Those with a fondness for smart, energetic pop songs would do well to check out the music made by Radiator Hospital. Last year’s Something Wild was one of my favorite albums of the year, and they’re equally at home in the live setting. Since then, Radiator Hospital has released the more stripped-down Mall of America; Total Request, a split with Kyle Kaos, is Radiator Hospital’s latest. I checked in with Sam Cook-Parrott via email to discuss arrangements, music distribution, and his power pop roots.
You’ve written about Radiator Hospital being “a collection of songs” rather than being tied to any one lineup. Do you find yourself writing songs that aren’t necessarily Radiator Hospital songs? And does that mean that, in theory, there could be a Radiator Hospital tour with someone else playing and singing these songs?
I don’t really write songs that aren’t Radiator Hospital songs, but that’s mostly because I’ve built RH into a thing that is basically whatever I want it to be. I don’t feel obligated to do any one specific type of song as Radiator Hospital. Or like have all these songs that don’t fit into RH, it all fits because it’s all my songs. I love the idea of a tour of a bunch of people playing these songs without me mostly because that would be cool to see, but I feel more like what that means is, I can perform the songs any way I see fit. What is sometimes a fast loud punk song can also be a very intimate stripped down song. I don’t like playing things the same way twice.
How did the Total Request split come about?
Me and my friend Kyle were talking and had the idea that it would be really fun to give each other a bunch of song titles and then write songs to the titles. Kyle is one of my favorite songwriters, has a real knack for doing 70’s/80’s style power pop/new wave in a way that still feels sincere. He totally nailed the titles I gave him, I knew he would. I feel like I came up with some neat tunes to fit my titles.
Do you feel that having Bandcamp and cassettes and CD-Rs as viable ways to release music allows you more creative freedom?
Sure definitely. I mean, I always have complete creative freedom to do whatever I want, I don’t have any sort of record deal or anything that would prohibit me from doing something. Bandcamp is cool because it sort of changes what people think a record is. Like for instance I put out the split with Kyle Kaos a couple weeks ago, linked to where you can buy the tape, but once I posted the link online a bunch more people noticed than before, as if it wasn’t “really” out until it was online, and really it’s the opposite. I like putting up weird stuff on bandcamp and I like the immediacy of it. I can write and record a song and have people listening to it across the planet moments later, it’s pretty bizarre.
Do you approach something like Something Wild differently than, say, Mall of America?
Yes definitely. There’s a lot more involved in doing a record with a band. Something like Mall Of America I can do at my own pace and get it done however I want. Also in that instance, no one else touches it, like I made that whole record without anyone else playing on it or recording it or anything. Something Wild has some of that but is mostly a band affair, recorded by someone else outside of the band so there’s a lot more people involved, teaching the songs to the band, them writing parts for it, coordinating when we can record. It’s more involved. The band songs on Something Wild, a lot of them we had been working on as a band for a while. So it’s a much different feel.
One of the things I enjoyed most about Something Wild was the way the studio was used for some of the songs — “Cryin’ Kind” in particular. Do you have plans to go further in this direction?
I like how “Cryin’ Kind” turned out, I’m always into doing weird recording stuff. The song with the most “studio trickery” in it on that record is “Down Again” that is like a weird Frankenstein song that we messed around with a bunch. I love doing stuff like that, stuff that is exclusive to a record and kind of can’t be duplicated live. At the same time “Cryin’ Kind” is pretty effective live done differently, it all comes back to them just being songs with a million ways to play them.
On your site, around the time of Something Wild‘s release, you talked about the power pop you’d been listening to. What was your first introduction to these bands?
I’m not totally sure, probably through my dad. He is a huge record collector, sort of a musical encyclopedia, and I sort of devoured a lot of his record collection in my early teens. Then I just started branching out and discovering what I was really into and finding my taste on my own at record shows, garage sales, flea markets and record stores.
What does 2014 hold for Radiator Hospital?
A whole lot! We have a couple different tours in the works currently with plans for more stuff later on this year. I just put out that split with Kyle and Mall Of America just came out on cassette through Double Double Whammy and will be on vinyl soon through Forward Records. We are working on songs for a new LP that we are recording in the spring and will be out before the year is through. Just doing a bunch of shit because YOLO and why not.
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