20 Questions

Rah Rah

by Evan Sawdey

25 September 2012

They're Canada's next big thing, a band with pop smarts and a live show that can't be missed, and here they tell us everything you need to know: why Bob Dylan is amazing, which Prime Minster they're not a fan of, and which band they'd like to eat vindaloo with.
Photo: Chris Graham 
cover art

The Poet's Dead

(Hidden Pony)
US: 22 Oct 2012

It continues to amaze just how long it takes for some bands to get the payoff they deserve.

Case in point: look at Rah Rah: here’s a group of energetic Canadian songsmiths who have gone from party-hearty rock ‘n’ roll animals to established pop veterans, gaining great notoriety in their homeland but only recently did they start making inroads in the States and abroad. The original founding trio of Erin & Joel Passmore and Marshall Burns (multi-instrumentalists all) slowly began absorbing members of other bands like Despistado, creating a sound that was energetic but not without a through-line of actual musicianship, as violins, keys, and numerous things being pounded on created a sound that was dense but accessible, thoughtful but also dance-inducing as well. In short, the group was very much out to do their own thing, and are still waiting for the world to catch up.

Now, with this year’s The Poet’s Dead garnering attention even before its release, the group is slowly working their way into the mainstream. Since their formation in 2005, one of the hallmarks of the group has been their raucous live shows, featuring pom-poms, Pop Rocks, and a whole slew of colorful clothes that helped the group form a bond with their audience in the form of a giant party. Yet despite their unabashed enthusiasm, The Poet’s Dead shows the group a bit more stripped down, a bit more formal, and very much in tune with their vision. “Prairie Girl” would be a carefree hit in lesser hands, but is a wonderfully smart song in Rah Rah’s, smart and catchy at the same time without having to concede to anything. It’s what makes the group’s sound work, and is what is bringing them attention still even months before the disc’s release.

Now, founding member Marshall Burns takes another step forward with PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here revealing an affinity for Bob Dylan and Moonrise Kingdom, discovering Howlin’ Wolf for the first time, and which band he would’ve felt most at home with while wearing a leather jacket and eating vindaloo . . .

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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

When I was 13, I read the Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman and the ending made me tear up. I haven’t cried since.

2. The fictional character most like you?

The little boy in the new Wes Anderson movie Moonrise Kingdom. He is a romantic and naive to the greater world but is also very calculated.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Either Time Outta Mind or Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan. Lyrically he is unparalleled, while his talents as a guitar player and singer are greatly underappreciated.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Trek all the way. One tour Kristina (violin/keyboards) and I watched all of The Next Generation on my laptop on the back bench of our old van.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Listening to new music that really floors ya. The other night someone played Howlin’ Wolf for me the first time. I’m still trying to process that..

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I was an internationally-ranked table hockey player. It’s nerdy, and probably lame, but I still think it’s one of the best sports going!

7. You want to be remembered for . . . ?

Being a fair person, writing some good songs, and telling some good jokes.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

Musically for me it all comes back to Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Neil Young. I also love Woody Allen’s humor and the way that he tells stories.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

The first Ramones album. I think I woulda felt pretty badass wearing a leather jacket and eating some chicken vindaloo with Joey down on the Bowery.

10. Your hidden talents . . . ?

I’ve gotten pretty good at making mojitos lately. I’ve been living at my cabin all summer . . .

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

My parents told me to take my time with school and focus on making music. I am still taking classes when I can, but I don’t feel badly anymore about putting off school to see where the band can take me.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

When I was 14, my neighbor Les lent me his Telecaster for a year. Before that I had only played acoustic guitar. It was a revelation.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . . ?

I like my clothes to be somewhat clean, to somewhat fit, and to preferably not be made in China.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Wilco. I would ask them about their gear and how they balance their personal and professional lives. Every interview I’ve seen with Jeff Tweedy he appears very articulate with well thought-out and unique ideas about songwriting and music in general.

15. Time travel: where, when, and why?

To a future time when space travel is cheap. To an alien planet. I wanna go to space.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?

Hanging out at my cabin. I like just sitting on the beach, doing the daily crossword, sitting around the campfire and listening to records.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?

I don’t drink coffee or smoke. I love beer, potato chips, and the Blue Jays, but I wouldn’t say that they are essential in that I could live without them if I needed to . . . family and music are the true essentials but that is obvious . . .

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Country. Lumsden Beach in the Qu’Appelle Valley. Thirty minutes north of our home town Regina, Saskatchewan.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

You have slashed funding to arts and culture, torn apart environmental protection, and shown disregard to First Nations. I have lost all respect for you.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Rehearsing with Rah Rah for a fall full of touring. It’s gonna be a lot of fun and I’m really excited to start playing our new songs live.

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