Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mini-Interview: Radars to the Sky

It’s hard to write any way but in the most straight-forward fashion about how much I like LA indie rock outfit Radars To The Sky: I enjoy every song on their EP and never get tired of seeing them play live. It’s that simple.

So, without any further preamble, here’s an interview with Lead Andrew Spitser.

Hey, Andrew. How’s life? I understand you’ve got another band member coming on the way any day now.

Yep, Kate [my wife and our keyboard player/ other singer] was originally due this Saturday, about the time we were both on stage at The Troubadour. Little Maya is going to get very tired of hearing that story when she's older, I fear! But, yeah, I've been trying to figure out if a guitar would be an appropriate present for a newborn....

How are things going for the band?

Frankly, we're a bit bewildered. We spent last year just kind of incubating-- practicing and recording an EP -- then started playing shows this past December. Never in our imagination did we think that by this summer we'd be playing The Troubadour, The Echo, The Silver Lake Lounge, and Spaceland; not to mention getting to share the stage with such great bands.

We've been so grateful for all of the positive feedback and enthusiasm. And we feel like we've really grown together musically. Like a lot of new bands, we started off with me bringing songs to the band almost fully formed. But it's increasingly become a more organic and collaborative process as we've worked on new songs. I think that's a big reason why we've been getting better and better.

How did you first start up?

I'd played in bands before but stopped when I went to law school. But I'd just gotten a hold of some home recording gear and just couldn't kick the music habit (at the expense of some of my reading, I'm afraid!). Luckily, at about that time I met Kenny, our drummer, who was my classmate, and he was having similar music withdrawals, so when we finished our first year we started playing.

I think we were both surprised at how much fun it was. So we recruited Martin, who I've played music with for about ten years, to play bass; had Kate start playing keyboards and singing with us; and were lucky enough to find Seamus to play guitar. By then it was sort of out of our hands- we were a band.

What are the backgrounds for everyone in the group? What bands were they in before?

Kenny's played in a couple of different projects around town, including a band called Elephonic that did really interesting down-tempo electronic stuff with live drums. Kate's a classically trained piano player. Seamus played drums and guitar in a few bands in Houston before moving out here. Martin was the bass player and then the drummer in our old band, avelar. He's also the drummer in a really cool band called Maxwell Demon.

I know you’ve mentioned before that seeing The Archers of Loaf live for the first time was an epiphany for you. What other bands inspired you and the others?

Yeah, growing up I was a Smiths/Cure kind of kid. When I got to college, I met these guys that were into Pavement and Sonic Youth and The Pixies, etc. Really blew my mind.

But the real moment was seeing Archers of Loaf - to realize that music could be so big and momentous and intricate and creative and raw and powerful and, well, rocking, without resorting to any of the cliches or lazy songwriting of metal or grunge that was dominant at the time was really a revelation. A little after that, I saw a video of Built to Spill. That was another, um, "moment of clarity."

At the same time, I grew up in a house that listened to folk music - I think I was the only guy under 30 who choked up when he heard John Denver had died! So what bands like M. Ward, Bright Eyes, Pedro the Lion, Death Cab and Pinback to some extent, and Wilco have been able to do with the genre has really impressed me.

As for the others, we gain, I think, from having somewhat disparate tastes. Kenny, at his heart, is kind of a prog rock guy really. Seamus grew up more into the punk and gothic side of things; Martin's other band is much more punky and grungy; and Kate studied Chopin and Bach, yet also idolizes Kim Deal. I think it's a strength that, while we all know and like the same core music, they're not all kneeling at the same Isaac Brock/Doug Martsch altar that I do when we write.

How would you describe your music, if pressed to?

Well, probably a combination of the influences we have: a good part "throwback-indie rock" (if I can coin a genre) -- jangly, noodly, multiple-part guitar-based rock; with an emphasis on melody; plus a dash of more straight-ahead, more danceable rock; and a pinch of folk influence; with lyrics that try their best to say something interesting in a poetic way.

So, you’ve known Mikel from The Airborne Toxic Event for a long time, eh?

Mikel and I were the two kids in Junior High with the least trendy clothes and the only two who didn't really get why everyone was so into Guns 'n' Roses -- a natural friendship! We learned to play guitar at the same time. At least as for me, I've always been inspired by his songwriting talent and probably prodded by that to improve myself.

What's your name from? (Not Andrew. You know, the band name.)

A lot of our songs are about what happens after death and wondering about other life out there, questioning the ideas of faith and belief and the old "what are we doing here" thing (sometimes prompted by having a baby, probably). So we all felt that Radars to the Sky -- the whole idea of searching and looking outward/ looking for meaning-- was really powerful.

I thought the book Contact by Carl Sagan was mind-blowing in the way that it played with the ideas of science as faith and with the uncertainty of our place in the universe. For someone trained as a scientist, it's some astonishingly perceptive philosophy and damn good prose. So it's from there that the image of the radar looking upwards was inspired.

Do you have any special message for young people? (I hear this often question asked to music groups in Japan, for some reason.)

That's funny. We recently did a show for a career day at a school where my friend's the principal. We were trying to stress that it really is possible, if not preferable, to play music and also get an education and career options, etc. But they just wanted to know what we thought of Slipknot....

What’s next for Radars? A new EP, touring, residency, video, etcetera?

We've got a couple of shows we're really excited about -- an acoustic show at our friends Thailand's residency in a couple of weeks and then a Saturday night at The Echo that we got to book (so the other bands are all great!).

Then we're going to take off more than a month to take the bar exam, clean diapers, and bang out an EP by August. By this fall we're planning to head out of town here and there to play some shows in some other places, and are very much hoping to play a residency.

Last question: What LA acts are you liking the most right now?

We've gotten to play with such amazing bands lately -- from Death to Anders to The Happy Hollows to The Airborne Toxic Event (and no, not just because...) to Thailand. Plus, we can't wait to play with Molecules, The Henry Clay People, and Tigers Can Bite You. I was so impressed by Rademacher and The Switch at the last Let's Independent!.

Kissing Tigers, Division Day, The Western States Motel, and The Deadly Syndrome all have myspace pages I've abused in the last few months. And I'm a sucker for the Maxwell Demon. As you've written, there is a tremendous amount of good music to see in this town these days.

That’s it. Thanks for your time, Andrew!

If I can just add a quick semi-public thank you to Regina who has filled in on keyboards for us the last few months. We really appreciated all of her hard work, and it was fun having her on the team.

Anyhow, thanks a lot, Joe!

Radars to the Sky play on Monday, June 25th at The Silver Lake Lounge and Sat, June 30th at The Echo.

- Long Walk Home MP3
- Wave Goodbye To The Sun MP3
- Rude Surprise MP3


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