1. What have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been loving the new Rosie Tucker and Remember Sports records! So much amazing music has come out already this year, it’s wild.
2. What was it like getting a shoutout from Bernie Sanders??
3. Best tavern style pizza in Chicago?
Gotta go with our local spot, Sorrento’s. We like to get two pizzas: one pepp, one giardiniera.
4. Remember that Chef Boyardee commercial where a can of ravioli falls off the shelf and follows a little girl home? That's it. That's the question.
I do! So strange… and vaguely threatening?
5. What are you currently looking forward to?
I’m really looking forward to seeing my brother and his fiance in a few weeks. Also, I’m excited to catch some Chicago Red Stars games this summer.
6. Who would win in a fight? Agent Cody Banks, OR Malcolm from Malcolm in the Middle + Reece and Dewey?
Definitely Malcom and his bros… they’re scrappy.
7. If you ever meet Willie Nelson, can you please let him know that I love him?
8. My biggest fear is running into Tony Hawk and not immediately recognizing him. What is your biggest fear?
Hmm… probably losing the ones I love.
9. What is the WORST piece of advice you can give me?
Give up! Right now!
10. Any Chicago bands that you think we should check out?
Hundreds… right now: Moontype, Floatie, Waltzer, Dehd, Tasha, Mia Joy, Sen Morimoto…
Isaac Gutierrez for Born Loser Mag: To start things off, can you introduce yourselves and tell us about how Ratboys began?
Julia Steiner of Ratboys: Sure! I’m Julia, and I play guitar and sing in the band. Ratboys started when I met my bandmate Dave in 2010. We were both freshmen in college, and we became friends over a shared love of the same bands and playing music. I showed Dave some songs I wrote in high school, and we worked on them together and put our first EP up on Bandcamp in April 2011. And then we started playing shows and never really stopped!
I’ve seen a lot of bands that start in college slowly stop making music. What do you think has contributed to Ratboys longevity?
I think part of it is because when we started playing shows together we didn’t have any real career ambitions in music… we did it completely for fun, and we didn’t really put any pressure on ourselves to grow a lot right away. We just focused on writing songs and playing together. Once we both graduated and we went on our first D.I.Y. tours, we got to meet a lot of really kind people who helped us keep booking shows and tours. We got really used to playing small shows and grinding on the road, and we’ve always been content to grow slowly over time.
What was it like coming up in the Chicago music scene?
It’s been really amazing. There’s something special about Chicago and the people we’ve met here where everyone is really open-minded and into lots of different types of bands. There’s a genuine enthusiasm that lacks any sort of pretension, and it’s encouraged us and allowed us to be ourselves and express ourselves in a really joyous way. Also, specifically Dave and Sean’s scene in the south suburbs of Chicago was filled with a ton of really talented musicians and songwriters who inspired us when we were first starting to play shows. Bands like Freudian Slip, The Para-medics, Albatross, Easter, and Nnamdi Ogbonnaya made the music community there what it was.
I’ve heard your music be called “Post-Country.” Is that kind of a play on genres like Post-Hardcore, Post-Emo, etc.?
Yeah, I started calling our music that back in the day as a joke, and it’s exactly that, playing off of other ‘post-’ genres like ‘post-rock’ and ‘post-hardcore.’ I had never heard of those genres until I met Dave and he introduced me to them, and I just thought it was hilarious. Like, rock isn’t over… so wtf is post-rock?? It was insane to me, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. So yeah, I called our music ‘post-country’ to play off of that… I’m not so sure that it applies any more, or that it ever did, but who knows!
I’m from Texas, so I grew up on old school 50s and 60s country music. Do you have a favorite era of country music?
I’m a sucker for 90s country music… Shania Twain and The Chicks were my idols growing up. Looking back now, it might have been the beginning of the ‘pop-country’ trend. When Shania released the double CD of Up! - one country disc and one pop disc - that was revolutionary in my opinion, it definitely blew my mind. I can’t really stand by modern pop country, but back then it was amazing.
I was going to recommend some country bands that I like, but am I allowed to recommend music to another artist? That feels illegal. Will I get arrested? Please don’t call the cops.
I’d love to hear some recommendations! I always need more music to listen to…
What was the process like going from being two friends jamming out in a dorm room to recording albums and touring all over the world?
It was very gradual. We started jamming together in 2010, and then we didn’t really start touring until after Dave had graduated, in May 2015. So by the time we started to tour in earnest we were super comfortable with one another, and we were used to working on songs together and playing off of one another. Each album we recorded was an opportunity to collaborate with friends and try to sound better than we did before, so it was just a slow build of different ideas and relationships.
Was there a moment where you realized that pursuing a musical career was something that you could pursue?
I think the moment I look to is in May 2017 when we started working with our booking agent. Up until then, I had been booking all of our shows, and it was a huge grind. I loved it, but it was hard. When High Road Touring wanted to start working with us, I realized that we might be able to get on some festivals, find some opportunities, and just generally grow in ways that we couldn’t with my limited network of people to reach out to about booking shows. That was a big turning point for us, and we were and still are very grateful for it.
The first Ratboys song I heard was Elvis is in the Freezer back in 2017. What was the inspiration behind that song?
I wrote that song about my cat, Elvis, who sadly passed away while I was in college (R.I.P.). I was gone, and he was sort of my cat, so my parents kept him in the freezer until I could come home on break and properly lay him to rest. It was definitely a pretty morbid backstory to a song, but also it’s a memory that really makes me smile. Sometimes it really helps when you can find a way to laugh through the grief.
