It’s been a long and arduous wait for Ratatat fans since the release of their fourth studio album in 2010. Their sound is one that defines periods, and for me it was high school. Such a unique tone and blend of so many genres, combining so many elements into a sound entirely their own, Evan Mast and Mike Stroud quickly became one of the defining, and pioneering acts of the late 2000’s. From their debut self titled album released in 2004, to their remix album not long after, with Classics, LP3 and LP4 soon following, their loyal fanbase continued to grow exponentially, especially when they toured their electrifying live show relentlessly.
However, the Ratatat train was suddenly stagnant, hitting a silent wall for fans. Although they were still working (Mast has a solo project under the moniker E*VAX and has produced tracks for Jay-Z and Despot), the fate of the follow up to their most experimental release yet (LP4) seemed uncertain – until this year. Seemingly overnight, they began to have shows booked again come April, including a little festival by the name of Coachella. It wasn’t until the festival was already under way in it’s first weekend that the rumours of new material were confirmed, and Cream on Chrome was released. From there, it has been nonstop for the duo, performing at Primavera Sound in Spain, and the We Love Green festival in France, before confirming that there was, indeed, a fifth album on the way.
Magnifique has been receiving rave reviews from anyone who has had the pleasure to listen to it. The duo did just one interview along with the announcement, stating that it was a return to their guitar-driven sounds, and seemed quietly confident. The album is now about to be released on July 17, and things are once again a-okay in the Ratatat camp.
We had the privliege to chat to one half of the duo, Mike Stroud, ahead of their imminent release. After discussing the weather differences between Brooklyn and Brisbane (Brooklyn: hot, Brisbane: cold), and Mike filling me in some Australian experiences – “Every time we tour in Australia, I feel like the people we meet are so funny” – we got stuck in to chat the album, pre-show nerves, the heavier presence in their drawings (the album’s cover is a collage of the duo’s drawing whilst Mast drew over 4000 pictures for their clip for the Abrasive clip), and how Stroud thinks this is their best album yet.
Congratulations on the album – I love it so much.
Oh thank you!
Do you have any pre-release nerves or anything? What’s going through your head right now?
No, I’m just like “Ahh, about time!” We mixed it almost a year ago. I’ve just been really ready for it to come out.
Lots of streams have been popping up online today as well, do you take notice of that or do you stay away from reviews?
I read some. It seems like so far it’s doing pretty well. We’ve been getting a pretty good reaction when we play live. I don’t know. I think this is our best album. I’m just really excited about it.
I definitely agree with that. Why do you think that?
Because the songs are better? *laughs* I don’t know. I feel like we went back to doing what we’re good at which is using guitar for all the melodies and everything. I just think the songs are more memorable and simple. I don’t know, why do you think it is?
Well, I’ve been a fan of Ratatat for so long, like since Classics. I remember when you guys came to Townsville in 2009 and I was 15 –
*laughs* Yeah! I think this record is most like Classics.
It’s been such a long time coming. Do you think because you took your time with this one, you had the freedom to explore and that’s why you returned to that sound? You weren’t trying to get it done in a certain amount of time and there was no urgency with this one?
We definitely experimented a lot. We made so many different kinds of songs for this record. We kind of set out to make a guitar focused album from the beginning. That was a conscious decision for sure.
Why was it a conscious decision?
Because those songs are more fun to play live. All the songs from Classics are so much fun live. With LP3 and LP4, it was more about production. There was tonnes of little guitar parts or keyboard parts. I like those albums, but this is going to be so much more fun to play live.
Can we expect a whole new live show for the Magnifique tour? Have you been playing much of it already?
We’ve been playing a few songs. There is a whole new visual element and we have lasers. It’s still just the two of us paying guitar and whatever live, but the whole visual side of the show has definitely stepped up.
I’ve seen you guys a couple of times and the visual side is something that really stuck with me. Do you think you rely on that a little more because of the absence of vocals?
Yeah probably. There’s no frontman, there’s no drummer. We don’t particularly want to be looked at *laughs* You know what I mean? I just think it makes it more interesting.
I can see that! Normally there is no spotlight on you, and you’re both using so many instruments you’re kind of hiding behind them in a way…
We’re both kind of “shy”..
I feel like you’re in the wrong industry if you’re shy!
I know! I get so nervous before we play.
Totally! I get nervous before the show. I get nervous for a week! We have a show in a week and I’m already nervous.
Woah! What are you nervous about? Getting up in front of people or is there something more?
Yeah! It’s not a normal thing for me to do. I think that it kind of adds to the show though. Your adrenaline is pumping. I totally get nerves. Evan gets a maybe little nervous, but I think I’m a little worse.
Do you have any ways to combat the pre-show nerves?
Usually I just drink a beer! *laughs* That always helps.
Well you can’t tell. I was streaming your Coachella performance from the comfort of my couch and I have to say – what a way to return with that performance! Dropping Cream On Chrome and then playing it that same weekend! Was that just as crazy for you too?
It was totally intense! We actually had some technical problems too for the first show, so we were both a little flustered. I was crazy nervous for that one! It was amazing though. Coachella is always fun. That was the third time we’ve played there. The more recent festivals have been fun too, though. We played this festival called Primavera in Barcelona, and we did one in France too. Those were crazy. It was cool, it felt like the European crowd was finally as good as our crowd in the States.
Those festivals would be crazy! They don’t finish early like the ones in the U.S. or Australia, right?
Yeah! We played at 3am at Primavera.
What was the crowd like for the 3am set? Did you have a big crowd?
Yeah, I think there was like 15,000 people there or something!
Yeah I know, I was thinking no one was going to come but everyone was telling us it was actually a really good slot to have for Spain. They don’t even have dinner ’til like 10 or something.
Why do you think it took a little longer to get the fanbase in Europe?
I don’t really know, honestly. I always expected that it was going to be better in Europe, but it was just… Maybe it’s because we toured so many times in the States now? We’ve had more exposure at home.
I wanted to talk to you about all the drawings involved in this new album. The clip Evan made for Abrasive is amazing, and the album cover is so intriguing.
Yeah. Evan did the video by himself but for the artwork we did all the drawings. He collaged it all together at the end. We were recording years ago, and there was this super ugly kitchen in the house we were staying in, so we were doing drawings and covering all the walls! That’s where that started.
Wait, is it your house?
No! It was some house we were renting *laughs* All the drawings are at Evan’s place now.
What is it about drawing?
We both drew a lot when we were kids. I think it’s just fun. I don’t know if it helps the music necessarily, it was more of a distraction if anything. It’s a fun hobby.
I read in your interview with SPIN that in this album, you didn’t want to have parts where people talked over to say the next bit was cool.
That always happens! You know when you’re playing someone a song and there is like a boring part? You always try to talk over it and try to distract them. We were trying to really avoid that.
Did that put on any extra pressure for you?
Yeah. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We’re pretty critical of our stuff, probably more so than ever before. I think that’s part of the reason this record took so long to make. It just felt like if it wasn’t going to be totally amazing, there was no point.
I guess this is your fifth album, there would be that pressure to keep delivering?
Mhm! We weren’t getting pressure from any people, it was all from ourselves.
That’s even worse in a way!
Yeah it’s way worse! We were actually out of our contract at the time, so we didn’t HAVE to make an album at the time – we just wanted to.
Did they renew your contract when they heard our great it was?
They did, luckily!
I have to ask, when can Australia hear Magnifique live?
Hopefully this year! We have a tonne of touring coming up, but I don’t know yet.
You do have such a packed tour schedule already…
Well, we just took four years off!
Magnifique is out July 17 via XL Recordings/Remote Control Records