Ever since the band’s inception, Roz and the Rice Cakes has been a quintessential Providence college outlet that breathes fire into DIY indie rock. Singer and keyboardist Roz Raskin, drummer Casey Belisle, and guitarist Justin Foster formed the band shortly after meeting at Rhode Island College back in 2009. They’ve been at it for enough years to have a routine. So, as usual, the trio wrote a few songs to prep for their newest studio album sessions. When it came time to record, however, things shifted dramatically for the better—though at the time they had no idea know what was about to happen.
It all began when engineer, co-producer, and friend Bradford Krieger invited them to record their next album in Big Nice Studio, a new recording studio opening in Rhode Island. Roz and the Rice Cakes were one of the first sessions the studio had. The studio, relatively untouched at the point, was their playground. Thanks to Krieger’s openness, the band began goofing around on synthesizers—a sound that became the vital crux of Devotion, their newest record, out this Friday on Team Love Records.
“It started out where we were just playing around on them, but then the songs came to fruition in the space while using those, circling the arranging around the synths, and we began experimenting about what would work with the songs,” says Raskin. “It wound up being an electronic palette for the album. I’m personally so excited about it, and now it’s hard to imagine it sounding any other way.”
Devotion is filled with subtle, tiny changes like that. From the use of synths to a soft, cozier production tone, the album feels like the result of attention to detail and a willingness to let curiosity guide them. Originally, the band went into the studio for four days, then returned a month later to record another session. Headspace was ample. Over the course of a seven-month period, that room gave the band time to contextualize their work and give each song its place.
Raskin refers to the album as being their “sci-fi record.” It’s easy to pick up on that theme in the instrumentation, what with the ’80s synths and spacious warbling, but according to her, it goes deeper than that.
“A big part of the process of writing this was, for me, a human cosmos connection, how our energy is connected to the larger world around us,” she says, followed by a laugh. “That sounds ridiculous, I know. But there’s so much we don’t know, so much we have yet to understand about our own world, and so much of the universe we don’t know either. We live microversions of that in our personal lives. So while a lot of the album speaks to otherworldly inventions, it speaks to personal moments as well.”
Devotion has its fair share of celestial lyrics. Perhaps the most far-out lines on the album, however, come from Belisle, who wrote the lyrics to “Houdan the Mystic” and “Prototype,” both of which boast an early-Menomena vibe. “It was awesome to hear his inner workings,” Raskin says of Belisle, who’s done solo music in the past. “We’ve done a few songs together in the past, but not where he took the lead role. Hearing his lyrics is exciting, and, honestly, probably the most exciting part of this whole process.”
That’s what makes Devotion such a standout for Roz and the Rice Cakes, and for the New England music community as well. It’s a significant push forward that shows how a band can evolve, challenge themselves, and loosen up their songwriting approach. Other bands should take note. Roz and the Rice Cakes used to create songs by planning parts before entering the studio, often to make the most of their money. Because of how Devotion was recorded in the studio, there was creative control allowed within the space, which allowed the band to let creativity and inspiration take hold.
ROZ AND THE RICE CAKES, AUDREY HARRER, ANJIMILE. SAT 10.14. LILYPAD INMAN, 1353 CAMBRIDGE ST., CAMBRIDGE. 8PM/18+/$12. LILYPADINMAN.COM