Catching Up With: The Rice Cakes

By Jordan Reisman

Photo by Lauraberth Lima.

Back in 2011, BTR featured Providence, RI’s Roz Raskin and The Rice Cakes as our Discovery Artist of the Week. They had recently released their full-length Monster Man. BTR writer Courtney Garcia called them, “Talented, innovative, erudite; not quite Nietzsche, but much beyond mere pragmatism.”

Turn to 2013 and the newly-christened ‘The Rice Cakes’ (now without the ‘Roz Raskin’ bandleader status in their title) aren’t letting their modest success in the time since go to their heads.

What modest success? They recently came back from the SXSW Festival in Austin where they played some unforgettable shows and hooked up with New Paltz, NY based record label Salvation Recording Co. to release a 7” with two new songs. Also, they were added to the line-up of the Newport Folk Festival (where now it’s acceptable to go electric) and secured an opening slot for Andrew WK in Providence.

Having seen these guys in my college town of New Paltz, I already knew the kind of enthusiasm they brought to their shows and records. When they played the local club Oasis, a security guard had to step in to calm kids down from rocking too hard. When does that ever happen for an opener?

“They have been awesome, I mean we started playing there a year and a half to two years ago and we met Chris [Dailey of Salvation Recording] and we met Jake Harms who fronts the Nelsonvillains [New Paltz indie locals],” Raskin says of their relationship with the mountain town scene. “The show we played there was amazing for us never having been there before, over 100 kids showed up to this pizza parlor.”

“Since then we had stayed in touch with Jake a lot and we came back again, and Chris was saying that he had this label he was starting up and he’s really interested in having us as his first out-of-state band,” Raskin says of Salvation. “So he pretty much recorded us free of charge just having faith in the project.”

As New Paltz became a second home to The Rice Cakes, they felt it necessary to dip their feet in Salvation’s waters with a proper 7”, named after two new songs featured on the record, “Floor Boards” and “Halloweenie”. The former shows off Roz’s vocal talents even fringing on jazz-like intimacy at times. The keys, played by Roz, are consistent throughout the entire cut, while the drums played by Casey Belsisle are math-y and a treat for any drummer looking to get better (like myself).

“Halloweenie” is a much more fast-paced and dance-y number with a Latin-influenced rhythm section. Harmonies split between Roz and bassist Justin Foster are crooning and lovely, making this one a set highlight at their post-Rock Hunt shows. All in all, Floorboards/Halloweenie substantively expands the groundwork that The Rice Cakes have laid down in previous efforts in longer form statements. The chorus in “Floorboards” echoes, “Oh, what have I done?” with a sense of guilt — but looking back now it’s pretty clear that the Cakes should have nothing but pride in their accomplishments.

Of these numerous achievements, one was winning Rhode Island’s heralded Rock Hunt competition (I advise you say this with a considerable pause between Rock and Hunt).

“It’s a battle of the bands, it’s a competition and we won that last year which was huge for us, considering we’ve never won a battle of the bands before and it’s probably the biggest one in Southern New England,” Raskin explains. “It was so awesome that it won us a play on the radio station [95.5 WBRU]. So we are drawing crazy amounts of people to our shows now in Providence.”

However, with the amount of local fame that the winners get, there is also the dreaded ‘Rock Hunt Curse.’ Usually after a band wins the Rock Hunt, their inflated expectations about hitting it big become too much to bear. The Rice Cakes keep their heads though. Roz tells BTR that after The Rice Cakes won, while it garnered some talk in New England, they just went back to touring and living the DIY life.

Whereas many Rock Hunt winners will spend their time after whining at their lack of success on the national circuit, The Rice Cakes spent that time driving to Austin for SXSW. Roz described it as, “Probably the most overwhelming thing we’ve done as a band but a really good growing experience.”

They even had a “first” as a band, by playing at a show for a load of off-duty, tired pedi-cabbers at 3 AM. She put this on the list as one of their most memorable shows, along with a show at a former porn theater in Providence and a gig in Vermont where “at least 50 percent of the audience was naked.”

Whether or not nudity will become a new trend at Rice Cakes shows, here’s hoping. But what is certain is that the Cakes have officially broken the curse, by forgetting it.