A Q&A With Ra Ra Riot, Hockey Fans

Ilya Kovalchuk

Recording a new album can quickly become an exercise in doing a lot of waiting around. But for Wes Miles and Mat Santos, the lead singer and bassist, respectively, for the band Ra Ra Riot, their downtime over the last couple of weeks has been largely consumed by one thing: playoff hockey. Both Miles, who grew up a Devils fan in New Jersey, and Santos, who roots for the Bruins, are big hockey fans — and they’ve got the tattoos, Starter jackets, and national anthem performances to prove it. Grantland’s Katie Baker spoke to the pair over the weekend, as their favored hockey teams (and Baker’s) faced first-round elimination.

So you’re down in Mississippi recording a new album, and you’re also big hockey fans whose teams are currently in the playoffs. What are your days like?

Mat: Well, usually we’ve been doing six-day weeks, and we’re usually here at the studio for about 12 hours a day. It sounds like a lot but it’s relaxed because usually only one of us is doing something at a given time. Right now, in this phase in our recording, because we’ve been here for about four weeks, Rebecca [Zeller] is doing violin overdubs. So the rest of us just get to sort of hang out. You might hear a basketball being bounced around. And we bring our hockey net. So we play street hockey in the parking lot, watch hockey … we mostly do hockey-related things when we’re not recording.

With all the street hockey I’m imagining Wayne’s World. Gaaaame onnnn.

Wes: The week before the playoffs started we did this whole simulation of the Eastern Conference playoffs. And it looks like right now we’re gonna have a zero percent success rate of predicting what happens.

A video game simulation? Or live action?

Mat: We used a very old method of doing a shootout format in the parking lot. There was nothing electronic about it. We were being like kids. We’d be like, “OK, who are you now?” And Wes would be like “I’m Zidlicky!” and I’d be like “OK, I’m Clemmensen!” And then if Zidlicky was the one who scored, we’d be like, “Ah, OK, Zidlicky’s gonna be the difference-maker in his series.” And we wrote down everyone who scored, and … yeah, so far none of them have actually contributed.

Wes: For practice, we make makeshift goalies with one of the benches from the van and random boxes and stuff, or like, heavy suitcases, and recently we’ve been calling whatever abomination of boxes and shit is in the goalie crease — we’ve been calling it Bryzgalov. We used to call it Luongo.

Mat: So, you know what’s funny — we’ve been in Oxford, Mississippi, for a few weeks and we had our first Eli Manning sighting last night.

Oh my god. Tell me everything.

Mat: Well, we were at our friend’s apartment and someone came in and they were like, “Eli Manning is on the balcony next door!” and I, you know, kind of laughed. I thought he was joking. And I went outside and sat down and sure enough I just looked up and right through the window of the apartment next door was Eli Manning, just drinking a Bud Light. Seemed like a very down-to-earth guy.

Like a good American!

Mat: Yeah, totally, hanging out with a bunch of polo-shirted American boys. But yeah, he came over to the edge of the balcony and started talking to the person whose apartment we were at. And I was staring at him the whole time. I’m a big Patriots fan and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I didn’t know if I was supposed to, like, fight him or something to defend all my family and friends whose hearts he’d broken twice now. I thought I was over the last Super Bowl, but I saw him and all those horrible feelings came rushing back.

You’re a big enough Bruins fan that every picture I see of you you’re wearing a Bruins jersey or what looks like some sort of Starter jacket.

Mat: I’m wearing my Cam Neely jersey right now in preparation for the game. The Starter jacket … I love that thing. I got that thing for $3 at a thrift store near my home. That was the best $3 I ever spent. Sadly I had all this amazing Bruins stuff when I was a kid — I was looking through these albums and I had, like, a Ray Bourque graphic T-shirt — I guess I lost a lot of that stuff over the years. I even had a Nordiques jersey when I was a kid that I used to just wear to school, and I even got rid of that! I don’t know what I was thinking.

You have a tattoo of the old Bruins bear logo on your shoulder — why did you choose that versus the spoked wheel?

Mat: I remember when I was a kid and I first started watching them that was the shoulder patch that they had and I always thought it was really, really cool. I don’t know why but I kind of just had this attachment to it. And through middle school and high school I started getting into “alternative culture” and I was like, Oh I gotta go get tattoos, I want a tattoo. I had all these different ideas. I was like, I want to get a 311 logo. All these horrible ideas.

Please tell me you did.

Mat: I always made myself think about it for a year. And of course after a year I was like, Oh my god, why would I get a 311 logo tattooed on my body? All these ideas came and went but I always had the [Bruins] shoulder patch on my mind. And then it just sort of happened really randomly one day on tour a few years ago. We had a really harrowing couple of days. All the classic things, like the van broke down, we had to do like a 26-hour straight drive to the next show, we got there five minutes before we played, it was really bad. After the show everyone was like, “Fuck it, let’s get tattoos.” Fortunately, I had a folder on my computer filled with Bruins logos and I was able to show the guy.

