Interview: Simple Radicals
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What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
As soon as I first heard the power chords of AC/DC and UFO I knew I wanted to play music. I was just blown away by the simplicity and complexity of their music and how it brought me to another world. I actually started out as a drummer and played in several cover bands before moving to guitar. If I didn’t have music I’d probably be selling hats with Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap.
What do you like to do when you’re not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I live for the outdoors…especially the mountains. Hiking, kayaking, running. And even just staring at the mountains. There’s something about the body in motion that helps stimulate my creative juices.
How long has your band been around?
The Simple Radicals officially formed about two years ago when I reconnected with my lead guitarist John Griffin. John and I are the nucleus of the band and control the direction and overall vibe. We were working with different drummers and bass players through the recording of our album “New Revolution” but now are playing with two exceptional musicians – Griff Johnson on drums and James Page on bass.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
We’re based out of Chicago and so blessed to live in such a rich and vibrant city with so many amazing local bands and venues and clubs that you can go to virtually every night to see live music. Rock, blues, reggae, etc. It’s such a versatile music scene filled with amazing musicians. Chicago produced rock icons like Eddie Vedder, Billy Corgan and blues legends such as Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. So we love being in such great company!
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
The Simple Radicals more or less came out of the way John and I look at life and music. We’re both non-conformists and non-conventional. We like to look at things differently. Stay simple. But think radical. Hence The Simple Radicals.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
We were so fortunate to play the iconic Cutting Room in New York City last December. What an amazing place with incredible sound, stage and vibe. We had an amazing crowd come out to see us on a wintry NYC night which is amazing for an indie band out of Chicago. And we’ve had our share of shitty shows as well. Bad sound. Tight space. No crowd. And not even free drinks.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you haven't already?
Growing up in Chicago I saw so many bands at the Aragon Ballroom. Such a great place to see live music and you’re totally consumed by the show. It would be a dream come true for The Simple Radicals to play the Aragon. Red Rocks outside of Denver would also be a bucket list venue to play. Even to open for a band at either venue would be totally cool!
If you could play any show with any lineup who would be on the ticket?
Pearl Jam. Hands down. Probably the most talented, electrifying and inspiring bands in the last 30 years to ever play. I’m absolutely mesmerized with the writing of Eddie Vedder and try to capture the messaging, passion and energy that he does in his songs. If I can even come within a million miles of that I’d consider it a success.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band?
The music industry today has incredible opportunities but also huge challenges. From an opportunity standpoint, with such advanced technology and portability, you can create some amazing music in your bedroom and even collaborate with people without having to be in the same room. You really don’t even need a label anymore. On the flip side, there’s thousands of songs being released on Spotify and other platforms every day so the ability to break out and get noticed is highly challenging. Unfortunately, the industry is not really looking to develop bands anymore. I think the first thing they ask now is “how big is their social media following?” No one is really investing the time and resources to develop bands and musicians. You’re on your own to develop your sound, talent and audience and then you can try and make it. And, there’s no money in the business like there used to be. You only make your money off of touring and selling merch and to do that you need a big following. Tough times no doubt and it’s only for the diligent and resilient bands that want to really invest in their music and build an audience. You constantly have to think and rethink what it takes to break out and get noticed.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
There’s not enough time in the day or month to answer that question. But if I had to pick one bit of advice I’d tell myself to not take things too seriously. Relax. Life is complicated but also fairly simple when you distill it down to the basics. Things can and will work out if you give it time and you put the energy behind it.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
The song “The Optimist” off our album “New Revolution” really hits home for me. With all the shit going on today in society and in our own personal lives, it’s a song about trying to remain optimistic about things and looking at the half-full side of life. The lyrics “I’ve got the rest of my life and I’m not going to stop ‘til I get it right” is a statement about not giving up when things look dire. There’s no rush. You’re in charge of your own destiny. Get it right the best you can. But just get it right.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I love playing our song “Learn” off our “New Revolution” album. It’s very Pink Floyd-ish and John does an amazing David Gilmour-type “Comfortably Numb” building guitar solo. The title track “New Revolution” is also a blast to play and a kick-ass rocker. And, we love rocking out a couple covers like from Neil Young or Bowie.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
I see a lot of images and moods when I write. Certain chord progressions, finger pickings and riffs often direct me on how the song is constructed and then the lyrics start to flow. It’s a bizarre process but it works for me. I actually write a lot of my songs on an acoustic guitar. Even riffs such as the ones on “New Revolution” and “Medicate”. I feel that if it sounds good on an acoustic then it’s going to sound even better when it’s plugged in.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I hate to sound so cliché, but I really explore the things and issues that are near and dear to my heart or affecting those that are close to me. "New Revolution" is our most personal and poignant project we've ever done. These are such deep-hearted issues in my life and for many others that the words and music came to me literally in the form of pictures and images. I just needed to figure out how to best express them and put them down on paper and then on an album.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
Never! Of course we do. But even our disagreements tend to be constructive. No one has egos or earned the right to say they have an ego…at least yet.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that's coming up?
We’ve actually been quite busy during the pandemic. We just released a song and video called “Rich Man Wanna Be King”
which provides a candid and somewhat scathing look at our current president. It was just released on YouTube and it’s racked up around 100,000 views already and climbing. We’re about to release a wicked cover version of Jefferson Starship’s “White Rabbit” where we collaborated with an incredible husband/wife team called Che-Val. It was such an amazing experience to work with them and we’re really excited about the song. It’s a very non-conventional and unique take on this iconic song. We’ll be releasing a quarantine video to our song “The Optimist”. And, we’re about to release a podcast called “Music & A Brew” where we crack open a cold one with musical artists including Kenny Aronoff (drummer for John Mellencamp and tons of others), Todd Sucherman (Styx), Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Daxx Nielsen (Cheap Trick), and Jackie “the Joke Man” Martling from the Howard Stern Show.