Ratatat Get Vocal on Their Magnifique Return
It’s a blazing hot day as I make my way into Ratatat’s studio in Downtown Brooklyn. Even though the place is huge, with high ceilings and long rugs covering most of the wooden floor, it’s incredibly crowded, with music equipment (including trunks, pianos, and what looks like a million cables) taking up every inch of space. "We’re trying to cool the place up. I guess this isn’t really a studio as much as it is a storage space," Mike Stroud laughs. "I’d offer you water but I don’t even think we have that." Evan Mast, the other half of Ratatat, pulls up three stools in the only free-space triangle and the three of us sit down. "We’ve been traveling so much and we’re about to start our tour so this place is a mess," he says in a quiet voice.
Mast and Stroud, who released their eponymous first album in 2004, are an interesting duo. In some respects they are incredibly similar, with shoulder length hair and casual demeanors, yet they are completely complimentary of each other, with Stroud taking the lead answering questions while Evan keeps more to himself. In fact, it’s quite surprising to see such a quiet and calm air about one of electronic music’s pioneer duos, but it also makes sense. In their personal lives, as in their music, they are sparse with words (as Mast puts it, "Singing was always the point where you’re like ‘ok, now I never want to play this song again. I never want to play it for anyone.’"), focusing almost entirely on the musical component that, as they say, is all about "just trying to have a good time."
With the new album Magnifique coming out this Friday (their first in five years), Milk Made’s Ana Velasco sat down with the men of Ratatat to discuss the five year gap, their first music memory, and what the next step is for the band.
What took so long to make ‘Magnifique’?
Mike Stroud: I wanted to take some time off. We’d been making records and touring for almost 10 years at that point, so we wanted to take a step back and relax for a minute. And also it took us a little while to figure out where we wanted to take the music. We were trying a bunch of different ideas and it was a while before we really figured out what sound we wanted to make.
This album sounds like a continuation of everything you guys have done. How do you think your sound has evolved and grown from the ‘Ratatat’ album to now?
Evan Mast: Right Between LP3 and LP4 we got super into the production aspects of music. There’s a lot of experimenting on those records, just tons of different sounds clashing together. This time we tried to make it much more focused on guitars and melodies but using the production tricks we had learned along the way.
MS:It’s so close it’s hard to know what the evolution is.
You guys are really well known for having a particularly recognizable instrumental sound. Would you ever consider singing?
MS: We sing a little bit actually on the last song on the album. Not lyrics, but a little singing on ‘I Will Return.’
EM: Before we did this band, we were both were making music with singing and lyrics, but for me, definitely the least fun part of making music was trying to write lyrics. I was never very proud of that stuff.
MS: It felt really good to me to finally decide to just make instrumental music. It was such a relief.
Visuals have always been a super huge part of the band and I know you’re the one who makes them, Evan. Why do you think the pairing between audio and visual so important?
EM: It was just the way we approached the show in the very beginning. Because the music we were making is obviously very electronic. At that time I had been doing electronic music and going to those kinds of shows, and you would just see a dude with a laptop and it was super boring to watch that, so we always wanted to make it as interesting as possible. So that made a lot of sense to project them onstage along with the electronics. And then the visuals were just kind of a way to make it feel more exciting, a way to compete with a full band— a lot of extra things to look at on stage.
Do you get inspiration for the visuals from the music? Is it a chicken and egg thing?
EM: Sometimes maybe just listening to the song, I get an idea there. Sometimes it’ll just be stuff I’ll be playing with along the way, just visual stuff and then start looking for a song that fits well with it. Sometimes I’ll start working on the visuals and not know which song its for and I’ll try playing it back open to different songs. Usually it’s pretty obvious which one it works for best.
MS: — like ‘Abrasive.’
What inspires your animations?
EM: It’s kind of all over the place really. I’ve also really liked hand-drawn animation, which you don’t see much anymore because there’s so many easy ways to do it. It’s all computerized now. That was just something I had in the back of my mind for a couple of years. I wanted to try to do painstaking animation.
You guys were also the first band to play live at the Guggenheim, which is so cool. How did that come about? What did that feel like?
MS: I feel like they were expecting us to be more like DJs because it was all electronic music. We were too loud, they were worried paintings were gonna fall off the wall. It was something like they opened the doors to museum members first so there were an older crowd of people sipping wine at first, but then they opened the doors to the general public so then all the kids who would normally come to ours shows came in. It was a weird mix. Those kids just wanted to go crazy, but they were in the Guggenheim [laughs].
What’s been your favorite show that you’ve played?
MS: The Governor’s Ball show was so fun a couple of weeks ago. The last handful that we’ve done have been super fun. We did Primavera and another festival called We Love Green.
You did Coachella too.
MS: That one was kind of stressful for us, but Primavera was really fun. It ended up being amazing. We’ve been touring in Europe for so long. Finally the shows over there are as good as the shows in the U.S. It feels really good.
What are some of your favorite cities to play at?
MS: Everywhere in France pretty much. The past few times we played in Paris it’s been great. Except the last time was weird.
EM: We played a really weird radio festival 2 hours outside of Paris, in Lille. It was really bizarre. It was a EDM DJ festival thing and they threw us on. The crowd just wanted house beats, most of the people there had never heard of us.
What’s your first memory of music?
MS: Mine is of Bumble bees. My friend had a bumble bee album and it was just like zzzz and I remember dancing so hard to it. I don’t know if that’s music? It’s kind of musical…it was a record though.
EM: I remember listening to my sister practice piano when I was a couple years old. We’d also record a song off the radio and do our own announcement in between the songs. We’d make our own radio shows of Michael Jackson songs.
Do you both come from musical families?
MS: Sort of, my mom’s good at piano and my dad plays like 5 songs on the guitar.
Is it like Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’?
If you could hear one of your songs being covered by any band/musician, who would you choose to cover it?
EM: I would love to hear orchestral versions. If somebody would take the time to make that.
MS: I’d like to hear Bonnie Raitt cover us.
You’ve collaborated with so many incredible artists, toured with so many people, made so many albums. What’s next?
EM: I think it’d be awesome to build a giant dome where we could control all the lighting elements to create a space that we design to do our show. Everywhere we go we have to adapt to the space. If we would do like a 360 experience, that would be cool.
Magnifique will be released July 17th! Preorder your copy here
Ratatat photographed exclusively for Milk Made by Carlos Santolalla