Interview: The Rad Trads

After a great stop in town on their last tour, Brooklyn’s Rad Trads are on the road again. The band will return to Brothers Drake on Tuesday, April 1st, at 9pm for a free show! I recently exchanged emails with trombonist “Tall” Sam Crittenden, who was kind enough to assemble some detailed responses to my questions in the midst of NYC shows and tour preparation:

JazzColumbus (JC): I believe your upcoming show here is your 3rd in Columbus. Have you enjoyed your previous stops in town? Any thoughts on Columbus as a city?

The Rad Trads (RT): Unfortunately, both times times we’ve come to Columbus, we’ve spent the entire day traversing the wilderness of Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. So the extent of our Columbus experience has really been confined to Brothers Drake and the greater Brothers Drake area.

That said, both of our shows in Columbus have been a blast. Brothers Drake is the perfect balance of spaciousness versus intimacy in a venue (plus, the mead…). More importantly, we LOVE playing for the people of Columbus. At our December show, someone used the giant fogged up windows as a canvas to inscribe “The Rad Trads” on the walls of Brothers Drake. Aside from keeping our egos healthy enough that we don’t have to call our parents more than once every few weeks for validation, feeling that love made performing that much more fun (and easier). It’s really special to play for a group of people who are not only interested in what we have to say musically, but also in the spirit of our shows. We try to toe the line somewhere between tasteful debauchery and “Patrick, where’s your shirt?”. And when the audience is willing to toe that line with us, it makes the show that much more fun for everyone.

We also want to throw a quick shout out to the Dan White Sextet, a group of Columbus guys who we connected with at our last show, and are now thrilled to welcome to NYC! AND we want to send a very special THANK YOU to April Kulcsar who, aside from being a generally wonderful person, has been overwhelmingly helpful and supportive of The Rad Trads every time we’ve come through Columbus.

We should note: This time, we only have to drive down from Michigan, so we’ll have almost an entire day to hang out in Columbus. If anyone has any suggestions for how we should spend our time, feel free to tweet us (@theradtrads) or send us a message on Facebook!

JC: The band formed two years ago at NYU. Are you all from NYC, or are your origins more spread out? Have your hometown(s) influenced your approach to music?

RT: While we all met and live in NYC, the guys in the band are actually from all over the U.S. (Los Angeles, Portland, Chicago, Detroit, Washington DC, and Maine) and each person’s hometown scene definitely shines through in their playing.

So much of music is about taking your experiences, opinions, emotions, and harnessing them into a conversation with the people around you. Similar to conversing with a group, the degree to which this is successful depends on how well the musicians interact with each other. This band is special for all of us, both musically and personally, because everyone is willing to commit 100% of who they are every night. It doesn’t matter whether we’re playing, someone else in the band is playing, or we’ve left the stage to get a drink from the bar, we’re always listening to each other, yelling to one another, sharing in what each one of us has to say. A fan recently told us after a gig: “Watching you guys is like watching a group of friends fall in love with each other every time you play”. We really cherish being able to bring that sense of community to the stage, and we feel it’s one of the things that makes this band really special.

There’s a great interview with Lester Bangs on youtube where, among many other things, he touches on what he felt was the death of rock concerts in the 70’s. In his eyes, as bands got bigger and bigger they became more and more isolated and disinterested in their audiences. The worst thing you can do, both as a matter of staying sane, as well as continuing to put on a great show, is take for granted your bandmates and the people you play for. For us, the best way to prevent this is by treating every show as an opportunity to connect with each other, and the people around us, in a way we previously haven’t.

JC: You guys seem to go on tour often. Do you have any favorite cities/venues to play in? Any favorite foods you’ve eaten on the road?

RT: You know, we’ve said this before, but we really are so lucky to play together, and tour, as often as we do. What could be better, as 23 year olds, than get paid to road trip with your best friends, and not only do what you love to do, but share that with people from all over?

Honestly though, we’re mostly in it for the food and drink.

When we hit Chicago, we make sure to load up on deep dish pizza, even if it means the band is going to look and sound like a giant pizza puff for the first hour of our show (with several of us being from the area, we’re also partial to the hot dogs). Finishing a show in Detroit is always an opportunity to hit as many Coney Island restaurants as possible before they close for the night. And for this tour, we’ve given ourselves at least 12 hours to drive from Oberlin, OH to Blacksburg, VA to make sure we can stop at Waffle House as many times as necessary.

