Beauty And The Beat: Ra Ra Riot’s Rebecca Zeller, From Being “Too Sorority” To Becoming An Indie Darling-------
Anyone who takes up classical strings as a kid probably doesn’t count on becoming an indie rock goddess, but that’s exactly what happened to Ra Ra Riot violinist Rebecca Zeller. The group, which formed back in 2006, when she and her band mates were students at Syracuse University, enjoyed critical success within months; they played SXSW just a year later. Following another packed show at Austin’s annual music festival last weekend, the “chamber pop” quartet is currently on tour in support of its third album, Beta Love, which debuted in January and is a “sonic departure” from previous releases, according to Zeller. “The obvious change is that it’s heavier on the electronic side and not so heavy on strings, like our first two albums were,” she says. “But we’ve changed as people since we started writing songs seven years ago,” insists Zeller, “so it’s only natural the music would change as well.” Ditto Zeller’s personal style. Here, she talks occupational hazards of having long hair and playing a string instrument, bringing a little bling to the world of classical instruments, and the makeup remover wipes that are “a lifesaver” on tour.
Your sound has changed a lot since college. Has your look—both onstage and off—also evolved?
“It’s changed a lot. I remember we were playing our first shows, during our first semester in school, and the guy who used to be our singer said that I looked ‘too sorority.’ I wasn’t even in one! I thought I was dressing all cool and in-a-band style, so I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ But looking back at photos, it was very sorority: boot cut jeans, pointy high heels, a tucked in fitted tank top with a ‘fun’ belt, my hair flat ironed and pulled back on top with a little poof…”
Now your hair is really long and wavy. Does it ever get in the way when you play?
“I used to always put it up and out of my face when I played. But I like it down; it’s like another accessory. This weekend, we were playing outdoors and it was really windy, so my hair kept getting stuck between where the bow and the strings are, which was kind of annoying.”
You’re touring with a rhinestone-studded violin. How, exactly, did that come to pass?
“I own one expensive classical acoustic violin but I don’t tour with it. The two I brought with me on the road are that bedazzled one and another that’s completely covered in gold sparkles; I played on both at SouthBy. My bandmate Milo [Bonacci] has a yellow guitar, and Mat [Santos] has a black and white bass, but in the violin world, it’s all normal wood. My sister is friends with A-Morir sunglasses designer Kerin Rose, and we started having Sisters Unite dinners, and one time we talked about how crazy it would be if she bedazzled my violin, so she did that and the sparkles one. Now I’m plotting what I can do next.”
Do sparkles ever creep up on into your makeup, as well? What are you staple products while you’re on tour?
“In addition to my small, pared-down makeup bag, I bring a show makeup bag of dark, dramatic shadows and liners. SouthBy is different because the shows are daytime, and it would be ridiculous to do really heavy makeup to be outside during the day, sweating. But for normal indoor nighttime shows, I do a smoky eye. Neutrogena makeup remover wipes are a lifesaver on tour.”
What about packing? Do you bring everything you’ll need with you before getting on the bus, or do you shop as you go?
“Planning for a tour is difficult in terms of what to bring. I essentially have two suitcases—a show one, and then my daytime one with jeans and running gear. Opening the same bag every day and looking at the same items gets boring. I love to shop on the road, but I try not to go overboard; so far I’ve stopped at Topshop, and I also got a Rag and Bone dress. The best cities are New York and LA because everyone has stores there. But I always put aside money to shop the boutiques when we tour in Japan—they have the most unique things you’ll never find anywhere else.”
If you’ve ever wondered what Fleetwood Mac would sound like minus the hirsute members and souped up with modern R&B licks, percussive breakdowns, and vocal harmonies (and we have), then Haim would probably be the resulting musical lovechild. The three San Fernando Valley sisters, Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim, learned their way around their instruments and microphones playing in Rockinhaim for ten years, another band fronted by their parents. But since 2008, they’ve been making music away from mom and dad, and their solo stuff has had a bit more staying power. So far, 2012 has proved a big year for the trio: Since releasing their debut EP, the sunny “Forever,” they’ve toured to rapturous acclaim. Ahead of a major junket in the U.K. with Florence and the Machine, and the release of their new EP, “Don’t Save Me,” Style.com caught up with Este to talk poor senior-year-haircut judgment, how the sister act keeps their signature beach-y waves so shiny, and the benefits of sharing a closet with “the coolest bitches on the block.”
So. How’s touring going?
The tour has been insane. Like, last night we went to a restaurant and had a topless photo shoot, and we’ve been to places like Iceland—it was so beautiful; I never dreamed I’d ever go there. When we got to Brussels, we were headlining a show, and it was crazy: We thought there’d be, like, five people there. You can never believe you have fans across the world.
