Rainer Maria: Growing Up Rainer

After a decade-plus hiatus, Rainer Maria returns with a rejuvenated spirit and a definitive, powerful new album

When Rainer Maria called it a day in 2006 after a healthy dozen-year run, the band went out on a high note, basking in the adulation of its cultishly numbered but arena-impassioned fanbase. The post-rock trio’s final shows were so enthusiastically received, bassist/vocalist Caithlin De Marrais observed, “We should break up every night.”

“We’d been in a band since college, so we grew together,” says De Marrais. “I think that perhaps we needed to do some growing on our own.”

In the 11 years between Rainer Maria’s last album, Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, and its bracing self-titled new release (on Polyvinyl), the threesome went on separate journeys of musical and personal discovery. De Marrais took the solo route, recording, touring and learning a few studio skills along the way; guitarist Kaia Fischer studied Tibetan language and Buddhism and came out as a trans person; and drummer William Kuehn manned the kit for several bands at home and abroad, even living in the Middle East for a spell. Through it all, there was still a lot of love in the world for Rainer Maria.

“We’ve had some offers and we’ve declined them all, but those offers brought us together,” says Kuehn. “We were like, ‘Maybe it would be fun to write music again.’ That was always our first love, being in the studio, or back when it was the basement, collaborating and creating new songs.”

Once reassembled with the stated purpose of writing new music, the reconvened Rainer Maria found its chemistry had inexplicably increased in potency. Volume, intensity and passion had all developed a higher gear, and the band slipped into it easily.

“If anything, I was kind of weirded out by how telepathic things still were,” says Fischer. “Except for key moments, there was a lot less talking about the songs and a lot of just playing. As our experience has grown, I was surprised; I was like, ‘William is hitting harder than ever, Caithlin’s voice has even more earth in it and sounds so beautiful.’”

Perhaps the biggest structural shift for Rainer Maria was putting Kuehn in charge of the LP’s production, a decision that was made when the trio was still in the writing phase.

“There were important points in the songwriting and recording process where we called on William’s very specific and coherent aesthetic that informs our work,” says Fischer. “At one point, Cait and I talked about putting William at the producer’s helm as a way of streamlining and encouraging that aesthetic to find full expression in the album, and I think it does.”

The resultant eponymous album is very much a Rainer Maria record—an emo/indie pop/rock heart pulsing through top-volume shoegaze guitars, Entwistle bass thunder and Viking drumming—albeit one that displays a cinematic expanse and roiling power only hinted at in the trio’s earlier work. It’s a perfect reflection of the individual growth that the band has experienced, channeled into a familiar yet strikingly fresh group translation.

“We wrote a number of songs as a rehoning of our practice together, but when we wrote ‘Lower Worlds,’ we thought we were clicking into the jet stream,” says De Marrais. “It was a feeling of, ‘We’ve caught something, let’s keep going with this.’”

“It’s not a rehash, it’s not the next Rainer Maria album if we’d written it 10 years ago,” says Kuehn. “It’s very much who we are as individuals and as a band in 2017.”

Brian Baker