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Ra Ra Riot formed in 2006 in New York. At that time, the band members, L-R, Rebecca Zeller, singer Wes Miles, bassist Mathieu Santos and guitarist Milo Bonacci, were entering their final semester at Syracuse University. (Photo courtesy of Sacks and Co.)
When Ra Ra Riot formed in 2006, the band's core members — singer Wes Miles, guitarist Milo Bonacci, bassist Mathieu Santos and violinist Rebecca Zeller — were starting their final semester at Syracuse University in New York.

At that time, there wasn't really a music scene going on outside of the typical college house party, said Bonacci, during a telephone call to The Park Record from El Paso, Texas.

"The first and foremost goal was to just have fun and fill our free time with making and playing music," Bonacci said. "I think we just wanted to create something to do, and we really thought of the band as being a short-term project."

The band, which, at the time, also included cellist Alexandra Lawn and drummer John Pike, laid out some goals, because everyone wanted to make the most of the time they had.

"Somehow that enthusiasm carried us on into the summer, and we found ourselves wondering what would happen if we devoted ourselves more fully to the band," Bonacci said. "I still don't think any of us expected that we'd still be doing this."

Ra Ra Riot will show why the band is still enjoying playing together when it opens for The Shins at Park City Live, 427 Main St., on Monday, May 13.

Bonacci said it was a sequence of "stepping stones" that helped the band through some line-up changes, record three full-length albums and a handful of extended play releases.

"There is a certain amount of making things up as we go along," he laughed. "And there's always that next step that guides you through the process.


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Part of the sequence is how the band approaches a new project.

"At the very beginning, we just wanted to record a demo, and, if we were lucky, print T-shirts with the band name on it," Bonacci said. "Once we made the demo, we thought we might as well try for an extended play.

"You can think big-picture all you want, but it was all these things that led us to where we are now," he said.

That road led Ra Ra Riot while recording the new CD, "Beta Love," which was recorded right after Lawn departed the band and released at the beginning of the year.

"We have always approached our records in different ways," Bonacci explained. "The way we approached the previous album, 'The Orchard,' was a reaction to how we did our first full-length ("The Rhumb Line"), and we did things we weren't able to accomplish in the studio at that time."

The same thing happened with "Beta Love," when the band recruited producer Dennis Herring, who has worked with Elvis Costello and Modest Mouse.

"In a nutshell, he encouraged us to be more inventive," Bonacci said. "He wanted us to use broad strokes with our music, because in the past, we've had a tendency to get wrapped up in the details."

Herring felt the band bogged itself down on previous albums, so he helped the band members twist their recording process around.

"He worked with us and instilled this thought of not second-guessing our gut reactions and initial instincts when writing and recording the songs," Bonacci said. "It was an exciting and refreshing approach for us, and more than anything, it was something we needed to do."

Already, the guitarist is anticipating what the fourth album will be like.

"Who knows what will happen," he said. "In any creative endeavor, you want to think you're continually developing and growing, and not repeating yourself, and we've made that a guiding point for us.

"We've discovered the process itself, regardless of what the outcome may be, is the most rewarding experience that we have as musicians and a band," Bonacci said. "We all learned so much from it and that is vital for any band or creative pursuit."

It was the need to be creative that led Bonacci to the guitar.

"When I was growing up, I tried a few instruments for varying periods of time," he said.

The first was the violin, which Bonacci played for about a year, before switching to piano, and finally the guitar.

"My dad happened to have a few guitars that were residuals from his teenage years, I guess, and there was something about them that attracted me," Bonacci said. "I liked that I could carry a guitar with me somewhere, whereas with a piano, I felt tethered down."

During middle school, Bonacci began guitar lessons and, after learning a few chords, got more excited about the instrument and flittered from one piece to the next.

"The lessons were pretty relaxed and my teachers would humor me and I'd learn songs that I wanted to learn," he said. "I was in jazz band in school, so the music I learned was jazz related.

"A little later, I got interested in classical guitar and took classical lessons to round out my knowledge a little bit," he said.

Today, Bonacci said those lessons helped him strive for the next step.

"As with any creative endeavor, you want to develop new ideas and new experiences," he said. "That's one of the reasons why we're looking forward to playing in Park City. We haven't played there before and it's going to be fun."

Ra Ra Riot will open for The Shins at Park City Live, 427 Main St., on Monday, May 13, at 8 p.m. For more information and tickets, visit www.parkcitylive.net.