By Alexander Laurence
We Ragazzi came out of the Chicago indie-rock scene in
1997. They combined blues, garage rock and new wave. The
members are Anthony Rolando (guitar, vocals), Colleen Burke
(keyboards), and Alianna Kalaba (drums). We Ragazzi are
a unique band that is hard to define. Their reputation soon
spread by word of mouth, and eventually led to an album
with My Pal God Records. Their signature sound involves
a lot of loud farsifa organ.
We Ragazzi's first CD, Suicide Sound System was released
in 1999. They spent a few good years playing live shows.
They stepped into a studio again in 2002 and put together
their second record, The Ache. This led to a high profile
in the indie world. They played with Les Savy Fav, Detachment
Kit, Ted Leo, Scene Creamers, 90 Day Men, Denali, Minus
the Bear, Explosions in the Sky. Their third album is called
Wolves With Pretty Lips. They have played killer shows at
CMJ and SXSW. They have recently moved to Brooklyn. I spoke
to member Colleen Burke recently. You should check them
out this summer.
AL: How did you meet each other?
Colleen: We met in Chicago. We were around. We met through
a group of friends.
AL: Have you been in bands before?
Colleen: Tony and I had been in previous bands. This is
Alianna's first band. We started about seven years ago.
AL: When did you release the first record?
Colleen: We had been playing shows for six months before
we put a record out. The first record came out on My Pal
God Records. The second came out on Self Starter Foundation.
We are currently on Suicide Squeeze Records. It's in Seattle.
AL: Why have you been on so many labels?
Colleen: The previous record deals were just one album
deals. We are still friends with those labels. There is
no bad blood.
AL: When did you record the new album?
Colleen: In January. We did it in one week. We did it at
a studio in Manhattan. We flew in John Congleton from Dallas
and he engineered it and produced it. He's big in the hiphop
world. He has done records by 90 Day Men. He did the last
record by Explosions in The Sky. He is a member of The Paper
Chase. We are going to tour with them this summer.
AL: Do you record as a live band?
Colleen: We don't do it different than other people. The
vocals are recorded separately. We have done some overdubs.
We add some guitars and piano.
AL: Who writes songs in the band?
Colleen: We write together. It is collaborative. One of
us might come up with an idea and we work on it. No one
comes in with completed songs. Tony writes the lyrics.
AL: What are the lyrics generally about?
Colleen: Do you have the record? The lyrics are printed
in the record. We just moved to Brooklyn a few months ago.
I think that a lot of the music and lyrics are about leaving
Chicago. It's about change. Each record has been different.
There are some love songs. The record is about where we
are right now.
AL: Are you all from Chicago?
Colleen: Alianna is from Chicago. I am from Detroit. Tony
is from Springfield, Illinois. We have been living there
for about ten years.
AL: Why did you move to Brooklyn?
Colleen: No real reason. We lost our rehearsal space and
Tony had lost his apartment in the same month. We were ready
for a change. We had been there for a long time. They live
in then southern part of Brooklyn and I live in Williamsburg.
AL: How is that working out for you?
Colleen: It's great. It's nice. We haven't been in the
city a lot because we have been working and have been on
tour a lot of the time. I live in an all Hasidic neighborhood.
It's an interesting change for me.
AL: What bands do you like?
Colleen: We played a few shows with US Maple. They are
one of my favorite bands. They are from Chicago. They are
moving to Los Angeles soon. We played with Detachment Kit.
They are best friends of ours. They are great. I like the
Faun Fables. I also like Smog. We all like different things.
Tony likes The Icarus Line. Alianna likes The Walkmen. We
all like the new Loretta Lynn record. We have been listening
AL: What is the local scene like in Chicago?
Colleen: It's great. It's a very small community. It seems
very consolidated. Everyone knows everyone else and people
support each other. I miss it. There are probably some young
punk bands but I don't know about it. I guess that Tortoise
is really good. There are a lot of venues to play there.
The Empty Bottle is really popular. The Metro is an old
AL: Where do the hipsters hang out in Chicago? Is Wicker
Park still hip?
Colleen: Wicker Park is getting very expensive over the
past ten years. We were all living in Humboldt Park and
Logan Square. It is a Ukrainian village. People still live
in Wicker Park.
AL: You know how it is in Williamsburg?
Colleen: I have never seen a monoculture anywhere else.
Nowhere is like Williamsburg. I have seen nothing like it.
Chicago is nowhere near that, thank god. New York City is
obviously on a whole is much more diverse than Chicago.
Williamsburg is not very diverse at all.
AL: What bands did you like were you were younger?
Colleen: I liked The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The
Beach Boys a lot. Those were bands that my parents listened
to. I grew up in Detroit so I was lucky because there were
a lot of all ages shows. I liked The Laughing Hyenas and
AL: Did you grow up in musical families?
Colleen: Yeah. I did in my family. My brother played music.
My mother comes from a very musical Italian family. People
would play pianos and accordions. I think that I am the
only member of the band who has a family like that. I am
not entirely sure.
AL: Do your families come to shows?
Colleen: They are pretty supportive. I don't think that
our parents would listen to our music on their own. At least
my parents try to figure it out. My stepfather is really
into music. They wouldn't know who Interpol is.
AL: When are you going to tour again?
Colleen: We are playing with the Paper Chase. We are playing
on the East Coast and the South for three weeks.
AL: What is the live set like now?
Colleen: We play the new album mostly. We will play a few
songs from The Ache and maybe one song from the first album.
We used to play a song by Suicide. But I don't think we
will play any cover songs. We have been talking about it.
AL: Did any of you go to college?
Colleen: We all did. I went to De Paul University and so
did Alianna. Tony went to University of Illinois. I studied
Art History and Italian. Tony studied technical history.
Alianna was into film and photography.
AL: Have you read any books that you care to mention?
Colleen: I am reading a book right now called The Shadow
Of The Sun. It's by this Polish foreign correspondent named
Ryszard Kapuscinski. It's about Africa. It's a great book.
Alianna was reading a book about Brooklyn. We have a lot
of free time to read when we are touring.
AL: Have you seen any good films?
Colleen: I just watched Ben Hur the other night. I watch
a lot of movies.
AL: What is favorite part of being a musician?
Colleen: For me it's writing a song and playing live. I
think everyone in the band would have a different answer.
We had a really good time doing this last record. It was
one of the better times in my life. The timing was really
great. We worked really fast and really simple. It felt
AL: Does the band have any political or personal philosophy?
Colleen: A personal philosophy? The band on a whole? I
don't understand the question, sorry.
AL: Is there any shared politics that the band has besides
a general atheism?
Colleen: Absolutely. There is a general atheism. We are
all humans. We all think along the same lines politically.
We all voted for Ralph Nadar.
AL: What happened to your website?
Colleen: We lost it. We were late paying the fees six months.
A company in Hong Kong bought us out. They tried to sell
it back to us. The only official website we have now is
on the Suicide Squeeze website.