To see and hear them now, you might never believe that a few short years ago Radio Birds had a completely different lineup, look, and sound. In early 2013, rising united from their earlier musical experiences, these four young men decided to take a risk and start completely over with a new name and sound.
They quickly worked up a batch of new songs, and by that summer they had recorded a successful EP and had begun playing extensively, even winning the 2013 Masquerade Musicians Showcase in Atlanta, GA. Within a year of their rechristening, they were booked for The Rock Boat 2014 (and 15!), were featured in a major motion picture (Jason Momoa’s “Road to Paloma”), played SXSW, and attracted the services of indie Atlanta label Brash Music. Things have moved quickly for a reason, and everyone involved points back to two causes: Radio Bird’s irresistible character and undeniably unique sound.
That sound is simple: Plain-Old Rock and Roll Music with a distinctly hairy touch. Meaning, it is not clean, it is not easy, (or too difficult), and it is not The Next Logical Revival of a Previously Popular Genre From the Seventies. It is what you get when four guys all write music with the basic beliefs that it must be played live, and it must be played everywhere. Each of their songs is different from the others and is balanced by the web of harmonies that entangles the whole group. Everybody sings, and sometimes, you just can’t help but sing along.
Thier exciting new album, Contemporary American Slang, recorded at the world-famous Southern Tracks studio, featuring an impressively diverse set of songs and even additional instrumentation by Will Turpin (Collective Soul) and Mark O’Connor. Equipped with new songs, longer hair, and scruffier beards, they look forward to spending the next several months bringing this music to everyone who will listen.
Ghettoblaster recently spoke with drummer Colin Dean about the record (released on February 3). This is what he told us.
When did you begin writing the material for Contemporary American Slang?
Most of the songs started as a rough idea (maybe the chords, maybe the lyrics, maybe the whole song) from one of us that we then we came together to finish, and those very first ideas ranged in age from two years to just a few days before pre-production. In terms of us actually getting together and ‘writing’ the songs, and finishing them enough to record, 80 percent of the songs were written in the two months immediately before recording. It was a compressed schedule (at least compared to how we’ve worked together before) but it kept us from overthinking things, and gave us a chance to really capture a moment rather than getting caught up in ourselves.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
“Wait For Me in the Fall” was definitely the most difficult because it’s a song we initially wanted to put on our last EP, but for some reason, we just couldn’t work it out. The song was written with just a banjo and vocals and we had a difficult time conceptualizing it as a whole-band song. Sometimes the simplest songs are the most difficult, especially since the lyrics and JK’s expression of this song rely on the ‘feeling’ much more than the arrangement to tie it all together. We ended up recording it totally live to try to capture that, and even while mixing it we had to be careful to keep the low-fi, stripped down sound without sacrificing energy.
Which of the songs on the LP is most different from your original concept for the song?
“Sleep City.” Jaz brought that song with virtually all the instrumentation and parts of the chorus complete, but he wasn’t set on any lyrics and vocal melodies. The song was around for a while before we just decided it was time to finish. JK and I went home to write separate vocal parts assuming that one would be better than the other—when we came back together the next day, we ended up combing them both and using Jaz’s original chorus too. The lyrics and vocals took that song, which is upbeat and poppy even in its current form, into a grittier place. It was a fun exercise in writing as a band because we all had to work completely separately to actually finish the song together.
How does Radio Birds differ from JK and the Lost Boys; musically and stylistically?
Well, we have more hair now…
I think the biggest differences emerge during the writing process, since at this point we all contribute pretty equally to the writing, whereas previously JK shouldered most of responsibility. This shift, I think, diversifies the influences that come through in the songs and give us a pretty wide range, stylistically. Radio Birds is built at its heart to be a touring band, and road experience introduces more extreme ranges of emotion, from darkness to levity, to our music. You also can’t discount the effects of being two years older and going from ‘oh, we are a band, it’s cool’ to (individually and collectively) saying ‘this is it. we are doing it’.
Upon reading up on you, I see that you guys have a relationship with the one and only Khal Drogo. How did that come about?
I hope my version isn’t too apocryphal, but from what I understand JK met Jason out at a bar playing ‘Big Buck HD’ (you know, that game where you get drunk and wave a fake shotgun at a screen while yelling obscenities at your friends) and they just hit it off. He has been a great friend to the band, putting us in his movie Road to Paloma, which was a great opportunity for us. He has also helped us survive by occasionally by taking drum or guitar lessons from band members. It’s really great to be able to collaborate with someone like Jason, whose work is mostly in another creative medium but at heart shares all the same interests that we do.
(Visit the band here: http://radiobirds.net/
Catch them live here:
02.20 • The Basement (Nashville, TN)
02.21 • Blackstone (Gadsden, AL)
02.26 • Pelham’s (Jacksonville, AL)
02.27 • War Eagle Supper Club (Auburn, AL)
02.28 • The Loft (Columbus, GA)
03.07 • The Basement (Atlanta, GA)
04.11 • Bearstock (Macon, GA))