16th Annual Artist Survey: Ra Ra Riot | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019  

16th Annual Artist Survey: Ra Ra Riot

Wes Miles on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Stan Lee, Climate Change, and Artificial Intelligence

Feb 13, 2019 Web Exclusive
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For Under the Radar's 16th Annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to the last year, plus some fun personal questions. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2018 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from Wes Miles of Ra Ra Riot. The band's last album was 2016's Need Your Light, although last fall they shared a new song "This Time of Year."

For our annual Artist Survey we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about the midterm elections, the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, Kanye West visiting the White House, the #MeToo movement a year later, mental health conditions in the music industry, whether or not they have Flossed, childhood birthday parties and vacations, which Muppets character they are most like, whether or not they are going to The Good Place after death, and much more.

Top 10 Albums of 2018

Here's my Top 5 ½:

1. Soccer Mommy: CleanThe thing that first sucked me in at first was Sophie Allison's voice, but her songwriting is just as beautiful, filled with unexpected left turns and vulnerable moments that I love.

2. Khruangbin: Con Todo El MundoProbably the album that we've collectively, as a band, listened to most this year. Perfect for basically any setting: post show chill, back yard hangs, long solo walks. Just a great record all around.

2 ½. Rostam: "In a River"Okay, this isn't an "album" but it is something that came out this year, not connected to another release. Just love this song!

3. Tierra Whack: Whack WorldThrough the first few tracks during the first listen, I kinda felt like every time I got into a song it would change but something about it starts to settle into a rhythm of its own that's really distinct from anything else I've heard in a while. Aside from that, the sounds and vocals are amazing throughout.

4. Orquesta Akokán: Orquesta AkokánAnother amazing "anytime" record. I can put it on even when I'm tired of listening to music, or my ears fatigued. It's just such a good vibe.

5. Oh Sees: Smote ReverserI've been a fan of Thee Oh Sees since seeing them play at SXSW several years ago. Always so much energy and just good simple songs.

What was the highlight of 2018 for either you personally or for the band? What was the low point?

The highlight of 2018 was definitely finishing our record...mostly, anyway. Still mixing two more songs, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel. The low point was definitely when we got an offer to go to Japan but had a scheduling conflict so couldn't go... still hurts.

What are your thoughts on how the U.S. midterm elections have played out? What do you think the results mean for the Democrats' chances of taking back the White House in 2020?

The thing I'm most excited about politically is the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and other progressives like her. When [bandmate] Mathieu [Santos] and I canvassed for her before her primary upset, she said it's not about waiting for viability or for the change to come to you, it's about going out and doing the work and creating a movement for the issues we care about. This was so inspiring and exciting to me. Although there are reasons to not put all of your hopes and expectations into politicians alone, she's already proven that she's not playing around.

Despite compelling testimony from Christine Blasey Ford and sexual assault allegations from other women, Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in a Supreme Court Justice and many Republican women didn't believe Ford's story. What does this tell you about the general state of the #MeToo movement in 2018?

Maybe I'm cynical but the outcome wasn't surprising, unfortunately. I don't know what the answer is but people are good at lying to themselves to make the world fit their politics, especially the petulant entitled psychopaths in the Senate. As for the music industry, I think increased visibility of these issues is a good thing (obviously), but we still have a ways to go for sure.

Be honest, did you Floss in 2018? (Meaning the dance craze, not the dental care.)

I did not floss, and probably need to floss more.

Which Muppets character are you most like and why?

Swedish Chef? I'm Swedish, kinda clumsy, and often making a mess.

Are you less of a fan of Kanye West now that he's visited the White House and has in other ways supported President Trump?

As a music fan, you do have to grapple occasionally with some really great and/or popular artists having reprehensible views (or actions!), which is tough. I think if Kanye were running for office, or if I was a die-hard fan who had invested a lot in him, I'd feel more urgency to denounce it, but as a casual fan there's more important things to worry about.

Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit tragically took his own life this year. What should be done to improve mental health conditions for musicians?

There's a lot more that can be done to de-stigmatize mental illness, which is a difficult issue, but overall this country needs Medicare for all, including 100% coverage of mental illness. There's no reason to equivocate on this.

