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Ra Ra Riot Navigates The Hype

Just two years ago, the band Ra Ra Riot was a group of six friends from Syracuse University with a fondness for melancholy pop and string sections.

Today, Ra Ra Riot is something unusual: a young band that has weathered high expectations from critics, a grueling tour schedule and the death of a founding member. It's emerged from it all a seemingly stronger band, one that just released its debut full-length, The Rhumb Line.

In between studio performances with the full band, vocalist Wes Miles and guitarist Milo Bonacci spoke with host John Schaefer about persevering. From the outset, Bonacci says, the intent was to go "full steam ahead."

"We sort of jokingly said that it was going to be a full-time sort of thing, but we didn't start to take ourselves seriously in that respect until the following fall [following graduation]," he says.

Then they graduated — and faced the job market. "Faced with that decision, being in a band seemed pretty positive," Bonacci says.

Charting A Path

Critical acclaim has followed the band through the release of The Rhumb Line. The album was named for a term used in sailing navigation; it represents a path of constant bearing.

The band says it serves as a metaphor for its members' careers. "It's about a course traveled by a group of individuals, and as a collective thing," Miles says.

The band stayed on course after drummer and lyricist John Pike died in an accidental drowning last year. His influence is still felt on the record.

"He had a lot of influence over not only the songwriting and stuff, but the sonic characteristics we were striving for," Bonacci says.

Beating Around The Bush

Ra Ra Riot possesses a few characteristics that set it apart from the indie-rock fray. One of the tunes on The Rhumb Line is a cover of Kate Bush's "Suspended in Gaffa." All of the band's members are younger than the 1982 song.

It's not the only Kate Bush song in Ra Ra Riot's repertoire, either. One of the band's first songs was the English singer's "Hounds of Love."

"I was going through a huge Kate Bush phase, and managed to convince everyone that it'd be a great party song," Miles says.

The band also embraced the idea of having a string section — it counts a violinist and a cellist as members — from the very beginning, according to Bonacci. It worked out well, then, that they met Miles.

"It was almost a coincidence, because even before I was aware that I was going to be in this band ... I was really into Kate Bush, and a lot of her arrangements have strings and a lot of grand things happening," Miles says.

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