Ratboys on “The Window” and Making a Little Noise | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, May 26th, 2024  

Ratboys on “The Window” and Making a Little Noise

All Good, All The Time

Aug 25, 2023 Web Exclusive Photography by Alexa Viscius Bookmark and Share

Ratboys’ Julia Steiner is quick to point out that The Window (releasing today on Topshelf) is not a concept album, but it is one in which Steiner and the band return to the theme of love more than a few times. So, for a band that revels in contrasts, it’s not surprising that our conversation starts with a song about being angry. All four members of the band—in addition to Steiner who writes, sings lead, and plays guitar, there is Dave Sagan (lead guitar), Sean Neumann (bass) and Marcus Nuccio (drums)—are on hand to discuss the album and all perk up at the mention of “Empty” being one of many highlights on the album.

Working with a dedicated producer for the first time, Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie, Foxing), “Empty” stands as a clear example of a different approach for the band, but also one in which Steiner is spitting mad. The track is a huge sounding four-minute riff of a pop song and Steiner conveys the frustration at its heart by barely being able to get the lyrics out. The phrase “I have” repeats and repeats and repeats over a glorious squall of hook-filled noise. “The whole idea of that song is that sometimes when you’re angry you can’t form complete sentences. You keep getting started on something you want to say, but you can’t because you’re just so clouded by the rage,” Steiner explains.

And if singing about anger is a departure for the band, “Empty” is also the consummate track to show the band’s willingness to punch things up in the studio and bring Ratboys’ sound to another level. Booking in 24 days of studio time (compared to 10 for 2020’s Printer’s Devil and under a week for 2017’s G.N.) allowed for plenty of new ideas to be explored. “That song is much different than the rest,” Nuccio explains. “I’m only using a kick, a snare, a hi-hat, and a crash cymbal. I remember we laid Dave’s guitar near the snare drum and there’s just some crazy guitar tones. The guitar solo was tracked through a tiny amp that was about the size of a grapefruit and Chris put a microphone in the hi-hat so that’s just a crazy sound.”

For all the energy around noise and anger, The Window wouldn’t be a Ratboys album if there wasn’t a softer center to go along with the newfound crunch. The theme of love, and the word itself, crops up more than a few times over the course of the album. Though the opening track, “Making Noise for the Ones We Love,” doesn’t mention love by name, it’s right there in the title and makes for a good tag line for the group’s stock in trade. “That phrase just popped into my head and I knew I wanted the song to be about relationships and the way they change over time. It just made sense to me to make noise as a gesture for the people you care about,” Steiner says. Steiner’s lyrics on The Window may not always have the clear narrative arc of some of the band’s hallmark songs, à la G.N.’s “Elvis in the Freezer” or “Molly,” but some of the songs are heart wrenchingly clear in their message. The title track details the loss of Steiner’s grandmother, but through the eyes and words of her grandpa. Married nearly 60 years, Steiner’s grandparents were not able to be in the same room in her grandmother’s final days, so her grandpa had to communicate with her through an open window. “I was stuck in Chicago [during COVID], but my mom and sister would call me and tell me everything that had happened. I felt an extreme sense of urgency to write it all down. And my sister moved in with my grandpa and she would help him cook and keep the pieces together in his life. So, I know the image of him sitting at the table with his phone is kind of depressing, but it’s just [describing] the real mundane weeks after you lose someone. It’s just how it goes,” Steiner says.

Using words to describe her grandpa, it also feels like Steiner is getting to the root of her own being. “He’s just a big softy. Very sentimental and very honest, you never have to guess what he’s thinking. He shares his emotions generously and so that’s what I was trying to do with the song. Just preserve that,” Steiner shares. “He and I listened to the song together a couple of weeks ago and his exact words were, ‘I’m very glad you did this.’”

While Steiner’s grandparents’ relationship spanned decades, she also touches on the headiness of newfound love in one of the two songs tucked behind the monster that is “Black Earth, WI.” The first of those songs, “I Want You (Fall 2010)” describes the beginning days of her and Sagan’s relationship. “I had the idea to write about that period in a relationship where you’re just getting to know someone and you’re infatuated. Not just romantically, but as friends. It’s like all good, all the time,” Steiner explains. It’s not the first time that Steiner has looked to her own relationship for source material, so naturally one has to wonder how Neumann and Nuccio feel about another “Julia and Dave” love song. “It’s our past too in a way. Not specifically that story, but that timeframe is nostalgic for us too, but with different people,” Neumann says.

The Window starts with “Making Noise for the Ones You Love” and ends with a song that doesn’t mention love in its title, “Bad Reaction.” But rest assured, love is at its core. “What’s the one thing that you love?” Steiner queries repeatedly in the song (bumper stickers with the phrase are also available). “I don’t know, at the end of your life, at the end of the day, what is most important to you? What do you hold dearest? What do you care about? I love a good rhetorical question and it was definitely the plan to bookend the album with those two songs. Practically they are in the same key, but I also just love when albums are kind of a loop and you feel prompted to start over,” Steiner says. And truly, it doesn’t take much prompting to listen to The Window on repeat.


Read our 2021 interview with Ratboys.

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