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.—Sarah Z. Wexler
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.”
Photo: Courtesy of Ra Ra Riot