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New Orleans-based indie folk outfit Hurray for the Riff Raff were formed by singer/songwriter/banjo player Alynda Lee, a Bronx-raised Puerto Rican troubadour who left home at 17 to ride the rails and eventually landed in the Big Easy. After honing her skills on the washboard with a gang of train-yard musicians called the Dead Man's Street Orchestra, she picked up the banjo that a close friend had given her and began writing her own songs. While Lee, drummer/violinist Yosi Pearlstein, and bass player David Maclay served as the foundation for Hurray for the Riff Raff's signature blend of folk-blues and Southern gothic Americana, the trio was often rounded out by a rotating cast of accordion, guitar, organ, and musical saw players. The band self-released its first two full-lengths, 2008's It Don't Mean I Don't Love You and 2010's Young Blood Blues. An eponymously titled third full-length arrived in 2011 on the Loose Music label. Look Out Mama arrived in 2012, followed by a move to ATO Records in 2014 for Small Town Heroes.
Hurray for the Riff Raff is an American folk-blues and Americana band from New Orleans, Louisiana.Monger, James Christopher. "Hurray for the Riff Raff: Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
ContentsBackground1.1 Alynda Lee Segarra1.2 Dead Man Street Orchestra1.3 Hurray for the Riff Raff1.3.1 Equality Advocacy
Alynda Lee Segarra
Hurray for the Riff Raff is a music collective that was formed by singer-songwriter and banjo player Alynda Lee Segarra.
Segarra grew up in the Bronx, and is of Puerto Rican descent. She says she was raised by her aunt Nereida and though she was distant from her mother she remained very close to her father as a child.
When she was between 13 and 14 years old, "the minute I could take the subway by myself, I headed to the Lower East Side because I knew that's where all the weirdos were, where all the punks were. I was always taking an hour subway ride out there. And that's really where I feel like I grew up because I spent so much of my time there—all of my friends were there. That's where I learned a lot about New York and about the world, really." Segarra became a regular attendee of hardcore punk shows at ABC No Rio.
Segarra left her home in the Bronx at age 17, spending time crossing North America, hopping freight trains. "I grew up with my aunt and uncle who raised me, and they were really really great parents, you know? But it was mostly just about how I felt like I didn't know how I could grow in NYC. I felt stifled there in certain ways, even though I loved it," Segarra said, referring to how big New York City was.
Well, I didn't tell them. I ran away. And that's definitely, when I look back on it, it was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. I really regret how much it hurt them and how much it worried them. And like I said, they've been so supportive and understanding..... So basically it was the day after I turned 17, I left. I had already dropped out of school, and things were really hard because I knew I was hurting my aunt by feeling so lost. And she was confused as to what to do with me at that point. I just told myself that I had to get out into the world. I'm gonna catch a ride with my friends and figure this out and travel around and follow this desire that I had to see the country. I just had faith that I was gonna figure it out.... That's definitely a lot of what drives me today is just feeling like I've gotta make these people proud. They really sacrificed a lot for me.
Dead Man Street Orchestra
During this time, around 2007, Segarra became a part of the Dead Man Street Orchestra, a band that was documented in a photo essay by Time Magazine in 2007.
Hurray for the Riff Raff
After playing the washboard for a while, Segarra picked up the banjo that a close friend had given her and began writing her own songs. Segarra, drummer/violinist Yosi Perlstein.
NPR describes the band: "As a group, Hurray for the Riff Raff is, and has always been, proof that millennials are not lazy or unobservant or wandering — or, more accurately for the famously peripatetic Segarra, that not all who wander are lost. She has a voice rooted in history, making music to change the present. Hers is the voice of the future."
Segarra said, "I really like to make our image as a very queer band. Yosi [Perlstein, the band's transgender fiddle player] identifies as queer. So do I, as a longtime ally of queer causes."
As a young punk rock kid, "I loved the energy of the shows and listened to a lot of Kathleen Hannah of Bikini Kill," Segarra said. "She made me love women before I understood I did too."
On when she knew she could/would play music for a living: "I'd say it must have been our first time playing Idapalooza in Tennessee around the summer of 2007, probably, which is a queer festival in the woods, that I saw all these people dancing, singing and just loving the music. It was the best response we had ever had at the time. We had just put out a little demo on photocopied paper and only had a handful of songs. But people loved those songs, and I felt how much they meant to them. I realized that I had the ability to write songs that made people feel connected, feel good and sometimes make them cry. That ability is something I really treasure and take seriously. There's no better feeling than bringing people together. After that show I knew I wanted to do this for a living, and I probably will do it even if I don't make one too."
