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The Ridges at MOTR

The Ridges at MOTR
Keith Klenowski

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Athens Indie Folk/Rock collective The Ridges are set to play MOTR Pub’s Final Friday celebration Friday August 30 with Cincinnati Indie darlings and all-around swell guys, The Yugos. This is a decidedly welcome departure from the more… let’s say serious – and older crowd skewing – musical fare regularly on display at MOTR (but don’t get us wrong, guys, MOTR is great as are their consistently impressive line-ups). But this is still kind of a big deal, especially for The Ridges, who will have just played one of the biggest shows of their young career, with Ra Ra Riot at The 20th Century Theater right here in Cincinnati. To follow it up with a headlining show at one of Cincinnati’s most coveted, and well respected, destinations for quality independent music is no small achievement.

 I recently sent out some questions to one of the two core members of The Ridges, vocalist/guitarist Victor Rasgaitis, to get some insight in to the band – who sometimes consist of up to 10 musicians sharing the stage – and to talk about their relationship with both the bands and scene here in Cincinnati. Here’s what he had  to say:

For our readers unfamiliar with the band, can you talk a little bit about The Ridges? How did you start out?
We're an orchestral folk rock collective from Athens, OH - which is where Talor and I met through Ohio University. While collaborating with a mutual friend to add strings to one of my solo shows, we instantly hit it off. I loved her cello, she loved my songwriting, and we both loved the idea of creating the energy and bombast of our favorite indie rock bands without any of the electric instruments. Combined with our mutual love of classical music, we started playing high-energy indie rock with an all-acoustic lineup of orchestral and folk instrumentation. Out of that collaboration, and our unusually large number talented friends, the band has grown to feature a rotating cast of musicians who add everything from cellos, violins, violas, upright bass, and horns to banjo, mandolin, accordion, and drums for any given show. While we usually play as a 7-piece, we’ve been known to have upwards of 10 musicians on stage at a time.

As a two-piece, do you find that it’s easier to write and orchestrate your songs, and then bring in others to fill out your arrangements? Do you find it refreshing having a more or less rotating group of musicians to bring your songs to life? (What are the setbacks? – I’m addressing this in the next question.)
Our songs start off as lyrics and acoustic guitar. Then, we add cello to make it a Ridges song – that’s really the sound that defines us. Once we have the basic theme, structure, and melody worked out, it becomes a very collaborative process with the other musicians. Pretty much everybody writes their own parts, or we write them together. Despite having so many classical instruments, we never use traditional charts and we hardly ever write things down. We love that a song can change so dramatically, or so subtly, just by adding another musician’s point of view. We treat the songs as living things that change every time somebody new touches them. We’ve had dozens of musicians help craft our sound and it breathes new life into them every time – it’s really a thrill to be a part of it. And the audience is no exception – they’re just as important of a member of that rotating lineup as any one of us and their take on a song can really change the whole feel of it. That’s why we always write for the live show – it’s such an exciting thing to open your music up to a crowd and let them make it their own. 


And, as a follow-up, how do you treat the dynamic of that particular situation?
With so many musicians involved, it really all comes down to availability. Everybody we play with is talented beyond my wildest dreams, so making music is never an issue, but getting us all in one place is truly a challenge. We have a stable core lineup of guitar, cello, drums, upright bass, and banjo, but scheduling beyond that is, without question, the hardest part. I think that we would all love to play a show with every musician we’ve ever worked with, but that’s a pretty impossible thing to organize. On up side, there is something exciting about the element of surprise – you never know what instruments you’ll see at our shows. It’s pretty fun for us, and hopefully fun for the audience too.


While you’re based in Athens, Ohio, you have a lot of ties to Cincinnati, and the Cincinnati music scene. How did that come about? Are there any other cities that you have such close ties to?
We’re made up of musicians from all over Ohio including Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland and, of course, Athens. Cincinnati has embraced us as an adopted local from the very beginning thanks to support from amazing bands like The Happy Maladies and scene staples like the MidPoint Music Festival, but even though we love this incredible city like our own, Athens will always be our home. That’s where we started the band and we’re kind of obsessed with the place: The beautiful Appalachian foothills; The historic OU campus and culture; And, most importantly, The Ridges. That’s what they call the massive, Victorian-styled, and by all accounts very haunted abandoned insane asylum that overlooks the city. To state the obvious, that’s where we found our name. We’ve recorded in the building, played shows in the halls, and spent hours thinking about how perfectly this big, classically beautiful, darkly romantic, eerily timeless, folklore riddled, piece Appalachian history embodies everything that we want our music to be. No matter where we travel, we’re forever bound to Athens and we couldn’t be happier about it.


You’ve opened for a wide variety of bands – local and nationally recognized – and you’ve embarked on several tours of your own, as well as took part in a big string of SXSW showcases earlier this year, and you also recorded a Daytrotter session! No small feats for an indie-folk band doing so much on your own. What keeps you so driven? Do you feel like you’ve accomplished a lot, or is there a part of you that is dissatisfied and wants more?
The years since we started The Ridges have been, without question or hesitation, the best years of my life. I know that band-life can be hard and that it isn’t for everybody, but some of us are drawn to it. I’m not sure we even have a choice in the matter. The places we’ve seen, the people we’ve met, the unforgettable, weird, awesome, and (no-joke) life-changing experiences we’ve had because of this band are too many to count… and we’re really just getting started. Dissatisfaction or a desire for accomplishments have nothing to do with why we want more of this band. But we definitely want more of it. For us, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we’re not about to waste. We’re making music that we genuinely care about with our best friends. We’re meeting music-loving audiences of truly inspiring people. And, somehow, we’re getting to do these things that we never would have thought we’d get to do. It seems like the more we put into this band, the more we get out of it. And we love every exhausting, exhilarating, and downright strange minute of it.


You’re set to open for Ra Ra Riot in Cincinnati on August 23rd, at the 20th Century Theater. How do you feel this show compares to others that you’ve played, especially the shows with such critically acclaimed national acts?
We put a lot of effort into making every show that we play something truly unique and special, but this show with Ra Ra Riot is the perfect example of what drives us. They are one of our favorite bands and their use of strings in indie rock has been an inspiration to us from the very start. I vividly remember sitting around our practice space when we were starting out and talking about how cool it would be to play with them. So, we got in touch with their manager. It turned out that he was a really nice guy, he liked our music, and we kept in touch. It took a while, but now it’s several years of email conversations later and it’s actually happening. Who would have guessed that it would actually happen? It’s not the craziest thing in the world, but this show is something special for us. It means something to us that’s way more important than just getting to play for a big crowd. It’s the exact kind of unforgettable experience that we love about this band. We’re always excited to play with great musicians, but this one is on a whole other level.


What’s on the horizon for The Ridges? New music? More tours?
We have a lot of things in the works right now that we’re really looking forward to. We’re getting ready for another great year at MidPoint Music Festival and we’re setting up some really unique shows for the fall that should be unlike anything we’ve ever done. We’re also working on an LP and a booking more tours as we speak. It’s busy, but we’re really into using our band as an excuse to do cool things and we have every intention to do as many of them as we can.


Anything else you would like to add or mention?
We’re playing the greatest bar in the county, MOTR, on August 30th for Final Friday and we couldn’t be happier about it. It’s sure to be a wild and memorable night with our friends The Yugos, so come check it out!