On Wednesday, June 18th New-Orleans based band Hurray For The Riff Raff stopped by the KEXP studios to play songs off their most recent record, Small Town Heroes, released this past February on ATO Records. Watch the entire performance and interview above.
Hurray For The Riff Raff is fronted by Alynda Lee Segarra, who plays guitar, banjo and harmonica for the band, and writes all of the songs. She was born in the Bronx but ran away from home at age 17. She said about that time in her life, "I felt stuck, like I didn't have any other options." Eventually, she decided she wanted to go and find the smallest town in the country and discover American folk culture along the way. She settled down in New Orleans, learning how to play guitar and banjo with street musicians who played the blues, folk, ragtime and jazz.
The band's Southern influenced Americana is influenced by her time traveling and playing on the streets. The first song they played was "Blue Ridge Mountain," and it takes a lot from traditional folk music. In the song Segarra compares her hands to John Henry's, and lyrically she's able to bridge the gap between herself and traditional American folklore, making it accessible for listeners who may not be familiar. Musically the song has an upbeat, country twang to it, with lively fiddle incorporated with slide guitar and upright bass.
The next song she plays, "Levon's Dream," goes a completely different angle. In the interview, Segarra said that "Levon's Dream," was "The most heartbroken song I could have written." When you listen to it you can immediately hear why, the vocals are low and melancholy, and the once upbeat fiddle weeps as Alynda sings "I'm heart broke, heart sick, I just cannot be fixed."
At the end of the session, Segarra talks about some of her artistic influences and issues she's passionate about. She was very much inspired by activists, both literary and musical. A lot of her songwriting is influenced by feminist writers such as Audrey Lorde, and she idolizes musicians like John Lennon for his activist spirit. Fittingly, she ends her set with a powerful song she wrote in the wake of the Treyvon Martin investigation called "Everybody Knows." It's a mournful tune with a hard-hitting chorus of "everybody knows what's at the end of the road, and everybody sees but they don't care to believe" and striking lines like "they say he died because he wore a hood, I guess he can't do it but the Ku Klux could."
Hurray For The Riff Raff have brought traditional music back into modern America and the result is stunning. Segarra sings thoughtful, emotional songs that combine folk, country, blues and jazz so smoothly it becomes something completely new and very exciting.
Source: KEXP YouTube Channel