On the crossing music and community borders: "You don't see a Puerto Rican girl play the banjo in a honky-tonk very often! You don't see a transgender drummer/fiddle player very often! It's awesome. I think it's powerful that we'll play songs with the Tumblweeds and show publicly that we accept and love each other as musicians and people. I hope that kind of acceptance and respect is contagious."Cite error: The named reference NPR-NewPolFolk-2014 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Swenson, John (February 1, 2014). "Radio Zeitgeist: Hurray for the Riff Raff's Alynda Lee Segarra". OffBeat. Retrieved 3 February 2014. Keyes, J. Edward. "eMusic Selects Q&A: Hurray For the Riff Raff". eMusic. Archived from the original on March 15, 2010. Retrieved 3 February 2014. Heil, James (January 19, 2007). "Time Photo Essay: The Ballad of the Hobo". Time. Retrieved 3 March 2011. Presley, Katie (February 2, 2014). "First Listen: Hurray For The Riff Raff, 'Small Town Heroes'". NPR. Retrieved 3 February 2014. "Interview: LGBTQ Music Scene Vets, Hurray for the Riff Raff". CherryGRRL. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
After two self-released albums, 2008's It Don't Mean I Don't Love You and 2010's Young Blood Blues, Hurray for the Riff Raff released a self-titled CD composed of Segarra's favorite songs from those records on Loose Music in Europe on March 21, 2011. Tracks from the band's debut release received airplay on BBC Radio 2 and BBC 6 Music.
In February 2011, the band were featured in an article in The Times, based around the HBO TV series, Treme, with their track "Daniella" being listed in their selection of New Orleans' essential songs.
In May 2012, Hurray for the Riff Raff released Look Out Mama on their own label, Born to Win Records. No Depression said Look Out Mama, "Sounds like something The Band would’ve had playing on a Victrola while making Music From Big Pink in Woodstock." "The best part of punk rock is remembering that you should be yourself,” Segarra says. “That’s what Look Out Mama was about—like ‘Let’s put all of our influences in there,’ which I’ve tried to do as a songwriter this time as well. I don’t subscribe to what I should be writing because of the genre I’m part of. It’s more that I’m not throwing out any part of my background or personality.”
Loose Music released Look Out Mama in Europe on August 20, 2012. The album was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee at The Bomb Shelter Studios and produced by Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes). The record features “End of the Line,” a song about a house—a gathering place for Segarra and her friends in the New Orleans’ Holy Cross neighborhood. “It’s where endless songs were traded at campfires, and a whole group of New Orleans–based songwriters inspired each other and grew together,” Segarra says.
Hurray for the Riff Raff released a covers album called My Dearest Darkest Neighbor on July 1, 2013 through Mod Mobilian Records and This Is American Music. The album was previously available only as a Kickstarter reward and in limited local release and featured handmade covers. Tracks on the record include songs by Townes Van Zandt, Billie Holiday, Gillian Welch, Leadbelly, John Lennon, Lucinda Williams, Joni Mitchell, Hank Williams, and George Harrison—and features Segarra's interpretation of Gillian Welch's "Ruination Day."
Wall Street Journal describes Segarra's singing: "She has a subtle, expressive voice that she wraps around songs that draw on the sounds and styles of the American South, and her lyrics often takes unconventional tack on traditional subjects."
Spin previewed a video of their song, St. Roch Blues, which is a "tribute to the New Orleans neighborhood of St. Roch that's inspired by a horrifying series of murders that took place in the area in 2011."
In February 2014, Hurray for the Riff Raff had their major label debut, Small Town Heroes, on ATO Records. The record features original songs written or co-written by Segarra, and features fiddler Yosi Perlstein, keyboard player Casey McAllister, and two members of the Deslondes: Sam Doores on guitar and Dan Cutler on bass.
Describing the Segarra's music, NPR says "Segarra's morning-after alto might be the least showy great voice to hit the national scene this year." The song "The Body Electric" is dedicated to Damini, the woman who was killed during a 2012 Delhi gang rape. Segarra says the song's title "refers to the Walt Whitman poem, 'I Sing the Body Electric,' which was all about [saying] every body is sacred. But it's also about the woman murdered on the public bus. They never released her name; but people called her Damini, which means lightning, because what happened to her sparked a revolution. It sparked anger in women in India, who felt like, this has happened for so long, and this has to be the last one. I wanted to have some kind of reference to electricity or lightning in the title. It all came together in that phrase.""Hurray for the Riff Raff - The Times". Loose Music. February 1, 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2011. Gibson, Donald (April 16, 2012). "Hurray for the Riff Raff". No Depression. Usinger, Mike (October 2, 2013). "Hurray for the Riff Raff singer Alynda Lee Segarra's journey is just beginning". Straight. Vancouver Free Press. Retrieved 3 February 2014. Schlansky, Evan (April 23, 2012). "Hurray for the Riff Raff". American Songwriter. Jed Portman (December 10, 2013). "Premiere: Hurray for the Riff Raff, "End of the Line"". Garden and Gun. Retrieved 3 February 2014. Hurrayfortheriffraff. "Help Hurray for the Riff Raff Release Our New Album". Kickstarter. Retrieved 3 February 2014. Fensterstock, Alison (June 12, 2013). "A take on John Lennon's 'Jealous Guy' heralds Hurray for the Riff Raff's new cover CD, due July 1". Times-Picayune. Retrieved 16 June 2013. Danton, Eric R. (November 26, 2013). "Hurray for the Riff Raff Streams ‘I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright)’". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 3 February 2014. McGovern, Kyle (January 14, 2014). "Watch Hurray for the Riff Raff Honor New Orleans in 'St. Roch Blues' Video". Spin. Retrieved 3 February 2014. "ATO Welcomes Hurray for the Riff Raff". ATO Records. June 30, 2013. Retrieved 3 February 2014. Powers, Ann (January 23, 2014). "Hurray For The Riff Raff's New Political Folk". NPR. Retrieved 3 February 2014.