By the time most bands get to their eighth album—if they ever do—they can probably rest on their laurels and do what they’ve always done. Not so with venerable Los Angeles act Radar Brothers and their self-explanatorily titled effort Eight, which PopMatters is pleased to premiere. Adding three new players to round out a six-member lineup, the latest incarnation of Radar Brothers comes up with a sound that’s as bold and bulked up as ever on Eight, releasing 1/29/2013 on Merge. As Associate Music Editor Matthew Fiander wrote of Eight when he selected it as one of our picks-to-click for January, “This may be their biggest sound, but it’s still built on carefully crafted parts, with signatures like [Jim] Putnam’s honey-dripping vocal melodies and beds of jangling acoustics accented with ringing piano phrasings and perfectly placed guitar hooks.” PopMatters caught up with band founder Jim Putnam and bassist Be Hussey to discuss the making of Eight and on the outlook of Radar Brothers after this milestone release.
Photos by Joseph Armario
PopMatters: For starters, why did you go with the very literal title Eight, after not having numbered any of your albums up to this point? Is there any particular significance to the title?
Jim Putnam: I don’t think there are a lot of bands that have called their eighth record by its number. I thought it sounded funny and I liked that. Also, I saw it as an important thing for me personally, because our first record was a long EP, but I consider it an album because it is a volume of songs that go together so well, and coherently. Of course, that record is hard to come by these days, until we reissue it.
PopMatters: This being your eighth album, do you try to make music the way you always have or does each project require its own process?
Be Hussey: I can at least speak to the recording process and say it was in a bit of flux. The way the previous records were done was still present, since we tracked some songs at Jim’s studio, and he writes extremely well there. But there was also a new process developing from the tracks we recorded at my studio (comp-ny). Over there, it is all about capturing the energy of a full band together (to analog tape), and I think that really helped build a new band sound. I think this record is a good combination of methods and we’re just scratching the surface of what can be done.
PopMatters: Related to that, there are some new members in the band this time around. Did the lineup change come about organically or was it more of a conscious effort to create a different sound?
Be Hussey: It was an organic process. Stevie Treichel and I joined in 2008 to tour Auditorium, then we brought in Brian Cleary and Ethan Walter (at separate times) and Dan Iead to tour The Illustrated Garden in 2010 because we were trying to represent everything on that record. When it was time to get in the studio again, the bigger band was already there and ready. The interesting thing is that both touring keyboardists are now in the band which is how we ended up with a six-piece brotherhood. So this naturally results in a fuller sound. I think Jim, whether consicously or subconsciously, wrote material that worked great for this and the resulting musical juxtaposition between the past and “future” Radar Brothers can be heard throughout Eight. Make sense?
PopMatters: The press release for Eight describes it as your most “visual” album to date. How do you transform your music and vocals into songs that create such mental imagery?
Jim Putnam: There’s a lot more going on with this record. A lot of keyboards and layers of stuff you don’t really hear. I think that sort of thing can make for a more ethereal sound, which leads to the visual [aspect], at least for me. It can be cinematic, which means our music should be in more movies.
PopMatters: Radar Brothers is known as a Los Angeles band, and your music seems to reflect certain L.A. themes, from its sunny, unmistakably southern California twang to a tinge of dark, noir-like undertone to your music. How does the environment shape your music, if it does at all?
Jim Putnam: Los Angeles is a very surreal place, and I think that has a lot to do with it. It is vast and there’s always something new out there. The surrounding areas are very diverse, beaches, deserts and mountains.
PopMatters: As veterans, you’ve persevered in one form or another, while many L.A. bands and even trends have come and gone. How has the Los Angeles music scene changed over the years, and how have you rolled with the punches?
Jim Putnam: I don’t pay much attention to that. There are always bands that are creatively honest, and those are the ones that matter. They usually tend to not be affiliated with any trend or fashion, and if they’re doing something good, even better. Those bands come and go, and some of them stick around. It’s situational, I guess.
PopMatters: You’ve been at this awhile now and you might be able to guess how music critics are going to receive Eight. What do you think is going to be said about Eight that is completely off the mark? And what’s something fundamental about the album that a lot of folks might miss?
Jim Putnam: It seems like a lot of music critics don’t have the time to let a whole record sink in, and in that case I don’t think they’re qualified to criticize. It’s taken me weeks to fall in love with some of my all time favorite records. Since I’m too close to our album, I’m not sure what they will miss. I think there’s stuff about it that I miss. I do think it’s an eclectic one. They might miss that?
PopMatters: In addition to Eight, what else do you have planned in 2013?
Be Hussey: We are going to be touring as much as we can in the U.S./UK/EU and wherever else they will have us, hopefully some new places! We will be releasing a few videos that we’re really excited about, and I have a feeling we’ll be back in the studio before the end of the year when there’s time. There were some song ideas that never got finished that it would be cool to revisit as well. We are open to what 2013 has in store.