20 Questions

Radiation City

by Evan Sawdey

15 November 2011

Mixing '50s doo-wop vocals with modern indie rock -- and then releasing their debut album on cassette only--has certainly made Radiation City stand out in the crowd. A love for Barney's Version, OutKast, and borrowing turntables from the '40s makes us love the group even more.

Portland’s Radiation City has an unusual sound, to say the least.

Let’s see: it’s kind of like the Andrews/Puppini Sisters vocal harmonies strapped to ‘70s rock guitar but given a modern-day indie band backing, ripe with emotion and feeling, sounding like it was homebrewed out of several eras of music but never belonging to any particular one of them.  That, and the band released its debut album, The Hands That Take You, through its own cassette-only label Apes Tapes (it has since been picked up for distribution by Tender Loving Empire).

For a band so unique in sound, it’s no surprise that this quartet is gradually picking up attention, and having just finished up the latest leg of its tour, the group recently sat down with PopMatters to answer the famed 20 Questions, here revealing how the group recorded its vocals through an old 1940s turntable, its wish to have dinner with St. Vincent‘s Annie Clark, and how it has a resounding amount of love for OutKast’s The Love Below. . .
* * *

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Barney’s Version. Paul Giamatti is a gem. Coupled with the fact that some of the band members have family battling Alzheimer’s, this one was a cry-fest.

2. The fictional character most like you?

[No response given.]

3. The greatest album, ever?

Getz/Gilberto—anything goes well with this album. I highly suggest the following . . .
A. Gin and tonics with a game of poker (preferably on the floor).
B. With headphones on while walking in the city on a rainy day.
C. (the obvious) while taking a shower/bath, alone or with a friend (candles opt.).

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Wars circa 1977-1983; Trek circa 1987-1994.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Photographs/photography. I’m particularly moved by photography due to the lack of words. I think almost purely on a visual level. Words don’t usually come to mind when listening to music, but color palettes and scenery flood my mind. I’ve read about Grapheme, or color synaesthesia, before, and am now a self proclaimed synesthete. “. . . in which an individual’s perception of numbers and letters is associated with the experience of colors.” 

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

[No response given.]

7. You want to be remembered for . . . ?

I’d like to be remembered for a number of albums made throughout our career, hoping that we don’t fizzle out. We’ve discussed the intended longevity with this project, and the amount of songs and our ability to work together is very promising. I suppose I don’t see myself being remembered for anything outrageous, just a successful career.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

Musically, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, Feist, Dusty Springfield, Astrud Gilberto, Victoria Lagrand (Beach House), and most of all Bjork. There are tons of non-female inspirations for me, but as a female musician, there is more to identify with when it comes to these women. I’ve listened to them all at some point in my life (relentlessly) and have felt puny, only for a time, and when I awake from my self-loathing, I realize that we all have something different to offer. I’m not trying to be the next Astrud, I’m only pushed to make better music because of her.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

The Love Below portion of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below by OutKast (unanimous decision from the band).

10. Your hidden talents . . . ?

I’m [Lizzy] a trained chef/pastry chef . . . not so hidden to those I cook for, but to most I’m just a musician.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

Don’t always listen to what everyone else says, make your own choices. I gave myself this advice after years of getting bad advice from those around me. This isn’t always true, but most people are only speaking from their own experience, and are still living in the regret . . . perhaps they’re even trying to keep you from having more happiness than they did, subconsciously.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

We borrowed a friend’s turntable/radio from the ‘40s/‘50s, that we then used to record the vocals for our album. It set the tone for the rest of the album, sort of giving us our signature sound. With a microphone attached, you could cut your own recordings directly on the turntable. We miked the little speakers it had, but the EQ was naturally perfect, and very little editing was needed.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . . ?

A form-fitting vintage dress, that is perhaps too short.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

I just said this yesterday . . . I want to have dinner with Annie Clark (St Vincent). She’s incredible to look at while performing or speaking, and I have a hunch she’s got a lot to say. I find her to be enigmatic and I want to know more. She’s also a huge inspiration for me, vocally.

15. Time travel: where, when, and why?

If this is a one-time deal, I would feel guilty not seeing someone in my family . . . as much as I would like to see the Beatles or the Stones (I love both), I would have to use it to see my dad. I saw him two weeks before he passed away, and it wasn’t the way I would have wanted to part. His last words to me were a lecture on how to properly wash a down comforter.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?

Spa vacation, hands down. I’m not a violent person, even if I’m not the one attacking. I’ve never been prescribed to meds, even though I probably need them. I love being taken care of, pampered, wined and dined, especially by professionals.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . . ?

The boys would say coffee and cigarettes, but I don’t drink/eat caffeine, drink vodka/smoke (that often). I would have to say chocolate, and not because it’s the only other choice. I love it always. I also love bourbon (Makers), on the rocks.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Bah. This is something I deliberate over daily. Cam and I are avid gardeners and would love to have a large plot of land, but the growing conditions in Oregon are temperamental. I also love the city, having spent a majority of my life in Chicago. In a perfect world I would live in Napa or Sonoma, which is just close enough to San Francisco, and the weather pleases me.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

I would never want your job, but I like you . . . just do something significant so that everyone else does too.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

We’re working on the next album. It’s good. Ripe with nostalgia once again, but taking some new, tasty turns.

Thank you! I’d like to give you this question, as it has come up in my past quite often: Fruit Loops or Fruity Pebbles?

[Our answer would be Fruit Loops—they are far more fun than mere pebbles.—Ed.]

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