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“A Melting Pot Of Classics: Ratatat” – Festivalwise Review of LP3

A Melting Pot Of Classics – Ratatat

by Jamie Milton

26 June 2008

When you learn about how one of your favourite albums was recorded, it’s hard not to enthuse about it all every time you mention the record. Take Bon Iver for example, rooted to the spot accompanied by the “cabin talk” that always has and always will surround his debut album ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’. Ratatat seem to have avoided that same this-is-why-the-album’s-so-good clause but Festivalwise is finding it difficult to let things stay that way. ‘LP3’, as surprising as it is, is Ratatat’s third record. Its recording process involves spontaneity and a derelict old house in the West of New York.

That house set the foundations for Ratatat’s greatest piece of work so far, therefore we had to mention it when we caught up with one half of the duo, Evan Mast. They seem just as excitable as we are when talk of these “Old Soul studios” creeps up; Avoiding jargon talk about the exact details of the supposedly “isolated” location, Mast is more keen to tell Festivalwise about how the magic happened. “We signed up for 40 days and 40 nights and it was just Mike and I in this big house for the duration of it”. Needless to say, there was some kind of abstract influence from the start. “We got super focused really quickly. The first day there we made ‘Dura’ and ‘Mi Viejo’ – two of the record’s most outstanding moments.

This rapid, quick-fire, spontaneous take on recording has been done successfully by the likes of R.E.M, Arctic Monkeys and many more to mention. On the other side of the spectrum, it can be the very reason why an act “loses it”. Mast agrees that it can sometimes be a matter of luck – “ I think those initial responses to a new environment can trigger some interesting ideas. It’s just a matter of finding the right spots.” The idea of recording ‘LP3’ in Old Soul wasn’t an organized process either, making it all the more interesting. “Initially we went up to old soul to help our friend Justin with his new White Flight album and we just really liked the place and got along well with ‘the Wolf’, the guy who owns the studio. He was going out of town for 2 months on tour, so we decided to rent the studio while he was gone.”

Those 2 months were all they needed. Surrounded by a realm of new instruments and new ideas, it all came together like a hand-clap. “It felt like we were racing to keep up with the ideas” recites Mast as he goes on to explain the short time-span for the recording; “with LP3 we were trusting our initial instincts a lot more than ever before” Ratatat clearly found their comfort spot. There’s a consistent bunch of running themes scattered across ‘LP3’, from Eastern European influence to addictive beats – the only element of the record not originating via. Old Soul. “We always write while we record. I’d made a stockpile of drum beats ahead of time, but that was it. We were touring in a van in Europe in February of 2007 and we had these long drives between shows…I was making a lot of beats on my laptop while we travelled.”

Old Soul can however, set itself apart as the only reason for this chunk of inspiration that found itself at the feet of the duo last year; “I’m not sure where the ideas came from. We weren’t really listening to much music while we were recording….I stopped answering my phone and checking my email for the most part and we just completely focused on the music.” Isolation wasn’t the only method – “We got into this amazing rhythm, this steady pace. It felt like when you’re riding a bike really fast and you switch into a high gear and your legs are suddenly moving half as fast but the bike just continues moving even faster.”

One running theme that’s remained from Ratatat’s debut right up to their latest is the impossible task of categorizing the Brooklyn two-piece. They remain incomparable to any other act – “without sounding arrogant” states Mast. Some may draw comparisons to Daft Punk, Holy Fuck or Animal Collective but that would simply be passed as lazy. Direct musical influence came from “Chemirani”, an Iranian drum trio introduced upon the band by studio-owner White Flight. That aside, it’s difficult to figure out what musical elements combine to make this genuine, original sound. “We weren’t really listening to much music while we were recording. Sometimes we’d watch music videos on tv while we ate dinner, but that was mostly really horrible stuff.”

Previous record ‘Classics’ isn’t on par with ‘LP3’ due to many factors, especially when it comes to atmosphere, despite its ability to excel past the latest record with dance-factor. ‘Classics’ told a different story to ‘LP3’, taking not two months, but two years to produce. The immediacy of ‘LP3’ is what makes it so special, and whether Ratatat can master the instantaneous process remains to be seen. For future projects though, Mast and his companion are keen to play the same hand. “now that we’ve tried it, I’m quite hooked on the idea of recording in studios”, Evan gets slightly carried away in his own thoughts – “I would love to record in another land sometime…overseas, on an island, in a forest, in New Zealand, with a Turkish string section,” but as obscure as these ideas appear on paper, no-one can instantly dismiss them to going through such a process.

Besides, if we weren’t aware of Old Soul and its direct influence on the duo, we’d all be playing guessing games of how it all came about to sound like such a unique, frantic, high-spirited record. But maybe you don’t need that sort of extravagancy when Old Soul is at your side….

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