NEON LIGHTS – Words with Mike Stroud of Ratatat

Now & Then | Written By, NOW!Singapore | November 26th, 2015

In the run up to the Neon Lights festival on November 28 to 29, Marissa Trew chatted with Ratatat ’s Mike Stroud about what to expect from their performance, their latest album and why he prefers musical intruments over people!

 

NEON LIGHTS – Words with Mike Stroud of Ratatat

How did Ratatat get involved with the Neon Lights festival in Singapore?

Every couple of years, we do tours of Australia and New Zealand, and the guy that books these tours for us, he started making connections and we did a tour of Malaysia, China, Cambodia… where else did we go? Oh, we went to Hong Kong and so anyways, we told him that this was the coolest, most fun tour we’ve ever done. And we wanted to go to Singapore on that tour but that didn’t work out… but then this festival came up!

So you haven’t performed in Singapore but have you been here before?

I’ve never been.

What are you expecting?

Honestly, I have no idea. I don’t really know that much about Singapore… but I’m sure I’ll do a little research before I get there! Are you from there?

I’m half Singaporean and half English.

Oh, okay. Yea, you’re easier to understand than the last person.

Ratatat’s played at massive festivals and it’s got a worldwide reputation. So, does that mean you’re quite confident with a smaller audience, or does it make you more nervous?

Oh, I’m just excited. I was really nervous when we did Coachella because we hadn’t played much for like five years but we’ve been doing loads of shows now, so we’re kind of on autopilot. It’s just fun now.

Tell me about the visual aspects of your performances? In a previous interview, you suggested it was a great way to distract audiences from looking directly at you guys. Is that true?

[Laughs] Not necessarily to distract them. I just think its more interesting. We don’t have a drummer and we don’t have a front-man/singer, you know? And that’s kind of usually what people watch when they watch a band. And we’re kind of shy… so I think [the visuals] just make the show a lot more fun to watch and it’s kind of cool.

Like you said, you’re back in the rhythm of your performances now, especially with your latest album, Magnifique. As far as I’ve seen, everyone considers it a total success…

A total what?

Success…

OH! Okay, cool!

NEON LIGHTS – Words with Mike Stroud of Ratatat

Though it’s been said that when you were creating Magnifique, you basically wanted to weed out any parts of songs that people would feel compelled to talk over or get past until the next good bit in the song. How does that work? It sounds simple in practice but how did you know when a song was ready?

When you can listen to it and not try to fix it in your head. We’re both perfectionists, so when something doesn’t feel perfect, it really bothers us. When we both listen to a song and not have any more ideas for it, that’s usually when we stop. But a lot of times, we think a song is done and we listen to it a week or two later and then you have a bunch more ideas.

Ratatat’s music has a lot of different notes of different musical genres. So, you’ve got rock, electronic, hip-hop… how do you incorporate all the diverse sounds into your music?

We both like all kinds of music so I think it’s boring to just keep doing one thing. If we feel like making a more ‘hip-hop’ song, we will. It doesn’t matter… we just make it. It probably doesn’t fit, but I don’t know. I think that with any general theme of a song, we always put our signature sound on it. So we’ll put the same kind of guitar style on it. I think it makes the whole thing cohesive… I think.

Magnifique took five years since the album before it. Was that so you could just focus entirely on perfecting it to your own standard?

Well, we had finished our contract so we were kind of free agents. We were very critical. We wrote probably more than fifty songs for the record and just kept throwing them away. There were a few songs early on that we knew were going to be on the record and any songs that weren’t as good as those we had to throw away, which was very frustrating. We also took a lot of breaks. We had been touring and recording for like ten years straight, so it was nice. I mean, I moved out of New York City, took six months off here and there. It was kind of nice to just take a step back from the whole world for a minute.

Where did you end up moving to?

Oh, I went three hours up north of the city. I live in the countryside now.

So proper peace and quiet…

You can see the stars. We live on this mountain and none of our neighbours are here. They come sometimes on weekends so I’m just alone on a mountain. It’s kind of crazy… and nice.

Where you find inspiration when you’re out there?

I actually listen to music much more, living out here because… there’s nothing to do. Out in the city, you could just go take a walk and run into like a million people. Here, we have our vinyl collection and I’m constantly listening to records. I feel like when I lived in the city, I never listened to music. And when your job becomes music, you can get a little turned off, but honestly, still to this day… I can’t listen to a record without learning it. I think I still really enjoy it but I’m always trying to learn the song in my head.

So it’s kind of turned into a technical process?

Yea… literally from learning the guitar parts, like the chords, then the drums. I can’t listen to music without at least trying to do that, which is why sometimes I get frustrated with classical music. It’s so over my head. It’s so complex.

Have you ever incorporated influences of classical music into your own pieces?

Yea, well we both really love Bach and I love Beethoven. For our fourth record, we recorded with a string quartet and they were amazing. It was really cool. I’d sure love to do that again. I’ve would love to play a show where we had 10 or 15 really amazing classic guitar players all doing harmonies, live together… that would amazing. A guitar orchestra.

When you guys are on tour, what do you do to take a break?

It’s really hard. We just toured in the states for five weeks and I think we had five or six days off. You get days off once in a while but honestly you’re usually so exhausted that you just end up watching movies, or find time to read. But there really is very little down time at all. It’s pretty full on.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading a book by this writer, Brian Hancock. It’s called Supernatural. It’s basically about altered states of reality and DNA. It’s kind of all over the place, its interesting.

What would you say is your second passion after music?

I really like to cook [laughs] and I like to draw. Honestly, I’m very full-on music all the time. In my house, I have a room with a drum set, a room with a piano and the other with a slide guitar and I’m always just jumping around between different rooms and practicing on the instruments. It’s basically all I’m doing, all the time. But I like to draw and cook!

Do you find it meditative?

Yea! I couldn’t live without it. I always get really bored at parties when I’m just talking to people but if there’s a guitar or something, I’ll go for it. I mean, I can be social if I need to be… but I usually need a beer to really get in the mood to talk to people. I mean, especially now that I live in the country, I’m more of an introvert than I used to be.

So you’re almost like a Nick Offerman character…

Oh, yea completely. I’m pretty much a hermit.

Anyway, how long do you think until your next album?

I have NO idea. Hopefully not five years! We’re on tour now for like… forever. So, as soon as the touring dies down a bit, we’ll get back into it. Maybe two years? Three? I have no idea. I know that we won’t let ourselves put out bad music. So if it’s bad, we just won’t [laughs].


Get your Tickets for Ratatat at www.neonlights.sg NOW!

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