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Ratboys & Palehound

Mon, November 11, 2024
Doors: 6:30 pm

The Atlantis
Washington, DC

Tickets are non-transferable until 72 hours prior to the show time. Any tickets suspected of being purchased for the sole purpose of reselling can be cancelled at the discretion of The Atlantis / Ticketmaster, and buyers may be denied future ticket purchases for I.M.P. shows. Opening acts, door times, and set times are always subject to change.


Ratboys have been recording and releasing music for over a decade, but their newest album, The Window (Topshelf Records, August 2023), marks a number of firsts for the band. For starters, it was the first time they’d ever traveled outside their home base of Chicago to record an album, journeying to Seattle to work with producer Chris Walla for three weeks. It was also the first time they’d ever written an album collaboratively from start to finish, having added full-time members Sean Neumann on bass and Marcus Nuccio on drums in recent years. The new approaches to writing and recording are immediately apparent on The Window, which showcases the fullest, most expansive version of Ratboys’ sound.

“It was the first time we were fully able to collaborate on a record, from beginning to end,” says frontwoman Julia Steiner. “In the past, I’d write songs alone and bring them to Dave [Sagan, guitarist]. Then we’d ask friends if they’d be willing to come to the studio to help us record. But slowly that began to change. On The Window, I wrote the seeds of the songs on my own and brought them to Dave, Sean, and Marcus all at once for the first time. We worked on the arrangements together over the course of a year and half.”

By the time the band showed up to the Hall of Justice Recording Studio, in February 2022, The Window’s songs were well rehearsed and airtight. “In 2020, we weren’t playing shows, so our schedule was wide open,” Steiner says. “We spent that year demoing the songs, and spent 2021 practicing them. We practiced twice a week for six months, exploring the songs and developing them. We’d send early versions to Chris and he’d give us notes. It went like that for weeks. It was such a dedicated and intentional process.”

But while The Window was nearly fully formed going into the studio, the band also left some space for experimentation with Walla, whose production techniques they adored on releases from Foxing, Tegan and Sara, and his own Death Cab for Cutie. The sessions struck the perfect balance between preparation and experimentation, injecting new life into the band’s style of soft-hearted Midwestern indie rock with an ever so subtle Americana twist. Walla’s studio sensibilities pushed Ratboys to stretch and expand their vision, adding unexpected elements and instruments like rototoms, talkboxes, and fiddles. The result is Ratboys’ most sonically diverse record, shifting wildly from track to track. It flexes everything from fuzzy power pop choruses on “Crossed That Line” to a warm country twang on “Morning Zoo” to mournful folk on the title track.

“The language Chris uses when speaking about music comes from a very emotionally centered place, and that’s something that resonated with us. He would say things like, ‘This cymbal hurts my feelings,’ or ‘This song is like a cat,’” says Nuccio. “It was such a disarming thing,” adds Neumann. “We didn’t get bogged down in technical terms, and he never placed pressure on us in that way. With Chris steering the ship, we were free to go off on little creative expeditions and come up with parts and ideas we’d never imagined.”

Hunting for sonic inspiration, Walla and the band sometimes spent hours just listening to their favorite albums, spinning everything from Sloan to Brainiac to The Roches. “We listened to so much music while making the record,” says Sagan. “It helped us gain new perspectives and feel more connected to the songs we were making together.”

Lyrically, The Window sees Steiner at her most personal, reflecting on love and grief with occasional humor and levity. She frequently leans on windows as a theme—the idea of an interrupted connection, the feeling of being near someone without being fully present. Sometimes the looking-glass imagery is metaphorical, like on the nearly nine-minute epic, “Black Earth, WI,” or on the pounding lead single, “It’s Alive!” Other times, the windows are literal, like on the album’s titular centerpiece. “I wrote that song a few days after the death of my grandma in June of 2020,” Steiner explains. “She didn’t have Covid, but because of the pandemic my grandpa wasn’t able to visit her in person at the nursing home to say goodbye. He ended up standing outside her room and saying goodbye through an open window. A lot of the lyrics are direct quotes of things he said to her in those moments.”

After more than ten years and four studio albums together, The Window finally captures Ratboys as they were always meant to be heard—expansive while still intimate, audacious while still tender. But most importantly, The Window is the sound of friends operating as a single, cohesive unit. “My dream ever since I started writing songs was to be in a band—a proper band with a consistent lineup,” Steiner says. “To finally have the chance to play with dear friends who are fully committed, it was all I could ever ask for.”


