Ra Ra Riot Pick Top Musical Memories

Bassist Mathieu Santos on the sounds that shaped "Need Your Light"
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Bassist Mathieu Santos on the sounds that shaped "Need Your Light"
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Back in February of 2016 Ra Ra Riot released their critically acclaimed album Need Your Light. To celebrate the one year anniversary of its' release, the band revealed a remix of "Bad Times" by Cesare. 

This is the fourth remix the band have shared this year, all of which have been collected together for Need Your Light: Remix EP  which was just released on Barsuk Records. The EP is an excellent opportunity to take a fresh look at tracks that captured our imaginations a year ago, but it also speaks volumes to the strength of the original source material - showing Ra Ra Riot to be masters of craft, and brings of good vibes.

ARTISTdirect caught up with the band and invited bassist Mathieu Santos to share his musical memories and the sounds that shaped their critically acclaimed songs.

The first single I bought...

I can’t seem to recall ever buying a proper single when I was younger, but I guess the next closest thing would be the record Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone?, which I tracked down specifically for the song “Flagpole Sitta”. I was obsessed with it. 

If you’ll indulge me a little those-were-the-days-type nostalgia here, I remember hunting for the song on the radio, and if I was lucky enough to catch it, waiting until the DJ came back later to hopefully reveal who it was. Took me a couple of weeks, but once I figured it out, it was straight to the local K-Mart to snag the CD.

The first live show I attended...

If we don’t count a smattering of hardcore shows that I first started going to once I’d caught the music bug - which we shouldn’t, since I can’t remember who I saw, or when, or where exactly - then the first actual show in a “real” venue that I bought tickets to ahead of time was Limp Bizkit and Cypress Hill at the Worcester Palladium during their pro-Napster tour in 2000. Needless to say, it ruled. I was too afraid to go down on the floor with my friends, though, so I stayed up in the nosebleeds, where I learned for the first what marijuana smelled like.

The first song I learned to play...

I think this was Green Day’s “Brain Stew”. I’d gotten a bass, but wasn’t quite yet sure what to do with it - how to get it to make musical-sounding sounds. I remember sitting in front of my family’s PC with my sister and looking up “tabs”, which someone had apparently told me to do, and around that time I was really into Insomniac and figured the song’d be easy enough to figure out. I still remember the jolt I felt when I started putting my fingers where the tab said to, and slowly hearing the riff emerge. My sister and I looked at each other, our eyes bugging out - a real eureka moment.

The song that inspired me to learn my instrument of choice...

Hard to say for sure, but I remember “With Or Without You” definitely being one of them. Around that time, I’d just gotten both U2’s The Best Of 1980-1990CD and my first Discman, which meant for the first time, I could listen to music on headphones, and it really opened things up. 

That was the first time I started to understand what “bass” was, and how it affected the music. And what better song to illustrate how powerful a good, simple bass line can be - I mean, it’s literally just rooted eighth notes the entire time. And it’s one of the most famous lines in all of pop music. Quintessential Clayton. As he said himself about playing the bass, and as I learned from him, “It just sounded good. Deep and fat and satisfying.”

The song that reminds me of home...

Another tough one to pin down - things like , whose songs my mom would always sing to me, or , who were my dad’s favorite - their contexts are probably too broad to only associate with home. If I’m thinking of something more specific, it might be Robert Palmer, or , but there’s one album I’ve heard hundreds of times growing up, and only at home: Gary Morris’s Every Christmas. That’s one that’s burned deep into me. What a voice! I especially remember “I Wonder As I Wander”.

My guilty secret track...

Here’s the part where I say I don’t believe in guilty pleasures and everyone rolls their eyes. So maybe I’ll slightly amend the question to be about which song (unfairly) gets me the most heat from my peers whose tastes are usually in lock-step with mine: Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk”. I mean, come on. I don’t really care how much of a pastiche it is - it’s too fun.

The song I wish I wrote...

Sure, everybody wishes they could have written “Good Vibrations” or something like that, but the songs I find myself wishing I wrote the most usually come from my contemporaries. Sometimes a peer can hit a certain nail on its head so well, so much more deeply, because we’re probably both responding to a lot of the same deep-seated influences, both searching for our generation’s respective grail, so to speak. It’s tempting to say something by the , but on another hand, that’s not something I’d ever be capable of creating myself. I think the song that most felt like it was somehow stolen from deep inside my own brain - everything about it - would be Panda Bear’s “Bros”.

The finest song from my all time hero...

For the purposes of this question, I’m going to go with Brian Wilson as my hero. He was a total martyr for his art, for his vision - most all of his closest friends and collaborators abandoned him when he was really trying to go for it, and though it broke him, his genius - an awfully overused word - couldn’t be contained. His defining masterpiece, I think, is Brian Wilson's “Surf’s Up”.

The song I've written of which I'm most proud...

I think it would be “Massachusetts”, the (kind of) title track from my record Massachusetts 2010. It was more or less my first concerted effort at writing and arranging a fully-realized “song”, and so, aside from those associations, feels to me like it has a certain kind of distilled directness to it, like it encapsulates the entirety of my sensibilities pretty well.

The song that should be played at my funeral...

My go-to has always been “Asleep”, by The Smiths. Maybe a little on-the-nose, but whatever. And a close second would be ’ “Our Prayer”.

My favorite track from my most recent project...

Hands down “Bouncy Castle”, a deeper cut from ’s last record, Need Your Light. To me, it highlights all of our strengths as a band, and I think it somewhat successfully toes that magical line between pop of both the super-accessible and wtf/lol varieties. It’s a little MJ, a little , and a little ELO - or something like that. It also features my favorite lyrics of Wes’s, about a boy who experiences his first erection while in a bouncy castle at his own birthday party. And, maybe most importantly, it’s a blast to play live.

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