Interview: LA Neo Post-Punk Songsmith Ratinoff Goes Full Catharsis

For people who had normal work lives and social lives – most of the world – the coronavirus quarantines imposed a whole new kind of claustrophobia, with the threat that just stepping outside or seeing the people you care about in person could possibly end your life. If your vocation was making art, such claustrophobia surely demanded a curatively cathartic artistic response.

Such was the case for burgeoning LA songsmith Ratinoff, who had just released his self-titled debut EP as the initial lockdowns went into effect. Not being able to tour the new material, he ultimately turned to writing newer material, which when finally recorded, perfectly encapsulated the anxieties of these ominous coronavirus times. Indeed, earlier songs deftly crystallized the sonic tenets of the post-punk icons who first inspired him, New Order, Joy Division, The Cure, The Smiths. Yet the first singles from the new album – out September 17 via CEN/Orchard, and fittingly titled Let It Out – evince a far greater intensity that is immediately noticeable, especially the industrial glam rock stormer ‘Light Me Up,’ which was apparently inspired by one of his regular COVID mantras. The lyrics pretty much sum up the quasi-nihilistic mood: “I don’t care about you / Or anybody else.” It certainly doesn’t leave much room for ambiguity.

Also a standout is ‘Another Day,’ which sounds like U2 and The Church had a baby together, and he/she was named Achtung Starfish. The accompanying video finds the camera convulsively following around a shaggy-maned model (she looks quite a bit like Karen Elson, if we might say) who is dancing wildly around the room, in a possible metaphorical act of finally breaking free from the maleficent grip of this long and terrible health crisis.

We caught up with Ratinoff for a chat just as the Delta Variant was fearfully bearing down, threatening to once again scuttle his – and everyone’s – plans to return to live performances. But this time, he’s at least very well prepared for it.

So, what were you doing during quarantine?

Oh, man, I was just writing songs. I had just finished recording an EP and had done some press and radio, and mid-July I started writing the songs for the next album. So I actually wrote, like, twenty songs in two or three months. And then in October I went to Oklahoma to record – I had only one month to record a full album from beginning to end. In February I moved to LA, and I’ve been here since.

You’re originally from Mexico, right? 

Well, I was born in San Mateo, California, in the Bay Area. But I did grow up in Mexico, in a little beach town called Manzanillo, a hole in the wall type place. It’s like a very…it’s like a lower-scale version of Puerto Vallarta, and it’s kind of cool.

You were acting at first, right?

I was. When I was eighteen I lived in Mexico City, and I went to a school called SA Televisa, which is where they do all those TV soap operas. So, I was there for three years, and then I learned how to act in front of a camera and all the technical stuff. And then eventually I did a few soap operas in Colombia, and maybe five or six in Ecuador.

What are they called…telenovela? Lots overblown of drama and such?

Oh, yeah. One of the things I learned is that it’s never too much. The more you…the bigger it is, the better it is.

I wonder if that influenced your music, because with tracks like ‘Faith’ and ‘Coming Home’ and some of the others, you really do seem to favor a big, epic production sound.

Yeah, definitey.

Some of it actually reminds me of U2, who obviously are very big on widescreen production. 

I think it has a lot to do with when I was younger, my parents would always take us to the symphony, so I think that I’ve consciously always loved the orchestral. I like to create atmospheres. I’m also like a big fan of Hans Zimmer and John Williams, who are the big scoring guys.

The cinematic writers, yeah.

It’s a cool fusion, because it’s rock, it’s pop, and there’s some melancholy to it. With ‘Faith,’ it kind of – that whole intro is just really epic. I remember when I was recording it, it was just singing my heart out.

One can also detect influences of certain post-punk bands. I can hear bits of The Church and New Order, for instance. Do those bands matter to you?

Joy Division, yeah. Of course. 

The new single ‘Light Me Updefinitely comes off more aggressive, there’s almost an industrial feel to it. Was that a feeling you were intentionally going for on this album? 

The pandemic resulted in a lot of pent-up frustration, especially when it came to not being able to go out. The whole album is just as the title says, working it all out. There’s a very guttural quality to my singing, like I just don’t give a fuck, you know?

I was interviewing Tommy Lee of Motley Crue, and he observed that at the beginning of the pandemic, everybody just wanted to listen to music that was kind of soothing and helped them deal with the anxiety. And then all of a sudden, there was this moment where people were needing something aggressive, wanting to just get crazy. It was time for a catharsis.

That happened to me, I think it just started taking a toll on me. So, I spent so much time just writing furiously, it almost felt like it was never enough. I wanted to feel relief – until I actually went to record the album, and it was then finally out of my system.

What are you trying to say with ‘Light Me Up?

When I look back on it, it was almost like liberation, you know? I felt asphyxiated, and I felt like I was just looking for a light. And the darker it felt, the more I would just scream, ‘Light me up, light me up.’ When I was recording it, I I just did one big take of everything and just didn’t stop it. And I remember that listening to it after was so powerful.

What were some of the other things influencing the new album?

The first EP was like an homage to all the bands that I grew up listening to, New Order, The Cure, U2, Morrissey, Smiths. And with this album, it was my voice. I wasn’t trying to emulate anyone else. So, that’s what I allowed myself to do, just remove the safety net and say that if I’m going to go down, I’m going to do down…but I’m going to have ten or twelve songs to come with me. So, it was like an awakening, this album.

It was going to be your final statement if the world did indeed just go to hell, right?

Definitely. But I think that there’s always, even in darkness, that little flash of light. I mean, the songs definitely are very aggressive, and some of them are playful like, ‘Take Me Away’…but there’s also a ballad called ‘Better.’ So, it’s a very complete album, I think.

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