Random Rules: Mike Stroud of Ratatat
The shuffler: Guitarist Mike Stroud, half of rock-tronica duo Ratatat. When not cranking out hip-hop remixes with multi-instrumentalist producer Evan Mast, the pair effortlessly create songs filled with persistent beats, odd sound effects, and ethereal riffs, like on the recent LP3. Ratatat is touring behind LP3 through December.
RyanDan, "I'll Be There"
Mike Stroud: [Laughs.] Have you ever heard of RyanDan? Really hilarious. They used to have this group called B4-4, a boy band from the early '90s or early 2000. I'm not even sure. But they are so disgusting. I've seen videos of them on YouTube and stuff; their hair is all bleached, gelled, and they're all muscle dudes on the beach. Completely gay; it's pretty funny.
But this is their new band, RyanDan. It's a cover of "I'll Be There." I remember when me and Evan [Mast] were recording [LP3], we would listen to this once in a while. It's just really funny, the singing. I'm pretty sure the singing [used] auto-tuners, 'cause he'll just go down two octaves. [Imitates going from a high octave to low too quickly.] I kept calling it "the golden staircase." It just sounds so perfect when he goes down, it has to be fake.
My friend Dan is really into listening to funny shit like that. He's definitely the one who introduced me to B4-4. I'm trying to remember what their song was called. I think it's "Get Down."
The A.V. Club: Oh, right. With the unforgettable chorus: "If you get down on me, I'll get down on you."
MS: That's B4-4. Pretty funny song.
AVC: But they're completely serious.
MS: There is no joke. It's completely serious.
Ween, "Big Jilm"
MS: I haven't listened to Ween in a long time, but I love this song. A lot of deep-voice stuff on this song. I want to see them live. I guess they're supposed to be pretty good, but I'm wary of seeing them with a full, professional band. I don't think that would be that cool. But I don't know, maybe it would be.
AVC: Have you seen Dean Ween's Internet fishing show, Brownie Troop F.S.?
MS: No. That doesn't surprise me at all.
AVC: You could hear pretty much anything about Ween, and it wouldn't be surprising.
MS: You know the picture on the inside cover of Pure Guava? They're just posing with the craziest group of people in front of this house. There's like 50 people. I don't even know how to describe it. They could have been on a drug meditation retreat somewhere. [Laughs.] I don't think they could surprise me at all.
Talking Heads, "Thank You For Sending Me An Angel"
MS: I like this song, too. I remember my uncle Nelson was visiting me in high school, and he showed me the Stop Making Sense movie. I didn't really know good music; I grew up in Connecticut, barely exposed to anything. He played me the Stop Making Sense movie, and this song was right in the beginning. I was struck by it, I guess. That's kind of like a weird dance song, if you use your imagination.
Devin The Dude, "Lacvile '79"
MS: He's from Houston. I haven't listened to him in a while. Actually, I saw him play in Brooklyn like four months ago. It was amazing. My friend Despot played before him, so we were watching on the side. The club people [were] freaking out because he was smoking so many joints onstage. [Laughs.] It made it really enjoyable. They were just like, "What the fuck is going on?" Screaming at each other. You can't even smoke cigarettes in New York [in clubs]. But Devin The Dude, he's amazing. He can sing really well, too. He's got this really distinct, weird rapping voice. [Laughs.] I haven't listened to this record in a long time, but I love Devin The Dude. He was just so comfortable onstage. I'm sure he was stoned out of his mind, but he's so confident and comfortable and laid-back. He'd be rapping, and then all of a sudden he'd break into the chorus, singing perfectly, while, between every verse, trying to take as many puffs on his joint as possible. Probably what impressed me most was that every song he played was amazing.
AVC: You guys have remixed stuff of his.
MS: Yeah, I think he's on a verse somewhere.
AVC: Does it blur together?
MS: Yeah, definitely. I can't keep track.
AVC: You have people for that.
MS: Not really. I wish I did.
T. Rex, "Oh Harley"
MS: Whoa. I don't really know this song. I've heard it. I don't really know what I can say about that one. There's another song on this album I really like. It's called "Salamanda Palaganda." I think this record is—I haven't listened to this one in a long time either. I guess I don't listen to music that much anymore.
MS: I don't know. Well, when we're touring and recording, my ears are ringing all the time. I try and give my ears a break.
MS: [Laughs.] They don't get a break. I've tried earplugs and stuff, but it's hard to get into it. They feel weird. I got those professional plugs, too. I don't know, I can't get into the show that way. I haven't been listening to much music. And I don't listen too much when we're recording either, just try and focus on making new stuff.
This is a really good song. I've definitely listened to this song a million times over the past two years.
AVC: What about it keeps you coming back?
MS: I love all the guitar playing on it. It's just nice, acoustic guitar playing. And his voice is just so weird. It sounds like someone is shaking him back and forth. You know what I mean? I think this song is written really well. I like the verses, the choruses; I love every part of the song. I like that it's really pretty basic. He probably could have added tons of stuff to it. To me, this song is way better than the rest of the record. I can imagine that if I'd written it, I would have made it huge and added drums and stuff, and I think it's cool that he just [kept it] pretty bare-bones, really simple. So you can just hear the song, probably exactly as he wrote it, you know?
