Greg Collins – Drums/Percussion
Anthony Roman – Vocals/Bass/Keyboards
Tommy Williams – Vocals/Guitar
Gerard Garone – Keyboards
P.J. O’Connor – Percussion
Unless you’re stuck in a cave, you can’t help but notice the latest music trend that has led us back to the sound when skinny ties, pointy shoes, black motorcycle jackets cloaked a brazen rock persona. On the covers of magazines, and event the typically diluted MTV has picked up videos from bands that would stay under the radar a few years back, the style reminiscent of late 70’s and early 80’s New York punk meshed with London’s mod underground, ala The Strokes, The Vines, The Hives (that have some stage moves that are eerily similar to Mick Jagger’s), BMRC and of course, White Stripes.
One band that has taken that style a few steps further is Radio 4, who have traveled through Denver a few times before, blowing audiences away with their brand of infections dance rock, heavily soaked in new wave keyboards and rhythms, wound around edgy guitar screams and bubbling bass lines. The guys will be hitting the road again to promote their recent release, “Gotham!“, appearing in Denver’s Bluebird on September 10 with tour mates Girls Against Boys. Anthony Roman, Radio 4’s vocalist, bassist, and part-time keyboardist, and the proprietor of “Somethin’ Else” record store in their home town of New York, called from his place of business to chat about some of these music trends, and what spawned Radio 4 to break free of some of the indie rock monotony and create their own style of rock.
Anthony Roman believes that “in the history of music, when it tends to get so technical, so involved, it loses it’s immediacy. Generally there’s a music trend that follows, that strips it back down to its raw soul. Punk rock did that, garage rock did that, and rockabilly did that. There’s something that seems to happen every 20 years or so. The last time it really happened was with Punk rock. A lot of what was coming from indie rock was very detached. It wasn’t very personal or interactive. There are a lot of bands that want to get away from that… where the crowd and the band are equally important to the show. It’s more physical music.”
Anthony and the others in Radio 4 felt that after a certain point, “underground music just wasn’t fun anymore. Things go in cycles and that had to end. Maybe five years from now people may think, ‘I’m tired of this post-punk influenced stuff.’ We started a band in reaction to stuff that we thought was just boring. We wanted to do something that was an alternative to that. Then when we started playing out, we saw that a lot of other bands were thinking in the same fashion.”
This brings up a good point. The masses have had a tendency to believe that just because a song or a band is being heard by them for the first time, that it or they are something. How many times has a commercial radio DJ said, “Up next, the latest song by Moby…” and think to yourself, “Huh? That song isn’t the latest! That song was on his album that came out a year ago! What the hell’s wrong with that guy?” So just because White Stripes and some of the others may be in the mainstream today, in reality, they’ve been writing songs within their style years ago when Creed was the latest thing (who were in their own right, are a blatant remake of Pearl Jam). Anthony believes that influx of post-punk and synth pop that’s rising to the surface has nothing to do with jump on band wagons, “I’ve said before, I don’t think the Faint heard the Rapture, or the Rapture heard the Blotters. I don’t think any of those bands really heard each other. They all just became aware of each other they’re playing a similar type of music.
Not everyone is embracing this flash to the past, even if bands like Radio 4 aren’t cloning themselves, but taking elements from their new wave heroes and giving it their own twist. “Most people who have a half way decent record collection have a Gang of Four record, and everybody has a Cure record or Joy Division. It’s not like it’s a sacred piece of history. Some journalists are like, ‘How dare you touch that! The period of 1978 to 1982, you’re not allowed there.’ It’s not that big a deal. It’s pretty common music that most people are aware of. A journalist is bashing a band because they show their influences too much, and meanwhile, they’re talking about their influences and their record collection. They’re doing the same thing their criticizing us for.”
This criticism just doesn’t make any sense to me. For a journalist, especially a music journalist, to have this attitude is simply naïve. For avid music freaks like myself, we thrive on getting hit with something completely different. But in every aspect of creativity – whether it’s furniture design or music – there’s always a little something that’s pulled from our past to give those creations a bit of timeless quality. If they actually bash Radio 4 for infringing on the works of others on the new wave alter, than they must be very busy at their computers typing nasty notes to almost every other band out there that has either sampled a track, emulated a beat, or given an old riff new life. As long as you’re not as blatant and in denial as Vanilla Ice, you can’t really escape the past when it comes to music. And who wants to anyway? The music I listened to 20 years ago is still in my collection today (if you go back another 5 years I can’t say the same thing, ’cause that was my Kansas, Journey, .38 Special phase).
