Just as the members of indie-pop band Ra Ra Riot were getting ready to hit the big time in 2007, tragedy struck when original drummer John Pike drowned. But the band rebounded, releasing "The Rhumb Line" on Barsuk in 2008, selling 66,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, touring extensively and building a nice buzz. Now the members face another challenge-releasing a follow-up and sustaining their career.
The list of indie bands felled by the fabled sophomore slump is long and grows every Tuesday. But Ra Ra Riot, whose album "The Orchard" is out Aug. 24, again on Barsuk, seem well-positioned to beat the odds.
"Instead of being just super hyped and buzzed about, the band has developed a dedicated fan base," manager Josh Roth says. "They love touring and they love playing live, and I think they are in a great position to just keep growing."
Which isn't to say the band isn't concerned about its future. "I have a recurring nightmare that one day I'll wake up and never be able to write another song," frontman Wes Miles says. "But I try to steer clear of having too many quantifiable expectations, because spending all your time being worried about others' expectations just makes things worse."
To roll out the new album, the band will release a 40-minute film made during the writing and recording sessions. "It's half art piece and half documentary with interviews with the band," Barsuk co-founder Josh Rosenfeld says. The film will be included with the deluxe version of the album.
Clips from the film and snippets from the album were posted as trailers on the band's recently revamped website. The first single, "Boy," was released in July, and Rosenfeld says there has been "a good cross section of radio interest," including college stations, noncommercial outlets and some specialty shows.
Ra Ra Riot has done "a fair amount of licensing," according to Rosenfeld, and the band is represented by Bank Robber Music. "It's a big part of the business for them," he says. "They are also willing to do some key endorsements-if they like a brand and use it, they are comfortable with loaning out a band member for a photo shoot or spread."
The band will play a handful of dates in August before heading off on a full tour in the fall. Miles says that these tour stops allow him to build a rapport with fans, although he admits it isn't always easy.
"There are nights when I'm tired and just want to leave," he says. "But it is fun to talk to people who are excited about the music, and we try to stay for signings as much as possible. When I was studying in Japan I saw Numbers, who were my favorite band at the time, and talked to them after the show, and it's something I'll never forget."
With a dedicated base and support from Barsuk, Ra Ra Riot appears set to follow in the footsteps of label alums Death Cab for Cutie . Rosenfeld says he doesn't want to make any grand predictions, noting that "the environment then versus now is like apples and oranges."
Miles says he's happy to take a wait-and-see approach. "I'm OK with things growing incrementally," he says. "I feel like every hour of work we put in is an hour well spent."
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