Ratboys go big
On Their Sophomore Album

By John B. Moore

When Chicago's Ratboys set out to record their 2015 debut, AOID, the process spread out over nearly half a year. "We were only able to record on weekends because Dave (Sagan), our guitarist was in his final year of college living in South Bend," says Julia Steiner, who sings and plays the other guitar for Ratboys. "We stretched out the recording and mixing process - which ended up taking around five months - because we knew we wouldn't be able to properly tour until after Dave's graduation anyway. Also, at the time, we couldn't find a label that wanted to put it out, so we were in no real rush. Of course, Topshelf swooped in right in the nick of time and helped us immensely."

A lot has changed over the past couple of years since signing to Topshelf. The band toured the U.S. and Europe, several times, and then started work on their sophomore record.

Topshelf is set to release GN on June 9th. The record is 10 tracks of solid indie rock, with nods to the early '90s and current emo and even hints of folk and with a slew of new instruments like pedal steel, accordion, cello and violin to an already solid set of guitar rock.

Steiner spoke with us recently about the new record and what was different this time around.

What do you think have been some of the biggest changes with you guys since the first record came out and now?

I'd say the biggest change is probably my confidence playing the electric guitar. Before we recorded AOID, I had always performed with an acoustic guitar. I actually only purchased my electric guitar and amp about two weeks before we started recording. So, I wasn't really used to playing it all that much. I didn't have any real preference or ear for what kind of tone I was going for or anything like that. I was just figuring it out as I went along. And that kind of goes for the record as a whole. Now that I've been performing with an electric guitar for a couple years and touring with it playing hundreds of shows, it feels quite natural, and I've found certain sounds I like a lot.

Is there a general theme running through the songs on GN?

I think a theme that touches a lot of the songs on GN is that of finding your way home. Life as a traveling musician can often feel pretty transitory and unstable - waking up in a different place and space each day definitely takes some getting used to. It's important though - and it keeps me grounded - to find a sense of 'home' in each city where play, in our car, and, really when it comes down to it, anywhere I am with my bandmates.

We often bookend our days by wishing each other 'GM' and 'GN,' which stands for good morning and good night. It has become a sort of mantra and routine, and I like to view those sayings as a symbol for the ways that we embrace all of our impermanent home along the way.

There are also plenty of songs that are obviously not based on either of you. When you're writing do you find yourself drawing more on personal experiences or creating stories about other people?

I think it's a pretty even amount of both. I find that writing songs based on specific memories I have helps me to solidify the details of what I remember. So that's a really satisfying and enticing exercise.

But, at the same time, I think that one of the most intense and important ways I can try to empathize is to learn about another person's experience and attempt to write about it from their perspective. I constantly read articles on Wikipedia, and every so often there are details of a person's life story that just jump off the page and become something real that I get stuck on. That happened with Peter the Wild Boy and Sir Douglas Mawson (who inspired tracks 10 and 5 on GN, respectively). It's a huge challenge to take on someone else's story and try to tell it as an outsider, but I find that every time I have a go at it, I end up learning a ton and feeling something real.

What was the hardest part about starting work on your second album?

I suppose the hardest part was rehearsing parts with Dave and Danny (our drummer), but that really wasn't all that hard. It just takes time, but that's how practicing always goes. I had a track order in my head for months leading up recording time, so there wasn't much uncertainty or deliberation there.

What's next for you and the band?

We're touring with Pet Symmetry in late May and then doing a few dates with PWR BTTM in late July. Hoping to sort out some more tours between those two - we love the routine of playing music every night.

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