There’s a song on Radical Dads’ previous album, their 2011 debut Mega Rama, titled “New Age Dinosaur”, and it aptly sums what their loud-soft-louder power-trio rock is all about. The Brooklyn threesome’s unabashedly guitar-centric approach hearkens back to an ’80s/’90s alt-rock aesthetic that had supposedly gone the way of the dodo in the age of Auto-tune, but their new-school take on an old-school sound feels anything but obsolete or outdated. That’s readily apparent on the Radical Dads’ latest Rapid Reality, which stands out for its dynamic melodies, audacious riffs, and an exuberant bonhomie between guitarists Lindsay Baker and Chris Diken and drummer Robbie Guertin that infuses their music with something intangible that makes what’s familiar come off vibrant and novel. Chris Diken filled PopMatters in on what went into the making of Rapid Reality, why a Brooklyn band writes songs about So Cal, and what it’s like self-releasing your own band’s music on your own label. Premiering here on PopMatters, Rapid Reality comes out on May 21, via Uninhabitable Mansions.
PopMatters: To start with a little word association, your power-trio approach would seem to be the kind of thing that would appeal to radical dads, folks whose musical tastes came of age in the ’90s with guitar-driven alt-rock. What kind of sound and feel was the band aiming for with Rapid Reality?
Chris Diken: I don’t think we’ve ever consciously aimed for a sound or feel. We just make music that we like, and sometimes other people apply words to it, or say it reminds them of another band, or of another period in time. That being said, we were all alive in the ’90s, and we are all fathers.
PopMatters: Rapid Reality is your sophomore effort. What lessons from making your debut did you take to creating Rapid Reality? Was the process, broadly speaking, similar or different the second time around?
Chris Diken: Lesson #1: Know your songs. One of the biggest differences in recording Rapid Reality is that we recorded all of it in a studio, which we had to pay to use, so we were more motivated to have the songs down cold. Also, this had positive side effects: it made the recording process smoother and made us happier with the results. We also recorded in a different location, at Machines With Magnets in Rhode Island. As you might expect, there were also similarities in the processes, such as the fact that we always eat a lot of candy while recording, and we try not to be too precious about stuff.
PopMatters: You’re identified as a Brooklyn band, yet two of the most striking songs on the album — “Marine Layer” and “Hi Desert” — are distinctly southern Californian in their imagery, so much so that you come off like locals. How did those particular tracks come to be and how did they fit into the themes of the album?
Chris Diken: Lindsay used to live in Los Angeles, so she was at one point a local. She keeps claiming that she’s not going to write any more songs about California, but California keeps being interesting. No doubt we’ll have a song about the state once it snaps off the West Coast and becomes an island populated solely by very chill, very tan skateboarders.
PopMatters: You not only release your own music, but also run your own label, Uninhabitable Mansions. Have you always planned to do things this way? And can you imagine ever signing to another label under any circumstances? There must be something both liberating and stressful about controlling your own professional destiny and artistic means of production.
Chris Diken: Uninhabitable Mansions started as an art collective, so we didn’t think about releasing records initially. It’s more that music is a type of art, so it fits under the UMbrella. We can imagine signing to another label if the label will let us do everything we want, and also get us on Sesame Street to teach children the difference between soft and LOUD. We’ve always felt pretty unconstrained, and we’ve done a few releases now — for other bands as well — so hopefully it’s more liberating than stressful at this point. Also, it should be stated that we don’t run the label for a living. It’s just a money-intensive hobby, sort of like downhill skiing.
PopMatters: Putting on your hat as a label honcho, do the interests of Radical Dads and Uninhabitable Mansions always coincide, or are there any cases when unforeseen tensions between being a businessman and being in a band can arise? Do you feel that you have to treat Radical Dads the same way you do your other acts?
Chris Diken: One time Uninhabitable Mansions tried to convince us to change our look and appear as early twentysomethings with wispy mustaches and similarly wispy responsibilities. We promptly began acting more mature; two of us even joined the U.N. Security Council. Also, Radical Dads gets preferential treatment AND special dispensation, depending on the circumstances.
PopMatters: With your album released right on the cusp of summer tour season, what do you have planned for the next few months? Are there any particular dates on your itinerary that you are looking forward to especially?
Chris Diken: In the span of less than two months, we’ll be playing L.A., Tokyo, and Cleveland. All of those places have their distinct allure, but also one thing in common: amazing transportation culture. We can’t wait to ride the bullet train through downtown Cleveland.