We spent the day with Julia and Dave of Ratboys, walking through Palmer Square and eating Italian Ice. They talked talking about being on tour and the challenges of expressing love.
Emulsion: How did you guys get started? Where did the name come from?
Julia: Freshman year in high school at lunch my friends were going around the table just giving each other just disgusting, very crude nicknames. Ratboy was the one that they gave me and it stuck. It was prolly the least offensive nickname that came out that day. I kinda like developed this weird little character I would do named Ratboy, and anyways, my friends started calling me that.. Dave and I met in college very soon into our freshman year and just kinda bonded over the fact that we both liked to play music and had similar taste I guess. Back then it was just Ratboy with no "S."
Dave: I got one of those Snowball mics for Christmas, the USB ones, and just started recording random stuff. I recorded on top of a bunch of Julia's songs.
Julia: But we didn't really get started playing shows often or touring until 2015 when Dave graduated. So we had like a 5 year incubation period where we lived in South Bend and would play shows in South Bend and sometimes go to Chicago and play shows.
Emulsion: That's cool that you guys had that incubation period. Probably had a lot of material to go at it with when you finally started hitting it harder?
Julia: Dave taught me a lot about jamming together and I got better at guitar. He introduced the idea of me maybe playing electric guitar instead of acoustic guitar live, which I had never even contemplated before.
Emulsion: I remember listening to you guys for the first time and being like "woah, this isn't what I thought Ratboys was gonna sound like."
Julia: It's pretty misleading
Dave: We've had shows where there's a harsh noise artist and then like a street punk band after that...And then us.
Emulsion: Your lyrics seem to be a mix between these idiosyncratic personal stories mixed with stories of other people and characters. What is writing lyrics like in terms of your process and deciding what to write about?
Julia: It's kinda a situation where I write the lyrics and then as we're sussing out the songs together, Dave will say like "well this doesn't really make sense" or "it doesn't sound good," or whatever.
Dave: I feel like lately when you happen upon a cool phrase or string of words you kinda delve into it and find all the Wikipedia articles that could relate to it. Like "old transistor radio," and then you're like "I'm gonna read about transistors, and radios, and who invented them..."
Emulsion: Is it something where you're setting out to make things relatable, or is it just that what's personal to you is relatable to others?
Julia: I think for me, writing songs that are really personal comes from a point of wanting to connect with people that I care about. Growing up it took me a long time to become comfortable in showing love and affection to my family members. I always was kinda cold, and I was embarrassed by that. I felt ashamed that I didn't know how to express myself in a positive way toward my family. So now as I'm getting older and I want to, it's ironic and sad because we all live very far apart and I don't get to see them very much. So singing and dedicating a lot of these stories to them, and putting them in my art, is a way for me to feel really close to them and and show my love. I'm trying to make up for lost time. But I think a lot of people have a similar struggle, and it's not something we really talk about.
Dave: You always feel like you could be a better friend or family member, you know?
Julia: I think that's something a lot of people can relate to. Just kind of struggling to show your love a good way.
Emulsion: Sounds like a fairly universal experience.
Julia: Yeah. And memory. Just trying to understand your life and figure out what you're doing. I think that's something we all share, and that's what I'm trying to do.
Emulsion: I think I read something that said there's a song on "GN" that was written in 2011 or something?
Julia: The song "Molly" was a demo that I had done just on my own back in December of 2011. And then "Control" is like, really old. Like, I was 17. So that would have been 7 years ago. I changed the lyrics cuz back then they were just nonsense about my bullshit highschool life, and now I made it way more focused about an actual story and memory. But yeah, I'm a real sucker for letting something sit for a long time and then revisiting it later and looking at it with some new perspective I guess.
Dave: Like a fine beer or kombucha that's been sitting awhile.
Julia: Yes! Aged songwriting.
Emulsion: I mean, if it stands the test of time with yourself.
Julia: If I'm not sick of it after all these years, then hopefully other people will be down to listen for awhile.
Emulsion: So you guys are kinda from other places and kinda from here. Do you identify as a Chicago band?
Julia: At this point yeah. And I'm proud to.
Dave: We've been here for like...
Julia: I've lived in the city for over 3 years. It's great.
Emulsion: What do you like about the scene and the city? What sets Chicago apart?
Julia: It's hard for me to really know what sets it apart from other scenes, just because I've never lived anywhere else that had a scene to speak of.
Dave: Well, you're in a good one right now.
Julia: Living here in Chicago...it checks off all the boxes for me personally, just because it feels really intimate and nurturing. Socially it's really vibrant. There's lots of life.
Emulsion: Who are some local Chicago bands you're into right now?
Julia: Grandkids is awesome. I'm so glad that they're around cuz they used to be in Champaign. Really love OHMME. They're insane.
Dave: Nnamdi, of course haha. Everyone loves Nnamdi. We keep seeing his posters at venues whenever we go on tour. And then he keeps seeing our posters. It's like back and forth haha.
Julia: It's just really exciting because he's been in Chicago for so long and I'm psyched for the world to hear his shit. But we also really love Melkbelly. I'm really really excited for their new album and the release show. I'm just thinking of the "Better Yet" live podcast. Miranda from Melkbelly played, Chris from Meat Wave played, and Deanna from Sinceer Engineer played. All three of those projects...I'm really excited about right now.
Dave: Yeah, we could go on all day. Nervous Passenger.
Emulsion: Touring seems like it's become a really big part of your guys' lives. How much of a life adjustment is that?
Dave: Pretty used to it right now, and I think we’ve kinda developed a circadian rhythm that goes along with being on tour and being home. Just adjusting between those two modes.
Julia: Being on the road feels really right to me. Especially because the people in the band are some of my closest friends. So we get to spend time together. We get to play all over and I love traveling. I also really enjoy the routine of tour and the kinda...predictable chaos I guess?
Emulsion: What is your guy's' version of success or "making it?" What's the end goal?
Dave: I think it's getting to the point where we can keep doing what we love to do, and just make music and make new things. We could do that everyday and that people will pay attention to it... and we get the opportunity to tour once a year.
Julia: Once a year?
Dave: At least once a year. I'm saying, you know, when we're 70 years old and doing this.
Julia: Right. So we'll be 70 when we make it?
Dave: We're aiming for Deerhoof status.
Julia: That would be the dream. Absolutely.
Emulsion: Any releases coming up?
Julia: We recorded a "GN" B-sides EP back in May. It'll be out sometime next year.
Dave: Definitely by the summer.
Julia: Probably as a one-year celebration of "GN" or something. Kinda like the way Carly Rae Jepsen did it.