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Chicago band Ratboys’ new album ‘The Window’


The pandemic wasn’t a gift, but it was the perfect time for the city’s creators to hone their craft. This is most evident in a group like the Ratboys. A busy life journey came to a halt with the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. And so the band members – Julia Steiner, Dave Sagan, Sean Neumann and Marcus Nuccio – turned to an introspective creative capsule to make new music. As a result of these efforts, their last album “The Window” was released on 25 August.

Steiner began writing songs for “The Window” in early 2019. But the early months of the epidemic were a creative turning point. The group began working together in May 2020. With a canceled tour, the band found time to improve their craft. Three of the band members lived together, and drummer Nuccio eventually joined their “COVID bubble”. After a few live performances, they quickly went into writing mode, and the band worked on the music, meeting twice a week, every week, for a year and a half. “While the whole experience with the world shutdown was not positive, it was a promising development for us,” said Steiner.

This new collaboration process was a big change from the way they worked together in the past. Previously, Steiner wrote the seeds for the songs himself, then elaborated them with Sagan before presenting them to the rest of the band or other friends. But during this creative period, each band member was able to write their own piece from the start, which allowed them to complete the arrangements and sit down to the music. “We could have made a recording without wasting that much time, but I don’t know if the sound will look as fully formed or realized as it did at the last moment,” Steiner said.

After working primarily on record in Chicago and briefly in Michigan, the band traveled to Seattle to produce the album. There, they worked at the famed Hall of Justice recording studio with Chris Walla, known for his time on Death Cab for Cutie, and producer of bands such as The Decists and Tegan and Sara. “In a way, we trusted him,” said Steiner of traveling this far to make this record. “And for indulgent reasons, we never left Chicago to record, so it was a big adventure that we always hoped to try—leaving the city and making some art.”

While there is no overarching thematic concept for the recording, many of the songs explore unconventional ways of handling and coping with grief and loss. This makes sense considering the time most of the records were written. This is grief in many forms, as part of one’s daily routine, and grief in everyday life. Steiner described it as “a little weird, but also funny.” It is a journey through the continuum of life, figuring out how to go on each day.

“This sickly mix of joy is something that really interests me, and I think it seeps into many of these songs without my knowing it,” he added.

After a long recording career, “The Window” sounds like the most confident, assured version of the Ratboys’ music. Each song sounds deliberate and determined with an honest enthusiasm that will definitely make the album a classic among the band’s discography. “I think this time around, we’ve managed to really explore all these different styles, not just sloppy,” Steiner said.

The first single from “The Window”, “It’s Alive” embodies this feeling. “It really felt like the current moment, or the moment we started working on the songs together,” Steiner said. And that energy can be felt on the track. Fun and catchy with a simple song structure, “It’s Alive” represents the Ratboys at their most captivating and lively.

“Looking back, I find myself thinking we were really lucky on this path,” Steiner said. From living together at the height of the pandemic and regularly working on their music to finding safe weather conditions when traveling to Seattle to record, everything came together to make “The Window” a reality. “Recording was actually a kind of salvation for all of us in the midst of that busy, uncertain time,” Steiner said. “We were lucky. In the midst of all this crazy change, it wasn’t that hard.”

Ratboys, Aug. 25 at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave.; Join the waiting list for tickets ratboysband.com/tour

Britt Julious is a freelance critic.


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