By Alexander Laurence
photo by Danna Kinsky
Who knows where Mike Stroud and Evan Mast are from? They're mysterious fellows. They are living in New York City now. Mike hangs out in Crown Heights. They call themselves Ratatat. Mike spent some time playing with Dashboard Confessional and Ben Kweller. That fact has little to do with the music of Ratatat. The band was originally called Cherry.
Evan is the co-founder of Audio Dregs Records and has been releasing records as E*Vax. While Mike was on tour, Evan made some recordings. Paul Banks of Interpol became a fan. He asked them to open for his band on the West Coast. It was then around October 2003, that I was supposed to interview Ratatat. But I couldn .t even get in the venue. It would have to wait until summer of 2004, after their first self-titled album was released in April 2004. This album has no vocals. It seems like it would not work. But live they are one of the best bands around. They have also released a remix CD with hiphop stars rapping over their songs. I caught them at the end of their first American tour.
AL: Where did you guys meet each other?
Mike: We met at college. We went to Skidmore College.
AL: What did you study?
Evan: I did studio art as opposed to graphic art.
Mike: I studied music.
AL: They have a good program there?
Mike: I don .t think so.
AL: Do you have a musical background?
Mike: Yeah. My mom is a really good piano player. All my cousins who live in Los Angeles are great musicians.
AL: Did you meet up in New York City?
Evan: He was in New York a year before I did. I was on the West Coast for a while. I went out there and we started recording together.
AL: What bands were you in?
Mike: I was playing with some friends in the city. I was in this band Pony Express. It was stupid. We played at Luna Lounge.
AL: You played on free nights?
Mike: It was whatever is below the free nights. Luna Lounge was where I met Paul Banks from Interpol. That helped us out. That led to a tour with them.
AL: What is Cherry and E*Vax?
Evan: Cherry is the same band as Ratatat. We had to change the name. E*Vax is my solo project before Ratatat. I did a whole record and some singles. It was a lot mellower. My brother started a label called Audio Dregs.
AL: How do you write songs in Ratatat?
Mike: Most of the time there is a basic beat that is laid out. We play guitars and keyboards over that. Usually every song starts out with a beat. There are a few exceptions.
AL: You do a lot of jamming and recording together?
AL: Where do the samples come from?
Mike: It .s a guy named Young Churf. It .s a guy from our neighborhood. He .s a rapper.
Evan: It was mostly from voice mails. That is why it sounds fucked up. He likes to make speeches.
AL: How did he get your phone number?
Evan: He .s a friend in the neighborhood.
AL: When did you write these songs?
Mike: .Seventeen Years . we did about three years ago. That is about the third or fourth song we ever did. We finished the whole album last summer. By August 2003, it was finished. We had written the album over a period of two years.
AL: How many other songs are there that didn .t make the album?
Evan: Most of it is on the album. There are bits and pieces that we never did finish. It .s all forgotten about or pushed aside. We work on hiphop beats all the time.
AL: Did you release any singles?
Mike: We released one single on Audio Dregs.
AL: Did you record the album yourself?
Mike: Yeah. We recorded it in Evan .s bedroom. He has a studio set up. He has this computer set up with Logic. We did it on a laptop computer.
AL: You never thought of doing it with an outside producer?
Evan: No. We are our own producer.
AL: That .s how you work.
Mike: We were going to mix the album with Tony Hoffner. He mixed the Air album. But we decided against it.
AL: Is there going a lot of remixes?
Evan: Not really. We did a few remixes for other people.
AL: Since you are an instrumental band, it seems like you are more like a dance band than a rock band.
Evan: Yeah. No one has offered to do a remix for us.
AL: There is a sad feeling on a few of the songs.
Evan: It .s more like a feeling of melancholy. It .s only a part of the music. Everyone gets sad sometimes. I don .t feel sad myself right now.
AL: Did you ever feel that you needed to have a vocalist?
Mike: No. Because we like not having a vocalist. We never felt there was a need for one.
AL: Since there is no vocalist, the songs are more abstract. They could be about anything?
AL: People can have their mental picture of what a song is about.
Mike: I like that. It .s not about a certain storyline.
AL: You have played with other bands.
Mike: I was in other bands for two years. My first touring gig was with Dashboard Confessional. I don .t know if you heard of them? It .s this whinny crap. I didn .t really like that. I was like a hired gun.
AL: How does one join Dashboard Confessional or Ben Kweller?
Mike: A friend of mine was on the same label as Dashboard Confessional. He told that they needed a guitar player. I auditioned. We went on tour the next day. On that tour I met Ben Kweller, and I decided to play with him because I liked the music more.
AL: They played on the same tour?
Mike: Once Ratatat got signed and it became more serious, I quit all that.
AL: What did you do during that time?
Evan: I was doing my own stuff during that whole time.
AL: Are there any other bands that you played with besides Interpol?
Mike: Yeah, we played with Franz Ferdinand and Clinic. We just played with The Killers and The Stills.
AL: What was it like playing with those groups?
Mike: Interpol was probably the best tour. When we played with The Killers or The Stills, I think the fans of those bands are not really open to what we are doing.
AL: Do you feel some animosity when you are opening up for Interpol or The Killers?
Evan: A little bit. We get a pretty good reception. People in high school go see The Killers.
AL: Are there places that you like to go when you tour?
Evan: We like the whole west coast. We like Texas. I love Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland. It is always a lot of fun.
AL: Have you played in England yet?
Mike: We are going over there in August 2004 for the first time. We are playing for two weeks. I think we have three days off.
AL: Is it a headline tour?
Evan: We are headlining most of the shows. We are playing with other bands. I wouldn .t call it a headlining tour. We are doing a lot of one-off shows.
AL: How has the record been doing in the UK?
Evan: It .s been slower in the UK than the USA. I thought it would be the other way around. I am not sure if it is because we have never played over there or what.
AL: What are some other bands that you like?
Mike: So much. I like Queen. I like that song .Killer Queen . and all the guitar sounds.
AL: Do you have a lot of effects on the guitars?
Evan: There is very little effects on the record. A lot of people think that there is. But it is mostly distortion and reversed parts. That .s it. There are a lot of layers.
AL: There are no keyboards?
Mike: There are keyboards too. A lot of it is ten guitar tracks layered down together.
AL: Any other good records out there?
Evan: I like the new Ghostface CD. I like a lot of hiphop.
Mike: I used to listen to the Beatles and Michael Jackson. I like The Kinks.
AL: Do you do any art or painting?
Evan: No. But we do all the video projections from our live show. Some of it is hand drawn animated stuff. There is some found footage. I do all the album art and the website.
AL: Do you have any advice for people who want to start bands?
Mike: Work your ass off and practice a lot.
AL: Do you have an expensive guitar and equipment?
Mike: We have one expensive amp. We have a Vox. We have average priced guitars.Website: www.ratatatmusic.com