The beauty of taking something that clicked with a generation is putting a new spin on it with something truly unique. You pull in the fans of that era, and also expose that style of music to those that may not have been around when that sound was new. Radio 4 pulls this off in a big way by taking advantage of their modern rock influences while throwing something unexpected into the mix with blistering congas, power charged keyboards, and a raw dance transmission that permeates fiercely from your speakers or the stage.
“That’s why we added that, because we thought it would enhance the rhythms to make it stronger and easier to dance and get into. Sometimes, if you’re not in the right setting in a club that’s not known for that type of interaction, people are hesitant. If you kind of force it on them, they will react. We don’t want to try to tell people what to do and tell them they should dance…it’s just implied.”
Delving deeper into the making of “Gotham!”, other influences besides modern rock gods played a big part in the rocks and rhythms of Radio 4’s sounds, including the tweaking and twisting knobs of skills of producers Death From Above (DFA), made up of Tim Goldsworthy and James Murphy, who have worked previously with artists such as David Holmes, UNKLE, Turing Machine and Trans Am. Tim also was part of the UNKLE project with DJ Shadow and has built his expertise in the dance and trip hop arena, while James has a reputation here in America from his punk rock projects, “Between the two of them, they bring a combination of elements from both those worlds in a way that’s pretty unique. It’s not like they stick with one formula. Producers tend to do that, but producers that have had a career for many years, like Brian Eno, were always moving on to something else. If you get known for just one thing, once that style goes out you’re out of work.”
For Radio 4, DFA’s musical production expertise was a perfect match with the band’s own diversity and ability to create an interlude of dark and sultry trip hop on Pipe Bombs that long jumps up to punk on another track New Disco, giving “Gotham!” an unique and captivating quality. “We actually wrote [Pipe Bombs] about ten minutes before we recorded it. It was just an idea that Tommy had. It wasn’t even a song. So we thought we would just put it on tape and see. Well, not tape because nothing’s on tape any more. But then it just evolved into something that came out nice, and it breaks up the record too.”
Being from New York, and with a track that is becoming more and more popular due to it’s uplifting beats and sugar coated harmonies, Save Your City, I figured that a number of people may have made some connection with 9/11, even though they state clearly that “Gotham!” was recorded before the tragic event. “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,” Anthony says, half laughing.
Although they had already recorded everything at that time, they were in the middle of mixing the record when 9/11 hit. “It was just a strange time. We were a little nervous about some of the things on the record,” he says, referring to such lyrics that include ‘start a fire’ or even the song title Pipe Bomb as a cause for concern. When everything first happened, the guys in Radio 4 went through what everyone else did – the stunning sense of shock, dismay, and horror. Anthony explains that, “Once you get over the regular freak out, then you have to freak out about the music you just created. But from the time we were talking about it in October, things were a little different when it came out [the following] May.” By then, most people had not forgotten, but were not as sensitive to things that could be misconstrued in a negative way. He also goes on to point out that “a lot of the record is pro-New York. A lot of the record is anti-New York. It was just a weird time to be saying anything negative, especially about the city that just went through this.”
Before they head out on the road with Girls Against Boys and visit our Rocky Mountain town, they’ll be jetting off to Europe for a few weeks to meet up with City Slang records out of England, who is issuing a limited edition 7″ of Eyes Wide Open and Red Lights in early September overseas, and first approached the band after seeing them perform at SXSW this past March. “It was one of those rare occasions where playing SXSW actually pays off.”
When they land in England, they’re scheduled to do some shows set up by City Slang, chat with the international press, and mingle with some icons from the Brit Pop music scene. “I’m going to be DJing Alan McGee’s party in London,” Anthony says of the founder of Creation Records, a label that played a big part in the Madchester era back in the day and whose label roster includes non other than Oasis,”He throws this weekly party, so it should be a good time.”
After putting me on hold to get another call, Anthony returned to discuss their latest video shoot for Dance To The Underground, which will be released by City Slang. Without telling me too much, he did say that it was a heated endeavor, “It was about 110 degrees and we were there for about 16 hours. All the extras, they didn’t last too long. They just melted and then went away. I don’t really want to give too much away, but it was about this kid that has a pirate radio station and ends up throwing a big party, and we were all supposed to be going crazy. But it was a little hot to be going crazy.”
Beyond CMJ’s a rave review of ” Gotham!” (New Music Report Issue: 761 – May 06, 2002) as “the only new-new-wave band that matters,” Radio 4 has also gotten the attention of Paper, Alternative Press, XLR8R, Spin and other media. They were even named one of the top ten bands in New York by New York Magazine. “I think there’s a lot going on in New York and a lot of people are paying attention to it. A lot of the articles were New York oriented articles, and we’re part of that whole thing. So we’ve been able to get some exposure through that. There’s a healthy thing happening here and people are acknowledging it, so it’s good.”