in Phildelphia now, which city do you prefer and why do you prefer one over the other?
WM: I am going to preface this with a little caveat because I really do love both cities. I love Pittsburgh, I think it’s a unique city.
WM: And I love Pennsylvania because my mother is from Pennsylvania, grew up in Philly. My grandmother also grew up in Philly, so I kind of have to have a Philly thing. My aunt lives near Philly.
WM: I have an autographed birthday card from quarterback Ron Javorski, when I was like eight or something.
JP: Okay. That’s understandable.
WM: So Philly is my fave.
JP: Philly’s in your heart.
WM: I do like Pittsburgh though. I like those kind of weird rustbelt cities.
Special thanks to Christine Stanley of Distiller Promo for all of her help!
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