The first time I saw the band RACES I was floored. From the very first drum and bass groove I was hooked. The lyrics were honest on a level I had never heard before. Front and center, Wade Ryff was singing (sometimes screaming) with vulnerability his issues of jealousy, ego and fear and was winning. Devon Lee was pouring out her voice bravely over the roaring melodies. Garth Herberg often sent the band into a frenzy with his genius guitar playing. Lucas Ventura’s drums were articulate and precise. The audience followed his pounding closely with their feet and arms. Breanna Wood played keys and sang with a quiet knowing and bass player Oliver Hild played with childlike glee. And all of them were ALIVE! I wanted to hang out with them but I also never wanted them to stop playing.
The band has been on an incredible ride since their start in late 2009. Within a year and a half of assembling they signed with Silverlake representin’ JAXART (The Henry Clay People and The Parson Redheads) and released their single “Big Broom” and soon after joined the label FrenchKiss Records (Local Natives). Since then they have played a slew of festivals including SXSW in Austin, released a viral music video and are about to release their debut album on March 30th.
I spoke with Wade Ryff, the lead singer while they were driving back home from The Pastel Project Festival headlined by Autolux and CSS in Las Vegas. The band War On Drugs was blasting in the van and Wade had to shout a couple times to get someone to turn it down so we could talk. We talked a bit about how the album “Year of the Witch” was named for a bitter relationship with a girl that he later found out had been practicing witchcraft and casting spells on him and people around him. The band was born out of a time when he faced stagnation in the “sleepy suburban outpost of Van Nuys”. He had become disillusioned with music as he played bass in other people’s bands. He wrote the lyrics to the single “Big Broom” in his parents’ bathroom, an ode to the hope of one day having all the pain and uncertainty of his 20’s swept clean (a sentiment that I think we all can relate to). He quickly found a group of musicians who shared his desire for a new beginning.
RACES pride themselves on not taking themselves too seriously. In Ryff’s words “I’d rather get dropped and start back at the beginning than not have fun with these guys.” And it shows in their music. Nothing feels put on. Whether it’s a sad waltz or a dramatic swelling rock song everything is skillfully arranged and performed with effortless reverence. But every inch of success has been earned. They struggle to keep up morale on the road as they sleep on floors, feel the strain on jobs and relationships back home and try to figure out their next meal. Relating to the feeling of always having something to be up against and the desire to overcome whatever it is, is what originally inspired the evocative name RACES. And it is with that pursuit that they gallop headfirst into the unknown.
Watch their amazing video “Big Broom”
Get tickets to their album release show at The Echo on March 30th:
Pre-order RACES “Year Of The Witch” LP on iTunes