Well, you clearly do—Florence Welch has asked you to join her on tour in December, no small feat.
I know! It hasn’t even hit me yet. Every time I think about it I get excited. It’s such a huge, huge compliment that she asked us; we’re huge fans. She’s a magical performer—so magnetic, fun, and beautiful to watch. And her style is so sick. It will be the biggest crowd we’ve ever played for—it’s, like, 20,000 people at a time. The last show we played in London was the first time we heard our lyrics sang back to us. It was a pretty incredible feeling.
I saw you play in London, and your mom and dad came on for a cover of “Mustang Sally.” Presumably your parents won’t be around for this round of shows, but do you still plan on doing a bunch of covers?
We can’t do those songs without our parents! It just wouldn’t be right.
Fair enough. You and your sisters share a few similar sensibilities with Florence, particularly her oft-reported love for R&B. Do you anticipate any backstage collaborations?
I hope it’s a dance party every night. When we went to her after-show at the Hollywood Bowl [in Los Angeles], we just danced to Stevie Nicks and Prince till midnight. We danced so hard, like it was the last day of our lives.
In case you somehow missed it, Azealia Banks is fashion’s latest obsession. The Harlem-bred rapper has sung for the houses of Mugler and Lagerfeld, starred in Alexander Wang’s latest T campaign, and, just this week, unofficially opened NYFW with a raucous SPIN show. Yesterday, Yung Rapunxel—as the well-coiffed Banks’ nearly 200,000 Twitter followers have come to know her—debuted her latest music-fashion crossover project: a limited-edition MAC lipstick of the same name. “I’m a huge makeup fan,” Banks told us yesterday as the Fashion’s Night Out madness threatened to close in on her from outside the MAC store on Broadway in Soho (thank God for that double-paned glass window barrier). “I always make the joke that I’m a tomboy, but I’m not really. I’m very much into my hair and my makeup”—a fact that is evident to anyone whose ever met the petite 21-year-old in person; her long, aubergine locks dangle well past her waist and her eyes are rarely without a slick of metallic eye shadow and a strip of fake lashes (“I don’t have patience for the individual ones,” she admits). Here, Banks filled us in on some of her other beauty essentials—including the Rihanna-inspired tatts and the Paris manicure address you may want to write down before PFW gets under way.
How did your relationship with MAC come about?
I had a meeting with them about two months ago. I’m always changing my hair, and when I met with them I had this purple hair. I did [it] for Splendor in the Grass [the music festival] in Australia. This is gonna be my color for the fall. And when you have such strong hair, you need to match it, you know; I can’t wear a red lip with purple hair! So I said we should do this purple lipstick.
Let’s talk about that hair. It is long. What’s the maintenance like?
The maintenance is so easy! People think it’s so hard, but it’s really not. I use Dove Intensive Care shampoo and conditioner and their leave-in and that’s it. Those are my three products. And I use Biosilk when I straighten it and curl it and stuff. I wash my hair twice a week; one is a co-wash, and at the end of the week, it’s with shampoo and stuff. I feel like the more you condition your hair, the better it is.
And those nails? The color is a perfect match for your hair and lipstick at the moment. How often do you switch them up?
My nails are acrylic—they’re fake! I do them. It’s kind of like therapy. You know how some people sit down to read a book? I’ll sit down to do my nails. I can do acrylics and all that stuff. I’m self-taught. I’ve been meaning to soak this set off forever but I just haven’t had time! Once one breaks I soak them off and get a new one.
That must be a pain on tour.
Well, there are acrylic nail places everywhere. My Yelp App is very handy—I just type in “acrylic nails.”
Fans of Marina Diamandis—a.k.a. Marina and the Diamonds—were in for a shock when the British singer returned with her sophomore album, Electra Heart. It wasn’t just the songs, recorded with big-name producers and bearing all the electro-pop sheen of big hits, that marked an evolution; it was the new persona she took on, trading long brunette tresses and varsity jackets for a fifties-style bleached blond wig and frothy pink dresses. “People often talk about the whole ‘pop star alter ego’ thing, and it’s so old and dusty and clichéd. But the main reason behind creating Electra Heart was basic: I just wanted to dissociate myself from the person I’d grown into at that point, and I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that,” explains Diamandis, adding, “I was ready for a different outlook, and creating Electra Heart helped me achieve that.” She’s taking her alter ego on the road, with a slew of dates (including a handful opening for Coldplay) that will keep her on tour through November. Here, the musician takes Style.com behind the makeover—and the music—while explaining why she never leaves the house without a jar of coconut oil.
At what point in the process of recording your new album did you realize that there needed to be a physical manifestation of this character you embody in the songs?
