At home in an Orchard

The sun streams through the perfect rows of trees laden with juicy peaches. The long grass is soaked with dew and the air is clean, crisp and clear. A solitary house breaks the uniformity of the peaceful rural environment and stands out like an island in the sea of branches and leaves.

It’s hard to think of many locations for writing a record better than the one that Ra Ra Riot chose. The band settled down in a peach farm borrowed from a friend to record the follow up to 2008’s The Rhumb Line. The product was the succinctly named album, The Orchard, which sports an imprint of the magical locale in which it was created.

“We spent six weeks on this orchard in this beautiful house that we all lived in. It was at the end of the summer, it was just really beautiful,” says cellist Alexandra Lawn. “We were eating peaches everyday and we were writing tons of music. Everyone was in a happy spot creatively and so it was really productive. The ability to go outside, or go on a run, or play croquet, or pick some peaches . . . that really played a part in the writing as an experience and the songs embody that magical feeling.”

It was an effective move for a band that all participate in the writing process. On the one hand, the total participation seems surprising because the band is a sextuplet and coordinating collaboration is a daunting task. On the other hand, the depth, complexity and cohesion of Ra Ra Riots instrumentation and arrangement show that they truly have a special process.

“We all participate. It’s very, very collaborative and hands-on,” says Lawn. “Everything starts from one person or another’s idea, and that idea can be something very short or small or incomplete or partly complete. It could be a chord progression or a melody and then we just jam on it, and talk about it, and mold it and change it.”

The band had to abandon the idyllic surroundings of the orchard to actually record and produce the album. They then passed the album off to Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij to mix the album.

“To be able to add two artist’s perspectives and input and talent to the mix was something we really wanted. We let them just take over that step of the album being created. Our work was done and we kind of handed it off,” says Lawn. “They mixed the songs and added things and took things away that they felt and heard.”

It wasn’t the bands first time working with Batmanglij. Lead singer Wes Miles collaborated with the Vampire Weekender on their electro-pop side project Discovery that was released last year to critical acclaim. Discovery saw Batmanglij and Miles reinterpret “Can You Tell,” one of the songs on Ra Ra Riot’s debut album The Rhumb Line. While the band entered into the arrangement with a some trepidation, Lawn was quick to see the benefits of bringing in outsiders.

“You’re always a little scared at first, but once you get the first few mixes back, you’re hearing things you didn’t hear yourself — a slant on them that you didn’t think of. It’s really exciting and cool and having two artists that we just really respect and love their work, we weren’t that scared,” says Lawn.

The band have just finished their American tour for their new release and are on a quick break at home in Brooklyn before heading off into the desolate winter of Canada for another leg of the tour — far away from the croquet and peach-picking of last summer.

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