In winter of 2011, I took a trip east on I-80 from Chicago to South Bend, Ind. I was visiting an old friend who, at the time, was a freshman at Notre Dame University. That night we played music and passed around a beaten-down water bottle filled with vodka in the dorms before hopping from party to party. The next day, we fought another unforgiving Midwestern winter on our trek across campus to hangout at an empty music hall.
We spent the afternoon shootin’ the shit and playing melodies that have since been forgotten. It was then my friend, Dave Sagan, mentioned he and his girlfriend, Julia Steiner, had been working on songs together. He also mentioned they even wanted to record an EP once they found the time. My anticipation for the recordings grew immediately.
In that period, however, free time was limited. In the midst of college, the band wasn’t a priority. Sagan was studying Architecture and Steiner was earning an English degree, finishing school a year before David. It wasn’t until they both graduated that they decided to commit fully to Ratboys. “I had to quit my job at a PR firm downtown to go on our first non-Midwest tour in winter 2014-15 during Dave’s winter break,” Steiner said. And they were ready to break out come summertime.
In June 2015, Ratboys released their debut full length AOID. After recording, the band decided to send the album to labels across the country. Finally, Boston-based independent label Topshelf Records got back to them.
“It was a big surprise and a big sigh of relief for me,” Steiner said. The Ratboys frontwoman also said signing with Topshelf was vastly important for the band, both in the financial support they provided when making vinyl and cassette copies of AOID, and helping spread the word – directly and indirectly. “We’ve had quite a few people come up to us at shows and be like, ‘I saw that you’re on Topshelf so I was curious and came to the show,’” Steiner said. “That obviously would have never happened if we hadn’t partnered up with them.”
Since releasing AOID, the band has barely been home. They went on three separate tours in the second half of 2015, but with extensive touring comes the trouble of always finding a reliable lineup.
“Well, we’re kind of in flux right now because we’re in between drummers,” Steiner said. “Although, for the past few years (bassist) Will (Lange) has held it down on bass very well. Our friend Cody Owens is back playing trumpet now as well, which is awesome.”
And even with a consistent lineup, spending every hour with the same group can be emotionally taxing.
“The main challenge is just keeping each other going,” Steiner said. “But, honestly I feel like that’s way easier to do with your best friends than some folks you don’t really know.”
Though 2015 was a big year for Ratboys, they plan on making 2016 better. The band has already completed a January tour with Chicago-native band The Island of Misfit Toys and plan to keep playing shows and work on music. When reflecting on their big year, Steiner was nothing but happy about the choice they made to try to push the band to the next level.
“At the time it felt like a huge leap, but the more I think about it, I was never not going to make that decision,” Steiner said. “Playing shows and building something from the ground up, and traveling with your best friends is so fun. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing.”
This is a story from Issue #2 of Ghost Track’s print edition. Grab a copy for $3:
“Klevah’s Time” by Sean Neumann
“Year of the Ratboys” by Joe Plukarski
Skeletal Lightning Records
by label founder Sean Hermann
The Normal Years / Nervous Passenger – Split EP
The Please & Thank Yous – Split
Photography by Robert Prochaska