The last time I spoke with Columbus’ The Raquels, they were eager and full of excitement for their first ever nationwide tour, covering 28 locations throughout the United States. The band learned a lot from their time on the road, but once they got home it was time to get back to business.
“I’ve honestly been writing for a new record since… last January?” says singer/guitarist Derrick Walter. “I essentially started writing all the songs at once and went from there.”
It’s been two years since the aforementioned tour, in a whirlwind year that also saw the band release five singles and a music video. This time around, the band is looking to do things a little bit differently.
“With our last singles, they were all good songs, but when you put them together they don’t really make sense,” admitted drummer Tyler Birch.
“We really just felt like they were inconsistent,” added guitarist/vocalist Gabe Ritz. “I mean, we liked them and all, but they didn’t tell the story of The Raquels.”
“Rather than just writing one song at a time, what ended up happening here was that we all starting working on multiple songs at a time, and piecing them together as we went,” explained Birch. “The process of working together like that has really helped us make better music.”
“We also used to have this tendency to start from scratch whenever we wrote something. It doesn’t bode well if you’re trying to have a specific sound,” continued Ritz, “but at least this time around we have a little direction.”
It’s not to say that the quartet is looking to be pigeon-holed into any specific genre. The result of their hard work is a much more cohesive sound that better represents the vision of the band.
“There’s an emotional thread that runs through a lot of the new music that we wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise,” said Birch.
“It’s nice to have that direction,” conceded Ritz. “We can’t be swimming in different ways and expect to end up at the same place.”
In 2020, the band has put out a four new songs and released three videos in anticipation of their upcoming record, But It Doesn’t Matter. The album is slated to drop July 27 and hopefully by that time the quarantine in Ohio will be lifted so that they can perform a proper release show.
When you listen to the first new single Promiz, you can immediately tell the extra work the band has put into their adventure. The song features ramped-up production, screaming synths and a heavy punching bass-line.
“The funny thing about Promiz is that it definitely didn’t sound like that when we started,” chuckled keyboardist Dave Butler. “One day I was like, what if I play this through an electric bass to add a little thump?”
You definitely feel the extra dose of thunder, and from a production standpoint the band is miles ahead from where they were with their previous releases.
“Once we got through the singles, we were able to grow and learn what worked best for us, and it helped us play our songs a little more differently,” said Birch.
The second single is titled Modern Prayer, and although Walter says that while the song isn’t inherently about organized religion, it does touch on several social anxieties.
“Modern Prayer is kind of a joke, comparing religion to the internet,” he stated. “A lot of people these days see it as a religion! People seek fulfillment, purpose, community and reassurance. Those are all things you end up seeing in those Google searches and Instagram posts.
“The type of reassurance they find can be great, but it can also be paralyzing for someone who isn’t working on themselves,” he continued. “The song is for people who are desperate and searching, and waiting for that conglomerate voice to reassure them.”
One of Walter’s greatest qualities as a songwriter is his ability to reach deep and pull gems like that out. The song has a bouncy piano, bumpy synths, and a scratchy guitar, but deep down it’s about trying to change the perception of what we see far too often on our social media profiles.
“I mean, so many people out there NEED reassurance, but most of those friends on social media just aren’t attuned to your specific situations,” he persisted. “It’s not that being reassuring is bad, but it has to be guided. Otherwise you’re just setting them up to circle back to their problems.”
I think we all could use a little reassuring in trying times like this. As I sat with the band, none of us imagined that two days later, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine would issue an order effectively shutting down the bar we were at, and every other restaurant down the street. Even though the group are all fun loving guys, they are not blind to the world around them.
“A lot of the songs on the record deal with things like anxiety and the real world,” revealed Walter. “Social norms, relationships… just life.”
“I honestly feel like ALL of the songs are going to resonate with people!” Birch excitedly added.
Despite having a title that might infer a party lifestyle, the deepest and most emotionally resonant song released so far is sexmoneydeathetc. The song has a bit of a disjointed feel to it, with the vocal tempo jumping around the place and Walter’s voice being fed through a vocoder. The band says it’s not something they’d normally do, but it worked well with this track.
“In theory, it’s a perfect machine (the vocoder), but you’re applying it to an imperfect thing like the human voice, exposing the imperfections even more,” revealed Walter.
“There’s a lot that goes into our songs, so sometimes we push and pull and find what sounds best for The Raquels as a whole,” added Butler. “It really ends up being really good writing once it’s done.
“Sexmoneydeathetc is about meeting with the social norm. Did the rent get paid? Am I attractive enough? And now this week; what if this thing is as bad as they say it is? Sex, money, death, violence… it’s ubiquitous.”
“We’ve all been there!” Birch chimed in. “You’re either very aware of your bank account because you don’t want to overdraw it, or you don’t look at it because you don’t want to know how much money is in there.”
The band’s newest single, Read in the Dark, as Walter puts it is “The Raquels at their most ambient. The intro features a squeaky door, me walking around a room… I even mic’d a candle. You’ll recognize most of it if you focus enough. It’s honestly just a collage of normal sounds presented in an unconventional way.”
Lyrically, the song is about the birth of a relationship that seems impossible. Each verse comes sounding like it was produced little bit differently, and Walter says that was done on purpose.
“The way it’s built in the verses, it’s kind of like two people trying to make something work. It’s like you didn’t get it right last time, so you do differently the second time. And the third time, and so on.”
The song is very raw and emotional, with a soaring distorted guitar playing over a simplistic drum beat in the latter stages. In spite of being almost five minutes long, you simply cannot skip a single second of it or you’ll miss something entirely.
“I just wanted the intro to be this really pretty mix of melodies, and the rest of the song to be this big blend of synths, like a frequency-modulated explosion,” Walter declared.
Mission accomplished, I’d say. As far as how the band has gotten all of their new music to sound as good as they did? Each member had a different thought.
“A lot of the songs were heavily collaborative, but a few were one sided,” says Butler. “Whoever writes the song, the rest of us usually just try to add our own little stuff on top.”
“It’s honestly like working with two or three different styles and seeing what prevails,” added Birch.
“For instance, we had one song that started out like an old, Hank Williams, Roy Orbison style ballad… and then Dave took over and it turned into some lo-fi, hip hop beat,” laughed Ritz. “The words were still the same, but the song was completely different from what we started with.”
“Honestly, whoever wants it the most is going to pull the hardest, and have the most influence on the track,” finished Butler.
“But these are the first songs that I’m actually excited to show people!” said Ritz, a big smile creasing his face. “Like, I’m not nervous any more. I love these new song!”
The band is planning on releasing one more single after this one, with hopes to gain some solid momentum leaning up to the release of But It Doesn’t Matter, due out on July 27. Any plans of touring are obviously on hold, but the band promises a fresh and exciting show, whenever they are able to play again.
“Regardless of what happens, we’re proud of what we’ve done so far,” said Birch. “With the album, listen to the lyrics and the story. You’ll understand. The music serves the song, not the other way around.”
The Raquels – Read in the Dark