You’ve written songs about Antarctic explorers, feral children, and frozen cats. What are some other things that you draw inspiration from?
Most of the time I draw inspiration from my own experiences, but both Dave and I are always reading wikipedia… it’s one of the main things we bonded over when we first met. So anytime I stumble upon a strange or interesting wiki article, I’ll always bookmark it to come back to. Not often, but sometimes, it becomes a song.
Do you prefer writing from a character's perspective or personal experience?
Definitely personal experience… if it’s not my own experience or that of someone I’m close to, then I like writing about the experiences of people who really lived. I’ve never been a very good fiction writer, unfortunately.
What is the most important thing to you when it comes to songwriting?
That the song feels good to play.
Talk to us a bit about your latest release Happy Birthday, Ratboy.
For sure! So Happy Birthday, Ratboy is an LP made up of 10 new, full band recordings of our earliest songs, plus a bonus track called “Go Outside” which we wrote in 2019. We had the idea to re-record our first EP to update the songs and make them sound like how we sound now, as a full band. We ended up rolling with that plan and also re-recording 5 other college-era songs. It was super fun to celebrate 10 years of being a band by revisiting this old material… honestly I’m not sure that we would have had enough time to do this if we weren’t stuck at home during COVID, so we just feel lucky that we had the opportunity to dive back into these songs like this. Also, it’s been a secret dream of mine to name a record Happy Birthday, Ratboy for a long time, and this was the perfect - and if I’m being honest, probably the only - context where we could make that happen.
What was it like revisiting songs that you wrote literally a decade ago?
It was surprisingly enjoyable! I was totally prepared to feel embarrassed about the old songs or disconnected from them in some way, but I was really pleased when we started working on them because they came back to me right away, and in a way that felt natural to play with Marcus and Sean. We recorded a lot of the parts at home in our basement, so it was fun to try lots of different ideas and just have fun messing around without worrying about the expense of studio time. It felt a lot like the experience of making the EP back in 2011, which was unexpected and really wonderful.
Was there a song that you enjoyed revisiting the most?
Probably “Collected.” That was a song that I wrote with the intention of recording it super loud with a full band. Most of the rest of the songs aren’t like that, but with “Collected” I always hoped that we could give it a proper, big-sounding recording treatment. So, it was a total bucket list thing for me, to re-record that song.
I think the track that immediately grabbed my attention was Go Outside. Can you give us some background on that song?
Yeah definitely, I wrote that song with Dave on 4/20/2019, when we were home in Chicago in between tours. We were playing together in our back room, with the windows open, just enjoying a beautiful spring day. We sort of put that song in our back pocket, left for the next tour, and forgot about it for a while. Then when we started recording Happy Birthday, Ratboy, Kevin at Topshelf suggested recording a new song to add to the end of the record as a bonus track. We sort of looked at the new songs we had, and we realized that “Go Outside” made way more sense in the COVID-era than it ever did before. So, we decided to record it, and it came together really quickly. Shout out to our friend Pat Lyons for recording the pedal steel in like an hour haha.
Were you listening to anything in particular while working/recording the album?
Hmmm not anything super specific that I can recall… we were able to really take our time recording this album, I think we spent like 3 months just chipping away at it on and off, so we were listening to lots of different tunes over that time. I know personally last fall that I was obsessed with the new Knot record and the new Sen Morimoto record. Same with The Beths album that came out last year.
I saw that Dave played lap steel on the album! Is that an instrument that he had played before, or did he pick it up just for this album?
Yes he did play lap steel on the record! Dave says that he bought his lap steel in December 2018, so this is the first album that he got to play it on. He says that it was an instrument he had wanted to try playing for a while. I personally think he’s a natural at the lap steel.
Who do you consider your musical influences?
Hmmm… I think each of the four of us have our own influences, and there are a lot. Personally, I’ll always think of Sheryl Crow, Jeff Tweedy, Sufjan Stevens, and Chad Vangaalen. They’re my favorite songwriters.
I saw that you’re joining Julien Baker on tour next year! Are y’all excited about being back on the road?
Yes! We’re so unbelievably excited. Touring is our favorite thing to do. We’ll be announcing some US shows before long…
Speaking of touring, I read that someone once took a live turkey to one of your shows in Houston. WHY?
Yeah. I don’t know why… I think these teens who brought the turkey were trying to prank us? Or to welcome us to Houston? I’m not really sure.
Did the turkey seem to enjoy your music?
I believe the turkey was escorted out before the show got underway.
Do you have any other memorable show moments?
Speaking of animals, there was one time when we played in Champaign, IL when a grasshopper slowly climbed up my mic cable throughout the course of our set, eventually getting on top of my vocal mic and just chilling there for our final two songs. It was honestly really beautiful, and I like to think that he enjoyed our music because he dipped after we finished playing…
What is your favorite musical accomplishment thus far?
Getting to play shows and release our music in Japan is honestly something that I never thought would happen. That’s something I’m super proud of and grateful for.
What can we expect to see from Ratboys in the near future?
More music and (hopefully) in-person shows... We’re working on new songs, and we can’t wait to hit the road. Also, we’ve been releasing a cover song each month over on our Patreon, so we’re excited to keep having fun with those.
Is there anything that you want everyone to know?
Stromboli - the Sicilian volcano - is currently erupting.
And to wrap things up, do you have any questions for me?
Why not take a crazy chance? Why not do a crazy dance? Seriously, thank you very much for spending time with our music and for putting us in the magazine. Hope ya have a good one!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us! Hope to catch you on tour sometime soon.