Palehound’s new album Eye On The Bat charts something that divides you into “before” and “after” – the danger of fantasy, of heartbreak, and the pain of growth. How we can surprise ourselves. It’s a documentation of illusions shattering, both of yourself and of others. A tangle of raw nerves coming undone amongst swelling, propulsive instrumentation, it’s the biggest – and best – Palehound has sounded on record.

From Palehound’s critically-acclaimed debut album Dry Food (2015) to A Place I’ll Always Go (2017), and Black Friday (2019) and then, Doomin’ Sun (2021) by Bachelor (a collaborative project with Jay Som’s Melina Duterte), El Kempner’s songwriting has always been generous and personal, dispatches from a deep inner world. On Eye On The Bat, though, we meet Kempner anew: a guttural howl; white-hot and blistering catharsis; a feverish and visceral and painful present.

As Palehound, Kempner’s guitar playing – their sinewy and off-kilter riffs – has always been front and center across the project’s discography, like smoke unfurling around anxiety-laden lyrics. It’s cerebral, trying to make sense of grief in a grocery store or an argument in a parking lot, plumbing the anxious depths of the interiors. Introspection, retrospection, whatever you’d like to call it, has threaded together Kempner’s songwriting, the bruising aftermath of trying times, since the very beginning. Here, though, we’re trapped in the immediate: witnessing the tiny details that build or break a relationship, and the flood that comes after.

“It’s about me, but it’s also about me in relation to others,” Kempner says of the album. “After hiding for so long staying inside and hiding your life and hiding yourself from the world I was ready. I think I flipped.”

Recorded in brief stints across 2022 at Flying Cloud Recordings in the Catskills, the space between each session gave Kempner more time to breathe, to revisit the songs after time away. Kempner co-produced Eye On The Bat alongside Sam Evian (Big Thief, Cass McCombs), who was also crucial to the process — lending assistance yet allowing Kempner to take the reins on producing, to call the shots on the session and step into their own as a producer. Kempner also credits multi-instrumentalist Larz Brogan, who they refers to as “their platonic life partner” and longtime member of Palehound since the Boston DIY days, as a vital part of making the album come together the way it did. They make Kempner feel seen – allow them to be vulnerable, to experiment, to push themself in the studio. After playing together for so many years, Brogan and Kempner both wanted to push themselves to make a record that sounded less produced, one that simply captured the raw energy of Palehound live. Stand-out track “U Want It U Got It” was almost entirely self-produced by Kempner at home, save for Brogan’s drumming, the first time anything of the sort has made it onto a Palehound record.

“In the past, I’ve taken myself really seriously in the studio, and I’ve ended up with really serious-sounding records,” Kempner explains. “This one – it’s a break up record. I wanted it to sound raw. I wanted it to sound like I was feeling – very much in control, and out of control, at the same time.”

Opening track “Good Sex” charts trying to make a relationship work, the desperation to recapture something, in searing detail; before dissolving into “Independence Day,” its chaotic counterpart, where you realize you can’t and find yourself breaking someone’s heart in the glow of fireworks. “The Clutch” flies by red flags, plunging forward even though it shouldn’t, even though it’s speeding toward heartbreak; while “My Evil” is about being the heartbreaker, hurting someone you never could have imagined hurting. Accepting that, even if unintentional, we all act as villains in someone else’s story. The poetry is still present – full of aching and shrine-building to minutiae – but it feels genuinely diaristic and authentic. In the past, Kempner admits to hiding behind poetic notions, burying the hurt in metaphors. But here, El’s at their most open and vulnerable. “I was trying too hard to figure out who I am – what kind of musician I want to be, what kind of person I want to be,” Kempner explains. “And now I’m just embracing my instinct, and bucking what other people’s expectations are. These songs are truly just for me. I was really intentional in processing every detail. For my own sake, frankly.” Eye On The Bat is not a hopeful record in content, but it’s immediately recognizable as the sort of totem you come out clutching on the other side of profound change. It feels like a promise to yourself – if you made it through that, you’ll handle whatever comes next.

Venue Information:
The Atlantis
2047 9th St NW
Washington, DC, 20001

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