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Gabbing with Rah Rah’s Marshal Burns

By Alessandro Marcon on October 27, 2015

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Seeing as Rah Rah have belted out their tuneage in our Nation’s Capital a dozen-odd times, there’s a pretty good chance you’re familiar with the band. For those who aren’t, they’re a folky-rock ensemble with pop sensibilities and dashes of dance; they hail from Regina, home of Roughrider green, First Nations University of Canada, and the stunning Wascana Centre Park. Their 2012 disc, The Poet’s Dead was nominated for both a Polaris and a Juno, and their latest release, Vessels rings out with what Exclaim magazine have called “simple yet infuriatingly catchy pop melodies” made even “slicker” this time around. On Friday afternoon, I chatted on the phone with guitarist and singer Marshall Burns, who was relaxing in a Brooklyn basement after a Wednesday night gig and a Thursday night out at the Comedy Cellar (graced with a surprise appearance by Aziz Ansari!). Here are 9 tidbits from our conversation.

1) On Regina’s emerging music scene…

MB: It’s pretty small but pretty good. There are lots of acts around town that have been a big influence. Lots of band who don’t tour too much and haven’t made a name for themselves outside of the province…[and] lots of other bands like Library Voices, and Andy Shauf (recently signed to Arts and Crafts) doing lots of good stuff. There’s more infrastructure than in the past, like 15 – 20 years ago… more venues popping up. People are trying to do some interesting things.

2) On how Rah Rah got its name…

That was a long time ago, man. I’m not sure really sure… that was like a decade ago… I think people just sort of pick names at some point and that’s their name and there’s not much other significance to be honest… at some point you have to put something on a poster, you know– and then you’re just sort of stuck with it.

3) On whether Rah Rah has any connotations with the seldom-used British word “Rah” used to describe adults who belong to yacht clubs and refer to parents as Mummy and Daddy…

Well, you learn something everyday… not consciously, no, but that’s very informative, man. Thank you.

4) On having a changing lineup over the years…

We’ve had 5 records and each one had a different line up, so it’s challenge ‘cause you have to adapt and get comfortable with a different line up. But it forces you to evolve the sound and change – you can’t recreate the sound even if you tried. On our most recent record– where our drummer, Jeffery was playing with us from the very beginning of the writing process… that makes a huge difference– when you have a new person who’s part of that writing process from the beginning. For better or worse, it’s going to be different, and I welcome it – ‘cause it means that you don’t have to be too worried about repeating yourself.

5) On naming the new album, Vessels

There’s a bunch of major themes on the record but one of them is the idea that we’re traveling through space on this planet and in that sense the plant is a vessel. Another major theme is memory. In that sense, you know, we’re all vessels, individually moving through time, and our memories are vessels of past experiences that carry forward into the present…

6) On piñatas at live shows…

Kristina would sort of have them (the piñatas) hanging over the audience and in this one song, she would use a drum stick and start hitting it and candy would shoot out of the bottom onto people. Kristina made them. I don’t think it was the easiest thing to do, but it looked sweet on the show. I think it took a fair bit of work, but that was fun, we might have to bring it back, I have to say. We haven’t been doing that on this tour, we’ve got some big balloons and confetti that we’ve been doing, a couple little things like that. Every tour we try to a do a little thing, bring a bit of life to the show and it’s good for getting the crowd going. When that happens, the band feeds off it. So it’s sort of a win-win. We like doing that kind of stuff. It’s a lot of fun, for sure: trying to make the show like a performance, an experience for people beyond just recreating the songs.

7) On playing shows here in Ottawa…

Oh man, (we’ve played) tons of times, so many times. We’ve played Mavericks 3 or 4 times, Café Dekcuf 7 or 8 times… what’s that one under the strip club?

8) On whether or not they’ve played inside the strip club…

No, God, no.

9) On whether or not they ever would play in a strip club, more specifically the BareFax

We would probably pass on that one, man… I think there would have to be a band meeting. But we wouldn’t be too keen on it, that’s for sure. 

Rah Rah play October 29, 2015, at  8:00pm at Mavericks (221 Rideau St.), with Dear Rouge opening.  Tickets are $15 advance, plus fees. 

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