Posted February 28, 2016 by Jeff in Tunes

Lightning Strikes Twice for R5

R5 by Willvon Bolton
R5 by Willvon Bolton

Last year after its sophomore album, Sometime Last Night, debuted at No. 1 on the pop album charts, R5 (Ellington Ratliff and Ross, Rydel, Rocky and Riker Lynch) embarked on a lengthy summer tour. Now, the band is back on the road for a winter leg. The Arizona Republic rightly describes the band as energetic and “super-talented,” noting that the group sounds “unique in today’s pop music scene, eschewing the use of samplers, pre-recorded beats and trendy bass drops, and relying instead on solid songwriting played with a traditional guitar-bass-drums-keys setup.” Drummer Ellington Ratliff phoned us from a Memphis tour stop.

Talk about your background. What was it like to grow up in L.A.?
I grew up in the clichéd Los Angeles scene. I grew up acting and performing on stage, which is what you did if you grew up in Los Angeles. Most of my friends were actors as well. From middle school, I started playing music in garage bands with my friends from school. We played covers songs by whatever alternative bands were popular at the time.

How’d you meet your band mates?
I met them at a performing arts studio when I was in high school. I was friends with them for about a year before they asked me to play in the group. Me and Ross and Rocky and Ryker jammed out to some classic rock like “Smoke on the Water” and AC/DC. The classics. We started playing shows from there. We booked shows every weekend. I ditched my high school band. The Lynches were more fun to be around. I just went with my gut and realized I didn’t have time for the other guys. We got more recognition and got on TV shows and got signed and have been touring ever since. It’s been pretty wild.

Did you initially want to act or play music?
I figured I would do some acting and some musician stuff. Ever since I was little, I decided I would just go with whatever happened. When you’re acting, you don’t’ know what jobs you’ll get or not get so I learned to go day by day. I knew it was going to be something good. I didn’t think I’d be a touring musician. You do that for fun. You don’t do that as a profession. As an actor, you can book some jobs here and there. But to go on tour is a whole other thing. I never thought I would do that but here I am in Memphis.

What made you first want to take up drumming? Did you have a favorite drummer?
Not so much. I like music in general. My dad is a huge Motown fan and doo-wop fan. I heard that growing up and the Beatles too. The White album was always playing in the car. I grew up tap dancing. My mother is a choreographer and my grandmother owns a dance studio. I was tapping since I was two. The rhythmic thing was something that made me gravitate naturally toward rhythm. I had a more natural tendency to figure out rhythm than to figure out what chords were and what scales were.

Do you have a favorite rock drummer?
The classic rock drummer is John Bonham. A lot of people are. I’ve given all the classic rock guys a chance. I like Ginger Baker and Keith Moon and all those guys. My mom played me Zeppelin when I was little, so I was naturally into them. Any drummer Jack White has, I’m a big fan of. I like Daru Jones. I also like gospel drummers. They’re insane. You should check out Aaron Spears and Thomas Pridgen. They’re the craziest. You go on a drummers’ blog and they’re the ones that people are talking about. There’s also this German guy Benny Greb. He always comes up with this crazy stuff and does some African drumming.

What was the experience of recording your debut, Louder, like?
Louder was our first professional studio experience. We had done an EP with some guys who had a studio. This one was a legit studio. It was our first record with our label so we were playing nice. It was our first time dealing with the business in that sense. It was much different than we were expecting it to be. The music business wasn’t what we though it would be. We learned that quickly while making the album. For us, it was still great. I won’t bash anything, but it was our learning experience. Would I change some things given what I know today? Of course.

We had to go through it to get to where we are now.

What did you set out to do differently with Sometime Last Night?
It was a lot different. We had an album prior to Sometime Last Night that was ready to be released. We had the album cover and everything was done. But it was the same situation as Louder and we thought we shouldn’t do that again. We weren’t happy with it. It didn’t represent us well. We canned it but kept some of the songs and made them into bonus tracks. We had to go back to the studio. With Sometime Last Night we kept it in-house. We brought friends in instead of people that the label sets up where it can be awkward for a few days and you may or may not get a song out of it. We brought in people we liked and brought them to our garage. A lot the songs were written by the band and it was a much better experience. We rented a house in Southern California around the Hollywood area. We could wake up, grab a cup of coffee and go to the studio and just write. It was the best experience recording we ever had.

The music sounds more like alternative pop, maybe like Imagine Dragons. Is that a good comparison?
Yeah, I think that’s fair. We love alternative music. That’s my first love. We try to put in the classic rock influences too  . . . even electronic influences. We drew from Jiggy xx when we were writing the song “F.E.E.L.G.O.O.D.,” which as more of a house sound to it. Right now, we’re listening to Chris Stapleton so maybe we’ll do a country song. I doubt it but you don’t know what’s going to come up in your brain when you’re writing music. That’s ultimately what you do. You put these things in your blender and shoot it out and that’s what the music is.

“Lightning Strikes” has a good edge to it. What inspired the song?
I like that song a lot too. Rydel always has a song on the album. We had a song prior to that that wasn’t working so we decided to scrap it. We had done a song with the producers from Louder. It had Ross’s vocals on it. She liked that song and that would have been on the previous album, but with Ross singing. That would have been on the scrapped album. We had to transpose it and I had to do backing vocals in one day.

I like it because it has an edge to it.
Her vocals are more piercing than his. I loved that song because the solos are tight and we don’t normally have kickass solos like that.

What’s it been like dating one of your bandmates?
It’s been surprisingly smooth. I think at first it was awkward for the brother because we couldn’t talk about guy stuff. I had to keep that stuff to myself. It’s great because you get to travel the world with your significant other. It’s rare that you get to that. It’s nice.

Are fans more jealous of you or of her?
I don’t get jealous tweets. When the news came out the fans were losing their minds, but in a good way.

What other projects do you have in the works?
We don’t know what’s happening or not happening. When we’re done with the tour, we’ll start on some other project.  This will be the last tour we’re doing for a while. We’ll maybe write some songs for other people. We want to take a little break without making it a real break, if that makes sense.

Upcoming 2016 Shows

March 1, 2016

March 2, 2016

March 4, 2016

March 5, 2016

March 7, 2016

March 8, 2016

March 10, 2016

March 11, 2016

March 12, 2016

March 14, 2016

March 15, 2016

March 17, 2016

March 1, 2016 Providence, RI – The VETS

March 2, 2016 Burlington, VT – Flynn Center For The Performing Arts

March 4, 2016 Albany, NY –  Palace Theatre

March 5, 2016 Rochester, NY – Auditorium Theatre

March 7, 2016 Reading, PA – Santander Performing Arts Center

March 8, 2016 Cleveland, OH – State Theatre

March 10, 2016 Chicago, IL – Chicago Theatre

March 11, 2016 Minneapolis, MN – State Theatre

March 12, 2016 Des Moines, IA – Des Moines Civic Center

March 14, 2016 Omaha, NE – Holland Performing Arts Center

March 15, 2016 Tulsa, OK – Brady Theater

March 17, 2016 Sioux City, IA – Orpheum Theatre


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].