Swinging Otherworldly Places: A Conversation with Radiation City

by Dany Recio

Radiation City

Following the release of Radiation City’s third LP Synesthetica, the band has embarked on a cross country tour. I had the chance to speak with Cameron Spies, guitarist and vocalist, on the phone about the new album, the new members, and what they’ve planned on bringing to their live shows on this run. Note: I’ve edited the transcript of our interview for clarity and length.

Dany Recio for Ovrld: How are you doing?

Cameron Spies for Radiation City: Good man, just started the tour but feeling pretty good.

Ovrld: I know it’s just kicked off so you’re only a few days in but I understand it can get pretty grueling after a couple weeks.

CS: Oh yeah, especially when you’re the furthest away from home.

Ovrld: Yeah, there’s definitely a point where going back just seems like it’s just too far to go.

CS: But it’s worth every penny of it.

Ovrld: I just got a couple of questions for you, so you’ve had some lineup changes over the last couple of years, how has that changed your live sound? You’re down to four members now?

CS: Yeah, we have a fifth member for the tour. It’s been interesting. We’ve been playing together for so long that I feel like we’re pretty good at adapting and just kind of knowing the songs. It’s kind of second nature. The most recent change is we’ve brought in a new drummer and he’s had to learn all the songs which can be an arduous task, I think for him and also preparing him for that, and an organizational nightmare to some degree but it worked out really well actually he learned everything really quickly.

Ovrld: Have you played with him before?

CS: Funny you should ask. We played with him in a side project called, Pearles. He was great to work with there so we kind of shifted some stuff around Chris… our usual drummer moved over to bass because he’s a multi-instrumentalist and that ended up being the solution to trying to find a bass player.

Ovrld: How many multi instrumentalists do you have? I understand you’re all pretty versatile.

CS: Yeah, pretty much all of us are to some degree. Like Lizzy, for instance, plays keyboards and sings, but she also is a pretty good bass player and so she plays some bass on the records. Abby plays everything under the sun and Randy plays guitar, bass, drums. I play bass and guitar, and I play some keyboard and stuff on the record. So yeah, that’s part of recording for us, is that we don’t record like a typical band, whoever has an idea jumps on an instrument and has a go at it.


Ovrld: So I guess the part of the album that says who plays what is irrelevant for you guys?

CS: [laughs] Yeah, on the last record we kind of tried to specify that a little bit more but it was such a pain that we didn’t even try this time, I think we just called out what people mostly played.

Ovrld: How long ago was it that you started working on this album officially?

CR: That’s kind of interesting question that’s a little bit fluid because one song in particular is a pretty old song for us, maybe four years old, and we were trying to maybe put it on the last record but it wasn’t quite right yet. So we put it on the backburner, so that one is fairly old but sessions for these demos we started the summer of 2013. After Animals in the Median came out we started working on songs together and then we didn’t go in to record them until 2014. Wow, crazy. But then we got back from the studio and ended up reworking some stuff and finally finished the record in the middle of 2015. It’s a long process and we usually don’t take that long with records, usually for better or worse we are almost too fast.  We’ve learned to become a little more patient sometimes.

Ovrld: What changed from the last record to this record, or what were you doing differently that made you need to work on it that much longer?

CS: It was kind of just a string of circumstances that led to it. It wasn’t necessarily us wanting to be more careful with the record. If anything, it was kind tough to do that cause of how familiar we are with working quickly. So you’re laboring stuff for so long that by the end of it I couldn’t hear it for what it was, I don’t think Lizzy did. I don’t think we liked it very much but we’re like, “well, this is what we got.” So we’ve come back to that point, I haven’t listened to it in several months and I listened to it again the other night and I liked it again, so that was nice again.

Ovrld: I guess going over songs so many times you wear yourself out even on your own written material.

CS: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Even with stuff I really like, other people’s stuff, I generally don’t listen to any given album more than a few dozen times in a certain span. So when you think about listening to your own stuff hundreds of times within weeks or months, it’s like any record no matter how good it is, it’s going get old and it’s also your own stuff so your just racked with all sorts of emotional baggage. [laughs] I guess that’s the sort of the ‘cross to bear’ part of it.

Ovrld: I liked the title, and the sort of meaning behind the title Synesthetica. How far along were you in writing the record did that word come into play as an album title, idea, or concept? 

CS: It was pretty late in the game, honestly. That’s usually how we operate. We work on a body of songs and once they start to sort of coalesce then we start to get an idea of the bigger picture that’s when we try to put a name on it. Sometimes we have ideas floating around and they come in a little earlier in the process and it’s kind of already a saying that maybe applies to the body of work. But with this one I think it was pretty late once we could kind of sit back and look at the more complete idea was when we started trying to come up with a title for it. And a big part of that is Lizzy’s experience with synesthesia. There’s also an element that we really don’t talk about, the record Exotica, that’s a Martin Denny record from the 50’s maybe early 60’s. We kind of liked that aesthetic where you take a word and sort of create this genre around it, just sort of that aesthetic sensibility of kind of making this swinging-other-worldly place out of a word that’s familiar.


Ovrld: It definitely suits the sound, the sort of doo-wop feel that some of your music tends to carry. It’s really interesting that you’d mention that record. Do you listen to a lot of older music?

CS: Yeah, and we do in fact jam around town occasionally. We have combined amongst us a collection of old lounge records, 60’s orchestral stuff, and soul. That’s a big influence for us, we like DJ’ing because we get to sort of get back in touch with those records and we play them at home but we get to know them a little more.

Ovrld: I’ve been listening to the new record and really enjoying it. I’ll be seeing you for the first time here in Austin. Having listened to earlier records how much of that can I or any audience member be prepared to hear?

CS: Cool. I’m actually curious as a first time listener what would be your ideal?

Ovrld: For the show?

CS: Yeah, would you want an even cross section of the catalog or would you want more new stuff?

Ovrld: I would say 75% new and 25% old. There are just a handful of songs that I’d really appreciate hearing live, since it will be my first time seeing you guys. But I can understand that you’ve been playing some those songs for years now and with a new record and all these fresh songs, sometimes songs on new records don’t even get to get played live so I’d like to hear most of the record live at least for this one run.

CS: Cool, that’s good to know. At this point we’re playing about 50/50 but I’m trying to the pressure on them. [laughs] 50% new record and 50% all the old stuff.

Ovrld: Are you ever apprehensive when throw out an idea like that because some songs those haven’t quite been rehearsed maybe?

CS: There are a couple that we didn’t even prepare for the tour just because we didn’t have time and we were working with a new member. But I think we’re pretty comfortable with what we’ve prepared and there’s always going to be working out kinks the first few shows. I kind of feel bad for the first few shows because they get to see us working out the kinks instead of us just being machines like we will be by the end of tour. Which also feels great but at first you’re worried about making all these mistakes then you wear that a little bit on your sleeve but by the end of tour your like, ‘I can do this in my sleep’! [laughs]

Radiation City play tomorrow, February 25th, at Sidewinder with Deep Sea Diver

Dany Recio looks like he’d vote for Bernie Sanders but wouldn’t gentrify an entire neighborhood. He’s about as opinionated as your grandfather but never fought a war. Words that have been used to describe him are: young, wears glasses, lost (while not wearing glasses), and hopeful. A couple nights a week he tries to make everyone in Austin like him, one person at a time. (It’s going okay) If you feel like engaging in appropriated rap battles or a couple of twitter feuds you can google him, if you’re into it:  @saidthedanny