Van Dyke Parks, "John Jones"
MS: This album, we actually listened to a ton when we were making [LP3]. My girlfriend's mom is like obsessed [with Discover America]. She was a flight attendant in the '60s; she would always go to Trinidad. I gave her this record for, I think, Christmas this year. She was really excited. It's all calypso songs. I love this record. There's a couple songs that I love especially, as I love this one. So pimp and flow; the horn coming in and out. Last time I DJed, I played this song. People seemed a little confused.
Van Dyke Parks. He did like arrangements for—what is that fucking harp girl? What is her name? Oh, Joanna Newsom. He did arrangements for her, that's pretty amazing. She's like, trailblazing. I've never seen her play. I'd actually like to see that. I don't have any idea how to play the harp.
Springwater, "Mary's House In The Rain"
MS: There was a hit on this record. It's an all-instrumental record. There was a hit called, "I Will Return." Maybe I should talk about that one. It's pretty similar to this other one. People always write us e-mails or whatever, people from the label, "Oh, check this band out, they sound like you guys. Blah blah blah." And I never think that it does at all. I think someone sent Evan a link to a YouTube video for "I Will Return." And Evan sent it to me, and we were both like, "Whoa, that does actually kind of sound like us."
He's a guitar player, and it's all kind of fuzzy, distorted slide. And he layers it. He had this one song, "I Will Return," on this record that was a number-one hit in the '70s, which was crazy. It's kind of melancholy.
AVC: It didn't bum you out that you sound similar to it?
MS: No, I was pretty flattered, I guess. There are so many songs on that record that I love.
Slayer, "Piece By Piece"
MS: Evan and I on tour would listen to Reign In Blood whenever we had to drive super-late. It's only like a half-hour long, just blast that album. And we'd have to put it on again, because you can't listen to anything else after you hear that album.
AVC: To stay awake?
MS: Definitely. It kept us more than awake. My friend Dan got me into Slayer, too. I actually used to hate Slayer. He played me Slayer in college, and I was like, "Uh, this is so annoying."
AVC: What changed your mind?
MS: I think it was Dan's birthday party. We were all just drinking and stuff, and "Angel Of Death" came on. And at the end of that song, he and his brother were doing the funniest air-guitar dueling. It was like, "This song is pretty amazing." [Laughs.] Somehow that convinced me.
AVC: It's always the little things that'll change your mind.
MS: That's true.
AVC: Are you into any other metal?
MS: Some. I don't really know that much. What do I listen to? Nothing. I don't listen to anything anymore. I would say out of metal records, that one's my favorite, Reign In Blood. I listen to some Metallica here and there, but not really that much. I actually recently heard some old Megadeth songs that I actually liked. I was shocked.
The Sugarcubes, "Birthday"
MS: Oh, I really don't like this song. Do I have to do this? Well, it's okay. It's good, I guess.
AVC: What just changed your mind about it?
MS: I don't know. I used to like it. It's a good song. It is a good song.
AVC: Okay, you've talked yourself into it.
MS: [Laughs.] It's kind of cool to hear [Björk] singing over guitars and stuff. My girlfriend works with her. She just did 18 months on tour with her.
AVC: What does she do?
MS: She does makeup. Everyone onstage has some sort of crazy, glow-in-the-dark makeup. [Laughs.] Yeah, some of those Sugarcubes songs are pretty funny. She's singing, it sounds pretty amazing, then that dude Einar [Örn Benediktsson] comes on, and he's just like [babbles throatily]. I don't know. I guess that's probably the best song on that record, "Birthday."
The Kinks, "Victoria"
MS: I think there might be one song I don't like, but I love The Kinks. I love Ray Davies' voice. I love the guitar playing on all these songs. I remember sitting with the headphones on and learning every guitar part on the record, just obsessing. I do that sometimes. Obsessing over the whole record. I don't know. To me, there's nothing to not like about all this stuff.
AVC: I don't think anyone's ever said, "I fucking hate The Kinks!"
MS: [Laughs.] Yeah, everything about it is perfect. Did you know they got banned from America for like five years? That's part of the reason they're not as popular as The Beatles. Their first tour in America—you know it's pretty important for bands to come over here, it's so much bigger and everything. They were playing this TV performance, and they got in a huge fight. I think they attacked someone who worked there. They were apparently always getting in huge fights with each other, throwing guitars and drums at each other and shit. They got in this huge fight, I think somebody ended up getting hurt, and they got banned from the entire country for like five years. It's kind of harsh, though, isn't it?
All those old Kinks records are incredible. I remember when I was in high school, somebody recommended The Kinks. "Oh, they're amazing." And I think I bought an '80s album, like two '80s albums. "Man, this band sucks. The fuck?" But I don't know. When I was in college, I heard all the older ones, like Arthur and The Village Green Preservation Society and all those. Something Else. They're pretty much perfect, all of them. At the same time, I can't listen to them that much anymore.
AVC: You listened to them too much?
MS: I think I burned out.