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Ratboys
Interview

Ratboys Talks New Album, Upcoming Tour Plans, & the Year of the Rat

Photo: Johnny Fabrizio

On February 28th, Chicago’s Ratboys will be releasing their new full-length album, Printer’s Devil. We sat down and talked to Julia about the upcoming release, touring, playing a Bernie Sanders rally, and much more!

Ty Dykema

Hello again! Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. How are you doing? Introduce yourself.

Ratboys

Hey thanks Ty! This is Julia from Ratboys. I sing and play guitar in the band. We’re all doing pretty well. We’re currently getting lots of little things ready before we hit the road again. Just getting organized and stocking up on merch and strings and all that. 

Ty Dykema

2020 is the Year of the Rat! Are you feeling a surge of power yet?

Ratboys

Ha, I’m not sure about that, but we’re feeling pretty good. I gotta confess, I’m definitely not up on the Chinese Zodiac from year to year. So I didn’t realize that 2020 would be the Year of the Rat until a few weeks ago. I kinda wish I would have known earlier; we could have planned something crazy. But I suppose there’s still time… 

Ty Dykema

How the heck did you wind up playing a Bernie Sanders rally? What was the crowd reaction like? I imagine it was pretty indescribable to hear the man thank you by name. Can you try to describe how that felt anyway?

Ratboys

Man, that whole day was so surreal. Our drummer, Marcus, plays in another band called Pet Symmetry, and they got to play a Bernie rally in late 2019. After their set, Bernie said, “And I’d like to thank Pet Symmetry for the music…” so I was hopeful that he’d acknowledge us in the same way, definitely wasn’t counting on it though.

The lead-up to our set was surprisingly typical though. We sound checked, sat in a green room, and then played. It was really cool to see the inner-workings of a big-time, yet still very grassroots political campaign.

There was a ton of press at the event, but the whole thing felt very DIY. The person who booked us and who books lots of Bernie’s events is actually an old friend from DIY circles, so it all felt very familiar and down to earth. Then we got to see Bernie speak and eventually shake his hand. It was an experience we’ll never forget. 

Ty Dykema

Last time we talked about your music video for “Elvis Is In The Freezer,” but you have two new videos out for “Alien With A Sleep Mask On” and “I Go Out At Night” and they rock!

Can you walk me through the process of making them, who helped, and what your favorite parts were? They seem to have some serious production value and focus on cinematography.

Ratboys

Yeah I gotta say the guys who directed the videos, Jake Nokovic and John Tereick, have such good eyes and big, ambitious imaginations. John actually reached out to us with a concept for a ‘Lost in Space’ video, inspired loosely by the episode of ‘The Magic School Bus’ where Arnold loses himself and takes off his helmet in space causing his face to freeze over.

It was crazy because we already had this song called “Alien with a Sleep Mask On” in our back pocket, and while it isn’t about space really, the image and the feeling lined up perfectly. We were all so thrilled, it just felt very serendipitous. There are like a million tiny moments that stand out to me…

I will say that I really appreciated all of the planning that went into both videos. John and Jake made really detailed, thoughtful decks with lots of visual references, and Lainey Muhlberg who produced the videos put in hours of work securing locations and putting small crews together and figuring out all of the logistics. We had never really been a part of a bigger, planned out production before, so the fact that we got to shoot two of those in six months was crazy. We felt lucky, that’s for sure. 

Ty Dykema

Your new album, Printer’s Devil, is out later this month. How is this one different than your previous material? What do you hope people take away from these songs?

Ratboys

This one’s different because we wanted the record to sound more like our live show. To have more energy and urgency. We recorded eight of the ten songs live, with the four of us playing together in the same room and tracking simultaneously. We also had a little bit more time in the studio this time around, so we got to have a lot of fun adding overdubs all over the place, like digital drums and synths and delays.

As far as takeaways go, I hope that anyone who hears these songs remembers them down the road as a specific moment in time. A lot of the songs deal with the constant, sometimes-painful reality of time passing. I hope that the record is sort of a document for where my head was at during my late twenties, with my parents getting older and all that. I hope that the music helps anyone who’s listening to look back but also to take stock and be present.

Ty Dykema

Tell me about the big ole tour you’ve got coming up. Who’s that with and where are you heading? Will you be seeing any place you haven’t before that you’re excited to?

Ratboys

Yeah, we’re all so excited for this tour. It’ll be our first time headlining so it’s gonna be a trip. We got Ellis coming along on the first leg, which is out West. They’re a really great heavy dreamy shoe-gazey band from Hamilton, Ontario, and they’re putting out an awesome new record on Fat Possum in early April.

Then Another Michael is joining us on the second leg, where we’ll head down the East Coast and around the Southeast and Midwest. They’re one of our favorite bands and some very close friends. It’s been a goal of ours to tour with them for a few years now, so we’re really excited that it’s finally happening.

I know we’re all really excited to see the Grand Canyon on the way back East. We’ve never driven near enough to justify stopping, but this time the routing works out. Also very excited to play in Winooski, Vermont in May. We’ve only played in Vermont once before, in Burlington, so we’re itching to get back.

Ty Dykema

Can you say if y’all playing SXSW this year? And if so what are the details?

Ratboys

We’ll be there! None of the shows we’re playing have been announced yet, but let’s just say that Thursday, March 19th is going to be a very crazy day. 

