On December 3rd, I interviewed Randy Bemrose, the drummer from independent, Portland-based group, Radiation City.
I originally learned about the band from a showcase at the Brooklyn pub, Spike Hill back in October. I had briefly talked with front man, Cameron Spies and keyboardist, Patti King, right before they took the stage. Naturally, I wanted to continue my conversation with Radiation City, so I invited them to be an interview feature for the month of December right here on Music Historian’s Hear; Don’t Listen.
In my conversation with Randy, I learned about Radiation City’s song writing process and their experience releasing the album, The Hands That Take You.
“What you hear on the record is often a first or second take”
“I would say the making The Hands that Take You was fast and loose,” explains Randy. “The sound was literally the result of emotional release.”
“Park,” a song off their debut album, is what Randy describes “a cathartic song about the budding relationship between Cameron and Lizzy (one of the keyboardists and singers). There’s this palpable excitement, a great deal of doubt and about a thousand miles between the two of them.
“I think we all appreciate the catharsis while being careful to not wear our hearts on our sleeves.”
As the conversation continued, I also learned about how Randy’s musicianship and skills are always tested during recording sessions. He explains:
“We don’t take too much time to over think our music; our last album was truly a collaborative effort. On a number of the songs from this album where I played the drums, I had never heard the tunes before we started tracking. So what you hear on the record is often a first or second take. It was certainly a learning experience for me.”
Further in the interview, I became curious about the typical composition process behind every Radiation City song.
“We start with what we call the Nut – the basic idea for the song where one of us, or sometimes, Cameron and Lizzy collaboratively create. We then cut some sort of demo and play it as a group and start wood-shedding from there.
“Sometimes that demo will become the foundation for the framework of a song, or sometimes we’ll have a particular sound quality that requires starting over from scratch.
“From here, the recording and writing processes intertwine, and we basically flesh it out as we go. This is when the part of “fast and loose” come in” – the time of emotional release.”
As Radiation City worked to release The Hands that Take You, Randy claims time was the greatest obstacle.
“It didn’t leave us time to half-step or second guess”
“We had the release show booked before we had even started recording the second half. In hindsight, this was a blessing and a curse.
“On one hand, it forced us to keep our noses at the grindstone and didn’t allow us the time to half step or second guess. On the other hand, we were incredibly stressed out about it – we were cutting things way too close for comfort, not to mention prudence in some respects. Creatively, we were pretty confident about it, but a lot of the business involved with releasing the album was truncated.”
The expedited effort was definitely worthwhile. The Hands That Take You was released on a national-level with the help of the record label, Tender Loving Empire.
“It was great, having their assistance in getting the record out there as opposed to pushing it ourselves and waiting to shop for the next label,” stated Randy. “They are hard workers and salt-of-the-earth kind of people – sweet as peach pie.”
This accomplishment might have helped Randy decide that he had found the right group – the one he hopes to stay with “forever.”
Coming together from different backgrounds
Before Radiation City, Randy spent 10 years being part of at least a dozen bands. He also lived in New Orleans for some time, drumming in NOLA groups Jean-Eric and The Bellys.
At the time Randy was living in New Orleans; Cameron was in San Francisco, playing in a group called Raised by Robots, as well as another group, Spesus Christ. It was here Cameron met Lizzie; and the two started collaborating shortly afterward.
Meanwhile, the bass player, Matt, was playing in The Shotgun, The Intelligence, and a few other groups from the Northwest; and Patti was completing her performance studies at Truman State College in Missouri.
While they all come from different performance backgrounds, Randy, Cameron, Lizzie, Matt and Patti are all true musicians that have a natural ability to collaborate and create some of today’s most notable progressive rock music.
“We take our art seriously. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
In addition to finishing their latest west coast tour, Radiation City just released a remix by PoPoPePe of their third single off The Hands That Take You, “Babies.” They are also scheduled to play a New Years Eve Show in Portland with Nurses, Wild Ones and DJ Beyonda.
Randy also talked about Radiation City’s riveting plans for 2012. They include:
“A video for “The Color of Industry”; a spring single release for South by South West; a summer album, and a ton of touring.”
At the end of our conversation, I thanked Randy for his time and expressed how I appreciate when musicians are honest about their work. He replied, “Of course. Interviews where people are just whistling Dixie don’t thrill me much…unless it’s the classical quick wit of John Lennon, or something.
“Anyways, we’re not super serious people, but we do take our art seriously. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”