The Radio Dept. have been active since 1995 and in that time have released two albums, countless EPs, gone through numerous lineup changes and experienced a roller coaster of hype due to their inclusion on the soundtrack of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. Their new found fame was not met with outrageous antics or even touring, but with a prolific amount of recordings and one of the most buzzed about albums of 2009, the upcoming Clinging to a Scheme. I got a rare interview with the band and we spoke about their influences, production practices, and their political views which are coming into the lyrical forefront.
Louis: The band has been getting international attention ever since three of your songs were included on the Marie Antoinette soundtrack. The relationship between your songs and film seemed quite fitting. A nod to the past, in your case 80’s pop electro, and bright-eyed melancholy, in the form of lyrics, that is apart of every adolescent’s life. Tell me who are your major influences and describe to me how they manifest in your songwriting.
Johan Duncanson: There’s an unofficial webpage on the band, theradiodept.com, where whoever runs it has published a list of bands under the headline “influences”. This list is from a Radio Dept. interview or something, it’s four or five years old and consists of a number of bands and artists we were into then. Some of them we still love but I have a hard time accepting the way of approaching influences as something static. Something that’s there from the start and something that doesn’t change. Influences should come and go, leave room for new influences and new ways of looking at stuff you thought you knew or loved or hated. And not in a go-with-the-flow kind of way, but ideally in the opposite direction. Of course there are bands we keep returning to like Stereolab, Pet Shop Boys, Sonic Youth, the KLF, the Velvet Underground and so on because they’re conceptual, pretentious and arty. The best high quality inspiration however comes from unexpected sources, music you stumble upon, a record someone plays you at a party or from films or art. When you least expect it that’s when it’ll come to you. I can’t just put on an album like Daydream Nation, a record I almost know by heart, and expect to be inspired to write and record something. I don’t even wish it was that easy
Louis: The attention has also shifted to your musical production practices with a majority of your compositions being recorded by the band with no artistic input by outsiders. Some would call this punk while others would call it indie. Tell me, how would you label your recording practice and why would the band as a whole do double duty as musician and producer? Wouldn’t it be more time efficient and helpful to the work with a producer not only to help with the technical aspect with the creative as well?
Johan: We need to do everything ourselves. The music, the production and the record covers and t-shirts and all that, we really need and want to do it ourselves. We have to be in control, or we don’t work. Punk is a flattering description in a way, depending on your politics, and the same goes for indie I guess but above all it is absolutely necessary. It’s just the way it has to be or there couldn’t be a Radio Dept.. I have no problems passing on stuff like booking shows, making phonecalls, sending records to print, etc. to others, but when it comes to the music and the artwork, it’s impossible. The production, the way a band sounds on record has all to do with their identity, it’s like with stylists and clothes in a way. No bands should be allowed producers. A producer is like a stylist and if you can’t dress yourself the world has a right to know. I’m not saying I don’t like any bands that dress poorly, sometimes that’s the most brilliant thing, I would just like a little honesty. I want to see less people compromising, working together, having a good time. That’s why Ariel Pink was such a wonderful discovery a couple of years ago. He has an obvious sense for beauty and the recordings are very DIY, very uncompromising and sometimes very funny. Unfortunately you can still get people saying things like “it’s good but I wish he would have recorded the albums in a proper studio with a real producer” without realizing that he’s one of the few great producers of our time.
Louis: Your current single ‘Freddie and the Trojan Horse’ has been getting a lot of music bloggers excited about the new sound. It seems the production is heading in a new direction. It’s still very much the Radio Dept., but heroic notes are being plucked in a neon blue atmosphere all the while being kept on course with a steady, dare I say, Swedish beat, but the most notable change comes in the lyrical content. Fredrik Reinfeldt has taken power in Sweden and is becoming famous for his intent to reform the Sweden’s welfare system. How did this song come about?
Johan: I had been angry since long before the Swedish election about the biggest right wing party in Sweden trying to score votes by calling themselves a workers’ party. A lot of people went for it unfortunately and suddenly we had a new government that, in my opinion, was elected under false pretense. That’s what the title of the song implies. The Radio Dept. has always claimed to be a political band but we’ve had very little to show for it so when I had the title I just had to do the rest. I’m very fond of a lot of the British anti-Thatcher pop of the ’80s like Style Council, McCarthy and Billy Bragg. In a way, ‘Freddie’ is a reference to all that, but ultimately I just thought someone should say something about this in a less cliche way than by just shouting random socialist one liners over rock riffs.
Louis: Daniel or Martin, do you share the same feelings as Johan about your countries prime minister?
Daniel Tjäder: I guess the Prime Minister is only a symbol for something bigger and much more serious: a triangulation of politics and rhetoric that used to belong to Swedish social democrats and the left-wing. Mr Reinfeldt might come across as sympathetic and humble in the media but in reality he speaks with two tongues. The right-wing is simply extending labour to entail poorly-paid, precarious work, and also emphasizing the rift between those who work and those that don’t, those who contribute and the free-riders. This is a simple, dichotomizing yet devilish scheme. Of course the crisis changes this a bit, with more and more people out of work. However the left will still have to come up with new visions, a revised politics that takes into account the new dominant system of economic production – post-Fordism and a knowledge-based economy, something they have failed to do since the collapse of the communist states in 1989. This also means attracting two emerging classes both the knowledge workers (cognitariate) and those with insecure employment terms, the precariate. Anyway, we have faith in the left, and I think the lyrics and the song points to these issues in a very elegant and satirical way.
Louis: Finally, what can the world expect from Clinging to a Scheme? Will there a be a continuation of political lyrics?
Johan: Well, there are political lyrics on the album but it’s not an over all theme. I feel like I’m spoiling the album though by talking about it before anyone has heard it so I’d prefer not to. It’s a good, strange, arty pop album.
Louis: Will the Americas be on your tour dates?
Johan: The Americas will hopefully be on our tour dates sometime this fall. We’re playing twice in New York in May but those are the only shows we have booked all spring. The album is almost finished but we won’t be making tour plans until it’s done.
Tags: The Radio Dept.