Ratboys to Perform at The Blind Pig

On April 10, Ratboys will be performing at The Blind Pig, 208. S. 1st St, Ann Arbor.

Rolling behind one of the 2023’s best albums, “The Window,” Ratboys did a tour last fall that broke new ground for the Chicago band.

“Technically, we’d never done a headline tour,” said singer/songwriter Julia Steiner. “We’ve been touring, playing established real rooms since 2017. But we’ve never done a tour right off the heels of a record release, where we’re trying to sell tickets. We’ve never done a ticketed room tour. This was finally our chance to do that. It feels a little crazy that we’ve been at this for so long and just hadn’t had the stars aligned to be able to give this a go.”

Having passed the test with the fall trek, Ratboys are now embarking on a spring headlining tour behind “The Window,” the latest step in a journey that, for Steiner, began more than a decade ago. 

Steiner, who got the nickname “Ratboy” when she was a freshman in high school – she doesn’t remember why – started writing songs with guitarist Dave Sagan after meeting him on her first day of classes at Notre Dame in 2011.

Playing around as an acoustic duo they became Ratboys, which after graduations and a move to Chicago, became a four-piece band that over the last five or six years has gone from playing house shows and opening slots to the headlining tour.

“This lineup that we have now really came together between the years of 2017 and 2019,” Steiner said. “It was just a slow build. But I’m very grateful that we had those early years. We weren’t really putting any pressure on ourselves to achieve anything. We didn’t really have any career ambitions for music and so it was just for fun. We got really close, developed all the trust and things and so it was a nice way to kind of ease into making music together,” 

Ratboys, or at least Steiner, got serious about taking a shot at the music game when a booking agent wanted to work with the band. 

“It was kind of like a light bulb went off for me, at least,’ she said “I was like, ‘Oh, wow, we could maybe start playing in real ticketed rooms and build something here. It was kind of a buy in. It wasn’t a financial exchange or anything. It was just this confidence boost, but it was just this confidence boost where someone who was working in music wanted to start working with us. We said ‘Screw it. ’We’re in our mid 20s. Let’s just try this.’ And so, the rest is history.”

That history, like those of all other bands, includes a pandemic setback, when Ratboys were forced to scrub what would have been their first big tour behind an album, stay in Chicago and play internet shows from the house in which all four band members lived.

But that time off the road also let the band make a significant musical growth and shift, moving from folkish Americana to, with “The Warrior,” a brand of hook filled, laid-back country-tinged rock ‘n’ roll filled with Steiner’s very personal, often autobiographical lyrics delivered in breathy, California pop vocals. 

Told that sonically “Warrior” brings to mind Big Thief, Steiner concurred.

“I think a lot of bands are kind of coming around to this unpretentious love of just classic sounds like the pedal steel or the fiddle and acoustic guitars, and it’s not a shameful thing to enjoy these things,” she said. “Nowadays people are just saying screw it, I want to make songs  that I love to play and have fun with. So I think they are great at that kind of mixing the seriousness in certain songs with the tongue-in-cheek humor of other songs. It’s all life is short, like why not?”

As for the lyrical content, Steiner said about 80 percent of the songs she brings to the band are personal, honed from her experiences or those of family and friends.

“I’m just really not a very talented fiction writer,” she said. “I don’t have a ton of imagination when it comes to telling stories that I’m not directly a part of, or creating fictional characters. I find my most compelling stories or just things I want to say come from my daily life or my relationships. If it’s not that, then it’s either something silly that feels good to get to sing or we have a few songs about actual people that existed that are almost like historical songs, which is kind of odd to say out loud.”

Steiner comes at her songwriting, naturally, via influences like The Beatles, Death Cab for Cutie, Rilo Kiley and The Breeders and especially Sheryl Crow, who she discovered in her mom’s record collection.

“She’s awesome. I mean, she’s one of my biggest role models,” Steiner said. “One amazing thing about Sheryl is her dominant period, in the ’90s pretty much exactly coincided with her 30s, and as a woman who just turned 31, I find that a very inspiring kind of example to follow. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you can’t create the most badass output of your life.”

Ratboys. Doors 7pm. All ages. $18. Purchase tickets online

L. Kent Wolgamott
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