Ra Ra Riot

"A weight has been lifted." That's how Wes Miles, lead vocalist for Ra Ra Riot, describes his band's reaction to the release of its debut full-length, "The Rhumb Line."

"A weight has been lifted." That's how Wes Miles, lead vocalist for Ra Ra Riot, described his band's reaction to the release of its debut full-length, "The Rhumb Line."

It's not an unusual feeling for any young band taking its first stab at a long-player to have, but Ra Ra Riot's weight has been much heavier than most. A little more than a year ago, the band's original drummer, John Pike, drowned at 23.

Aside from his talent behind the kit, Pike was also the band's primary songwriter and lyricist, and even contributed vocals. Although "The Rhumb Line" was recorded after his death, his presence is felt throughout, with more than half of the album's songs having been co-written or co-arranged by him.

The relief Miles expresses, then, is a complex one: relief to have the band's first full-length on the books, relief to have survived as a band after experiencing such a heartbreaking loss, relief to let go of the past and move forward into Ra Ra Riot's future.

"When you've gone through a year of not quite being in the public eye, but where many people have an interest in your band and your songs, inevitably that has an effect on you and on how you make a record," he says. "Now that we've made this album that came from a certain place, we want to find out where the next place is, where we're going to go. It's really exciting to have something on the table, but also to have that freedom."

Miles also insisted that, despite its often melancholic lyrics, the album is really about "staying positive" and perseverance.

"If there's a theme, it's the totality of [human] emotion. The album is like a journey. Every song takes you through that range of feelings that every person has in their life, but also specifically through things we experienced in the past year. There's sadness, and there's joy. There's a lot of celebrating, for sure.

"We did desire to make ['The Rhumb Line'] a tribute to John," Miles continues, "but mainly through celebrating good things. In remembering the things that make us happy, we continue to honor John's life and contributions."

"Dying is Fine," a nuanced celebration of life written primarily by Pike, is a suitable centerpiece for "The Rhumb Line." With words taken from an e.e. cummings poem of the same name, the song -- a first-rate example of the band's stormy, string-cushioned indie-pop -- embraces dying as part of living, even while the chorus determinedly declares, "I wouldn't like death / not even if death were good."

Miles says that "the way the band works is kind of like a family -- there's a family dynamic of sticking together." And that's where, he says, Ra Ra Riot "took the strength from -- being in a group, being friends," to weather John's passing.

He also stressed that the band's "main goal" has always been and still is "just to have fun. And that's exactly what we want for people who listen to the album or who come to our shows: we want them to be having fun, we want them to have a good time."

Fans seem to be responding to that message. Earning Ra Ra Riot its first chart ink, "The Rhumb Line" debuted at No. 3 on Billboard's Top Heatseekers chart four weeks ago and continues to stand firmly within the chart's top 10.

Miles, speaking to Billboard from the road as the group tours behind the new album, says that he and his band mates "don't know what's next, and that's what's exciting -- the world is our oyster. We're in this together, and that gives us all the purpose we need to keep going."