In 2018 there were more dire predictions about climate change and we witnessed some of its likely effects firsthand with various deadly storms and forest fires. What should touring musicians be doing to better offset their carbon footprint? How bad do you think it needs to get for governments and corporations to take stronger actions to fight climate change?

Unfortunately, governments and corporations can't and shouldn't be relied on to take stronger actions, no matter how bad it gets. They are myopic by design. Sometimes it feels like we can't make much of a difference on our own either but we have to realize we're not alone and there are growing movements in the country trying to deal with this issue that we can support and encourage. We work as a band a lot with Oxfam, and Mat and I canvassed with DSA for Ocasio-Cortez.

Are you ready for artificial intelligence and a more automated future? Some predict that it may come sooner than we think and will lead to massive job losses.

I saw someone make a case for taxing automation in order to fund UBI [Universal Basic Income], or at least mitigate layoffs, which I thought was interesting. However, I'm not sure I agree with those that say the automation apocalypse is right around the corner. Elon Musk vastly overestimated the rate of his mostly automated production lines. Only very recently has there been a robot designed that can open a door and walk through it. That's something that humans are still really good at! As for AI, it's interesting and I'm much less versed on the nuances but I will say it's mostly the egregiously rich or terrified of death that are most into the AI take over of humanity, which should tell you something. The rest of us should be more concerned about climate change.

What's your favorite birthday party memory from childhood?

I have a July b-day so pretty much every birthday when I was a kid my family would drive to a nearby lake and have a barbecue. We'd rent boats or swim and play racquetball.

What was your favorite family vacation as a kid? What was your least favorite?

My favorite family vacation was probably going to Taos, NM. The skiing was awesome, but, also it was really amazing to see all the Pueblo history. Growing up in the Northeast U.S. sometimes the Native American history is harder to see, so it was really cool to see.

What's been your most surreal experience in the music industry?

The most surreal experience in the music industry was definitely shaking Kanye's hand and being like, "Hey, I'm Wes, nice to meet you." Haha.

When you die, do you think you're going to the Good Place or the Bad Place?

I'm pretty sure I won't be going any place when I die. Unless, like conservation of mass energy in the universe, there's conservation of consciousness and I'll just merge with the infinite, which will be cool.

What's the best advice you've gotten from an older or more experienced musician and what's the best advice you've given to a younger or less experienced musician?

Mostly getting advice from older, more experienced musicians has seemed patronizing to me (lol!), so I tend not to give unsolicited advice to other musicians. Generally we've all gotta take our own path, and I can be indecisive so I probably wouldn't give the best advice anyway.

Beloved chef, travel TV host, and music fan Anthony Bourdain died this year. If you could have appeared on his Parts Unknown show, which city or country would you most have wanted to travel to with him?

The Okinawa episode was so cool. Aside from it being a really beautiful interesting place with amazing food Bourdain seemed to take seriously the cultural history being distinct from mainland Japan. He was pretty sensitive in a kind of unexpected way. Would have been amazing to be there with him.

Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee also passed away this year. Which of his characters (Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, etc.) meant the most to you/did you most identify with?

I was always an X-Men kid. Days of Future Past was an all time great comic, and the movie wasn't terrible either.

In the Trump era do you feel that it's a responsibility to make political music and/or speak out about political issues or do you think it's better to provide your listeners an escape from the never-ending bad news feed?

I think if making political music is what you want to do now, then you should do it, but I think it's always important to make the art that you want to make, not that other people want you to make. I also bristle at the idea that Trump era is so special that is the reason you're making art a certain way. If you're inspired by his comic level stupidity or his sociopathic narcissism then that's cool and you should act on it, but saying he's all that different or worse from Dick Cheney is a farce IMO. That said, I agree that people had probably been too complacent with the status quo until recently, so getting more involved in any way you can is a good thing.

Where do you stand on social media in 2018, is it uniting humanity or ruining the world? And which platform do you find most useful and which one do you think is doing the most harm?

I think the way that social media is uniting humanity, but only in that it is dissolving all of our brains into mush, together.

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