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Small-Town Siblings Open Up About Producing New LP with Ross Orton
When one thinks of breeding grounds for exciting new rock music, St. Joseph, MO, is not the first (or twentieth) locale that comes to mind — but that small Midwestern town is exactly where the incendiary, ultra-heavy rock trio Radkey hails from.
Comprising brothers Isaiah Radke (bass) and Solomon Radke (drums) and their half-brother Dee Radke (lead vocals/guitar), all of whom are just barely in their 20s, everything about their upbringing was insular. They grew up in a relatively quiet town, they were all homeschooled, and to this day their family dynamic is tightknit as can be, to the extent that their father is the manager of the band.
One thing about the band that’s not insular? The music itself. According to Isaiah, the main lyricist and de facto spokesman of the group, such an isolated upbringing is a key reason their musical creativity is as strong and developed as it is.
“Our dad had a lot of cool music and we just listened to that, and that’s just kind of what we grew up with, stuff like Nirvana and Led Zeppelin and things like that, so it all just kind of was in our brains for so long,” he says. “I think growing up there and being homeschooled had a lot to do with the way we sound. We were really happy with being homeschooled, and I still am really thankful that we had those years where we got to just hang out at home with everyone. It left a lot of room for creativity.”
While Radkey’s sound does contain flashes of Nirvana and Led Zeppelin, as well as bands like The Doors, Weezer and Danzig-era Misfits, the trio has developed a distinctive style of their own that’s hard to pinpoint. It’s got the attitude of punk but it’s not punk. It’s got the intensity of metal but it’s not metal. It’s even got a spacey swagger akin to stoner rock, but that descriptor doesn’t apply either.
“We like to think of ourselves as a rock band that does pretty much our own thing, and our own thing is just mixing all of the music that we love in weird ways that work,” Isaiah says. “For instance, we love all those kinds of music: punk music, metal music, hardcore punk. All of that we really love, and we figured we have to do everything that we love and that we’re capable of doing to get across who we are.”
As a trio of siblings who get along well, there’s no internal tension or ego battling to contend with behind the scenes, which, in Isaiah’s eyes, maximizes the quality of the songs they produce.
“From the beginning, we basically decided, ‘No bullshit’ — whoever writes the best part, it’s going to be the part that’s used,” he says. “It’s just for the good of the band. You can really hurt your band by having battles as to what parts are used and who did what, because then you can end up with a weak part in your song or something just to satisfy someone and keep them from quitting.”
Thus, the Radke brothers make all their band decisions democratically. Still, they discovered over time that each member has his own individual area in which he excels, and they don’t hesitate to play to those strengths.
“I was more of a natural to writing lyrics, whereas Dee can come up with different melodies and riffs really easily, way more easily than I could,” Isaiah says. “There’s times where I can come up with a riff, but then the riff is better after he messes around with it a little bit — or he’ll write a song with lyrics and I’ll change the words up a little bit and it’ll still be the vibe and story of what he wanted, just with my touch.”
Though Radkey has been on the scene since 2010, this year marks a major milestone for their career: they recorded their debut full-length album, Dark Black Makeup, which was released in August. They’d gotten a taste of the studio with their 2013 EPs Cat & Mouse and Devil Fruit, but it was during their two-week recording session in Sheffield, England, that they got to truly spread their wings as a band.
“We just went weird with it and did as much as we could, and we’re really happy with how it turned out,” Isaiah continues. “It has a bunch of different moments and sounds, as opposed to just having one kind of running theme throughout the whole thing.”
Unlike most bands, for whom recording a full-length album is a more arduous task than a shorter EP, the members of Radkey found the process easier.
“Both EPs we did were rushed,” Isaiah says. “Devil Fruit was recorded in basically two days, and Cat & Mouse was done in a week, maybe, but we were playing shows in between in New York at the time, which was ridiculous. This time we already had songs ready when we got there, so it was pretty much just a lot of hanging out and getting to know each other.”
Of course, the person Isaiah and his brothers were getting to know was English producer Ross Orton — the band’s secret weapon on Dark Black Makeup as well as the man behind Arctic Monkeys’ massively successful 2013 album AM. His expertise further expanded Radkey’s already diverse sound, most notably by emphasizing the groove inherent in their music. Isaiah cites “Love Spills” as a prime example of Orton’s influence on their approach.
“It was originally a fast, stoner-metal kind of jam, and he just had the idea of slowing it down a little bit and seeing what it sounded like,” he says. “Which I was against, but I was ready to hear it out. Then I heard it and I was like, ‘Holy shit, we can write a song that sounds like this?’ And all we did was slow it down a little bit. He basically told us that the songs we write have this natural groove, and if you just experiment a little things can really open up.
“I feel like we grew up as a band working with [Orton],” he adds. “We finally leveled up in a way we didn’t know we could before.”
It’s no wonder the Radke brothers are excited about Dark Black Makeup: it’s an album that truly plays like a statement of purpose. For all its intensity and power, it offers a wide array of moods that showcase the different facets of the band’s sound, from the primal punk stomp of “Romance Dawn” to the lumbering, psychedelic “Best Friends” to the macabrely humorous drama of “Sank.”
Radkey is currently touring North America before embarking for Europe in October, and Isaiah assures us their live shows will pack in as many songs from Dark Black Makeup as possible.
“There’s some jamming, but we make a point to keep our live show pretty straightforward,” he says. “When we see a live show of a band we like, we have a lot of favorite songs and we want to hear as many of them as we can. So if you go into this jam that’s the length of a couple songs in the middle of one song, I almost feel like sometimes they’re ripping people off. It’s important to us that we just keep the show going and keep making the songs happen.”
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Dark Black Makeup
Standout Track: “Parade It”