An Interview with: Evan Maast (Ratatat).

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Synchronising guitars with funk-driven basslines and hazy drum beats overlaid with cellos and bizarrely cool samples, Ratatat’s genre-bending blend of instrumental music crafts a world unto its own. It’s a futuristically now sound that has won them legions of fans across the musical spectrum and seen them work with everyone from Interpol to Kid Cudi.

This onomatopoeia-ic duo from Brooklyn first formed in 2001, comprising of Mike Stroud (guitar, melodica, synthesisers percussion) and producer Evan Maast (bass, synthesizers, percussion). Since then, they have released four albums: Ratatat (2004) Classics (2006) LP3 (2008) and LP4 (2010). After four years, Ratatat return with their latest studio album Magnifique. Evan Maast gave me a call to tell me all about it.

Recorded in studios across Jamaica, Brooklyn, and Long Island, Ratatat blended the experimental sounds found on their two previous records with the more naturalistic trinity of guitar-bass drums of their first album. The result is a natural progression for the band. It is probably best exemplified by Magnifique’s sassy lead single Cream on Chrome, which features nimble guitar work weaving in and out of a strut-worthy bassline. However, it took a while to get the formula right, and the band experimented with a wide variety of sounds during the recording process. “In order to make a fifth album necessary, it really had to be something that needed to exist, it couldn’t just be a continuation of what we had done before. Each song had to feel absolutely necessary.” In order to maintain their high standards, they found themselves leaving around fifty songs that they had worked on for weeks at a time on the cutting room floor because they “didn’t have the staying power.”

Because the album had such a long gestation period, it led to the band being “hard on themselves” when recording Magnifique. Creating sustainable instrumental music can be a challenging exercise, and for Ratatat, creating strong melodies was an essential part of their song writing process. “You have to be constantly moving. Every time a section comes back around you need to either add a new element or take one away to keep it interesting” observes Maast. Adding interest and texture to Ratatat’s songs during the recording of Magnifique sometimes happened quite serendipitously. The woozily idyllic jam Supreme features birdsong recorded by Maast after hearing them as he walked around Brooklyn listening to the original mix and realising that “it fit the song well.”

Although they have also released two albums of remixes, Ratatat had never done a cover until Magnifique. They selected ‘I will Return’ by Springwater, an English artist from the 1960s and 1970s who was a noted multi-instrumentalist. “I’d actually never heard of Springwater until recording this album” Maast admits sheepishly. “He was a big hit in England, and there are clear similarities between our music. He’s really into guitar, and his songs have a hymn-like quality. People said the same thing about our first record. I felt a connection {to Springwater] immediately, and now it’s one of my favourite records.”

The album is the first to don a title since 2006’s Classics. The reason being that LP3 and LP4 were recorded in close proximity and “felt like siblings” whereas Magnifique was a “clear definitive break.” Its Sgt Pepper-esque cover features drawings done by Stroud and Maast during a recording stint on Long Island. “It had a hideous kitchen” remembers Maast. “We both enjoy drawing, so were doing that in the evening for fun, but also to cover up the cabinets, and we eventually decided to use [the pictures] as our album art.”

‘Magnifique’ is French for magnificent, a word that can be used to describe Ratatat’s live shows. Featuring psychedelic lights, as well as Stroud’s remarkable flexibility, the band have performed to sell-out crowds each time they have come to New Zealand. The tracks on Magnifique were chosen with live performances in mind. “It was difficult to perform LP3 live because there were so many different elements happening. With these new songs, they translate pretty well to just the two of us” says Maast.  When asked if their pre-show ritual includes Mike doing preparatory yoga, Maast laughs. “Nah, we just hang out, have a beer. We lay out our day so that our energy peaks as we are going onstage.”

After four years of carefully recording, Magnifique is a labour of love that lives up to its name. It’s out on July 17th and it’s been worth the wait.

This article was first published on the 11th of July 2015

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