It was only two days after the Democratic Debate, still more than a year before Americans can vote, and Mike Stroud has already made up his mind.
"I love Bernie Sanders, he's my favourite." said Stroud. "He just seems like a real person talking about topics that matter. I think I'm gonna vote for him." When asked about forerunning candidate Hilary Clinton, he wasn't as convinced. "She was like a robot. She seemed so prepared."
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There's an urgency that drives his band Ratatat, even as they took a lengthy break after LP4. Busy prepping for an upcoming tour that includes Singapore, appearing at Neon Lights Festival, Stroud is confident about Ratatat's current state and their new album, Magnifique. "We could've put out a shitty record four years ago, after LP4, but we wanted to make sure it would turn out great," explains Stroud. "So we decided that we had to take our time with it."
On the album art for their newest effort Magnifique: "...we had no idea it was gonna end up as the album art. After recording was done, we tried a bunch of different ideas and that just seemed like the coolest one."
Having released their self-titled debut in 2004, Ratatat had six albums out by 2010 — two of which were mixtapes with hip-hop remixes of their songs. Spending intermittent sessions at recording studios around the world, one even in Jamaica, Stroud and bandmate Evan Mast still felt that they still needed some time away from the band. Stroud says that it felt like "10 years touring and recording non-stop" before they decided on a break in 2010.
But in every way, Magnifique showcases a band who sound like they never really stopped. Sounding as "classic Ratatat" as possible, they never veer away drastically from the elements that have kept the band relatively successful, but the melodies and structures on the album are as refreshing as ever. "It took us a long time to figure out what we wanted the record to be," explains Stroud. "It was a lot of experimenting and we ended up throwing out a lot of songs. It was kind of a hard process."
The mostly-instrumental band has had many labels thrown at them over the years, from 'rocktronica' to 'neo-psychedelic', but Stroud is unfazed. "I don't really think about it so I don't care (laughs). I feel like journalists, for some reason, like to label [our music] a certain genre so that it makes sense to their readers but it doesn't bother me."
When asked about how he would describe Ratatat's music, he hesitates but then remembers what he's already said to people: "I just tell them it's kinda like Queen mixed with dance beats." Just like Queen's music, there's a heightened sense of adventure and playfulness to Ratatat's work that separates them from a myriad of experimental rock bands, comparable to instrumental luminaries Battles and Holy F*ck.
Ratatat's surprising accessibility and gleeful eccentricity has also gotten the thumbs up from influential acts like Daft Punk, Bjork, Mogwai and Ghostface Killah among others. It's infectious dance music for the punks, it's raucous rock music for the dance crowd, it's ingenious pop music for the experimentalists, it's a fascinating template for hip-hop beatmakers — the band truly has a limitless appeal.
Their fascination with hip-hop in particular, led them to collaborations with the revered Wu-Tang member, along with Kanye West, Missy Elliot and Kid Cudi, the latter who hired them for his debut album Man on the Moon: The End of Day. Stroud remembers the recording process, which he described as "a little intimidating."
"That was our first time working in a real studio." remembers Stroud, who already had three albums out with Ratatat when this happened. "He had like 20 people in the room and it was crazy, because we would usually record with just the two of us in a super isolated space. Everyone was really nice but yeah, we were definitely out of our element (laughs)."
Despite releasing the band's last hip-hop mixtape in 2007, he still keeps a close ear to modern hip-hop. "I think the whole style is really cool." explains Stroud. "Honestly, I focus more on the beats when I listen to hip-hop. I don't always know what their message is but there's a lot to like about the music."
Promoting the release of the album in 2009, Ratatat performed 'The Pursuit of Happiness', a single off Man on the Moon: The End of Day, with Kid Cudi and psych-pop band MGMT on The Late Show with David Letterman.
He doesn't know if or when the next Ratatat hip-hop mixtape will be made, but for the hardworking duo, there's always room for a few more. "We would definitely like to work with Travis $cott and Young Thug," says Stroud, who caught the latter on TV before the interview. "I think they look different than rappers usually do. They look more punk rock than rappers ever have."
A vital part of Ratatat's live shows are the mind-bending psychedelic visuals, something that's attributed to Evan Mast, who takes charge of the band's overall art direction. "He just spends days non-stop working on videos. He always produces amazing work, I always love him for it. He's never made an illustration that I didn't like so I kinda just trust him with that and I think he enjoys doing it." For Magnifique, Stroud was roped in unintentionally for the heavy collage of skewed faces that appears to include the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il and Psycho actress Janet Leigh.
Stroud remembers, "We were recording and we both like to draw, so we would just work on our music all day and at night, just totally for fun doing drawings. At that time, we had no idea it was gonna end up as the album art. After recording was done, we tried a bunch of different ideas and that just seemed like the coolest one."
The band's relentless output for a good portion of the early-00s may have birthed a rapidly-growing fanbase and attention from contemporaries, but the band wasn't worried their break would result in a diminished and uninterested audience.
And for Stroud, he believes the redemptive qualities of Magnifique are a steadfast reminder of why people love Ratatat in the first place. "If we had put out a bad record, yeah people would've forgotten about us and I think my career would be over, but luckily I think the record came out pretty good (laughs)."
Ratatat will be performing at Neon Lights Festival on November 29. Learn more about the festival in our comprehensive Neon Lights guide, complete with the full line-up and playlist.