Show catches RACES in transition

Wade Ryff is the founder, frontman and lyricist for L.A.-based band RACES; just think twice before calling him a singer-songwriter.

“A lot of songs start out with just me on guitar, but singer-songwriter… I just feel like it’s just kind of an overdone genre.”

That’s not to say that Ryff knows exactly what kind of music his band makes or would like to make. All of RACES’ songs were initially written to be played acoustic, but the band did not even bother to bring an acoustic guitar on tour with them. The group often tries to play some acoustic sets, but Ryff does not miss being forced to play on his own.

“There was a period where I was playing these songs alone, before we got a band together. I was always kind of ashamed.”

A listen to RACES’ debut LP “Year of the Witch” shows a musical complexity that certainly could not be portrayed by one man and his guitar. The album is decidedly experimental, with influences from all over the guitar-driven musical world. Ryff, however, doesn’t see his band as any sort of outlier in the indie rock scene.

“I don’t think we do anything different than any other band, really. I mean, the music sounds different, but any band that says they’re doing things radically different than other bands is just lying.”

The band’s lineup has one thing in common with a lot of groups: They’re all friends. On the other hand, many members come from rather different backgrounds, musically speaking. Wade Ryff and drummer Lucas Ventura were a rhythm section together (with Ryff on bass) for nine years before RACES formed. Devon Lee, the band’s female vocalist and percussionist, was running a karaoke bar.

“Everyone kind of played together separately, then we came together for this.”

RACES has now been together for two and a half years, with no end in sight. The band already has plans for their next album, although nothing has been recorded yet. Thematically, Ryff plans to get away from the “relationship with a real-life witch” at the lyrical center of the first album. Fans should not be expecting rainbows and lollipops, though.

“I don’t really set out to do anything (in songwriting), but you start to notice a trend. Lately I’ve been noticing that all the songs I’ve written are really tongue-in-cheek — the subject matter is serious, some would say really dark, but they’re talked about in a way that’s sort of comical.”

Musically, nobody, including Wade Ryff, knows just how the band’s sophomore effort will differ from its first. The band’s own website suggests some “electronic textures”, but Ryff mentioned that that may only have been true “for that week”. Drummer Lucas Ventura joked with us about the things bands do today for the sake of being different, but also seriously revealed one of RACES’ innovative goals.

“We’re trying to take cymbals out. They’re just so loud, so obnoxious.”

The band has found a lot of success on their current tour with Generationals, selling out several shows. The crowd at Phoenix’s Crescent Ballroom on Saturday night was clearly impressed by the tour, which also featured local act ROAR as an opener. The very packed crowd cheered loudly for RACES, even if they gave the band a hard time for some of their L.A. Lakers gear. Powerful lyrics and shredding instrumental breaks mesmerized the audience.

Even though RACES has found some success so far, they’re not satisfied yet. Another album will almost certainly be followed by more touring, which is welcome news to the band’s growing fan base. Ryff’s goals for the band are more universal than one might expect.

“I think everyone wants to make a living off of it. It’s something everyone hopes for. I think the ultimate goal is to be writing music that you like.”

I’m not the band’s accountant, so I can’t comment on them making a living. I’m not Wade Ryff, so I can’t say if he likes his music or not. However, I can say that the packed Crescent Ballroom definitely loved RACES. From “Big Broom” to “All For You” to “Lies”, fans stayed on their feet. Maybe those who understood the place Ryff’s lyrics come from enjoyed it more than others, but everyone could certainly enjoy some fantastic indie rock.

RACES’ tour ends on November 21 in Houston, TX. No other tour dates have been announced at this time. The band’s debut LP, “Year of the Witch”, is available for purchase through iTunes, Amazon or on vinyl through French Kiss Records. RACES can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Photos by Alex Scoville/DD

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