You don't have to listen to Youngster for long to know that the Strokes have been very influential to the Florence outfit. Frontman Blake Ratliffe confirms our suspicions with a story from when he was a kid. "I saw the Strokes at the House of Blues when I was 12 or 13, and that is still — and I've seen countless shows and festivals like Bonnaroo or whatever — but that show is still the greatest music experience I've ever had in my entire life," he says. "I got into them when Room on Fire came out in 2003, and the next year I saw they were coming to the House of Blues and begged my mom to take me. I knew then that I wanted to be a musician and make magical, raw rock 'n' roll music like they did."
Years later, Ratliffe actually came face to face with one of his heroes. "I got to meet the drummer last year and that was a dream come true for me," he says. Ratliffe was staying at the same hotel as the Strokes' Fabrizio Moretti. "I was eating breakfast at the hotel they played at, and it happened two mornings in a row. Fabrizio came down with his friend, and I was chatting with him about music and stuff. And then the next morning he came down, and we did it again, so that was really cool."
Before Ratliffe started his current rock outfit, the Strokes-inspired Youngster was a part of Stray Hounds, another four-piece out of Florence. But after two years of regional popularity, they called it quits. "When the last band broke up, I was just feeling down, but I was motivated at the same time," Ratliffe says. "I was like, 'I don't give a shit what's going on. I'm still gonna do something.'"
That's when he decided to start Youngster, which initially began as a solo project. But that got put on the back burner when Ratliffe got involved with the group Octopus Jones, who will headline this week's show. As a guitarist for the Myrtle Beach band, he went on two tours with them and played on Octopus Jones' first album. Then in 2012, everyone in the band but Ratliffe wanted to move to Raleigh. "I just wasn't able to make that move with them," he says.
And so ET Anderson's Tyler Morris filled in for a while before Octopus Jones settled on being a three-piece, and Ratliffe restarted Youngster with the help of bandmates Daniel Truncellito (co-writer, lead guitarist), Joe Truncellito (bass), and Brandon Grove (drums).
Ratliffe has been writing Youngster songs for at least five years, many of which will make the cut for a full-length they'll record this summer in Charleston with producer Wolfgang Zimmerman. But this week, the band celebrates the release of their debut EP, Extended Play. The first track, "The Changing Type," is immediately reminiscent of the Strokes' upbeat, driving guitar tones Ratliffe says they've been perfecting for a long time.
The track "Anybody Else" is about a lost love. "There's a girl that I kind of fell in love with a little while ago, and things just didn't really work out just with where she was in her life," he says." I drew from that experience and wrote this song kind of like the Sixth Sense movie.
"It's similar in the sense that there's this ghost, but it's a friendly ghost," he continues, "not anything scary or weird — but still there in the house trying to figure out why no one else can see him and why they can't communicate. Because they don't really realize that they're gone and everyone else is still there moving on."
Meanwhile, the light, dreamlike melodies of "Who Knows" complement the song's sentimental content ("Why's it so hard to be in love?" Ratliffe sings). And musically, it's even more meaningful. "It's the first song me and Danny really collaborated on as far as songwriting," Ratliffe says.
"We actually took two different songs," he continues. "He had a guitar riff and I had the majority of this other thing I'd written a long time ago, and we kind of blended the two together and made that song. So it's pretty cool to us how that formulated. It just worked perfectly."
Extended Play will be available June 19 on Bandcamp, and Youngster will sell physical copies at the Royal American.