By Taraneh Azar
March 15, 2021
Photo by Veronica Bettio
Boston-based indie band Raavi & the Houseplants have hardly let the COVID-19 pandemic stop them from charting new waters. Their latest single “Major Tool'' is a sure departure from the mellow indie tones they’re known for serving with a heavier and more energetic beat that makes you want to dance alone in your apartment. The band’s latest single manages to retain the core elements of their distinct math rock sound and vulnerable, tender imagery with a feel-good twist.
Released on February 14, “Major Tool” is the band’s second single since their debut album release Don't Hit Me Up in 2019. With another single “Sticky” published in October of 2020 and a third set to release this summer, the band has managed to find a flow to supply the airwaves (and streaming platforms) with a thread of content to fill the transitional waiting game presented by the global pandemic. Through remote recording techniques and frequent virtual live streams, Raavi & the Houseplants have kept a steady momentum going throughout the pandemic despite learning curves and near DIY death.
I caught up with lead guitarist and vocalist Raavi Sita and bassist James Duncan to talk about the band’s shift toward a faster and heavier sound en route to new projects looking ahead. Our conversation has been edited for length and brevity.
“Major Tool” is very much in line with your established style but in some ways it’s also a departure. What was the process like recording the single and moving into a new chapter of sorts?
Raavi: The song has a little bit more of a driving force to it. I feel like with this sound, it's a little more straightforward and a little punchier than the songs that we've put out in the past. We recorded it remotely as we did with “Sticky,” but it was a little bit of a different process just because “Sticky” wasn't really written. Luckily, with “Major Tool” we had been able to perform that for about a year before quarantine hit. So the song was finished, so it was a lot easier to do.
James: Yeah, these two singles were our first kind of venture into a remote recording. Because we were going to keep playing shows—like we did before—we were just going to keep playing shows and gradually introduce new songs, and then once we had enough just cut another album, or an EP or something. But we decided we really want to wait ‘till we can all be together and go in the studio and really do it right to put out a multiple sound release. So in the meantime, we just decided to keep our remote recordings to one at a time kind of things.
Raavi: It's in line with just the direction that music has been going in with streaming and algorithms and stuff, so it kind of fits that we're like putting out just a string of singles right now. Because all of these pieces—we've recorded three total. This is the second one. The recording process has been different for every single we've done.
This is the first song that I wrote after the record. I wrote it as we were recording Don’t Hit Me Up, so I was spending a lot of my energy on that record. And then I was just like, I need to write something else.
James: The only thing we can’t do is we can't write remotely. We tried and we really failed.
Raavi: Justin (Termotto) who produced the singles is also a member in this band, so he plays guitar for us as well, which is very convenient. But also a lot of work for him to both be mixing, producing, and engineering our stuff but also playing in it as well. So it's like an interesting dynamic that we didn't have before quarantine.
You’ve been doing a lot despite the pandemic in terms of playing live stream shows and releasing content. What’s that been like?
Raavi: It's been like an ebb and flow kind of deal with how much we're doing. Right at the beginning no one knew how long all of this was going to last. It's been a weird transition because we played a show basically every week, every week and a half, for like two or three years in person. So just, the transition was very odd. I personally will continue to do live streams, but it’s not at all like my favorite thing. You know, you sit in front of a screen and perform for people. It's very awkward. I don't want to shade it, because, you know, it is what it is and it’s all we can do right now. But I think both on both ends—because I've been a consumer of live streams and also a performer—it's just not the same experience. It's not the same energy as live music.
James: It's kind of heartwarming that people are still trying to stay involved with their favorite bands and watch these live streams and put together these shows and stuff. But yeah, it also feels like kind of just a weird shadow of the way things used to be for that same reason. So it's cute, and it's like, depressing at the same time. It's a weird deal.
Raavi: And I think my outlook on it has changed a lot since quarantine started. Like I think it was a little more exciting at first. I realized just how anxious it makes me, just performing for my phone screen basically. Like, you know, you're trying to like think of things to say in between songs. But there's no reaction really. And if you read the chat you get distracted. I don't know. Some are better than others but at the end of the day it’s a gig like anything else.
James: And we did get to share some bills with some artists that I'm doubtful that we would be offered to share with in real life. Like Sydney Gish, Emily Yacina . . .
Raavi: So that is definitely like a perk of it.
How do you view this single in relation to the rest of your body of work? Is this shift a connector of sorts for what you hope to put out in the future?
Raavi: Yeah, stylistically it's definitely a departure. It's the first song I've ever attempted to write with a pick. I always do fingerstyles. So it's one of the hardest songs for me to play just as a guitarist. So I'm trying to work that into my music a little more. It feels very simple. It sounds very simple, just playing with a pick, but the way that we write music is that I will give them the entire skeleton of the song basically, and they will write their parts around what I have already written. So like, it changes the entire base of the song. And I don't think that the rest of our music sounds so much like “Major Tool.” I think it's kind of like, maybe halfway between the sounds of the singles and the album, the stuff that I'm writing now.
James: Yeah, a lot of the words that people were using to describe the sound we got on the record was kinda like spacey and lots of floaty guitar parts and stuff but yeah, I think that this and the upcoming body of songs that we're putting together, it's a lot more just kind of straight up rock and roll. It’s gonna be a lot louder, it's gonna be a lot more chorus, a lot faster. It's gonna be a lot more chorus pedals. Yeah, yeah. Like The Cure.
What's next? What does the foreseeable future look like right now for you?
Raavi: We're writing an EP, which we're going to probably start recording over the summer. So right now we're just kind of trying to coordinate that, trying to fundraise for that. We have a ton of new merch coming out this week, probably tomorrow. We're just trying to fundraise so we can get some monies to really have the next recording project that we put out be a step above everything that we've done so far. And we're moving to New York!
James: Where and when is still debatable, but we're trying to move there and then crank out the EP almost immediately. Because we have the studio picked out that we want to do it at. But we just need an apartment. And some jobs.
Boston's looking pretty dismal right now for local bands, it looks like all the opportunities are kind of disappearing. Unless something major changes in the way commercial real estate is handled. Or if our, you know, our generation kind of takes action and buys up a bunch of space, but like where the fuck is the money for that, too. You know what I mean?
Raavi: I've gotten my hopes up before like at the first part of this pandemic. So I don't want to think about it too much. But I think there’s just a big shift going on in the industry right now. So you know, it just makes more sense for us to be in New York and the people who are going to be producing our records are going to be there anyway. We have a lot of connects there. And so much of the music industry is based offline at this point. So you can be anywhere but, yeah.