Born as a home-recording-only band in 2008, Ravi/Lola transitioned to performing live shows around three years ago, proving that its forwarding-thinking ’60s psych-pop works as well in-person as on record. The group similarly stepped up its recording game. The move from the bedroom to the studio is most apparent on its latest album, Shape Up Shoulders. The record is the most polished and accessible effort to-date, a lo-fi recording that sounds both full and entrancing.
In advance of the Shape Up Shoulders release show at Company Brewing on Friday, June 2, Ravi/Lola frontman Casey Seymour talks about the band’s nearly 10-year existence, ‘60s psychedelic pop, and the city’s psych community.
You’ve been a band since 2008. Can you talk about the evolution of the outfit?
Ravi/Lola began with myself and longtime pal James Green. James and I lived together and I had a small in-home studio so we started recording together. After about a year and half or so, James moved away and Nick Wieczorkowski stepped in as collaborator and drummer. Most of the songs recorded with James and I are on the first album, Ravi/Lola. The transition to Nick can be heard on the second album, II: Ravi’s Tramadol. Everything released from the ‘home recording era’ has and will have a number in the title, and there is a lot of unreleased material from that era.
In late 2014, early 2015, Nick and I decided we wanted to start playing live. I’ve known Anton Sieger through mutual friends and he joined on bass, and we played shows a couple times as a three-piece. Robert Thomas joined on keys shortly after which has added a lot to our sound. The four of us are the current roster of Ravi/Lola and recorded Shape Up Shoulders together.
Has the songwriting process changed over time?
When it was James or Nick and I, we wrote and recorded really fast. A lot of the songs started out with improvisation, we’d listen back and decide if we liked it or not, then build upon that. The typical starting point was either a drum part, guitar and drums, or organ and drums about half the time. The other half were songs I would record by myself with a similar process. We would typically record 1-4 songs in a session. Sometimes we would revisit a song and add a couple things but mostly we would just move onto the next composition.
When we began as a live group, we were initially going to reinterpret songs from the home recording era. After we did that for a few songs, we decided to focus on new material. I typically write the songs at home, record a demo with guitar and vocals or keys and vocals, and then send it to the rest of the group. We practice the songs and put them all together.
What draws you to ’60s psychedelic pop?
Many elements, but it has a lot to do with the vocal melodies. They’re just so catchy and fun. Even though some of the lyrics can be cheeky or trite, the melody can still stick hard. The instrumentation of jangly guitars, sitar, harpsichord, and organ is blissful to listen to and has little limitation. There is a sub-genre of ‘60s psychedelic pop mainly from the UK, called toytown, which we feel is a category Ravi/Lola falls into. A lot of the lyrics are playful, child-like, but have an undertone of melancholy and delusion. I like music that allows you to step in, step out, and explore the characters they write about, like visiting a little village. Mental travel defines psychedelia and psychedelic pop and toytown pop can do that very well. I’m the only one in the group really obsessed with it (maybe too much!), the others not as much, which I think works to our benefit, resulting in a broader sound, rather than just a ‘60s retro act.
Do you think the psych community in Milwaukee has grown since you’ve been together?
Milwaukee is definitely known more as a rock ‘n’ roll city, but I think it has. Look no further than the amazing turnout for Milwaukee Psych Fest. Depending on what you consider to be ‘psychedelic,’ you can argue many bands in the city are because there is a lot of experimentation going on, which I think can be attributed to the ‘growth’ of the Milwaukee psych community. It can be jazz, folk, baroque, rock ’n’ roll, hip hop, or whatever. I’m hoping it continues to grow, selfishly in the baroque style, which isn’t too common in the states these days.
Why did you choose to re-record “Piledheads at a Pool Party” for this album?
“Piledheads at a Pool Party” and “Neighbors with Pools” were the first couple songs reinterpreted from the home recording era and we liked how they turned out. Both songs are about the same character, so it seemed fitting.
The songs on Shape Up Shoulders come across as light and breezy. Does that come with ease or does that take hard work behind the scenes?
That comes natural to us I suppose. We don’t really approach songs looking for a specific feel or sound. Like toytown, the songs we write are typically about spirited, delirious characters who behave somewhat comically, but there is an underlying darkness to them. If you listen to Shape Up Shoulders with that in mind, you will find connections in the narrative. It’s not too obvious, but secrets and surprises are really fun, especially if you experience them on a personal level.
Would you consider Shape Up Shoulders a summer album?
Well, two songs have “pool,” in the title, so sure! People have told us we have a “west coast” vibe and its summer there all the time, so maybe that gives it a summer feel too. We think it’ll work well for all seasons though. “Do, Do Alone” has a real “first snowfall” feel to it, in my opinion.
What are your plans for the summer?
We will be playing shows to support the album. There are about 20 songs written for the next album with about six or so songs we’ve fleshed out together. We have plans to record with Dante Fumo, and he has expressed working with tape, which has us excited. We are releasing five short EP’s from the home recording era in July, “Collections 3-7.” and more plans in the future to get the rest of the recording from that era out. Nick and I have a synth/pop forward side project called Kiss Critique and are releasing that album in late summer/early fall, with a strong possibility for a release show to support that. Anton and Robert will continue their work in Scrimshaw as well. It’s busy, but feels good to be making and releasing so much music.