Ra Ra Riot has survived a lot since forming at Syracuse University in 2006. Early on, the band weathered the sudden death of John Pike, the drummer and an integral part of Ra Ra Riot’s songwriting team. Despite the tragedy, RRR (as they’re known to fans) soldiered on to record a stunning follow-up their 2008 debut The Rhumb Line. Written in a peach orchard—far from the noise and chaos of city life—The Orchard is a quieter take on their soaring orchestral pop that manages to preserve the immediacy and urgency of their debut. Prior to Ra Ra Riot’s performance at XPoNential Music Festival (at 2:10 p.m. Sunday, July 24th), The Key spoke to cellist Alexandra Lawn about playing a stringed instrument in an indie-rock band, the perils of performing at house parties, and Chekhov.
The Key: What is it like being a string player in an indie-rock band? How did you have to adapt your playing style?
Alexandra Lawn: It was definitely different at first, being in a band and not doing typically what we do with our instruments. Becca and I were both classically trained up until the band started and a lot of that is reading music that is put in front of you. The creative interpretation that you’re allowed to put in can only go so far. To be in the kind of environment where you write a part was very different, and unique to us. So we were really excited to be put up to that. It took a while to get used to it, but definitely opened up doors and musically was awesome for both of us.
TK: How is Ra Ra Riot different from other indie bands that have string players?
AL: When we write songs we tend to incorporate the violin and cello like any other instrument in a typical rock band. They have a part, depending on the song, something can be arranged around them or they can be arranged around something else. But they’re never added as a post-production kind of thing.
TK: So the strings are an integral part of the band as opposed to just an add-on.
AL: Yeah, they’re another voice that’s part of the band.
TK: Ra Ra Riot started out playing house parties. How is that particular environment a challenge for a string player?
AL: That was when we figured out that we couldn’t really play our good instruments. It gets a little too raucous. That’s actually what led us to playing electric instruments and experimenting with that kind of thing.
TK: Do you play electric instruments on the records?
AL: No, we play our real instruments on the records. Becca plays an acoustic violin that has a pickup and I play an electric cello.
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