Interview: Ratatat on the science of strange instrumentals [plus: free tickets!]

RatatatRatatat's Evan Mast and Mike Stroud have been squawking away on their guitars for years, but now that hybrid electronic dance-rock has become defined by LCD Soundsystem (that'd be this week's marquee appearance at the Charlottesville Pavilion), it's easier to understand the sheer oddness of Ratatat. Theirs is a very similar blend of pop appeal built from adventurous electronic sounds, but they're all instrumental, which makes getting through to pop audiences a challenge no matter how infectious the melodies might get.

That's probably why the chance to write a hip hop backing track for Kanye West prodigy Kid Cudi paid off so big in 2009 – because at the end of the day, the only thing they're missing that might make them more appealing to fans of Kanye or Gaga is, well, the Kanye or the Gaga. And maybe a dress made of meat.

The Hook: This band has a very coherent aesthetic. Do you write a lot of material that doesn't fit with it?
Evan Mast: Well, I think we have a pretty broad spectrum on our records; we have dancey stuff and aggressive stuff. As long as it's instrumental, we can find a way for it. The harmonized guitars, when people hear them, they say "Oh, that's Ratatat." To us, it's just something that we do–- when you write music, you use harmony because it's a great tool.

The Hook: I think your guitar sound is more about volume swells than harmonies. You don't see that as an identifying characteristic?
Evan Mast: Not really. A lot of our guitar sound is ripped off from Brian May.

The Hook: What else do you see as your key elements?
Evan Mast: We used sequenced beats a lot. That's just something we keep coming back to because it's really versatile, and you can do a lot with it without ever feeling like you're repeating yourself.

The Hook: But aren't you cutting and pasting those patterns?
Evan Mast: Well, music in general is repetitive, so you're always going to take pieces and repeat them. Whether you're playing again or cutting and pasting to me is kind of irrelevant. Sometimes you can get a little more subtlety by doing that, I guess, but when we're making beats, we work in four or eight bar loops and figure out some fills. We never just make a four-bar loop and put it on autopilot.

The Hook: There's a fair amount of that in hip hop, which you guys have started exploring, and the response from fans has been a lot more pronounced than with your proper records.
Evan Mast: There's not a large audience for instrumental records these days, and not as many avenues for promoting as standard vocal pop music–- radio stations aren't going to give it a shot on the air. There just hasn't been a lot of popular instrumental music in the last 20 or 30 years. A lot of it is more droning and spacey, and it's not something that grabs you with melody the way a pop song does. That's what we're always trying to do.

~

Ratatat performs at the Jefferson Theater on 10/3 at 8pm. $27

FREE TIX: To win a pair of free tickets to the show, prove Evan wrong by leaving a comment here with a link to your favorite instrumental track from the past 20 years; we'll pick a winner by Friday 10/1. (The rest of you suckas will have to pay the $27.)

Read more on: jefferson theaterRatatat

46 comments

let's try again with the link

Gettysburg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PH_a2OcCmnI

Some "beats" to school those poseur boys.
This dude often rocks Gallery Place in DC.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAyWnVq-hlQ

Well obviously My Bloody Valentine

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpGcbfh3ljM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAnRvB8hxSc

This song is beast where after listening to it you have to throw up because it's so loud. I speak from experience seeing people do this at Coachella.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJbwSxMYHlQ

Eastern Sun & John Kelley - Rapture At Sea

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fmo1Sjn7dg

Aphex Twin - Windowlicker

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLFd6k1BHDk

Also, dub roots reggae is an entire genre based on instrumental music and is alive and well although not mainstream in America.

forgot about the one link limit.
Amorphous Androgynous - Tiny Space Birds
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEUeosxT9-4

"not as many avenues for promoting as standard vocal pop musicââ?¬â? radio stations aren’t going to give it a shot on the air. "

I think those guys are going to be pretty excited when someone finally tells them about the internet. Cruel of the interviewer not to have mentioned it to them.

Mouse On Mars - Mycologics
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2A-WQiGw4o

Liquid Tension Experiment - Universal Mind

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEZC0ZJ1AW8

Sigur Ros - Samskeyti

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEFxLNERscU

i hear these guys are pretty popular too, hehe ;-)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0o8JCxjjpM

explosions in the sky - first breath after the coma

Gettysburg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xcvoe-w6bQ4

Fila Brazillia -The Sheriff

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXdwb_lUKvs

Flying Lotus - Do The Astral Plane

love this track

HA. Just realized Dick Dale probably doesn't count as within the 20 year limit. However, I think Broken Social Scene's "Pacific Theme" is worth noting as well. It definitely maintains a melody, and I don't think there's any way you could consider it droning and spacey.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlejSPX_29E

(ps, i really hope i win!) :)

Borbetomagus live at the All Ears Festival 2009
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VwBMyrIPzE

Nurse With Wound & Stereolab - Simple Headphone Mind
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7lqLAT2AYg

So easy to keep going for days. Dudes really ought to be embarrassed if they can't do the same!

Yngwie Malmsteen-Arpeggios From Hell
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aS_IYe5JTZ4

Poets Of Rhythm - Discern/Define
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzbQnHgEGQE

Since Classical Gas by Mason Williams is older than 20 years, I guess I'd have to go with Tamacun by Rodrigo y Gabriela:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-qgum7hFXk

(I'm sad they had to cancel their C-ville show.)

F'n Daft Punk - Short Circuit

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TszmdpUtf0A

The Venture Bros.: The Music of J. G. Thirlwell - Warped Carousel
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06LNBK4ZfWM

Well that dude is wrong hello????????? Explosions in the Sky

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pug2R4iswz0

You, can now award me the tickets, thanks

World's End Girlfriend - Les Enfants du Paradis

Wow. That's a tough request!!! It's a toss-up between Ambulance LTD's "Dancing Through A Eulogy" and Dick Dale's "Surf Rider."

Ambulance LTD
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYmmNF7m-Iw

Dick Dale and the Del-Tones (you might know it from Pulp Fiction??)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXi3mCfv15k

Yeah, I really like surf guitar. AND I LOVE RATATAT.

Flaming Lips
The Wizard Turns On... The Giant Silver Flashlight and Puts on His Werewolf Moccasins
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9i2xVqXjvwY

La Caution- th©   la menthe

Air - La Femme D'Argent
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NINOxRxze9k
Pretty good video too

Flaming Lips Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bW1aMDeuqY

Chemical Brothers Block Rockin Beats
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BVADNUyDZY

Crap, I did the same thing as Deane.

World's End Girlfriend - Les Enfants du Paradis
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfG_G2O2q40

Has a winner been announced yet???? Were here is the winner
Van Halen Eruption
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULEBSxP725w

Brad Mehldau Trio (Mehldau/Grenadier/Rossy) live jazz instrumental cover of Radiohead's "Exit Music for a Film" from a 1998 ARTE TV documentary:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4dV9inZCo4&p=0A6F524C59B085CA&playnext=1...

Too bad it's slightly over twenty years ago:
Ciccone (Sonic) Youth - MacBeth
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYNYnDyYQnU

..oh and so many Camper Van Beethoven instrumentals

Brian Eno & Robert Fripp - "An Index of Metals" from Evening Star (1975) part 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZx85NBBnek
part 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZx85NBBnek&feature=related

Congrats to our lucky winner, Bianca. Enjoy the show!