Sustaining a career in music is an incredible feat. For every band who have been around for decades, there are dozens more who don’t make it two years. It takes hard work to understand an industry that changes radically every few years. The physical demands of touring and performing are often grueling and intense. More than anything, the creative willpower and love that goes into putting out new material year after year is so immense that it’s astonishing. This is why we celebrate the bands and artists who have endured through this and continue making music and doing what they love. Ra Ra Riot is one of these bands. Over thirteen years, four studio albums, and multiple lineup changes, this band from Syracuse have constantly delivered thoughtful, engaging material to their fans. According to vocalist Wes Miles, this all comes down to a love of what they do and a commitment to keeping things fresh for themselves and for the fans. Through this commitment, Ra Ra Riot are going forward as strong and fulfilled as they’ve ever been.

When I talk to Miles early in April, he couldn’t be more pleased about how all things Ra Ra Riot are going. The band (rounded out by members Milo Bonacci, Rebecca Zeller, Mathieu Santos, and Kenny Bernard) are enjoying the success of “Bad To Worse,” the moving new single dropped at the end of March. “We’ve just been waiting a long time for that to finally get out” Miles says of the single, and that fans have been receptive to the track has been a thrill for him.

For Miles, “Bad To Worse” serves as a neat encapsulation of Ra Ra Riot’s career up until this point. He tells me the single has actually been a long time coming, stemming back to 2015 and other writing sessions with frequent production collaborator Rostam. “There were different phases of writing it … it started [during] the same session with Rostam as ‘Water,'” he explains, referencing the track which served as the lead single for the band’s 2016 album Need Your Light. The song has been tinkered with and worked on in the intervening years, and he says it’s only very recently that the track was finished. Listening to “Bad To Worse” you can hear the more electronic-influenced sound of Need Your Light and 2012’s Beta Love, but there’s still the grounding and orchestral imagining that propelled the band in 2008 on debut album The Rhumb Line.

The idea of “phases” comes up frequently when talking to Miles. That’s how he explains the process through which “Bad To Worse” came together, and on a larger scale is how he sees Ra Ra Riot’s career as a whole. “It certainly doesn’t feel like we’re doing one thing,” he says. He cites the lineup changes and the evolving sound as examples of how the process has always felt new and exciting to them. All of the change has been key for the band, he states. “The thing that makes it doable was that it was a different thing for all of us back then than it is now,” he says of the long history. He’s thankful for the opportunities and the personal growth each of them have undertaken and how that process had made the thirteen years fly by. All this being said, he still does acknowledge it has been quite a long time in the music industry for Ra Ra Riot, joking that it’s “longer than [he’s] done anything else.” He is also not above attributing some of the band’s endurance to the cosmic luck that brought them in to connect with one another in Syracuse in 2006 and that gave them a set of personalities that mesh together into a cohesive unit.

This reflection all ties back into “Bad To Worse.” Miles says he’s never thinking specifically about a story or a specific memory when he first starts out writing, but admits it may have played a subconscious role in the song’s general mood and feel. More consciously was Rostam’s influence on the track. “He likes pushing me towards writing lyrics that are story driven and things happening,” Miles says. At Rostam’s urging Miles recalled a trip to see relatives in Massachusetts. With that as its basis, “Bad To Worse” emerged. He says of the track “On a long road trip or something you can’t help but reflect, so in that way there’s definitely a very reflective type of story. It fits in with how long it took to finish this track and also how long we’ve been a band.” While it didn’t start off explicitly as such, the finished product is a nice peek behind the curtain of the many years of Ra Ra Riot.

Rostam isn’t the only person helping out on the musical front. In recent times, the musical process for Ra Ra Riot has included many different people across many locations. “We worked with a lot of new people, which was fun. We could control the overall picture a lot more that way which is different for us,” Miles says. He says meeting these new producers and working with unfamiliar faces who can bring new ideas has been a big part of keeping the experience fresh for the band. Even if a new writer or producer only worked with them for a day or two and they didn’t end up using the material or the sound, Miles says the experience helped everyone in the room grow. He also said with a grin that working with new people all the time means everyone in the band is on “their best behavior” in the studio, leading to more creativity and productivity. Even the location helps change how the group approaches music, Miles says. “There were even a few tracks that we did at my parents’ house in Jersey out near the woods, sort of like how we used to do it a little bit, which was cool” he recalls.

Ra Ra Riot are used to all the changes by this point. “I think the constant is there are no constants,” Miles tells me. Still, he says it’s important for everyone to consider how they’re changing. “As we all change we all want to make sure we’re changing in ways that are complimentary or helping each other explore new aspects or instruments,” he explains. For a band with five people, the need for consideration grows even more. As Miles tells it, with a solo project an artist can follow every tangent they want to, because they’re the only one it affects. In a band with four other members, each member of Ra Ra Riot has to be on the same page when it comes to a change in sound or a new idea. At the same time, you have to take risks and experiments, he says. He explains staying safe would be a bad choice for them because they’d never try anything that way. It’s a never-ending balancing act making new relationships and changing sounds but maintaining old friends and a sound that works, he says.

The slower schedule the band has been on over the past few years has helped them feel out this balance. With just a smattering a singles and a handful of live appearances (Miles estimates it’s only been about 20 shows in the past 2 years), Ra Ra Riot had a chance to breathe and think. “To have this break was kinda cool because we could grow into our own vibes a little bit more,” he says. At the same time, it was important for him to maintain some semblance of a schedule on getting “Bad To Worse” out into the world. While he acknowledges that creative work can’t be managed down to the minute, the idea that it will take however long it takes can also be a crutch. “I think people sometimes use that as an excuse, myself included, to just take as long as you want to not work,” he says with a laugh. He also expounds on his own preferences, saying “I probably err more towards the raw side music, the unpolished stuff. For me it’s closer to done when it’s just started than when the second month of tweaks [happens].”

“Bad To Worse” is by no means the end for Ra Ra Riot, either. The band has a number of tour dates coming up, resuming the rapid pace of live shows they’re used to. Earlier this month the band also tweeted a cryptic clue that a “Bad To Worse” video may be in the future.

Regardless of where Ra Ra Riot chooses to go from here, they will tackle the future with all of the flexibility and innovation they have used to endure since 2006. With a mix of new and old collaborators, a willingness to try new things, and a passion for writing and performing, they’re as well-quipped as they can be to move boldly in whatever direction they want to. There’s no end in sight for Ra Ra Riot, just the next phase in their continuing journey.