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Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Thursday 3rd December, 2015 2:39PM

Next week Brooklyn-based rocktronica act Ratatat will be returning to these shores (with their crew in tow) for two extraordinary nights of audio-visual entertainment. The long-standing duo, made up of Mike Shroud and Evan Short, are heading back downunder in support of their fifth studio album Magnifique which came out in July via 4AD.  In anticipation of their visit, UnderTheRadar got on the phone to Mike before they kicked off the tour in Hong Kong to talk about the new record as well as his newfound love of playing pedal steel guitar...

Hi Mike! How are you doing, where are you at the moment?

Hi, not too bad, I'm in a hotel in Brooklyn, New York. Where are you?

I'm at home in Auckland, sitting by the window... So you are coming to New Zealand soon?

Nice. Yeah, we are flying to Hong Kong at like 9am in the morning, for the first show of the tour.

What do you remember from the last times you've played in New Zealand?

Ummm... not very much, hahah. It's been awhile. I always really like New Zealand. We never have too much time off, usually we fly in and do the show and then we have to leave again, so I think I went to a karaoke bar. We did a really beautiful drive from Auckland to Wellington once, I was amazed by the countryside. So many beautiful landscapes. But I've never had time off there to really explore.

You and Evan have been playing together for a long time, nearly 15 years, you must have touring down to a pretty fine art?

Yeah, I mean it's gotten easier and easier. We used to tour around with just the two of us in a van and we had to do everything ourselves. And now we have a crew of people that help us set everything up. So when we tour now we just have to play the show, that's it.

Right, I was going to ask that, because obviously the visual element is a huge aspect of your show. So you tour with lighting technicians and whatnot?

Yeah, we have lighting and laser guys and we have a couple of sound guys. We have a bunch of people helping us now, so it's so much easier than it used to be.

Do you prefer playing live or being in the studio?

I like performing live, but doing a tour is pretty exhausting. You have to play like every night. And sometimes you are in the mood for it, but usually you're kind of tired and you'd rather watch a movie or something, hahaha. So I definitely prefer the studio. I like to make new stuff, and you can't really do that on tour. Playing live is also really awesome, but if I had to choose I would go with the studio.

Speaking of being in the studio, it took awhile for you guys to lay down Magnifique, and you did it across a few locations including Jamaica. What took you there... it sounds like an amazing place to be able to take some time and work...

Yeah, it was awesome. We got that because my wife is friends with this super-rich lady who has a house in Jamaica and she's only there like two weeks out of the year, and she's a really nice and generous person. We always like to get out of New York City when we record for an album, just because it's kind of easier for us to isolate ourselves somewhere, turn our phones off, you know, and just make music. And this woman offered us her house, and it was right on the ocean. It was really amazing. We didn't get *that* much done, to be honest, hahaha. But we managed to get some stuff on Magnifique written and recorded there, so it wasn't a totally pointless trip. But we got the most done for the record when we went back to the same studio we did the last two. We were the most productive there. I don't know why, we just were.

Listening to the album, I really like the slower songs that have that Hawaiian slide guitar vibe...

Yeah, those are my favourites...

That's a fairly new aspect to your music right? How did that come about?

Um, well we always loved Santo & Johnny, I'm not sure if you are familiar with them, but they did that Hawaiian sounding song 'Sleepwalk' in the late 50s, I think. And just from looking at videos of them on YouTube we found a bunch of these amazing videos of old pedal steel players. There was a show, I think in the 50s, called The Lawrence Welk Show and it was mostly just schmaltzy jazzy kind of music but every once in awhile they'd have a pedal steel player come on, and every time it was just sooo genius. So we got really inspired by that. I bought the same guitar they were using, haha. I got really in to it. Those are my favourite songs on the record I think.

Oh cool, The Lawrence Welk Show. I'll have to check it out...

Oh yeah, so check out Alvino Rey, he's one of the guys. He's amazing. He was like a pioneer in the pedal steel. He's a genius.

What new challenges did learning to play a pedal steel present?

Oh, every single aspect is completely new and alien to me. It's like drumming, you have to use all four limbs at the same time because your use your feet on the pedals to bend the notes. It's also like lying down, so you play it like a piano. Literally every aspect of it is totally new to me, which is fun because when I play the regular six-string guitar I have all these habits. I tend to always play the same kind of thing. And with this I didn't really know what I was doing, so I could kind of explore more with it.

So, is it something you think you'll continue on with?

Yeah, I love it. It's like my favourite part. I don't think we'll be playing those songs on this tour though, because it's a pain in the ass. I have like a whole set up. When we tour in the United States it's easy for me to bring it, but to fly all the way down there with that stuff, it's too much. But I'm definitely going to keep practising it. I want to take lessons and get really good at it.

What made you guys want to cover Springwater 'I Will Return' for the album?

Um, we had been talking about doing that for years. I just think his music has a lot in common with ours, like there's a lot of guitar harmonies and it's instrumental. Also when we made that we hadn't really worked together in awhile, so it was a fun way to get back into recording together, because we didn't have to write anything, we could just go into the studio and record a song we really liked. And we were just happy with how it came out, so we put it on the record.

Awesome. So my final question. What's your favourite song on Magnique?

I think my favourite song is 'Pricks Of Brightness', at least right now. It's maybe the most fun song to play live. That song is kind of hard for me to play on guitar so it's a challenge. A lot of our songs at this point are second nature and I don't have to think, but every time I play that I have to step up to the plate.

Ratatat are performing on on Wednesday 9th December at San Fran in Wellington, and then on Thursday 10th December at The Studio in Auckland. Head over here for more information and to buy tickets.