I love it. I was really happy with how it came out. I think it’s gonna be the only tattoo I ever get, although sometimes I joke it’s gonna be the beginning of a full upper-body complete uniform tattoo. So at some point I might get the spoked B in the middle of my chest. We’ll see.

Wes, you sang the national anthem at a Devils game last season. What was that like?

Wes: It was pretty surreal. [Our publicist] got in touch with one of the guys who does the entertainment booking or whatever there, just to see if we could get some tickets. And the guy said, “Yeah, sure, do you want to have Wes sing the anthem?” And I was like, whoa, that’s weird — I’ve never done that, I’ve never even been asked to do that, I’ve never asked myself to do that — so, it was kind of weird to have that one just thrown at me. But it was a great experience. I was 20 feet from Marty Brodeur and wearing his jersey. And I was thinking about how recently Marty had just gotten his American citizenship.

You’re like, this one’s for you, buddy.

Wes: Yeah, I must admit I was caught up, I mean, and he was looking at me, and I was singing, and then at the end when you wrap it up and get to the money notes … you know, he starts slapping his pads right in front of me and I was just getting so amped, it was so weird, it was like watching myself in a movie or something!

I did it at the Red Wings game so it was sold out and there were tons of Red Wings fans there and it was a crazy atmosphere. And before I even got back to my seat after doing the anthem — I was still walking through the tunnel, and I was so amped up, like Great, now I get to see this game, see the Red Wings, got these great seats. — I hear the crowd roar really loud and I’m like, That’s awesome! They scored! But there’s no buzz, there’s no horn. And I’m like, Aw, fuck, they gave up a goal. And as I got to the elevator I heard another roar and I’m like, Oh, cool. They evened it up. … and there’s no horn again.

So I got to my seat like a minute-thirty into the game and they’d already given up two goals. Mat is always joking with me about how my anthem shook Marty to the core so badly that he couldn’t even concentrate on the game and just let in two goals immediately.

Not taking anything away from your performance, obviously, but the story of you just asking for a couple of tickets and then being offered to sing the anthem is like a caricature of the New Jersey Devils franchise.

Mat: It was so funny. Wes was like, “Whoa, they asked me to sing the anthem,” and I was like “Dude, so … can we still get the tickets? Yeah? OK. OK, then just do it. Do whatever it takes to get the tickets.”

Given that he’s been around probably since you were a kid who first started liking the Devils, is it weird to see Marty’s career drawing to a close?

Wes: Yeah, he’s like a beloved family pet. I’m kind of torn because whenever he has a bad game I’m like, Welp, here’s the end, here it is. And then he’ll bounce back. And then two games ago he has a shutout and I’m like, OK, he’s still here. I’m still partly in denial.

Mat, considering the way your name is spelled (Mathieu), I’m wondering if you’ve been contacted by the Montreal Canadiens for the GM job.

Mat: I’m partially qualified. I took a few years of French and my sister is a French-language major. I’ve not been contacted yet, but as Patrick Roy said, my cell phone is always on. I would love the opportunity to bring down the Canadiens from the inside.

Wes, do you think [Zach] Parise will be back?

Wes: I would put my money on it. I think there’s no way to know and most people will always say, “Yeah, I wanna stay here,” even if they don’t, but I think most importantly Lou Lamoriello knows the value of Zach Parise. I hope so. I mean, I was thinking about getting a jersey of his when I did the anthem. But I think he’s a little younger than me so I wasn’t sure how to feel about that — I can’t get a jersey of someone younger than me.

That’s increasingly becoming a problem.

Wes: Yeah, I can’t get a Larsson jersey … I could get a Kovalchuk jersey. He’s older than me.

Mat, you’re a lover of hockey sweaters to the point where you created a jersey-influenced work of art.

Mat: I made a record last year, and our manager Josh suggested that I do some sort of limited-edition artwork or something for anyone who pre-ordered it online. Then suddenly it was the week before it was due and I had no idea what I wanted to draw, so I was panicking — what the hell am I supposed to do, just make some doodles for these strangers? I realized, and it became completely obvious, that I should just draw all my favorite jerseys from NHL history on Post-it notes and include those so that people that pre-ordered the record got to have a little hockey history lesson, too.

Because I think hockey jerseys are the most beautiful and wonderful thing in all of sports. So colorful, and the logos are so unique. One of my favorite websites is nhluniforms.com. I just go there every single day. When I’m at the end of my Internet rounds I’m like, Oh, it’s time to go look at some jerseys to wind down.

Filed Under: Hockey, Eli Manning, Katie Baker, NHL, Stanley Cup, Grantland Q&A

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

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