Beneath the flashing stage lights, Rebecca Zeller moves with the music, sometimes rocking in place with her violin and, other times, moving across the stage in short, snappy hops.
Zeller and her five friends make up the band Ra Ra Riot, the New York-based group that visited The New Parish venue in Oakland April 20.
Zeller, the band’s 26-year-old violinist, began playing music with college friends she met while studying at Syracuse University and created Ra Ra Riot in 2006.
Though the band has only released one album, 2008’s The Rumb Line, they have enjoyed a good deal of success. Fresh off a tour with Death Cab For Cutie, with features in both SPIN magazine and Rolling Stone magazine, the band has created quite a name for itself.
Still, Zeller is humble when discussing the band’s success.
“I’m so excited and proud we can do what we do,” Zeller said. “[But] there was a time when we wondered if anyone would show up. You would go to a venue and there would be four people there. But the change is gradual. You don’t exactly realize it.”
If press coverage is any indication, Ra Ra Riot no longer has any problem drawing a crowd. In 2008 Rolling Stone put the band on its “Hot List” and SPIN declared it “one of the best young bands we’ve heard in a really long time.”
Though Zeller may seem a little nonchalant, she says she is happy about the band’s progress from house parties in New York, to the Oakland’s New Parish and finally to the stage at Coachella, one of California’s most popular music festivals.
“Our first three goals when we started the band was get signed, have fun and go to Japan,” said Zeller with a knowing smile.
Lucky for them, their third goal has just become a reality. Zeller said the band just confirmed that it will be touring in Japan.
While the goal of taking a trip to Japan was originally thought of as a joke, Ra Ra Riot’s dream is a tribute to the band’s fun, spirited vibe.
Though often categorized as indie rock, SPIN’s review of the band noted that they “seem immune to the sort of stoicism that accompanies much of today’s best drama rock. In person, every moment is imbued with urgency and emotion.”
When playing live, lead vocalist Wes Miles can be seen dancing across the stage while bassist Mathieu Santos and guitarist Milo Bonacci partner up to dance with whatever band mate crosses their path. Alexandra Lawn, the band’s cellist, furiously plays her instrument as she sways back and forth and drummer Gabriel Duquette beats forcefully on his set.
Their chemistry is obvious and as the thick, vibrating tones of cello and violin weave themselves into the pop bass/guitar riffs in “Ghost Under Rocks,” it’s almost impossible to stay still.
Miles’ melodic voice surges to high notes that are sometimes joined by Lawn’s own perfectly-timed harmonies.
Seeing them this way, it’s easy to forget that Ra Ra Riot is not just a hobby, but part of a career that Zeller hopes will achieve a new level of success with the release of their second album this summer.
“Obviously you don’t go pursue music for the money, but if this is your career, then it’s important,” Zeller said. “I’m hoping, with this next record, it’ll propel our career to the next level and we’ll all be able to get apartments.”
Zeller maintains a relaxed attitude about the project, but it’s important to her that the next record does well. If it doesn’t, “we don’t have anything to fall back on,” Zeller said.
If fans don’t like the music, no one comes to the shows and the music doesn’t get licensed to commercials, radio or TV, Zeller elaborated.
“You can never predict what people are going to like, what they’re going to take to,” Zeller said.
But despite the anxiety of releasing a new album, Zeller says she is pleased with the way the project has unfolded thus far.
“I think it’s brought us to places we’d never thought we’d go,” she said. “Obviously, we all think the payout is worth it.”