More importantly, each city gives us an opportunity to imbibe local libations wherever we travel. Everyone in the band regrets not getting a picture of Jared’s face after his first (and probably only) shot of Malort in Chicago (an experience akin to drinking molten steel).

Musically, it’s really special playing at Andy’s in Chicago and Cliff Bell’s in Detroit, venues and cities that are so rich with musical tradition and memories. But some of our favorite shows have also come when we least expected it, at small venues with vibrant crowds. A show is so much more special if we can feel a real connection with the audience (it’s one of the reasons we love playing in Columbus), that often times, it doesn’t matter what or where the venue is.

JC: I understand you’re preparing to tour Europe this summer. How did that come together? Anything particular you are looking forward to while abroad?

RT: The Europe tour, and how it has come about, is a perfect reflection of how this band has continued to evolve since it all started: Someone gets an idea (i.e. play music with your best friends, make some money while your at it, have an incredible experience in Europe, etc.), and this band provides the mechanism to achieve that goal. This is also where we get to give a HUGE shout out to one of our trumpet players, Michael Fatum, who has been the ring leader for putting all the touring together, particularly the trip to Europe.

Planning the Europe trip has been an awesome experience for us because we’re building something completely from the ground up. We aren’t signed or managed, which means we coordinate everything (from how we’re getting to our shows, to making sure we aren’t sleeping in a park in London) ourselves. So it’s been a great lesson in the logistics of touring, as well as learning our capacity to do this on our own (which is remarkable for a group of guys who often struggle with things like wearing matching socks.)

One of the advantages we DO have is that many of the guys have very close friendships all over Europe, formed through different music situations over the years. We are definitely going to rely heavily on the goodwill of some of these people, and are very lucky to have those relationships abroad.

JC: I also hear you are working on releasing your first EP. How is that going?

RT: It’s been an important part of transitioning from a live act, to something that people might want to bring into their homes in the form of a record. Initially, boiling down all our influences into something cohesive and unique seemed daunting. But throughout the writing process, we’ve come to realize that the best thing to do is simply focus on what we love about our sound, and about our collective influences, and just go for it. Right now, it’s shaping up to be a really fun, soulful EP that a lot of different types of music fans would enjoy listening to. Ideally, it should be out sometime in June, and we’ll definitely have it with us in Europe in July.

JC: The band’s repertoire is vast, so I assume you listen to a great deal of music. Anything interesting that the band is listening to lately? Are there any artists/albums that are Rad Trad tour favorites and/or that keep you moving to the next show?

RT: This group of guys has a huge listening spectrum, and everyone loves sharing and learning about each others’ tastes. We just learned a bunch of new tunes for Mardi Gras week, so recently we’ve actually been going back and listening to a lot of really early, classic jazz (Louis is, and always will be, a favorite). At the same time, we’ve also begun to explore the power of a four horn front line combined with a plugged in rhythm section, and we’ve been checking out a lot of soul music as well–from the classics like Bobby Bland and James Brown, to more recently discovered artists like Charles Bradley and James Hunter.

One of the best parts about touring in a giant black van (aside from the Taco Bell and Madden ’09 tournaments on PS2), is that it allows us share our current favorites with everyone else. This admittedly leads to some pretty bizarre van playlists (last tour we once transitioned from Captain Beefheart into a brief Top 40 stint), but with an 8 piece band, there’s a lot of listening ground to cover!

Part of the core belief of The Rad Trads is that there is some common denominator that runs through all American “popular” music from the 20th century, from early jazz through blues, rock and roll, soul, hip hop, and even much of the contemporary Brooklyn independent scene of the present day. With that in mind, we really like dabbling into different kinds of music, and it has the added benefit of allowing us to connect with a larger swath of music listeners.

JC: Anything else you’d like to add for those thinking about your show on April 1st?

RT: The band is already excited for this show! You guys are going to catch us at a great part of the tour – we’ll have been on the road long enough that we’ll be warmed up, but short enough that you won’t be able to smell the inside of the van from two blocks away. This show is also going to be extra fun because the twins of the band (John and Michael Fatum) are going to be celebrating their birthdays at midnight! We can’t think of a better way to spend a Tuesday night than with great friends, great music, and great MEAD!

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