Since moving to Chicago after graduating college, Ratboys’ story has been tied to the city. Before signing to Topshelf Records, Swerp Records would put out their first EP. The label would be central to Chicago, releasing early material by Nnamdi and other lesser-known artists. The ridiculous lineup of Gnarfest 2012 would be hosted at the associated house space of the label. Ratboys, a decade later, has expanded beyond the limited scope of a local scene, becoming a critical darling in the indie sphere. As someone from Chicago, though, I wanted to highlight Ratboys’ roots in Chicago by tracing a family tree of all the various projects the current members have been in. I feel you will get a full scope of all their endeavors and how they weave their way into The Window.
Julia Steiner-Guitarist, Vocalist
For a subsection of people who grew up in suburban Chicago, Easter and the music of Kyle Lang were central to their DIY experience. Listening to interviews on Better Yet with Sean Neumann and Lang himself, I can see my own experience reflected in the way people talk about the band. The lineup was a rotating cast of friends, including Nnamdi and Ratboys’ Dave Sagan. Unfortunately, Easter was very short-lived, leaving behind a few small releases, with Demonstration being the one I’d recommend listening to. Though Easter would officially break up in 2016, Lange would soon have Special Death, a continuation of his take on indie rock, replete with two and three-part harmonies that showed a love for The Beatles. Julia Steiner’s contributions are minimal, mainly as a background figure to help strengthen the material on the first release. But Steiner’s contributions to “I Saw The Inside of Your Room” add layers that would not exist without her vocals.
The Normal Years
There is something so charming about listening to The Normal Years. Though I do not know the context of the project, it feels very much like songwriter Drew Erikson’s first serious band. The recordings feel very DIY and only one step removed from a bedroom project. The guitars and bass sit atop everything in a layer of fuzz to almost an unhealthy degree. I can only imagine how loud The Normal Years must have been in a basement. I unfortunately never saw them before their last show in 2016 at Gnarnia. Similar to Special Death, Steiner’s contributions are minimal, laying down harmonies here and there. But I think it shows the DIY roots Ratboys existed in its early days. Mixed bills were given, with pop-punk (Nervous Passenger) playing alongside lo-fi 90s indie rock.
Before Sean Neumann was in Ratboys, he had Single Player. It fits in that nebulous space where pop-punk and power pop meet. A premiere in Punknews orients the project somewhere between Guided By Voices and Weezer. On listening to At The Buzzer, I don’t necessarily disagree, even if Weezer comparisons can become lazy at a certain point. Much of Single Player’s discography feels off-the-cuff in the best way possible, smashing as many hooks into a minute at some points. This approach to songwriting invites the listener to replay their favorite songs as much as possible, and I’ve done that myself with “TV Theme.” Sometimes, you can feel Ratboys come through on “Be There” and “Chellios.”
Jupiter Styles was a new project in name only. It saw Neumann expand beyond the structure he had built with Single Player into something more refined. There were more traditional verse-chorus songs, which worked to his benefit. “Life Like” needs a few minutes to work fully. There were still some short songs, but it was part of a larger whole he was building with the project. The beginning of Jupiter Styles would also be meaningful because it signaled his arrival in Chicago. I would interview Neumann for the last Jupiter Styles record, which came out in 2019, for a blog I no longer write for.
Before Sean joined Ratboys, the two were enmeshed in the South Suburban Chicago scene around places like Oak Forest. The two would play at a fest in 2011 called Big Show. During that year, a short-lived band that Neumann was in called Portland would play. All they have are a few demos and feel representative of the creativity of youth. Listening to the first demo, it partially feels representative of the emo revival that was happening but has enough character to make it distinctive.
The Please & Thank Yous
Unless you were deeply enmeshed in the Chicago DIY scene over a decade ago, I doubt you have heard of The Please & Thank Yous. They might get passed over in any remembrance of Chicago’s emo revival, for they didn’t tour as extensively. Similar to something like Dowsing, it has all of those teenage feelings wrapped into it but is packaged with an eye toward pop-punk. Nowhere on Mind Yr P’s & Q’s are you about to hear Cap’n Jazz indebted twinkling. It gave them their lane during a time in Chicago that gave emo listeners a lot of different flavors to choose from.
Though Nuccio was only in Dowsing for the first few years, it is the period I imagine most people look at the most fondly. It was before Erik Czaja leaned into his punk sensibilities and wrote music that I would describe as twee love songs. The songs were simple enough for a bedroom guitarist like me to learn them independently. I wonder if novice drummers my age ten years ago would try to study Nuccio’s drum patterns and use it as a launching point for themselves.
Pet Symmetry is probably the most notable project in Ratboys’ family tree. Their first EP came near the height of the emo revival in Chicago. Even though it wasn’t too far from what Dowsing and Into It. Over It. were doing then, it seemed to connect with folks. Erik Czaja’s guitar work made it different enough from something like Proper to make Pet Symmetry feel distinctive. I still remember listening to the first song on that first EP constantly in 2013. Evan Weiss’ knack for emo pop with Nuccio’s sturdy drumming made for a potent combination that still goes strong today.
Nuccio’s role in What Gives feels more complimentary than others in this list. It featured Andy Hendricks of Annabel moving away from drums towards a songwriter position. The art of the debut EP evokes exactly what the music sounds like, which is summery pop rock that sometimes teeters on the nebulous power pop. I have distinct memories of first listening to them during a summer day on the train. If I wanted to pinpoint exactly What Gives, I would place it in the same bucket as Dogs on Acid, which featured emo figures making something different from previous projects.
By the time Nuccio joined Coaster, they were already an established band in Chicago. I remember seeing them for the first time in 2016 at Burlington Bar and being struck by their oft-kilter take on 90s indie rock. It was a style I was already open to, as I had become obsessed with Exploding In Sound at that moment. Nuccio’s addition to the later material for Coaster is imperceptible to someone like me who is not adept at picking up the intricacies of drumming. Coaster still does show Nuccio’s variation in styles. It feels much different compared to the more straight-ahead four-on-the-floor beat that the emo he played in earlier in the 2010s revolved around.
Wrong Numbers may be the most notable entry in Nuccio’s discography. It finds him moving from behind the drum kit to the front of the stage as a frontperson. It’s much different from his other pursuits, with synths leading instead of guitars. But even with that difference, you can still feel Nuccio’s propulsive drums driving the songs forward, showing that piece of songwriting for him is inescapable.
For the most part, Dave Sagan would have a fill-in role for several bands in Chicago. He would play in the live band lineup of Jupiter Styles when they were still active before the pandemic. You can also see his contributions to art for bands, most notably doing the art and layout for Prince Daddy and The Hyeena’s 2016 record.