By Brian F. Johnson
Recording a debut album can be a pretty stressful undertaking. There’s pressure to get it just right, especially when the build up has been several years in the making. But for the trio of brothers who make up Radkey, the recording of their debut full-length Dark Black Makeup went more smoothly than they could have imagined. With an almost naïve, but zen-like undertone to their otherwise raucous, glammy garage punk sound, Radkey has come out with an album that NME has called “one of the strongest punk debuts of 2015” — a proper rock record with fuzzy, catchy stadium-sized riffs and sing-along pop sensibilities. Consequence of Sound said that the title track was “one of the most fun, straight-up rock tunes to emerge this year.”
“There probably should have been a lot of pressure, but the environment that we were in and the producer we were working with just made everything go so smoothly,” said bassist Isaiah Radke during an interview with The Marquee, a day before Dark Black Makeup was officially released. “This recording experience was totally different for us. Our first few EPs, especially Devil Fruit, was recorded in like two days. Things were always so rushed. Cat and Mouse (2013) we did in under a week in between shows in New York. Those are the hard recording experiences, but for the album recording we didn’t have anything booked, so we could really focus once we got to Sheffield.”
Radke is the out-spoken middle child of the three brothers; two years younger than his guitar-playing brother Dee, and a few years older than their youngest brother Solomon, who plays drums. In the midst of the recording process, the brothers who twisted their last name into their band name, spent the evenings as if they were on vacation in South Yorkshire. “We didn’t take any days off because it was so fun to work on the music every day, but we just kind of hung out for a few weeks and recorded it. Every night we went to the Kelham Island Pub and drank Deception Ale and ate pork scratchings. We’re kind of legends there for how many pork scratchings we ordered,” said Radke, explaining that scratchings are “like a way better pork rind.”
While they were sucking down Abbeydale Brewery’s finest and munching on salty, fried pork shanks by night, by day they were at McCall Sound Studio under producer Ross Orton (Arctic Monkeys) laying down tracks that had ostensibly been born back in Missouri when all three Radkes were still in their teens.
Isaiah and Dee had tried one year of public school when the were still at the elementary level, but “no one got us,” Radke explained. So he and his brothers lived a somewhat sheltered homeschooled life with the only excitement coming from their dad’s extensive record collection, which, unsurprisingly, led them to pick up instruments as teenagers. “You can say that we were sheltered, but it’s Missouri, so everything is sheltered. But in another way you can look at it that we didn’t get all of the shit music that every other kid was getting. In a way we were sheltered from shit music, which is pretty cool,” Radke said.
Besides that obviously huge benefit, Radke credited their homeschooling roots with giving he and his brothers such an incredibly tight bond, which not only carries over into the band, but is the very basis of it. “When you’re in school you have your different grades and different classes and different groups of friends, and I don’t think I’d be as good of friends with Dee and Sol if I went to public school, and that would be devastating,” he said.
It’s a sweet, if not somewhat alarming statement to hear come from the mouth of a 21 year old. At a time in life when many people are acting out, casting off and otherwise trying to get away from their families to find their own paths, the Radke brothers — who are joined by their manager/father Matt on the road — keep tightening their circle, and Isaiah said that without that connection Radkey wouldn’t be what it’s become. “I would be incredibly sad if Dad wasn’t on a tour with us. I wouldn’t know what to do. He helps us out and gets us where we need to be and he knows how to talk to us more than anyone else,” Radke said.
The boys’ father was working loss prevention at Wal-Mart when they first started the group, and when they first began getting gigs in 2011 (their first show was opening for Fishbone) their dad would be on-hand, not just as a proud papa, but as a chaperone to ensure the club owner that the boys wouldn’t break any alcohol regulations. As the group started to get more and more gigs, playing SXSW, Riot Fest and Coachella as well as taking overseas tours, the senior Radke eventually left his box-store job and became the group’s full-time manager. “When we started going on the road, it was with him. So him not being around now would be a really kind of weird vibe and we’re definitely not into it,” he said.
With their debut officially released, and a massive tour ahead of them for the fall, the Radkes may just need their familial bonds more than ever, but Radke also said that the more time they spend on the road, the more they drop some of their socially awkward tendencies and are able to talk with people outside of their immediate family.
“Homeschooling does make you a little bit weird and that’s cool, you know. We accept our weirdness,” Radke said. “We were incredibly weird at first. We’re still weird but at least we can talk to people now and have a normal conversation.”
Larimer Lounge | September 11
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