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Ratatat Interview – The Vine

By Andrew Tijs – The Vine

June 25th, 2008

Super-hip New York duo Ratatat left the confines of Gotham’s minimalist electro glam for the wilds of the Catskills on their third album  LP3. It emerged as a neo-colonial traipse, coloured by tribal rhythms and quaint harpsichord, in an eternal effort to keep things interesting for the pastiche producer Evan Mast.

Was there a plan or did you just head up to the Catskills with a bunch of toys to see what you came up with?

It was a little bit of both. The idea was definitely to be around a lot of instruments that were new to us because that’s how we get excited about new sounds. It’s fun to have an instrument that you have no idea how to play because it challenges you, and you end up getting sounds that you never expected. We’ve been making songs for so many years with one keyboard and one guitar there’s only so much you can do. When you open up the possibilities and you have access to different things, something as simple as a nice piano sound is exciting.

You weren’t worried that you were playing these things incorrectly?

Probably. There was this Iranian drum called the zarb which is incredibly difficult to play. We were playing tablas too and we had no idea. But you end up getting interesting sounds out of them.

So the instruments are the only reason there’s a real rhythmic, world music feel to  LP3?

That’s part of it. We were also listening to music from different parts of the world. Just before we went to record I was working with my friend Justin [Roelofs of White Flight] and he put us on to a bunch of cool records, some with the zarb, and Indian percussion records.  It was something we were getting into right around the time we went into the studio and it found its way into the songs.

It was almost accidental?

Around the time we recorded [2006's] Classics I was getting really into hip hop production and the beats on the record were more hip hop style; heavy kicks and snares, and I didn’t get too crazy with the foreign percussion on that one. But you can’t keep making the same kind of beats for very long.

Does this mean you’re getting better at this whole songwriting gambit?

I hope so! I feel like we’ve ironed some of the kinks out. [Guitarist] Mike [Stroud] and I work very differently. I would get caught up in the chords and notes and make sure everything syncs together and there weren’t any bad notes and weird rhythms. I’d get frustrated because I don’t have a background in theory or anything and that part of it is really challenging to me. This time I guess I’m more comfortable with that and it lets me do more complicated stuff without getting bogged down in the technical side of things.

Is Mike comfortable with the fact that there’s less guitar noodling on this one?

Yeah. I guess that there were more keyboards around to play with. Our stuff in the past has been super guitar-heavy and this was just another way for us to keep interested.

How do you feel about people using your stuff as background music?

(Laughs) I don’t think that’s the ideal way to listen to it. There are a lot of people who aren’t willing to give it a chance because it’s instrumental. I think people who say that would say that about any instrumental record, who’d put it on in the background and not really get into it. I dunno. That’s fine. But if you pay attention I think there’s more than enough going on to make up for some singer singing some lame lyrics over the top of it.

Also, looking back at your album titles (self-titled, Classics,  LP3), you don’t really want to be bothered writing lyrics, do you?

(Laughs) No, not really. Most of the songs titles are jokes or free-association. Occasionally there’s a story behind it but not often. The song ‘Mi Viejo’ was named after a song by this Argentine singer that I really like but that’s the only one that has a story behind it.

By now you’ve got so many famous friends that you could feasibly get ring-in vocalists…

That sounds horrible. I’m not really interested in working with vocalists, especially not on a Ratatat record. I don’t hate music with words but I’m really picky about lyrics. There are very few lyrics that I can stomach. For Ratatat records, we’re not going to bring vocals in anytime soon.

Andrew Tijs

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