You know that song you hear one time and can’t get out of your head, the one where all you can remember is a snippet of it, and you can’t figure out what it’s called or who it’s by for the life of you? This is the song that keeps you up at night when you should be studying or sleeping, futilely Googling misheard lyrics in the soon-to-be-dashed hopes that you can figure out who made those glorious three seconds that haven’t faded away into the recesses of your mind. Well, Ratatat makes songs out of those three second moments. Except they usually don’t have lyrics, so if you hear them on the speakers at Black Cat, you’re pretty much screwed as far as figuring out who the song was by.
“I always pick out certain parts of a song I like the best, like, ‘Oh, I like the percussion,'” says guitarist Mike Stroud, one half of the Brooklyn-based band, a few days before their East coast tour commences. What Stroud and bassist/programmer Evan Mast do with those fragments is what makes their eponymous debut so compelling. An eclectic pastiche of influences (Stroud name-checks Jay-Z, Queen and Beethoven as guiding lights), Ratatat (XL Recordings), and a recent mix tape that superimposes vocals from the likes of Ghostface and 50 Cent over their own beats, cements the duo as genre splicers extraordinaire. Their alchemy involves the seamless mixture of beat machines and guitar to create hook after hook after hook.
In the middle of recording the proper follow-up to the debut, Stroud discussed his excitement about making new music with Ratatat. “We just made two new songs that kind of blow away all of the other songs,” he gushed. “They’re pretty ridiculous – it’s hard to explain.” He and Mast would love to make beats for other people, but right now they’re concentrating on their own new music.
A former touring guitarist for artists such as Ben Kweller and Dashboard Confessional, Stroud said he feels a sense of freedom with Ratatat. “It was a lot more boring,” he says of playing other people’s music. “It sucks. It’s not you at all. People always have an ego. They maybe aren’t a better guitar player than you, but they tell you exactly what to play even though maybe you could do it better. It’s so much better (now).”
Stroud doesn’t limit his frustration to prima donna tourmates. He also takes aim at the mannequin scenesters who frequent rock shows: the indie kids who treat clubs like mortuaries where the only thing being interred is energy. Although this behavior can be seen everywhere, Stroud thinks his adopted home in New York is the worst offender. “The crowds are always kind of bored. They want to be entertained, they don’t want to move,” he lamented. For those willing to show some life (or, God forbid, dance), Stroud promises reciprocation on behalf of the band. He fondly remembers a recent show at Middlebury College. “The crowd was just going crazy, dancing on tables,” he recalled. “We played all our songs twice.”
Ratatat says that it won’t kill you to move a little, but the point of their music is to deny you the choice.
Ratatat plays the Black Cat Saturday. The show begins at 9:30 p.m., with opening acts the Double and Soft Complex.