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Born out of fierce friendship and a mutual affection for melody, Chicago’s Ratboys – anchored by the partnership of Julia Steiner and Dave Sagan – aim to ‘write songs that tell stories and honor the intimacy of memory,’ according to Steiner.

GN, the group’s second full-length album via Topshelf Records, offers a bevy of tales, laments and triumphs, which recount near-tragedies by the train tracks, crippling episodes of loneliness, remembrances of a deceased family pet with freezer burn, and on and on. The songs shift and breathe as worlds all their own, tied together by the group’s self-proclaimed ‘post-country’ sound, which combines moments of distortion and a DIY aesthetic with a devotion to simple songwriting and ties to the Americana sounds of years past.

Drawing influence from the down-to-earth sincerity of late-90s Sheryl Crow and the confessional confidence of Kim Deal and Jenny Lewis, the songs on GN (aka ‘goodnight’) “largely detail experiences of saying goodbye, finding your way home, and then figuring out what the hell to do once you’re back,” says Steiner. The songs chosen to close both sides of the record – the slow-burning ‘Crying About the Planets’ and quizzical ‘Peter the Wild Boy’ – unpack the respective journeys of two real people who were quite literally lost and found. ‘Crying’ tells the survival story of Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson from a first-person perspective, and ‘Peter’ reflects on the life of a feral child in Germany who was eventually adopted by the King of England,’ according to Steiner. ‘Writing as and about these people is the best way I can attempt to empathize with them and really just wrap my mind around these bits of history that otherwise might not get talked about. And it helps me understand my own experiences a little bit better,’ she says.

Certain personal stories – the tour adventures recapped in ‘GM,’ the struggle to learn to show affection as divulged in ‘Molly’ – find Ratboys just as eagerly exploring subject matter that comes from within, and then illustrating the highs and lows with soaring hooks and plaintive ones. Even in the moments that lie somewhere between bliss and misery, a tension persists between Steiner’s sweet vocal delivery and Sagan’s physical, almost-off-the-hinges guitar playing that lends each song a deeper sense of color and movement.

Steiner and Sagan felt the impulse to make music together from the get-go – they first met as university students, quickly put out an EP together, and started performing as an acoustic two-piece in dorm rooms and backyards. During the next few years, the friends traveled separately, eventually reunited, and recorded what would become the first Ratboys record, AOID, which the folks at GoldFlakePaint describe as ‘a gleaming, joyous, raucous display of melodic indie-rock.’

After a year and a half of touring the US and Europe as a plugged-in full band (featuring the additions of drums, bass, and trumpet), the members of Ratboys returned to Chicago and holed up at Atlas Studios for two weeks to record with engineer Mikey Crotty (who had previously worked with the group on the songs ‘Not Again’ and ‘Light Pollution’). ‘This time around, we were lucky enough to feature the talents of friends who play the pedal steel, accordion, cello and violin to give the songs an extra something,’ says Steiner. ‘Dave finally got to show off his ridiculous skills on the pocket piano, and the whole thing felt like one big loving experiment.’

Ratboys keep the good times going in 2018 with a new EP called GL (aka Good Luck). Featuring four songs recorded shortly after the GN sessions, this new companion piece expands upon themes of isolation and memory, while focusing closely on the ups and downs of personal relationships.

‘Each of the songs on GL sounds like its own little world, which is what we set out to do,’ Steiner says. With each song sounding distinct from the rest, the EP offers up four different takes on the sounds of heartache.

On the heels of their newest release, you can find Ratboys on the road, playing songs old and new all over North America and Europe.

Video & Press
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    [NPR] By Marissa Lorusso When Ratboys’ Julia Steiner wrote “Figure,” she did so from a place of pain. “I wrote ‘Figure’ in the middle of the night in my bedroom a few years ago,” she tells NPR Music, “and for me the song was a way to air all of my disparate frustrations and fears […]

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    [Brooklyn Vegan] As we discussed when we made a similar list last year, it’s harder and harder to figure out what really qualifies as a “new” artist. We were talking about some of the artists on this list on BrooklynVegan in 2016 and some even in 2015 or 2014. Most of them released a debut […]

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  • 15 Great Albums You Probably Didn’t Hear in 2017 – Ratboys’ ‘GN’

    [Rolling Stone] Rolling Stone critics choose LPs that flew under the radar These albums – from lesser-known but more-than-worthy artists – may not have burned through your playlists in 2017, but a Rolling Stone editor or contributor thinks at least one should have. This Chicago band calls its sound “post-country” but “cuddlecore country” might be […]

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  • Ratboys are the Gentle Poet Laureates of the College Dorm

    [MTV] The Chicago band talks to MTV News about how their humble beginnings brought them to their new album, ‘GN’ By Patrick Hosken Julia Steiner wrote some of her first songs in high school. The 25-year-old singer and guitarist of Chicago band Ratboys worked “in seclusion” then and started to spin childhood memories into melodic […]

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  • Ratboys are Happy to Take Things at Their Own Pace on New Song “Westside”

    [The Line of Best Fit] By Jake Hawkes Hailing from Chicago, Ratboys make their own brand of indie rock that’s mixed up with just a dash of Country flavouring. New track “Westside” is a stunning example of just how good this mix can be, with a strung-out, dreamy feeling that’s as if the whole track […]

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  • Ratboys’ ‘Elvis In The Freezer’ Video Is Just The Sweetest Story About A Dead Cat

    [NPR] By Lars Gotrich Ratboys is a band at that intersection of indie-rock and country music — less Scud Mountain Boys, more Beachwood Sparks… and maybe some Sheryl Crow. Julia Steiner and Dave Sagan are the core of Ratboys, with a bit of jangle in their twang. Her lyrics, in particular, are tangled up in […]

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