Greg Collins – Drums/Percussion
Anthony Roman – Vocals/Bass/Keyboards
Tommy Williams – Vocals/Guitar
Gerard Garone – Keyboards
P.J. O’Connor – Percussion
Two years ago the New York based band Radio 4 had just released Gotham! that included the single, “Save Your City.” The song, drenched in waves of post punk and small club dance nights, was taken as an ode to New York, although it was actually written prior to our national disaster.
At the time I had had interviewed Anthony Roman, songwriter, bassists and lead singer for the group, who said, “I can’t really think of the songs post-9/11, because I don’t really view them that way. Obviously, when some people hear “Save Your City” it means that to them. That’s great. That’s what music is supposed to be – where it has a timeless quality and people can interpret it whatever way they want. If I actually tried to sit down and think what all the songs mean after 9/11 I would probably drive myself insane,” he said, half laughing.
It’s now 2004 and Radio 4 has spread their signal around the world a number of times, and in the process, also recorded their debut full length on Astralwerks, Stealing Of A Nation. This time around they had a lot to say about what’s going on in our country and have very blantant opinions: how the election was stolen by Bush, how politics is a cancerous, and how we need to shake things up while we’re shaing our asses to their music.
This week I spoke with Greg Collins, the drummer and percussionist for the band, who was calling from Seattle and preparing for a 14-hour drive to San Francisco, in route to Denver and the show here on October 6 at Larimer Lounge.
Kaffeine Buzz: So I heard your song “Dance To The Underground” in that car commercial. I was at a friend’s house, hanging out, mixing a drink, and I was racking my brain to figure out who it was until you popped into my head. I was pretty stoked for you. How did that come about?
Greg Collins [laughing]: I think they found us. It was a cool, lucky thing I guess.
KB: Well, you gotta love things like that though. That’s some extra money you’ve got coming without really doing anything extra.
GC: Yes, and there’s a certain amount of “purity” that you lose in doing things like that. But there’s also getting paid for something that you did a year ago. It’s kinda nice.
KB: I know…I still have a problem when they play “Whip It” to a Swifer commercial, but at the same it’s great for bands like yourself that have a huge following but not so much in the mainstream. So it’s actually another way to get your music out there.
KB: When I talked to Anthony a couple of years ago, we were still in the aftermath and shock of 9/11. He had stated that he could have driven himself crazy trying to write about that directly afterwards.
GC: Oh yea, absolutely.
KB: Well since then, you guys have had some time to think about what has taken place with our state of the nation so speak, and it seems he’s definitely written about what’s going on now with this new album. It’s become embarrassing to be a part of the direction this country is going, and it seems like you’re asking people to take their own direction.
GC: Yea, I think that’s a pretty fair interpretation. I’m not the lyric writer of the band so I can’t really claim to know Anthony’s process. But I know there’s an emphasis for people to make their own choices. If you’re tired of the world laughing at you than stop being laughable. If you want the esteem of others you have to do esteem-able things. Obviously our leadership is not working on that premise.
KB: A lot of people have become a lot more active in knowing what’s going on politically, and have also gotten to be politically active, including musicians. How do you feel about the mixture of music and politics? Do you think it’s a natural thing to go together?
GC: Sure, of course. I think that’s always been. Some of the best music written and meant the most to me in my life has been music with a political bend. I think they ought to go together.
KB: I agree wholeheartedly. That goes back to the ’60s. There are some musicians though that say the two don’t mix, like [Paul] Westerberg [from the Replacements] who said publicly that he doesn’t think the two go together, which I found kind of odd.
GC: Well, they don’t have to, you know what I mean?
KB: Not all time, of course. That is kind of overdone.
GC: I mean, I don’t listen to political music all the time. I listen to less political music than anything else. But The Clash made one of the greatest records of all time…or Bob Dylan’s records, and as a teenager is was Dead Kennedys, and all of their stuff was vehement, shrill, left wing politics. They blew my mind when I was like, 12.
KB: In going more into your music, you guys have always had a real dancy vibe to your style. It got even more clubby on the song “Fra Type I and II.” Did that have anything to do with your producer Max Heyes or was that something you guys had been wanting to do for some time?
