In 2012 it’s hard to characterize someone as being “conceptual” without them assuming you’re mocking them… as if “thinking” is simply a pretentious hipster fad.  RACES, however, do not fall into that category.  I recently got a chance to chat with two of the band’s six members and, I hope they’re not offended when I say that they do strike me as quite conceptual.  However, that thoughtfulness would seem to translate to a socio-political passion that I rarely see outside of my classes on cultural theory.  RACES are well aware of the reasoning (socially, politically, musically, environmentally, etc.) behind every move they make… a trait rare and admirable in contemporary public figures.

RACES began about two years ago, outside of LA, as a supergroup of sorts, comprised of friends, lovers, and former lovers who first officially came together when guitarist/vocalist Wade Ryff needed to quickly assemble a backing band for a solo show.  However, those friends have been together ever since (more or less).  Their debut EP, Big Broom, dropped last November and their first LP, Year of the Witch, hit shelves this March. Their sound could be described as postmodernly vintage… whatever that means.  At their core is a folk aesthetic, however anything resembling traditional “folk” is drowned out by a combination of odes to the 1960s (of both their psychedelics and their girl groups) and contemporary dream pop.  If David Lynch’s films were slightly less morose and slightly more “quirky,” RACES would be the perfect people to soundtrack them.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, the band will find themselves in Philthy next week, performing at The Fire on Thursday, May 10th, which is at least somewhat ironic, considering that the ninth track on Year of the Witch is entitled “Walk Through the Fire.”  I recently got a chance to chat with Ryff and drummer Lucas Ventura for, what turned out to be, one of the most poignant and inspiring interviews I’ve done in quite some time (At times Ryff sounds like the epilogue to Trainspotting… except expressing the opposite sentiments.)

Izzy Cihak: I understand that the band’s name is derived from the concept of feeling as though you always have something to face or go up against.  What do you feel like are the most prominent practical obstacles in contemporary Western life and which generally prove to be the most fruitful for inspiration?

Wade Ryff: I think each person has their own unique set of obstacles, although I believe that there are similar themes that unite us in our struggles as human beings. Most of these obstacles can be filtered into the category of finding happiness and maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a healthy state of mind. I think we live in a fear-based society that makes it extremely challenging to be physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy. It takes a lot of energy and work on a daily basis to combat the way we are told to live, think, eat etc . I could go on and on about this but perhaps it’s easier to say TAKE RISKS, MAKE LOVE, QUESTION EVERYTHING, EAT ORGANIC FOOD, STAY INSPIRED,  BUILD COMMUNITY and, most importantly, remember IT’S ALL BULLSHIT and IT DOESN’T MATTER.  That’s enough preaching on my part for the rest of this lifetime.

Lucas Ventura: I used to think that contemporary Western society was at fault for so many of the “obstacles” we’re referencing.  But the more life goes on I realize that I am the obstacle, and nothing external really has to do with any of my problems. I guess when you say practical obstacles though, you’re talking about subjective things… Trying to be environmentally conscious while living in a city based on a conscienceless consumption of finite resources, and striving to be truly unafraid in a culture that preys on our natural human insecurities, those are two of many things that come to mind.

IC: You’re from Van Nuys.  How is that?  Has that played any role on your views on the world or the way you approach your life and music?  I only ask because it’s not generally a place you think of when you think of indie music.

WR: I’m actually from Chatsworth but lived in Van Nuys for a period of time. A lot of our songs were conceived in Van Nuys. There’s not much to do in Van Nuys, so there aren’t many distractions. I think, more than anything, it helped keep me focused on music. In terms of Van Nuys having an effect on my views on the world… It’s hard to find better Mexican food.

LV: I live in Van Nuys, and most of the band lives in the San Fernando Valley, which is kind of treated like the redheaded stepchild of LA. There’s not really a good reason to come here unless you live here, because it’s just a massive amalgamation of suburban neighborhoods, strip-malls, and freeways. I think I dislike living in environments like this because it feels like there’s a certain spiritual decrepitude that I have to resist. It’s easy to just get lost in the mundane aspects of life living here. That sounds really dramatic, though. It’s not that bad.

IC: What are your thoughts on your label, Frenchkiss Records, and your label peers?  I’m quite a fan of Cut Off Your Hands and Freelance Whales myself.

WR: We are very happy to be part of that club.

LV: We got to see many of our label-mates’ shows during this year’s SXSW, and some of them have great albums that just came out. Lately I’ve really been listening a lot to The Drums, Devin, and Suckers.


IC: What kinds of people seem to best “get” your sound?

WR: I don’t know. There is an excitement I feel in the room at all ages shows that I don’t quite experience at 21+ shows.

LV: I need to consult our social media analytics.

IC: How would you characterize your live show and what should fans and potential fans expect of your upcoming Philly (or, Philthy, as we like to call it) performance?

WR: No comment.

LV: I think this band works extremely hard on putting on a good show. If you like our recorded music, I’m confident that you’ll be into what we do live. But other than saying that, it’s hard to be very objective about one’s own art…

IC: What are the band’s plans for the future, following your upcoming East Coast jaunt?

WR: TAKE RISKS,  MAKE LOVE, QUESTION EVERYTHING, EAT ORGANIC FOOD, STAY INSPIRED, BUILD COMMUNITY, and, most importantly, remember IT’S ALL BULLSHIT and IT DOESN’T MATTER.