Ty Dykema

I remember y’all being into football so I have to ask who you were rooting for in the Super Bowl. What’s the best Super Bowl food?

Ratboys

Oh man, yes. We’re all about it. I was rooting for the 49ers because I made a tiny bet with Dave. But I love Andy Reid, so I was happy that the Chiefs won. I also love hearing Chicago sports radio guys commiserate about picking Trubisky ahead of Mahomes, so the Chiefs winning only adds fuel to that fire.

You can’t go wrong with pizza, but I also like to make different dips. I made a Rueben dip a couple years in a row that is absolutely dynamite. Went a different route this year, wasn’t as impressed… I think I’ll have to bring it back when the Steelers are in the Super Bowl next year. 

Ty Dykema

This is the part where I ask the first thing that comes to my mind as I listen to each track of your upcoming album, Printer’s Devil. The questions may or may not relate to the content of the song at all, but are merely my first thoughts. Please answer any/all you feel comfortable with in as much or little detail as you wish.

“Alien With A Sleep Mask On”: Do you believe in aliens? If they were to come to Earth, what do you think their intent would be? And if you could ask an alien anything what would it be?

Ratboys

I do. Probably to gather information. I think I’d ask it how it feels. 

Ty Dykema

Look To”: Who is someone you’ve been able to look to for guidance or unconditional support through trying times? Or what is something you depend on for comfort or joy when you’re bummed out?

Ratboys

My mom. She’s incredibly supportive and smart, and she’ll always have my back. My dad’s that source of calm for me – he’s a great listener and he’s always able to give me solid, practical advice when I’m feeling stressed or anxious. 

Ty Dykema

“My Hands Grow”: What’s your favorite thing to do on a sunny day in an unfamiliar city?

Ratboys

I love going to the park and people watching. Also love reading about that city and finding a couple landmarks to visit. I’m definitely a fan of planning out a route around town, although wandering aimlessly can be nice sometimes. 

Ty Dykema

“A Vision”: Have you ever had a dream so vivid that when you woke up you weren’t sure if it was just a dream or if it really happened? And if you remember what it was, can you share?

Ratboys

All the time. I have super vivid dreams every night. I want to start writing them down, but honestly they’re usually pretty stressful and are things I’d rather forget. I have really wild recurring dreams about broken elevators and stairways. Almost every night. I think I will start writing them down though, I know there’s a lot more than that going on. 

Ty Dykema

“Anj”: What would you tell someone that is struggling with loneliness or feelings of isolation?

Ratboys

There’s a community out there waiting for you. One of the best things about being alive in 2020 is that you can find people who share your interests all over the world and communicate with them from wherever you are.

Loving yourself and finding things you love to do and talk about and learn about are the biggest first steps. Obviously, it’s easier said than done. But, it’s a good place to start. 

Ty Dykema

“I Go Out At Night”: What is the first thing you would do if you discovered you could turn invisible?

Ratboys

Probably sneak into a baseball game and sit in the dugout. 

Ty Dykema

“Victorian Slumhouse”: What is one of the nicest bigger venues you’ve ever played? What is one of the coolest smaller DIY spaces you’ve ever played?

Ratboys

Brooklyn Steel is amazing. We got to open for PUP there, and it was completely surreal. Also, The Sinclair in Boston has the best sound and hospitality. We always look forward to playing there.

There was a really cool house venue in Ames, IA called The Record Mill. Donna, who owned the house, completely treated and soundproofed her basement, so she could record all of the shows and not draw any noise complaints from neighbors. We got to play the last show there with Oso Oso, Stars Hollow, and Sinai Vessel in 2017. It was an awesome time, great memories. 

Ty Dykema

“Clever Hans”: As a band, has there ever been a time or a situation that was especially difficult but you got through together and it only made you and your bond stronger?

Ratboys

There have been a couple big times like that, but I don’t really want to go into detail here. I will say, on the PUP tour last year, our drummer Marcus had a herniated disc in his back and was in near-constant extreme pain. There was one morning on tour when he woke up and couldn’t move. We had to take it very slow that day, we weren’t sure if we’d get there on time and, if we did, if Marcus would be able to play. He powered through and we got to the show and played the set, but it was extremely scary and heartbreaking watching our friend battle that. Luckily he was able to get surgery last summer, and everything is all healed up now. 

Ty Dykema

“Listening”: How do you think listening with intent to a variety of people from different backgrounds can help change us for the better?

Ratboys

I think it’s important not to write someone off for their opinions right away. I’d rather know why someone feels the way they do and fully understand where a disagreement comes from, rather than just rejecting a conversation. I always want to learn from other people, and listening is pretty much the requisite way to do that. 

Ty Dykema

“Printer’s Devil”: What is the most “unconventional” instrument you’d want to use on a song or live performance in the future?

Ratboys

Dave got a lap steel last year and he’s been gearing up to eventually play it live. I think we’d all love to mess around with a talkbox someday… we listen to a lot of talkbox music on YouTube in the car… notably, Mr. Talkbox. Definitely worth checking out. 

Ty Dykema

Thank you for taking the time to do this with me. If there is anything else you want to plug that I missed or anyone you want to shout out do so here. Take care.

Ratboys

Thanks Ty, I think that’s about everything. Excited for what’s to come. Be well! 

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