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Ratatat - Everyone Cool's From Brooklyn

Author: Carlisle Rogers
Friday, 11 April 2008
Carlisle Rogers talks to Evan Mast from New York electronic duo Ratatat about mixing music without words.

Heading to Australia for the Essential Festival alongside guys like Regurgitator, The Devoted Few, Dardanelles, The Silents and Gaslight Radio, Ratatat are bringing their infectious instrumentals along as a live show. Ratatat likes to let the instruments do the talking, so the songs are delightfully complex and varied, and fun.

Mast, one half of Ratatat with Mike Stroud, says they are bringing a keyboard player with them on this tour.

“For most of the songs I am playing bass and Mike is playing the guitar and Martin is playing keyboard,” he says. “There might be some switching, but that’s the basic set-up. We also have videos that go along with each song as well as some cool lighting. We try to make it as big of a production as possible.

“We’ll probably be playing a couple of new songs when we come there. We were in the studio for nearly two months at the end of 2007, so we’ve got a new record that’s all ready but won’t come out for a while. We are waiting to hear from the label. It’s going to be called LP III.”

With all of the songs originally written in a Brooklyn apartment on Mike’s laptop, Evan says there was always a conscious effort to bring the songs alive for the road, rather than just standing there in front of a Macbook.

“It was especially in the beginning because we were trying to figure out a way to do it and make it sound interesting,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of electronic acts before and it was basically just dudes DJing and for me I was never really into watching a dude with a turntable, or laptop or sampler. It seemed boring, so we always try to make it more of a live band, but we have to make some compromises. Some parts are difficult to produce in the same way as the live band, but we do our best to make it interesting and make it fun.”

Mike and Evan started working together inauspiciously, just for fun, you know-

“We knew each other in college, but we weren’t especially good friends,” Evan says. “We both ended up living in New York a couple years later and ran into each other on the subway and started talking about music. We decided to get together and record some stuff for fun, so we got together once and made a funny song that was just a joke but we had a really good time doing it. After that he would come over to my apartment and bring his guitar and we’d record a bunch of shit for fun. We ended up getting better and better as we went and after a while we started making stuff that we were into. We slowly became a band, but it wasn’t our intention from the outset, we were just fooling around and next thing you know we’re touring and putting out records.”

Evan says that he and Mike haven’t succumbed to the lure of dropping vocals over their finely detailed electronic journeys yet, but they have found that outlet elsewhere thus far.

“We recently did some songs with our friend White Flight who does stuff with vocals and some of those tracks are more pop songs,” he says. “It’s not like we don’t like that kind of music, but for Ratatat we are more interested in the instrumental stuff. In a way vocals can be a burden because it ties the track down. When you’re working on instrumental music, you can have more possibilities.”

Remixing was a secondary thing for Ratatat, but through fooling around with hip hop production, Evan found himself with remix requests, but he says the work is completely different.

“A few years ago I was listening to a lot of hip hop and trying to figure out how they did what they did,” he admits. “I practiced making hip hop beats without actually having to find a rapper to rap over it. I just used a cappella from singles and it was a more satisfying way to do it than just make a hip hop beat without a vocal track on it. It was really just for myself initially and then I figured I would put it out there.

“I think that all the remix stuff is a lot simpler than Ratatat songs. It’s a way to try out ideas really quickly and not have to find a full solution for it. If you have one little guitar part, you can make a whole track out of that because you’re rapping and that makes it interesting, whereas if it was one of our tracks it would be like ‘We’ve got this, where does that lead to- And ‘What other instruments are going to have to come in to compliment it now’. After doing all the remix stuff and then going into the studio to record Ratatat songs expanded the vocabulary a bit. We had the practice of messing around with new ideas and new songs and that kind of thing.

“We get offers every once in a while for remixes, but haven’t taken up too many recently. The last one we did was for Björk. There might be some in the pipeline, but right now I’m not that excited about doing remixes. I’m more into doing our own stuff, so I’m sure we’ll get back into it eventually, but for the moment we’re just working on our own songs.”

WHO: Ratatat
WHAT: Play Essential Festival at The Gaelic Club
WHEN: Friday 25 April
MORE: essentialfestival.com.au
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