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