During her freshman year of high school, Julia Steiner was given the nickname "Ratboy." She still doesn't really know why. But when Steiner started writing songs with David Sagan in 2011, the two-piece repurposed the moniker. Inevitably becoming Ratboys, the acoustic duo grew into a post-country four piece. After signing to Topshelf Records, the Chicago-based band released their debut full-length AOID in 2015 and hit the road. They're returning to Memphis for a second time on Sunday, playing Murphy's with Slingshot Dakota and Island of Misfit Toys. The Flyer caught up with lead-rodent Julia Steiner ahead of the show.
MF: How did the name 'Ratboys' come to be and how and when did the band get started?
JS: When Dave and I first started the project in 2011, we called it 'Ratboy' because that had been my nickname since I was 14 years old. During lunch my freshman year of high school, my friends and I went around the table giving each other crude nicknames, and that was the one they gave me (no one really knows why). It was the least crude and the only one that stuck.
Eventually, we added an 's' to the end of our name to appease a fellow Ratboy in upstate New York who sent us persistent emails with vague threats demanding that we change our name. That happened in 2012, and we've been Ratboys ever since.
Dave and I started the project on a whim while we were both students at the same university. We recorded the RATBOY EP for fun, put it out on April Fools day 2011, and started playing shows as an acoustic two-piece. Over time we added more friends playing different instruments, and we've gotten louder and more focused since then.
MF: What have been some of your constant influences?
JS: Some constant influences of ours are The Breeders, Jenny Lewis, The Dodos, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and Wilco.
MF: Have you been to Memphis before? What was your experience like?
JS: We have been to Memphis once before, in summer 2015. I'll be honest with you, it wasn't one of the better shows we've played — we played in someone's living room, and that person chose to stay in her room leading a game of dungeons and dragons instead of watching any of the sets or passing around a donation jar. We didn't realize that until it was too late, so we left with empty pockets. But, the city itself is really cool, and we had a great time hanging with some friends who we don't often get to see. We're psyched to come back and give it another go. MF: Does the album title AOID stand for something? What's the story behind that?
JS: The title AOID doesn't stand for anything in our minds — the original cover image was a cell phone photo that I took of my fist right after it had been stamped at a county fair in the middle of nowhere Kentucky in 2011. Dave and I were driving around aimlessly and stumbled across this carnival — the stamp mystified us (it looked like it said VOID, except mirrored and upside down?) and we had such a great time that we promised ourselves "If and when we put out a full-length record, we'll use this photo as the cover."
MF: With AOID being Ratboys' first full-length, what personal experiences led to writing the lyrics for the album? I've got to mention "Bugs!" because I've revisited the lyrics a ton since listening to the album.
JS: A lot of personal experiences informed the lyrics on AOID — that album in particular borrows a lot from things I personally went through, things people told me, etc. My freshman year of college roommate was named Sara Mykrantz, my dog's name was Jazz, I went on a trip to Chicago, Louisville, and Nashville right after a nasty breakup. All of those details and stories pop up here and there.
I wrote "Bugs!" down in Kentucky right after I got into a fight with one of my best friends. I was sitting on my front stoop in the middle of a really hot night in the summer, and there were bugs everywhere. They were so loud it was almost deafening. I just started singing to myself and the words poured out. The bugs around me kind of accompanied me that night so I wanted to pay homage to them being there, but they were also super annoying, so I made sure to comment on how I'm happy to swat them away. The words were kind of me just getting my emotions out in the disorientation after a fight. I'm glad you enjoyed that one.
MF: What are some albums you guys have been jamming on tour so far? Any recommendations?
JS: We've been listening to the Harry Potter books on CD for a lot of the drive, but we've also been listening to a lot of new albums by awesome artists — the main ones we love are by Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, Del Paxton, Jay Som and Wild Pink.
MF: Plans for the rest of the year?
JS: We're putting out our second record in June and then hopefully touring all the time.