Published Jun 28, 2010In the 23 months between the release of LP3 and LP4, Washington, DC synth and guitar duo Ratatat have done much to keep themselves in the public eye, including collaborating with Kid Cudi, remixes for Björk and session work with Julian Plenti and Despot. LP4 feels like the result of such outreach endeavours, as Ratatat pull together influences from all directions, culminating in leftfield ideas like the incorporation of a string section and samples from films like Stroszek and Days of Heaven. Opening track "Bilar" immediately sets the tone for the album, as Evan Mast's synth lines percolate for a full minute before Mike Stroud's signature harmonized guitar locks into a groove that quickly fades away. By the time "Drugs" takes effect, Mast and Stroud are in full Ratatat mode, before "Neckbrace" gets all Bobby McFerrin on you, using nonsensical scats to drive the song's transparent rhythms. "Mandy" and "Grape Juice City" deliver some of the most hip-hop-influenced funk of their career, seemingly influenced by the Ultimate Breaks and Beats collection, presenting these songs as bite-size, easily digestible pieces. LP4 sees Ratatat positioning their ideas in myriad ways, a savvy technique for a band whose sound could have easily become stagnant.
I read that the songs from LP4 are leftover tracks from LP3.
Keyboardist Evan Mast: That's not true. I've been reading that too and it frustrates me when I see that. We recorded this record immediately after the last one. The recordings we did first became LP3 and following that we made another set of recordings, but it's definitely not leftovers. The earliest stuff for LP4 was done immediately after and then we kept going back in later and recorded a couple more songs. There was a long period where we weren't working on anything or we were touring for LP3. It wasn't like we were working on it steadily for two years, but we were still finishing it up two years later.
That said, what would you say was the main difference between the recording of LP3 and LP4, approach wise?
Well, because they were in the same studio [Old Soul Studios], there wasn't a dramatic difference between LP3 and LP4, unlike our older material, which was recorded in my apartment. With this album, it wasn't as much the style as it was the songwriting that changed. We were just getting into different kinds of song structures and working with vocals a lot. [There's] a lot of bizarre stuff that people think are keyboards ― the way we harmonized with vocals and loops. There were a few brief moments of things like that on LP3, like on "Shempi," [but] we really tried to explore that more on this record. For me, [on] songs like "Neckbrace" and "Mandy," the structures are unlike anything we've done before. The way we approached writing the songs, generally it's a little more linear, the way we work. Mostly, we'd focus on a certain section of a song then we'd move on to another and rearrange the elements until we would have an actual product, unlike new songs like "Neckbrace," which was more working on the whole song at the same time from the ground up, just trying to come up with different ideas until we made this mess. And then we'd go back and organize it, which is kind of a fun way to work.
Was the new direction in any way influenced by touring and working in the studio with other artists?
I think it was something that was going to happen anyways. It was more about keeping ourselves entertained in the studio, putting ourselves in situations that we've never been in before. We're always trying to challenge ourselves. Working with all of these strange instruments, you put yourself in a situation that you are not entirely comfortable with. And when you do that you come up with more unique thoughts because you're forced to break your old habits.
I find because to the effects on Mike Stroud's guitar that you can recognize a Ratatat song right away. Is there a specific signature sound you work on?
Mike uses fuzz pedals and, generally, we're harmonizing on most parts, so that might be what people recognize as our signature sound. It's just a sound that we were really attracted to and it does take up a lot of space. When you harmonize like that for instrumental music, it's a kind of a replacement for somebody's voice: this really rich sound. And when you start harmonizing, a lot of layers of harmonics and such can fill it out the same way a voice would take up space on a track.
Some of the spoken word samples you used were taken from an interview you did with actress Linda Manz. What inspired this?
To use the samples from [Terence Mallick's] Days of Heaven, I had to get permission from her [Linda Manz] because the way her contract was with the movie studio she had to sign off on everything. She kind of disappeared from the Hollywood scene and lives in a small town in the middle of the desert with her family and hasn't been in movies in forever. She was really difficult to find; it took about a year to track down a phone number for her. But once I finally did and talked to her she was really cool and into being part of the record. Up to that point it was really just about using the sample [on "Party with Children"], but most of the time I just spent talking with her and we got along really well, so I had the idea to have her go on and do some narration for the record. Me and my sister went to her house out in the desert in California and we just sat down with her for an afternoon and talked about all kinds of stuff. She told her life story, basically; it was really entertaining. Initially, Days of Heaven had a lot of dialogue-heavy scenes with Richard Gere and the actress [Brooke Adams], and they went in afterwards and started cutting all of these scenes that were moving the plot along. They ended up editing the movie and playing it for Linda without sound in the sound studio and she just made up on the spot the narration. She was just a 12-year-old girl in a studio watching this movie and making up stories to make the movie fit together. I was really into this idea of handing over the controls at the last minute to someone else. I like that she added these narrative elements to the record. (XL)