Julia Steiner and Dave Sagan began making music together as close friends. The duo soon came into their own as Ratboys, after discovering their musical compatibility, and mutual love for a good melody and intimate storytelling. The Chicago-based group is now two albums and multiple EPs into their career, with no signs of stopping.
We chatted with Steiner after her opening set for Soccer Mommy, in November of 2018, at Atlanta’s Masquerade. Sitting amongst the cigarette-smokers and abandoned tallboys outside the venue, we talked about Ratboys’ past 3 and a half years of touring, and what comes next.
Sagan and Steiner began collaborating musically during college, after finding each other in a niche group of artists at Notre Dame. While their sound has evolved, it remains centered on melodic songwriting, infectious energy and pangs of nostalgia. Steiner says the most noticeable change in their sound was between 2015’s AOID and 2017’s GN. GN presents tracks that are more storied and nimble, including their well-known hit, “Elvis Is in the Freezer.” Electric guitar is more present on their second LP than their first, taking Ratboys beyond an alt-country or indie band, to something less tame.
The most recent release from Ratboys, GL, may only be a 4-song EP, but it’s packed to the brim with evidence of a more dynamic sound to come on their next full-length release. Steiner notes that her favorite track on the EP, “You’ve Changed,” is one that she’s wanted to record since high school. The song has aged well, seamlessly carrying over from the heaviness of losing friends and enduring dramatic changes under the spell of high school angst, to the impermanence and constant oscillations of your early-to-mid-twenties.
Ratboys expects its third LP to come this year, but the duo hasn’t set a date yet. Steiner and Sagan typically use a stream-of-consciousness approach to songwriting, but they have trouble writing on the road, making it difficult to pin down a release date. Some of the tracks are finished, though, and they describe what they’ve recorded so far as having more “live show energy” than anything prior. Despite the writing setbacks due to touring, Steiner says some of her most creative song ideas come during the fast-paced routine of soundchecking, night after night.
Starting in April, Ratboys will be going on tour with PUP, opening for the punk band for a five month stint. This tour comes as a precursor to the next album, and is evidence that Ratboys is expanding their breadth of sound into something that is more punk-fueled than indie rock-based.
There’s no avoiding that it has been a socially and politically raucous past couple of months. And frankly, we shouldn’t avoid it. But as usual, music is here to offer some sort of release. More than that, concerts are here to facilitate community and creativity. So let’s gather together.
This month is chock full of current indie scene staples — from Adult Mom to Wild Nothing. Read on + get your tickets.
At the time of Natalie Prass’ 2015 self-titled LP release, the level of emotion with which she addressed broken heartedness and insecurity seemed apt. But now it’s 2018, and things are different. Prass has responded to today’s oppressors and backwards thinkers with The Future and The Past — an uproar that is louder, more poignant and unmistakable.
The most conspicuous of her subversive messages comes on the track “Sisters” — a call for female and femme-identifying citizens to stick together, and a gracefully angry retelling of the injustices faced by women. This release feels like Prass has stepped out from behind a curtain and is showing us that she’s more than just a pretty voice, in the form of bouncing percussion, layered vocals and melodies reminiscent of ‘80s disco. Although it would be easy to address these topics with solemnity and sadness, she brings a danceable buoyancy to her cry for change. — Erin Patrick
Wild Nothing has become a synth-pop institution. Jack Tatum kicked off the shimmering project in 2009, with the surf rock standard single “Summer Holiday.” The band has continued to produce hazy chillwave over the years, but its latest effort Indigo leans more towards the ‘80s side of synth.
Lead single “Letting Go” set Wild Nothing’s modified tone, with glitchy keyboard and lush guitar riffs. Sultry “Partners in Motion” followed suit, bringing a modernized retro feel. However the crown jewel of Indigo arrives at its close. Co-written by Mitski, “Bend” takes Tatum’s textured instrumentation, and layers a distinctive Mitski melodic line overtop, as the vocals wind and modulate. — Kristy Guilbault
Capacity is one of the best albums of 2017. That’s an indisputable fact, for both critics and fans. Devastating, arresting and delicate, Adrianne Lenker’s songwriting taps into the power of raw vulnerability.
Arriving as Big Thief’s sophomore release, Capacity details the pain of familial tensions, domestic abuse, young love and death. Within the album’s first minutes, Lenker unflinchingly recounts a near death experience from her childhood: “Blood gushing from my head / You held me in the backseat with a dishrag, soaking up blood with your eyes /I was just five and you were twenty-seven / Praying, “Don’t let my baby die.” Earlier this month, Lenker quietly released an equally gorgeous solo album. abysskiss is more simplistic instrumentally, but the potency of Lenker’s voice remains. — KG
Aside from being Adult Mom’s singer, Steph Knipe leads the group with their personality, placing the quartet at the forefront of queer rock. Knipe is a fiery and spirited songwriter, although Adult Mom’s music is known for its melodic simplicity. This simplicity leaves room for Knipe’s pointed social commentary to breathe and be fully digested.
The group’s most recent full-length, Soft Spots, came in 2017, followed by a release of demos from that same album earlier this year. The LP is a collection of brief tracks that are more tender and introspective than any of Adult Mom’s previous work. “Drive Me Home” shows us Knipe’s vulnerable side, as they plead for acceptance and human company: “If I am good / If I am really fucking good / Will you please take me home / Validate me / And create the space I can’t make.” — EP
Alt-punk band Mom Jeans. is taking over The Drunken Unicorn on October 25. The quartet are known for embracing the sad and emo labels. Their 2018 release Puppy Love bursts with worries of understanding how to figure out one’s life. “Wouldn't it be nice / To not have to care about anything or anyone?...I think that I'm just having trouble / Feeling successful in my own life / Maybe we could take some time to think,” is mused on the track “glamourous” — a calming cloud of truth in communicating what you really need to say. — Katie Lipsiner
Our Halloween plans just have been consumed by the need to see Michael Cera Palin’s farewell show. Aside from a great band name, Michael Cera Palin sought to create interesting emo music, and succeeded. The trio released an excellent EP, I Don’t Know How To Explain It, in February, which is comprised of songs written during the three years between their 2015 debut. “Shoutout to every venue that has let us play, every person who watched us in those venues, every band we've played with, and every dog,” the band says in a Bandcamp statement.
Alongside 529 regulars Blis., YOU and King of Summer, the spookiest night of the year is going to be filled with bounties of cheap beer, great punk music that brings the community together and, of course, some gnarly costumes. — KL