By Alex HudsonWhile many bands from small towns across Canada have flocked to the country's major metropolises, Rah Rah have stuck it out in their original home base of Regina, SK. The group's third album, The Poet's Dead, alludes to the players' Prairie upbringing both lyrically and musically, which draws upon folk and salt-of-the-earth roots rock. And yet, the guys and girls of Rah Rah never sound confined by their origins. Their scorching electric guitars and occasional use of synthesizers are distinctly modern, and the songs touch upon universal themes of love and the pursuit of artistic fulfillment. The Poet's Dead isn't a huge departure from the group's previous two full-lengths, as once again, the ensemble trade-off vocals and blend genres for a vibrant sound that favours raw energy over studio polish. Considering that the band have an ever-expanding fan base across Canada and a seemingly non-stop touring schedule, more of the same thing is definitely welcome.
The Poet's Dead comes fairly close behind your solo EP, Downtown. Did making a solo record influence your work with Rah Rah? Vocalist Erin Passmore: I think it gave me a little bit of time to explore things on my own, and then it just reenergized me to go into the studio for Rah Rah. All of the songs had already been written for Rah Rah, for the most part, but when I was recording my EP, I actually wrote "Prairie Girl." It was a barebones version of it. It sort of gave me the confidence I needed to go in and do what I needed to do — vocally, especially.
What differentiates a solo song from a Rah Rah number, in terms of your writing? It happens with Marshall and Kristina [Hedlund] too — if we have a riff or an idea and a basic structure, the band take it to the next level. We'll sort of flesh-out the ideas. It becomes more collective, just because, since we've been writing together for so long, it's almost like you have this trust. You're not just talking to some producer you don't really know; you're talking with friends and they're giving you honest feedback. We're all kind of on the same page, as far as writing is concerned. Joel [Passmore] had the idea to pick up "Prairie Girl" as sort of a retro-influenced, more upbeat song. That's just the type of thing that happens. It's really neat, actually, because everybody comes from different backgrounds.
How collaborative is Rah Rah's process? Is it the case where the person who sings the song wrote it? That's generally how it works. "Run" is one of our most collective songs on the record. Kristina sings it, obviously — she wrote the words — but Marshall originally had this riff, but he kind of couldn't go anywhere with it. Then Kristina just took it home one day. We didn't really know that she took it home, but she was like, "I don't want to let this go," so she wrote a bunch of words and this melody and then came back to rehearsal. It was like, "Oh, wow, this is a real song now."
All of your records include references to Saskatchewan or the Prairies. Is that a conscious choice to represent the Prairies? I think it's just in our blood a little bit. A lot of these songs were written when we were away from home, so I think that, on this record, it's more of a reference to being away and what that means for your relationships and the progression of each individual life. I know Marshall was exploring the idea of what compels people to do these crazy things, as far as being on the road and being horrible to your body for months at a time just to progress his art. Mine have a lot to do with how to relate to your home when you're constantly away. And then Kristina talks a lot about if this is what she's meant to do — her ancestors, is this what they worked for? Is this what her parents worked for, for her? It's definitely in our blood. It just comes out in different ways.
Many Canadian bands that aren't from the big cities end up heading to Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal. Why have you stuck it out in Regina? I'm not sure if it defines us, but we definitely feel at home there. Leif [Thorseth] lives in Vancouver, and then, actually, I'm probably going to move there in a little bit, but the band are staying in Regina. It's where the home base is. We can't really imagine doing what we do anywhere else, because, in Saskatchewan, we've got such a community of friends that all support each other. I think that to leave that, even if we didn't intentionally mean to turn our backs on that, it would feel like that a little bit. We're Prairie folk. That's part of our identity whether we like it or not.
You recorded The Poet's Dead with Gus Van Go and Werner F. What did they bring to the process? They brought much-needed structure. They have these methods of organizing everything, even the preproduction. We would play the songs for Gus and he would write out all the structures on a piece of paper and then we would have that visual aid, and just understand more of, "Oh, this song is way too convoluted." And then be able to edit a lot more. He taught us a lot about that and the importance of it. Even if you're really attached to a part, it doesn't necessarily mean it's lending itself to what a song is supposed to be doing. He taught us a lot about that and taking your ego out of things. That was a huge step for us.
The most significant stylistic departure on the album is "I'm a Killer." What inspired the synth-driven sound? It started out pretty guitar-heavy. The beginning of the song didn't used to be like that, but we obtained one of those omnichords for pretty cheap, and we just sort of played around with it. Jeff, when he joined the band, he was playing around with a drum sampler too and just had these ideas of what would make it a little bit quirky. Not give it an electronic vibe, necessarily — it does, but not completely, because it kind of morphs into this other song. Then it has that bookend feel, but in the middle it's more band-oriented. That was just experimentation and that's just what we ended up with.
The album is called The Poet's Dead, and the preceding seven-inch was titled Little Poems. Is poetry of special interest to the group? I think it is, especially to Marshall. I would call him the poet of the band. I covet the way that he writes, just because he can tell a story and be objective yet completely personal. I have to write from my perspective, which is just how it works out. He's exploring the idea of art and poetry, and how, as an artist, your work will live on past you. Even if no one knows about you, they still might know about your work. It's just about that relationship.
You're known for using some pretty good gimmicks in your live shows, like Pop Rocks and confetti. Do you have any new tricks up your sleeve for the tour behind The Poet's Dead? I think we're still working on our gimmicks. We've still got those huge balloons that we really like, but now, with the helium shortage, it puts a little bit of a damper on that one. We can fill them up with regular air, but the last time we used helium it was, like, $100 for six balloons. It's not worth it! This helium could be used for medical equipment! It keeps us on our toes, as far as that's concerned. We'll hopefully be trying a couple new things. Joel's at the helm of all of our shenanigans, so we'll see what he comes up with.