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Ravi/Lola Build a Fantasy World on 'Shape Up Shoulders'

Aug. 15, 2017
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Photo credit: Amy Zippel

Casey Seymour cannot stress this enough: His band Ravi/Lola may draw inspiration from the ’60s, but they’re not a retro act. To the extent that the quartet’s music recalls the ’60s, Seymour says, it’s because he’s listened to so much music from that era that it’s seeped into his own songwriting. “We’re pigeonholed into this nostalgia group or a complete ’60s group, but really if you listen to the music it’s far more than that,” he says. “I feel like we’re doing something new and exciting, and I’m hoping more people can hear it.”

Seymour began the group nearly a decade ago as a home-recording project with no intentions of performing live. Since keyboardist Robert Thomas and bassist Anton Sieger joined him and drummer Nick Wieczorkowski in 2014, though, they’ve begun playing out as their sound has expanded.

“We liked the way the songwriting was going and the way the sound was going and what they brought to the band,” Seymour says. “Anton is much more based in music theory and really knowledgeable in jazz, so he comes up with these incredible bass lines. They’re really busy, but they’re also unselfish. Robert has a jazz background, too, and he reminds me of Thelonious Monk sometimes with the way he comes up with these awesome accidents, or moments that sound like accidents but are intentional.”

Those musical “accents” lend considerable texture to the group’s latest album, Shape Up Shoulders, which can’t help but evoke the paisley-colored pop records of the late ’60s—even if it isn’t trying to. It’s an instrumental kitchen sink of synthesizers, glockenspiels and, that most ’60s of psych-pop instruments, the sitar.

The Beatles are the usual reference point for music like this, but Seymour’s touchstones are far more specific than that. “I’m a big fan of all those lost ’60s albums that really aren’t that well known,” he says, citing bands like The Blossom Toes and Nirvana (the British psych group, not the one with Kurt Cobain) as well as a niche sub-genre known as toytown—so named for its inherent whimsy and childlike storytelling. (Seymour has described Ravi/Lola as “neo-toytown,” a description that presumably went over the heads of anybody who heard it.)

Like many of the toytown songwriters, Seymour uses his songs to create a kind of fantasy world populated by memorable characters right out of a storybook. Shape Up Shoulders is just the beginning of that world building, he says. “It’s a lot of character descriptions, and on our future albums we want to further this narrative of a town or a village and the people who live within it, so those descriptions are going to become more and more prevalent,” he explains. “We wanted to plant the seed with this album. We’re trying to develop this world that’s make believe but somewhat based on real people and real life.”

In some ways, Seymour says, it would be easier for the band if their music were a more convention ’60s retro act since they have an easier time getting shows. As it stands now, “I think venues have a hard time pairing us with other acts,” he says. “We played a show at Frank’s Power Plant in July with Work, which made some sense, but the other band on the bill was an emo band, which made no sense. We’ve also been paired with coffee shop folk—singer-songwriter-with-a-guitar acts. I can see how people would maybe try to make that stretch. Ironically, we tried reaching out to people who were into ’60s music, but we weren’t getting big bites on that, either. But what can you do? We like the music that we make and we want to keep making it, so it’s alright if it’s hard to define.”

Ravi/Lola’s Shape Up Shoulders is streaming at ravilola.bandcamp.com.

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