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.
This month's concert calendar brings a steady lineup of artists, from a big name at The Tabernacle to local and regional up-and-comers at 529. Read on for a glimpse into what not to miss this month.
Groovy dream pop trio Fantasy Guys return to 529 with Berndsen & Hermigervill, Raindeer & and Atlanta’s own True Blossom. Fantasy Guys’ 2017 EP Cruisin’ Around Respectin’ Babes is the perfect tropical follow-up to On Poppy Island (2016). Following their debut EP Surfin’ on A Wave of Juice (2015), Fantasy Guys have continued to create lush chillwave against the grit of the Atlanta cityscape. It’s almost too enthralling to be able to transport listeners to beach daydreams, filled with smooth vibes of sun kissed sensations. – Katie Lipsiner
The female-fronted group Speedy Ortiz released their third full-length, Twerp Verse, on April 27. Prior to unveiling the album, the noise pop outfit released three singles, all of which are marked with the grimy 90’s-esque guitar lines that characterize the group’s sound. On “Villain,” frontwoman Sadie Dupuis sings about the unfortunately commonplace harassment that women experience on a daily basis, describing a scenario many of us can relate to: “We ride the same bus, he knows my name / I wanna know what kind of games you like / He talks like he knows me, so I’m being polite.”
Opening for Speedy Ortiz is 20-year-old Sophie Allison, who began playing and self-publishing music under the name Soccer Mommy in 2015. The young musician signed a record deal with Fat Possum after her first show under the moniker at Silent Barn in Brooklyn. She released her second full-length LP, but first studio release, Clean this year to much acclaim. The album includes tense tracks like “Your Dog,” which draws a frighteningly accurate metaphor between a dog and her owner, and a girl and her partner in a suffocating relationship. Allison sings, “I’m not a prop for you to use, when you’re lonely or confused / I want a love that lets be breathe, I’ve been choking on your leash.” Although “Your Dog” is undoubtedly aggressive, on the track “Cool” Allison shows us her versatility with a pop-style vocal hook that effortlessly turns into earworm you’ll find yourself singing all day long.
Together, Speedy Ortiz and Soccer Mommy are geared up to put on a show led by women, charged with angst, and bound to make you bob (if not bang) your head. – Erin Patrick
Listening to Hop Along, lead singer Francis Quinlan’s voice is the first thing to stand out. It isn’t gentle – it grabs you and holds on tight as she wails on notes and lets her voice crackle. But make no mistake, that crackle is by no means a sign of weakness. Quinlan’s vocals are strong, as are the words she sings alongside the other 6 members of the Philadelphia-based rock band. The band released their follow up to 2015’s Painted Shut last month. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is 40 minutes of start-to-finish raw emotion, with guitar and strings that prove that rock music is alive and well. On this record though, Quinlan and co. also dabble in new sounds like the autotune used during “Somewhere a Judge” the LP’s driving second track.
Hailing from Ohio, folk rockers Saintseneca will open for Hop Along. Signed to ANTI- Records, the group is led by songwriter Zac Little, whose distinctive voice and captivating melodies have earned the band recognition in the indie rock scene. Saintseneca finished recording their forthcoming album this spring, and their most recent single, “The Wandering Star,” features misty vocals above twinkling guitar that builds as the song progresses and percussion is added. The track takes on an ominous feeling, as Little sings “I guess you never know what you never know,” and “You will never know firsthand what day you're born on.” – EP
If there’s one thing Cicada Rhythm exponentially excels at, it’s their ability to effortlessly mix blues, jazz and folk. As Georgia natives, the sound of Andrea DeMarcus and Dave Kirslis points to the modernized folk that hone in on soulful harmonies. The duo released their sophomore full-length, Everywhere I Go, on April 27 via Athens’ New West Records. Songs like album opener “America’s Open Roads” evoke the feeling of a breeze floating in from an open car window in the dead of summer, with DeMarcus’ arid, soulful vocals. – KL
Over the past year, Neighbor Lady has slowly taken over the Atlanta DIY scene with an arresting blend of indie-rock and country western, fronted by Emily Braden’s warbling vocals. Too nervous to play solo, Braden looked to fellow Athens, Ga. musician Jack Blauvelt for support. Neighbor Lady has grown massively since – popping up on dozens of local show bills and opening for the likes of Lomelda – all the while lacking a substantial online presence or any recorded music.
In January, the eclectic quartet announced their forthcoming debut LP, Maybe Later, due out May 11. The seven “country kissed alt-rock” tracks embody the spellbinding energy of Neighbor Lady’s live performances, with fiery guitar riffs and heartbreaking melodic lines. “Wring Me Out” brings Maybe Later to a volatile end, as Braden nearly yells over apprehensive instrumentation, before resolving into a minute of ambient synth. Neighbor Lady brings their twang-tinged vigor to 529, to celebrate the highly-anticipated release of Maybe Later. – KG
Dr. Dog returns to Atlanta with their 10th studio album Critical Equation – due out April 27 via Thrifty Tigers – proving to the world time and time again that they are the kings of sweet and soulful rock n’ roll. The Philadelphia-based psych rockers are back on tour after two years away from the road, in support of the new 2018 record.
The follow-up to last year’s Abandoned Mansion retains the band’s signature Americana influences, such as on Critical Equation’s debut single, “Listening In.” The track begins with a bobbing bassline, before co-frontman Scott McMicken’s twangy vocals stealthily appear. Whether you’re a die hard Dr. Dog follower, or just looking for a transformative psych-rock musical experience, the band’s show at the Tabernacle this month can’t be missed. – KL
With steady opening slots for groups like Twin Peaks, Whitney, Melkbelly, et., Deeper has been heavily rooted in the Chicago indie scene for the past four years. But, with the forthcoming release of their debut self-titled album – due out May 25 via Fire Talk Records – the agit-pop four-piece is widening their gaze beyond their local circles.
Deeper’s first single “Pink Showers” is bursting with angular guitar riffs, reminiscent of fellow art-punk groups Omni and Palm, overlaid by Nic Gohl’s speak-singing vocals. The track’s pointed nature is softly contrasted by the dreamy synth and heavily reverbed guitar of follow-up single “Pavement.” Deeper will hit 529’s newly renovated stage, ahead of post-punk Atlanta natives Small Reactions, Trashcan and Omni. – KG
With lush surf rock riffs and catchy melodic hooks, it’s hard to believe that the members of Lunar Vacation aren’t yet old enough to drink, and that frontwoman Grace Repasky is still burdened by 18+ show age restrictions. Atlanta’s own “pool rock” five-piece formed during high school, and quickly went on to self-release Swell, a sharp EP that’s wise beyond their years. With hopes to soon record a follow-up project, Lunar Vacation are hard at work touring and writing new tunes. The band will perform a graduation show at Westside’s new DIY venue the Bakery, in honor of Maggie Geeslin (guitar) and Repasky (vocals, guitar) finishing high school. – KG