Music | Quiet Riot: New York’s Ra Ra Riot starts to explode. 

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Nineteen years ago, Alexandra Lawn started playing the cello because she attended Montessori school, and every child—in the name of fostering one’s creativity—was encouraged to play an instrument.

“My parents picked out my instrument,” Lawn explains. “But the cello stuck.”

Lawn and her cello currently help fuel Ra Ra Riot, the much-hyped New York City group which began as casual collaboration between college friends, and—after a series of riveting live shows—morphed into a critically acclaimed project scoring gigs at, among other places, major CMJ and South by Southwest music festivals.

These days, “hype” connotes “exaggerated publicity” or “hoopla”—much ado about nothing long-term. However, sometimes the most relentless hype is actually founded in a unique and genuine sense of awe.

Such is case with Ra Ra Riot, though their initial fame struck at one heinously dark hour. Indie and mainstream media pounced on them after drummer John Pike was found dead in 7 feet of coastal water. His death nearly inspired the band to break up, but the tragedy eventually galvanized the surviving members and drove them to devote themselves to music.

Ra Ra Riot’s 2007 self-titled six-song EP has established the young ’uns—each member is fresh out of college—a solid fan base of eager listeners often shocked to learn that the band is unsigned and has yet to release a full-length album.

Ra Ra Riot’s smooth, sweet cello and violin-accented songs leave discerning listeners yearning for at least an additional half hour of playful, finely crafted material. For some, it’s difficult to refrain from obsessive listening sessions. This writer chalked up 20 spins on the old iPod.

So it’s good or bad news to learn that Ra Ra Riot recently recorded a full-length album, tentatively scheduled for a fall release.

“The songs are in the same vein, but I think our songwriting has definitely matured since the EP,” Lawn says. “This time, we worked with a producer in Seattle and we had a lot more time to work on the album, so I think people who like us will definitely enjoy the finished product.”

There’s plenty of evidence that Ra Ra Riot’s energetic live shows—more so even than their impressive recorded material—justify a rabid following. By all accounts, the band’s soulful live cover of the Kate Bush classic “Hounds of Love” is epic. Of course, how could Bush be anything less?

“Sometimes, people will have a preconceived notion about us because we have a cello and a violin on stage. People are wary because they’ve pre-judged and they have a certain mindset. But our live show generally seems to sway people. We have fun when we’re performing and the audience likes that,” Lawn says.

Unfortunately, the first days of the current tour were marked by theft (stolen laptops and other personal items in Montreal) and vandalism (a garishly tagged trailer in Rochester), but otherwise it has been a positive experience for the band.

Lawn admits sometimes she tires of driving ceaselessly for hours on end, and eating substandard tour food. But, overall, she enjoys continually crisscrossing the country and playing music with her band mates.

“When the driving gets to be too much, I just think of all the beautiful parts of the country that we get to see, and that usually makes things OK,” Lawn says.

Lawn says that recently, in addition to some luminaries of the classical cello world, Paul Simon, Feist and Fleetwood Mac have been some of her biggest musical influences.

True to her Montessori school roots, Lawn never considered jogging down the tried-and-true path to upper-crust orchestras.

“I did a music-industry major in college, and I always knew I wasn’t going to go the classical route. I always wanted to use my instrument in alternative ways.”


RA RA RIOT w/ The Little Ones @ Kilby Court, 741 S. 330 West, Saturday May 10 @ 7:30 p.m.

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About The Author

Jenny Poplar

Jenny Poplar is both a dancer and a frequent City Weekly contributor.

More by Jenny Poplar

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