Interview with Rah Rah
The musical landscape of Canada shifts every so often. East coast, west coast, Toronto, Montreal. Saskatchewan is trying to throw it’s hat into the ring, and one of the bands leading the charge are Regina’s Rah Rah. The 6-piece band have a couple of albums to their name, and 2012 looks to be a promising year, with the recent release of an EP called Little Poems, and a full length album out on October 23, called The Poet’s Dead. Rah Rah has many vocalists and multi-instrumentalists, and the band consists of Marshall Burns, Erin Passmore, Joel Passmore, Kristina Hedlund, Leif Thorseth, and Jeff Romanyk.
Both of the songs we’ve heard from these releases are both different from one another, but both showcase male and female vocalists, amid building layers of instruments and sound. Despite a busy schedule with touring and promotion of all their new music, PeteHatesMusic managed to catch up with Marshall Burns from Rah Rah over email. The vocalist/guitarist/bassist can do three things I can’t do, and talks to us about the influence of where you grow up, how a band of 6 members writes songs, and what headline we shouldn’t use to run this interview.
PeteHatesMusic (PHM): First off, let me mention that I’m really enjoying Little Poems, and am looking forward to the Poet’s Dead this October. What is the reasoning behind the similarity of the names of the EP and LP (poems / poet’s)? Also, why did Rah Rah choose to release the “album castaways” first in the form of an EP, rather than after the LP’s release?
Marshall Burns (MB): Lyrically, this is the most cohesive Rah Rah album to date and that comes through in the titles. All of the new songs touch on exploring why we have all been so focused for the last five years on pursuing the creation of this music, art, poetry …whatever you chose to call it. Everything about touring in an indie rock band is crazy when you think about the finances and the physical and mental toll it takes on the individual and our loved ones. Yet, we continue to be driven to do this and love doing it. This album is about trying to understand that drive.
I think the idea with releasing Little Poems/I Could Tell You I’m Sorry before the full length was to show the new direction and sound of the band on these new recordings. We feel that the band has made a big step forward with these new songs. Hopefully, people are excited about what they hear of the single and that excitement will carry over to the release of The Poet’s Dead in October.
PHM: What can we expect from the Poet’s Dead? Any surprises, like guest spots from Justin Bieber or Lisa-Marie Presley?
MB: It’s a bigger sound, a fuller sound. Kristina and Erin have really come into their own as writers and vocalists and that is showcased. Throughout the process there was a greater focus on songwriting than in the past and that paid off in the end. I don’t feel as if there are any half-formed ideas on this record that weren’t given a chance to be fully fleshed out. It was also the first time we had a producer who had a really strong vision for the band and pushed us to try things outside of our comfort zone. It could have gone very badly but I think it worked out very well.
PHM: When we interviewed Tony Dekker from Great Lake Swimmers, he mentioned that growing up in a rural town on a farm impacted his music writing, as he felt in tune with landscapes and nature from a young age. How does being from Regina influence Rah Rah’s songs?
MB: I think any artist will be impacted by the place they grew up whether they recognize it or not. For Rah Rah, the prairie has directly offered some good material for songs, good metaphors. However, in an indirect way I can’t say how this place has affected my life or the band’s writing since it just simply is who we are. Without question we would be a different band if we grew up in another province, but I couldn’t tell you how or why that band would be different from Rah Rah.
PHM: When starting out, was the band’s goal to first get known in Regina, and then hope it spreads across Canada through touring. Or because of the Internet (and amazing blogs like this one), did you think you could make it in bigger cities and sort of by-pass the Regina scene if it didn’t happen there (much like how some bands make it in the US or UK before making it from where they are from)?
MB: We were lucky to have a lot of success and support in Regina before we ever toured. We played for 3 years and had two releases just in Regina before we ever got on the road. When we started touring we had no plan, no agent, no manager. We just started booking shows and playing every night that we could find something. We booked ourselves across Canada 6 or 7 times before we had any professional help. Regina has always been great to us but I think realistically you do need to find an audience in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal to become financially stable as a Canadian indie band.
PHM: You have a lot of members in your band, which must make it difficult to write songs. I can’t decide what movie to watch with 2 of my friends, let alone write good music in a big group. How does Rah Rah write a song – does it evolve from jam sessions or someone taking the lead, or perhaps intense drinking sessions?
MB: Every song on every album has been different. We have a lot of members, we’ve also had a lot of different members so the writing process has changed with personnel changes over the years. Some songs come from jams, others are brought virtually fully formed to the group by one person, the rest fall somewhere in the middle… The hardest part of writing in a large band is learning to think objectively about songs as a whole rather than as 6 individual parts.
PHM: I love the Montreal Expos baseball hat in the Breaking Hearts video. Since Saskatchewan doesn’t have any of the major sports teams in its province (sorry, the CFL isn’t “major”), what sports teams do the band members follow, if any?
MB: I’m a hockey, curling and baseball guy for what I follow closely. Habs, Pats, Expos and Jays are my teams. Joel and Jeff like football; Riders and NFL. Joel is a Ravens fan. Joel and Kris are both Habs fans like me. Actually I think the whole band are Habs fans on some level (note: As a Leafs fan, I think we’ve interviewed too many Habs fans for my liking!). Erin likes Holland in World Cup soccer. Joel likes basketball a lot too. Leif coulda been a big league pitcher but he threw out his arm, we play a fair bit of catch on tour.
Rah Rah – Breaking Hearts
PHM: How did the Rahmixes remix album of Breaking Hearts come about?
MB: Our friend Chris Graham (Kitchen Party) remixed a couple tunes for us and we thought it turned out great. We explored the idea of having more people do it and we ended up with a lot of cool remixes. I was pretty skeptical at first myself but I came around once I started hearing some of the tracks. Kristina did a great job with the vinyl art.
PHM: Rahmixes is a name that is half brilliant, half cringe worthy. What other puns song titles or media articles have you read involving Rah Rah that I should avoid using when running this interview?
MB: “This band is rahtarded”‘ is fairly offensive.
PHM: What is the craziest thing to have happened at a Rah Rah show or while on tour?
MB: I can’t guarantee that it’s the craziest, but one time Kristina put a confetti canon through the mouth of a cardboard cutout Robin Williams dressed as Patch Adams and fired it point blank into somebody’s face. We all felt really bad.
(note: if you’re reading this, Confetti Face, this is sort of your public apology. Sort of.)
PHM: Besides a September tour, how does the rest of your 2012 look?
MB: Our album comes out in October and then we’ll just be doing a lot of touring in support. Then around December 20th I gotta start thinking about what to get my family for Christmas!
(note: That’s about as far as I typically get in the Christmas present process – the “thinking” part)
PHM: Congratulations – you’ve been made guest editor of PeteHatesMusic.com for one day! It’s a thankless job, and people might yell at you in the streets, but someone has got to do it. What current bands do people need to know about right now (besides Rah Rah)?
MB: Parlovr, Olenka and the Autumn Lovers, Deep Dark Woods, Cannon Bros., and Jon Samuel.
There you have it, 5 bands for you to check out, and an apology for shooting confetti into someone’s face. The Little Poems EP is out now, while The Poet’s Dead is out digitally on October 2 and physically on October 23. Rah Rah also have some tour dates coming up, so check out their website to see if and when they hit your city.
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