Sat around a table in Paris’ cozy L’Olympic Café on an early October night, Ratboys were a long way from the familiar Chicago scene they call home.
Tucked away on a winding side street in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, the bar played host to the October 6 date of the Ratboy’s European tour with fellow Chicagoan band Dowsing. The bands shared L’Olympic’s basement stage with Paris locals Trashley and Bitpart and played to a receptive, laid-back Thursday night crowd.
Ratboys may have been a long way from home, but you wouldn’t know it from their confidence on stage. Their Illinois pride on full display (drummer Danny Lyons wore an Illinois State sweatshirt and frontwoman Julia Steiner donned a black White Sox hat), Ratboys charmed the Parisian crowd with a set that pulled from their 2015 album AOID as well as their earlier EPs. On trumpet, Cody Owens retreated into a side room stage right during songs that didn’t call for his talents, playfully poking his head out every so often to contribute to the band’s playful stage banter.
Ratboy’s Paris stop came almost exactly one month into the band’s first European tour. The tour with Downsing couldn’t have been a better fit: longtime friends, the two bands were already planning on releasing a split 7” together and – at the time they left for tour – shared a member.
“This was actually Dowsing’s third time in Europe,” said Steiner. “If they didn’t invite us to go on this tour with them, I don’t know how we would’ve been able to do it.”
Dowsing’s connections – chief among them Tommy Royds, who set up the tour and booked all the dates – made the tour possible. Although there initially were some holes in the schedule coming into the tour, Dowsing and Ratboys ended up playing a show almost every day.
Kicking off in Poznań, Poland, the Ratboys and Dowsing ‘Tour The World’ Tour 2016 – which coincided with the release of their split on Topshelf Records – brought the two Chicago bands to nearly every corner of the continent as they made their way through Eastern and Central Europe up towards the U.K.
“There have been places we’ve played here in Europe where people know all the words to our songs,” said Steiner. “People here have been very hospitable and helpful. We’ve been able to do things ourselves, while still getting a lot of help from a lot of different people.”
Steiner recalled two memorable stops early on in the tour. While most of the shows on the tour took place in small bars and clubs, the Pisa, Italy date was a house show thrown by “some kids at their parents mansion.” A few days later, Ratboys and Dowsing played to a rowdy crowd in the heart of downtown Madrid.
“People went crazy in Madrid – there were probably about 100 kids there and they were crowdsurfing and going wild,” said Steiner. “It was right in the middle of the city, in basically the Times Square of Madrid.”
During the U.K leg of the tour, Ratboys and Dowsing were confronted with a difficult decision. After their Galway show, the bands learned that their shared band member, Will Lange – who played bass in Ratboys and drums in Dowsing – had allegedly committed sexual assault years prior. Shortly after, both bands announced that they would part ways with Lange mid-tour.
Steiner and Ratboys guitarist David Sagan explained the situation in a Facebook statement:
“Will is no longer a member of Ratboys. We find his behavior completely unacceptable and we refuse to endorse him or to work with him any longer.
Ratboys is the two of us, Julia and Dave. We started the project as a duo, as a way to tell stories and connect with others and have fun together. We’ve been lucky to play our songs live with many talented people over the years, but at the end of the day, the band is the two of us. Will does not define our music or this band, and we are going to do everything in our power to make sure that the memory of Will does not define our band going forward. We want people to feel safe at our shows and to have fun and to share an experience with us free from any anxiety or discomfort. We hope that we’ve taken the steps necessary to ensure that this can happen.”
Pressing forward, Mikey Politowicz of Dowsing stepped in to play bass for Ratboys for the rest of the European tour and their upcoming U.S. dates. The first show after Lange’s departure was in Dublin, where Steiner studied abroad in college.
“Lots of my old friends were at the Dublin show,” said Steiner. “It was right in the middle of everything with Will, and it was incredibly cathartic to go up, do your job and not have to think about everything that was going on.”
Before the Paris show, just one week after parting ways with Lange, Ratboys were focused on the future. That future includes a few more weeks of touring, first with a tour down to Fest with Dowsing – which kicks off in Chicago at Burlington Bar on October 17 – followed immediately by an East Coast run with Sorority Noise and Free Throw.
At nine weeks, Ratboys current run of shows is the longest tour they’ve embarked on so far.
“Getting home from tour is really weird,” said Steiner. “There’s something to be said of having the gratification every night of playing your music for someone and – as much as this sounds arrogant – it feels good to have people come up to you every day and say ‘your music is great.’ I take that for granted sometimes on the road, and when I get home and I don’t have the chance to share myself with other people and have them enjoy it too, it can be kind of a shock to the system at first.”
After they wrap up their tour in November, Ratboys’ main focus will be to finish writing their upcoming LP that they plan to record this January in Chicago. The goal, said Steiner, is to release the record sometime in June – two years after the release of their LP, AOID.
“I think it’d be hilarious to drop the new album exactly two years after the last one,” she said.
“It’s nice being in a band on a tight schedule,” Sagan added with a laugh.
Steiner said that she looks forward to hitting the studio. Now more confident on electric guitar than she was at the time of AOID’s recording, Steiner said that the band’s new album may sound a little “noisier” than their previous output.
Although writing for the new Ratboys record is nearly done, Steiner said that the recording process is truly where everything will come together.
“Recording is my favorite part of being in a band,” she said. “Sometimes ideas don’t come until you’re in the studio, when you find little harmonies and flourishes you can add once everything else comes together. It’s so exciting to hear something emerge from our brains and turn into something everyone can hear.”
Ratboys U.S. Tour Dates
10/22 – New Orleans, LA – Community Records Fest
10/23 – Pensacola, FL – Odaiba
10/24 – Tallahassee, FL – Wolf’s Den
10/25 – Orlando, FL – Pre-pre-Fest
10/26 – Ybor, FL – Pre-fest
10/27 – Miami, FL – The Granary
10/28-10/30 – THE FEST 15
11/1 – Wallingford, CT – American Legion
11/2 – Cambridge, MA – The Middle East Downstairs
11/3 – Brooklyn, NY – Shea Stadium
11/04 – Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church
11/05 – Washington, DC – DC9 Nightclub
11/06 – Richmond, VA – Strange Matter
11/07 – Pittsburgh, PA – Cattivo
11/09 – Lansing, MI – Mac’s Bar
11/10 – Chicago, IL – Beat Kitchen
11/11 – Madison, WI – The Sett, Union South, University of Wisconsin
11/12 – Lakewood, OH – Mahali’s 20 Lanes
11/13 – Columbus, OH – Double Happiness
11/21 – Chicago, IL – Hungry Brain