Sub-Radio Prove POP is Not a Dirty Word

We had the pleasure of working with indie pop-rock act Sub-Radio recently as part of a larger video promotion with Elixir Strings, and the sheer amount of fun the boys projected through the screen was so infectious, we just had to learn more.

So, join us as we chat with the up-and-comers from D.C. as we discuss their creative process, collaborating during quarantine and why they have one of those used car lot inflatable dancing guys in their rehearsal space…

[Editor’s Note: while we had Michael, Kyle, Adam, Matt, and John all on the Zoom, in the intertest of readability, we’ve attributed some quotes to the entire band as opposed to each individual member. For one, it’s really, really hard to transcribe interviews and identify multiple voices talking at once. And secondly…well that’s it. We’ll gladly jump on any opportunity to take the easy way out.]

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So, let’s talk about the genesis of the band. Whoever wants to jump in, how did you all get started? 

We all met in middle school, essentially playing guitar together. At least most of us — and we had the idea to just start a band. We were really bad at first [laughs], and got a little better, and a little better, and a little better…and in 2016 we decided to officially form Sub-Radio. We got booked at Firefly Music Festival in 2017 and were like, ‘Hey, maybe we should take this more seriously.’ Then our first tour was in 2019…

It’s like that band from high school that never stopped [laughs].

It sounds like you moved fairly quickly. How did you all approach the creative process as friends at the onset? 

The songwriting process has been collaborative from the start and still is. In the early days people were bringing fully fleshed songs to the group and we’d figure out how to play them, which is still kind of the case now, although it is a bit different.

We started using Logic to share demos just a few years ago. That sort of transformed the writing process a lot. We’re able to share digital files with each other, demo out and write without being in the same room, which has been very helpful in the last year, in particular [laughs].

But the writing process is still very collaborative, it will generally be Matt coming with the bones of an instrumental, maybe a verse and a chorus, and then if we are vibing with it, we’ll sit down in the basement where we do all our streams and figure out what the rest of the song ought to sound like.

Do you have a primary lyricist?

[Adam takes this one]:  Vocals and lyrics are just me, and those are typically the last part of the process. We’ll demo out an instrumental with no melody or vocals. That’ll be the final part we put on it.

Got it. So, you touched upon something that’s been affecting a lot of bands over the past year, specifically trying to work remotely while the world is…well, you know. Is the Logic thing still working for you guys? It’s almost like you were prepared for 2020, how’s that still going out for the band, creatively? 

Because of the pandemic, we’ve actually gotten used to this new method, sending demos back and forth and finishing them in the room. When it comes to just having fun, the best way to do it is being in the same room together, and some of our best songs have come that way. But, yeah, I’m not sure if we have a preference, really. I will say this: the new way gets us songs faster because we have more done by the time we hit the room.

Having watched a number of your streams, it’s easy to see some of the more fun and pop-oriented elements come into your music. Maybe we can go around and have everyone give an example of two of artists who have influenced your sound.

[Kyle jumps in] We all have an indie-pop background, and it’s mostly been Walk The Moon that’s been influencing what I bring to the band. And I also have a lot of early 80s influences like glam rock and stadium rock, with flourishes on synths and guitars.

[Adam] I think we’ll all agree that the 1975 is one for all of us. Just to go a little bit in left field, I also listen to a lot of softer and folk-influenced music than what we produce. Phoebe Bridgers has also been one of my favorite artists. Her songs are beautiful and lyrical, and also conversational in a way that is natural and very interesting, so I try to emulate that, as well, when I write.

[The rest of the band all seems to agree on Walk The Moon and 1975 as common threads, as well as Maroon 5 and interestingly, Oasis. They then proceed to make me feel old for being around during the height of Britpop – all in good fun :)]

Sounds like you guys really gel on the stuff that’s influenced you, creatively. What’s cool is that it comes through in your sound but it’s not derivative. And it borrows a lot from that 80’s dance-pop that just makes you want to get up and move. We’ve got to talk about your rehearsal space and the ultimate hype-man, the inflatable wavy guy that you typically find on used car lots.

The place that you see on our Reddit streams and on our TikTok is where it all started, it’s the basement of one of our parent’s houses, and so when you see on all of our streams it says, ‘Live from my mom’s basement,’ that part is real.

But the ‘wacky guys?’ Oh man, those came in a while ago [laughs], then we retired them. Now they’re back for the Reddit streams, specifically.

I don’t know much about the scene in the D.C./Virginia area nowadays. What’s the state of local music down in your neck of the woods, just in case any of our readers might be thinking of touring through there at some point? 

It’s always tricky to talk about because the scene is not really where our music is at in this area. The big thriving scenes are not the style of music we play [laughs]. There are massive amounts of hip-hop coming out of here all the time, and there is and has been a very good DIY and punk scene in DC. That goes back to the 70s and 80s. As far as the music that we make, we are sort of the big fish in the pond, it feels like.

Obviously there have been some acts like Bartees Strange, who’s blowing up right now.

We actually interviewed him for our last issue!

Very cool guy, I couldn’t begin to explain to someone who hasn’t heard him what his genre is. In a good way [laughs] Anyway…while we have a ton of amazing venues in this area, they don’t tend to book locals for opening acts. And I think that has handicapped the local scene a little bit. Because you can’t just jump on a 9:30 [the club, not the time] bill and get some new fans. It’s a little complicated.

Do you find yourselves wanting to get out of the local scene the, because it’s not as conducive to your success?

We’ve been trying to do that as much as possible. We played the D.C./Virginia area for years and years and years. For a long time, we were just playing bars and beer festivals and things, because they were some of the only gigs we could get.

But getting on the road and playing other cities…that’s where it’s at. We bought this big tour van and trailer, so we can kind of go anywhere now. We were just in California last week. We do all the long drives—anywhere that we CAN play, we’d love to play there.

Follow on Instagram: @subradioband

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