Smile Politely

I predict a riot

I had the opportunity to speak with Milo Bonacci, guitarist for the Syracuse-based indie band, Ra Ra Riot last week. The band will be kicking off a tour shortly, stopping right here in Champaign-Urbana for the Pygmalion Music Festival. They’ll be playing the late show in the Lobby at Krannert Center on Saturday, September 19, with Princeton. Doors open at 9:30 p.m., Ra Ra Riot is scheduled to go on at 11 p.m., and oh, by the way, it’s free.

Smile Politely: First off, I want to ask you about the band’s name?

Milo Bonacci: The band name… I dunno. Well when the band formed in [January of 2006] we had a house show lined up before we had even had our first practice or anything. The name was actually borrowed from a friend of ours, and it was on the flyer for the house party. It was supposed to be temporary but it ended up sticking.

SP: And where did the album’s title come from?

MB: The album name is a line from a lyric in on of our songs called “St. Peter’s Day Festival.” It’s an important song to us, and an important line. It’s an important line that kind of came to represent who we are. “The Rhumb Line” is actually a navigational term, a vessel travelling in a constant cardinal direction. It made a lot of sense on a lot of different levels. It’s really important to us.

SP: How so?

MB: Well, it was actually a song by John [Ryan Pike].

SP: While we’re on the topic, can I ask about John? How difficult was it for the band to continue on after his passing?

MB: Uh… very. Yeah, well it’s something that we have dealt with for two years now. You have to learn to move on, which is difficult. We’re reminded of him and where we came from on a day to day basis. It’s never easy, it’s never… it’s tough to say. After we made the decision, it’s wasn’t something that just went away.

SP: Has John’s memory had any impact or influence on the band’s songwriting or music?

MB: I can’t say for sure, but definately when we recorded the album we made a lot of decisions that he would have wanted. From production to recording, he was really into that aspect of things, so we took a lot of that into consideration. He had been involved in the writing for most of the songs on the album.

SP: Was the song “Dying is Fine” a kind of tribute to John?

MB: Actually, no. That was one of the first songs that we wrote as a band, one of our oldest songs. I think it was recontextualized a bit after his passing, and I think people started looking into it a bit, drawing paralells or irony of whatever, but that was it.

SP: Tell me a little bit about how the band formed.

MB: Well, I was looking to kick back a bit for my final semester at Syracuse, and wanted to form a band. Things just came together, and took off from there.

SP: So how does it feel to come from playing house parties at Syracuse University to being a major act at South by Southwest and opening for bands like Death Cab?

MB: It’s a bit surreal. It’s all still catching up with me, with us. Recording the album was a great experience. We went from reading all the music blogs and seeing what people were saying about us, and now we just don’t have the time for it.

SP: Where is your favorite venue/city to play at/in?

MB: Well, Seattle is like our second home, seeing as that our studio is there, so we have a lot of friends there and always have a lot of fun playing there. And San Francisco is another great city to play. Williamsburg, Brooklyn is also great.

SP: You’ve never played Champaign-Urbana, correct?

MB: Right.

SP: We’re excited to see you guys, are you excited to play? Will you check out any of the other acts?

MB: I’ve been wanting to see the Books play forever, so I’ll definately be checking them out.

SP: You’ve played both “Conan” and “Letterrman”, which was a better experience?

MB: We played Conan first, and it was just overwhelming. But with both shows we were just so exhausted from having a 6 a.m. “load-in” or whatever it was and no sleep the night before and everything. We were kind of in a daze for both, so we really didn’t get a chance to absorb everything, but maybe that’s a good thing.

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