I came up with the name for the album in December 2010, but it wasn’t until halfway through the writing process where I began to construct Electra Heart as a fully formed fictional figure. It was weird because I created a character to have a vehicle that I could use to make a statement about love, but I didn’t really realize it until after the album was released.
Did that persona affect the music?
It affected it more than I thought it would. The first songs I wrote were very “Marina”: cold, depressing, blunt, and acerbic; songs like “Lies,” “Starring Role,” “Living Dead,” and “Teen Idle.” Then halfway through—much as you do in a breakup, you start to see the funny side of things and get over the person that has hurt you—I started to have fun with various themes; I wasn’t feeling depressed anymore and my old wit came back. I bought bubblegum PVC dresses, old wedding veils, and prom queen frocks off Hollywood Boulevard, and all those items manifested themselves in songs like “Homewrecker,” “Bubblegum Bitch,” and “Primadonna.” All the humorous songs came out in the second half of the writing process.
Besides the PVC dresses, anything else you’ve been gravitating toward?
Vivienne Westwood pompom rubber bubblegum shoes, a wedding veil, frill socks, heart iconography, lots of different color ribbons so you have one to match your outfit—I own about 30 different colors now!
What about the persona necessitated going blonde?
On the surface, I think I have associated bleaching my hair with a kind of freedom, as I was never allowed to in my teens. On a more psychological level, I really wanted to separate myself in some way from various experiences I’d associated my past with, and changing your image is the first choice for many people. I just associated having black, long hair with being depressed and bitter.
Does Electra Heart have any must-have beauty products that she’s taking on tour?
NuBo Diamond Peel and Reveal exfoliant, Crème de la Mer.
What about Marina—what’s your big beauty secret?
Coconut oil—you can use it for hair, skin, removing makeup, immune system support, cooking…it’s incredible and only $15 a tub. I carry it everywhere!
Do you think you could create this persona if there wasn’t a pop element to your music?
Of course! But the weird and the ridiculous are more acceptable in the pop world than perhaps the more credible world of indie singer songwriters. There are tons of indie singers who are avant-garde though—Björk, Grimes, Tori Amos…
Is there another major makeover in your future?
I think I have a little chameleon in me but I can’t say every album will be some radical change in identity. I do enjoy building a brand-new picture, though, and I adore artists who invest everything in a central theme. That is something that may follow through in future albums; each album is an opportunity to explore a different facet of the artist’s personality or musical identity. I always mention Madonna, but creatively you can say she has really “lived.” Sonically and stylistically, challenging your own comfort zone and doing the opposite of what people expect of you—that is attractive to me.
Life on the road has been the downfall of many a musician, but for Austra’s Katie Stelmanis, it’s not the sex, drugs, or rock ‘n’ roll that has gotten her in trouble. “I probably lose half of what I own when I go on tour,” the classically trained singer and keyboardist admits. Considering Austra was “on the road constantly—we didn’t have more than two weeks off” its first year out, long-forgotten jeans, dresses, and shoes dot the international cities where indie venues draw a crowd. The incessant traveling also amounted to a lot of new purchases, which isn’t a bad thing considering Stelmanis takes the styling of her bandmates—who have increased from two to five since the release of Austra’s debut album Feel It Break last year—seriously; an aesthetic that properly reflects the Toronto outfit’s operatic dark-wave dance music doesn’t just happen. With a slew of shows lined up for fall, Stelmanis spoke with Style.com about her best on-the-road finds, aromatherapy that works, and maintaining her peroxide white-blond tresses—that just took a turn for lavender—when she can’t make it home for a touch-up.
The band has become a touring machine since the debut album came out last year; how has the live show developed during that time?
I think that the record is a lot darker and more dramatic than our live show is. Our live show has turned into a dance party; it’s pretty high-energy. We like to keep momentum going, so every time we play a show, you’re just trying to create something fun.
It also seems like you all have fun with your clothing—one person is wearing sequins, another is in a tie-dye top, a third has some leopard print. Did you ever sit down and talk about the style you wanted the band to have?
That’s something that we talked about a lot, because it’s really important to us. It’s a very collaborative effort as well, and is something that’s constantly changing and evolving; we get bored with a certain aesthetic so quickly. We wear some pretty outrageous outfits, that maybe you look back on and are embarrassed about. One of the band members, Romy [Lightman], she has an actual background in art, and I guess a little bit of fashion, and that’s her thing. I definitely take her as shaping the direction that we’ve been going in recently. Six weeks ago we were really into long, flowing, Eastern-inspired outfits, and I guess we’re still kind of like that. Because we do so much traveling, we’re able to pick up such amazing pieces all over the world. We have so many pieces from Istanbul when we went there, and we got some stuff when we were in Singapore and Asia. We don’t want everything we’re doing to be trendy; we want it to be beautiful, special…an otherworldly feel.