Ratatat’s music may at times seem otherworldly or robotic, but behind the electronic beats is the soft-spoken, sarcastic, and gracious Evan Mast, part of the musical duo that will be performing at Yardfest on April 19. The 29-year-old Brooklyn resident spoke candidly about his college days, performing in castles, and his love for Bach.
Fifteen Minutes: You met fellow band member Mike Stroud when you were both students at Skidmore. Do you think your experience as a college student will influence what you choose to perform at Harvard?
Evan Mast: Not really, I mean we kind of have had a lot of time since college. Mike dropped out after two years, because he wasn’t super into it. I don’t think about college much anymore, especially not when I’m putting together stuff for a show.
FM: If you could sum up your impression of Harvard in five words or less, what would it be?
EM: Total party zone.
FM: Do you have a favorite venue?
EM: This place in Fribourg, Switzerland a couple years ago was pretty incredible. It was an old medieval fort—a huge stone building with massive wooden beams. It was just an incredible place to play, really stunning.
FM: What advice would you give to any aspiring Harvard musicians?
EM: I don’t know, they should probably give me advice. Is there a music program at Harvard? Just keep practicing I guess. I never liked music classes at school. I wasn’t ever classically trained in theory. If they’re doing music at Harvard they’re probably well on their way to doing something great.
FM: Who do you think your audience is?
EM: It seems to be a lot of younger kids these days, kids in high school or college. It seems like every tour we do the audience gets a bit younger. There always an oddball older crowd mixed in. It seems to appeal to different sorts of people from all different backgrounds and it seems to change form region to region, too.
FM: Your duo wasn’t always called Ratatat. What was your first name, and how did it evolve?
EM: The first name was “Cherry” which was a name our friend James came up with when we had just made one or two song ... so we went with that for a while and we ended up changing it before our first record came out. We were kinda sitting down thinking of names and it was one that we didn’t hate so much.
FM: What is your greatest source of musical inspiration?
EM: Bach. He’s got a pretty extensive catalogue and he covers a lot of ground, it seems like you can always go back and find something new. I really like his melodies. He kinda wrote the book on melody making.
FM: What is it like to be part of a two-person band? If you and Mike run into differences of opinion, how are they resolved?
EM: We have surprisingly few differences of opinion, especially when we are working on songs. One of us writes a part and we almost always agree on whether it’s worth recording. We’ve gotten to a point where we work together very well and we’ve learned to be pretty tolerant of each other’s shortcomings.
FM: You’re performing the same day as Sara Bareilles. Have you ever met her before and how do you plan to out-perform her?
EM: No. I’ve never heard her music; I don’t know anything about her. But I’m looking forward to it. Maybe she’ll out-perform us. Maybe I’ll look her up on YouTube or something and see what her performance is like so we can be sure to outdo her in every way. (laughs)
FM: Would you define your music as “electronic” or do you think it shares qualities with other genres as well?
EM: Yeah, it definitely shares qualities with other genres. I think “electronic” as a genre is kind of a loose term anyway. I think initially they called it that because you used computers to make music, but now all music is made on computers, so its hard to define something as electronic anymore. So I think our music is more rock, or hip-hop, than electronic. That’s what I like about our group—we can do any song and it sort of fits into what we do.
FM: Your page on iTunes compares your sound to that of Daft Punk. What do you make of this comparison?
EM: Yeah, I’d say there’s some truth to that. I really like their stuff, and I think certain songs have some similarities but I think we’re coming from a different place. They have a more narrow spectrum: their mellowest song and their danciest song aren’t that far away from each other. It might seem like a criticism but I don’t really see it that way. We’re pretty open to doing whatever kind of songs, hip hop and even classical stuff sometimes. I think we’re pretty different, but I can see where the comparison comes from.
FM: I’ll ask you a question I was asked in the class Music 1a here at Harvard: “To what extent is a musical work dependent on text to have meaning?”
EM: Um, not at all whatsoever. It totally depends on the work obviously. A Bob Dylan song without the text is different then a Bob Dylan song with the words in it. But obviously there’s a very long tradition of music without text.
FM: Do creativity and an interest in art run in your family?
EM: Yes. Both my brother and sister are artists. My dad is a salesman and my mom is an accountant, so I don’t know where it came from, but my parents are super supportive and they’re fans of art even if it isn’t their job. My dad would travel a lot when we were little and go to art museums in other countries and come back with prints and post them around the house.
FM: What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you or Mike during a performance?
EM: We had a show in Guadalajara, Mexico last year, and it was kind of a total meltdown. There were technical problems, and we were onstage in front of 30,000 people, scrambling to get our equipment up and running. But after several songs we got it back together.
FM: Where will you be going for an after-party?
EM: I dunno—It’s a little early to say. We’re open for suggestions.