GC: The way that song came together was definitely the result of Max. He did all the programming and stuff on it. For a song like that, we came in with a melody and the song was just built around that. We haven’t been able to work that into a live arrangement for that yet. That’s definitely the most “electronic” sounding thing on the record.
KB: One of the things it said in the press write up was that PJ O’Connor [percussion] and Gerrard Garone [keyboards] were in your studio for the first time, and that it made a big difference in the songwriting. But they weren’t they on the last album? What was the difference between then and now?
GC: Actually, Gerrad wasn’t on Gotham! at all. PJ was.
KB: So they were just touring with you guys.
GC: Yep. Gerrard basically joined right before the album came out. He was supposed to be on that record, but there was a scheduling conflict. But PJ has been playing with us sporadically for a while, but he came on full-time after Gotham! We couldn’t have made Gotham! sound like it should sound without them, it just wouldn’t work. Now both of them have become integral parts of the band.
KB: Absolutely, especially with the bongos that give you the extra punch, that beat. Bongos can transcend into all types of music, and it reminds me of the days way back when where at a rave you would have that lone guy in the corner keeping beat with the DJ. It added that extra spice of rhythm. Its interesting, the juxtaposition what you come up with, having that really inviting groove music where you can’t help but start moving to the beat. At the same time, the message through the lyrics are things like “Executive wear party hats, but on their faces they’re falling flat.” There’s a real ironic twist you guys have.
GC: That’s kind of where we try to be at. I don’t think we have anything against having a good time. We’re not the most serious group of people. It’s just trying to make music that works on both of those levels.
KB: Your CD artwork is also pretty interesting. It looks like you’re portraying some end of the world look, a completely abandoned apartment in the bad part of town. The only thing alive are these clone looking people and their television.
GC: [laughing]:Tommy was the main concept guy on that. But I think the idea came from the fact that we spent so much time on planes over the past year, year and a half. You know the in flight emergency manual? It kind of became burned into our heads.
KB: Well, maybe you can make the next one look like a barf bag. Use it for your EP or something. The song “Death of American Radio,” aside from like, college radio or talk shows like Air America there doesn’t seem to be any need for radio anymore. It’s all fluff.
GC: Definitely. You turn the dial now and there’s really nothing to listen to. This corporation that owns almost every radio station in the country…so if you’re not actively seeking it out, you’re not going to get anything that’s good. So I don’t listen to radio anymore. I have an iPod.
KB: It just seems like more and more, corporations are pushing to set trends versus artists, creators, designers, innovators. Did you ever see that movie “Josie and the Pussycats?”
GC [laughing]: Um, no.
KB: Okay, it’s not what you think. It’s actually pretty good, portraying this company that manipulates our youth into buying product, and MTV is definitely made to be a big part of the “corporate machine” running the show. It’sfunny and very tongue and cheek, but also a very interesting concept for a movie. We’re not there yet, thankfully, but pretty damn close. Cars, cell phones, clothes, and all of it is now integrated into our musical culture. It’s tough sometimes to walk that fine line of getting support that enables you to do what you do, and selling out.
GC: I think you’re absolutely right.
KB: Granted, it’s tough when you have your music in a commercial. You want to get your music out there, but if commercial radio doesn’t support you, then this is a viable alternative.
GC: Yea, but again there’s gotta be a better way.
KB: Exactly. So in the meantime, you’re going to be driving 14 hours from Seattle to San Francisco to get it out there yourselves.
GC: Pretty much. We have to personally put it in your face.
Yes, two years have gone by and the Radio 4 guys have been around the world, and are now signed to an EMI subsidiary. But they haven’t hit what Greg would consider the rock’n’roll lifestyle just yet. There are no groupies chasing their big tour bus down the street while they play Xbox and eat green M&Ms. As the only single member of the group, Greg let me know he would not have a problem with screaming girl chases. So gals…wear your best lipstick and shave your legs ’cause they’re coming to town Wednesday, October 6 at Larimer Lounge with the Libertines.