After almost a decade of performing as The Rad Trads, the Brooklyn-based band, having matured over the years, both personally and sonically, decided to change their name to The RT’s with their recently released self-titled album. Written during the pandemic, when everything was shutdown, it’s an album they say feels more authentic and honest than anything they had ever done and is a good next step in their evolution as a band. An album that celebrates their changes as a band, it was made differently from their previous albums in that the arrangements were made for the studio rather than recorded versions of songs they had sung in bars and venues on tour. Having spent much of 2019 touring in support of their sophomore release, On The Tap, the tour totaled over 80,000 miles and included shows in direct support of Lake Street Dive, Dr. Dog, Modest Mouse, BAILEN and The Motet, with dates in China, Europe, and across the USA from Alaska to Florida. They prepared for another busy year of touring in 2020, but the pandemic brought that to a screeching halt. The band is happy to be back to playing live shows and feel that although it was quite shocking coming out of a year and a half of isolation and social distancing, their most recent tour is proof that there is a way forward. The band is currently working on a new album and has some tour dates coming up so make sure to follow The RT’s via the following links to stay up-to-date on all upcoming music and tour information! Photo credit: Alex Brown.
You recently changed your name from The Rad Trads to The RT’s. What can you tell me about the journey for you in growing and evolving as a band? How would you describe The Rad Trads phase of your career and what do you feel like this new chapter holds for you? How do you feel that your approach to and perspective on things have changed?
Patrick: We started The Rad Trads 10 years ago this spring. It was an 8-piece brass band playing rhythm and blues and traditional jazz with an extremely manic energy. The name was a cheeky reference to our irreverent approach to traditional music and it was also, truth be told, a placeholder that stuck. For years it was a silly but appropriate name for our band, but gradually our sound evolved, our ranks shrunk, and the name made less and less sense, functioning more as a goofy non sequitur than an apt description. As this natural evolution occurred, there were many conversations about our shifting priorities as a band. Conversations about how we wanted to make music that was forward thinking and original, not retro and derivative, and how we wanted to make lasting art and not merely entertain.You see, when we started the band in 2012, Daptone Records reigned supreme, and making music with an old school approach felt genuinely fresh. Then the 2016 election gave us a crash course in how nostalgia can be co opted to some very nasty and regressive political ends, and it no longer felt great to be five white guys playing in a New Orleans R&B band with the word “Trad” in the name. A similar thing happened in fashion where the WASPy connotations of the tweed blazer and repp tie look began to shift from timeless cool to potentially problematic (Ivy League fashion also shares the “trad” abbreviation as well), so I don’t think we’re the only people who felt that cultural shift. In fact Steve Bannon’s membership in a fringe Catholic group called “The Rad Trads” prompted our very first discussion of a name change five years ago. The final tipping point was the completion of our latest album and of course, the Covid 19 pandemic. It put a very finite end to our time as The Rad Trads, and when it came time to reconvene, we wanted to do it under a name that felt reflective of who we are now, not who we were 10 years ago. We opted for the name “The RT’s” as a way to maintain continuity and honor our roots, while also signaling that we had left our lengthy adolescent phase and entered something resembling creative adulthood.
As covid hit and the shutdowns occured, you guys decided to take that time to write new material, resulting in your recently released self-titled album. You have said that the process of making the album differed from your previous albums, in that rather than recording a version of the songs you played on the road once in the studio, all of the arrangements were made in the studio. What was that process like for you? Do you feel that you will record this way for future albums, as well?
Mike Harlen: Well, we actually recorded the self-titled album right before covid hit in February 2020. But it’s true that our process changed from our previous albums, really taking the time to tinker and be creative in the studio, which was a great experience. We always have fun in the studio but this felt a little less workmanlike and a little more like being in the sandbox. We’ve taken this approach even further on the album we’re working on right now. Stay tuned!
You have talked about how during the process of working on the album, you had a greater collaborative energy and discovered a new creative process. What can you tell me about that energy and how it shaped the album, as well as your new creative process?
Jamie: Each album we have the privilege of making gets us closer and closer to who we truly are and want to be as a band. There are a few elements at play here that are integral to that success, because as we learn at every turn, it takes a village. Our producer, Chris Peck, like a great therapist, has shown us our own manufactured walls and has been there to guide us through dismantling them. The studio environment hasn’t always been something we’ve looked forward to or known how to use to our advantage. And while there is no right or wrong way to be in the studio, feelings of intimidation can prevent the openness and vulnerability to experiment and mess up, therefore missing a big part of what being in a studio has to offer. Chris called BS on all of that and because of his positivity and excitement, it felt like making this album allowed us to shed our skin and wake up a little bit. It was like an itch that we thought couldn’t be scratched. A culmination and a kicking open of the metaphorical door. Ten months later we went back to Vinegar Hill and recorded 17 more songs.
You’ve said that the new album represents a new beginning for the band and is your first truly personal album. What was that like for you, to write on a more personal level? What do you feel inspired the songs and what was it like for you to finally hone in on your collective voice?
Patrick: When we said it was our first truly personal album, we meant both lyrically and stylistically. Not only are the lyrics deeply felt and at times autobiographical, but the sound of the band is no longer emulating anyone or trying to be anything it’s not. As a collective, what allowed us to take that kind of risk is a profound sense of trust. Trust in each other creatively but also trust in the band as a meaningful entity unto itself. Instead of asking “Is this song/guitar riff/drum sound ‘on brand’ for us?” we give ourselves permission to say “10 years together in a van means we no longer have to second guess our creative impulses for the sake of cohesion, this band is our sandbox and goddamnit we’re gonna play in it! It’ll sound like us because it is us!”So we’ve found ourselves in a very exciting creative space, and in addition all those years invested are really starting to pay off, which gives a beautiful poetry and meaning to what was a very tumultuous and challenging time in all our lives. This current moment is also very challenging, but we’re bolstered by a sense of faith and purpose that we didn’t always have. To answer your question more directly, our songs were (and are) inspired by our innate curiosity about music as well as our life experiences outside of it, and at the end of day we’re always going to raise more questions than we answer. To that end, honing in on our voice feels like just scratching the surface. Like we finally have a compass but still don’t have a map. We know who we are, but where we are going remains a mystery. But perhaps that’s as much as anyone can hope for in 2021. These days “voice” and “brand” are viewed as interchangeable when they’re in fact very different. And from my point of view, true aesthetic continuity ends up being really monotonous in the long run. If anything, we’ve learned to accept that we’re always changing, and as great as finding an appropriate pigeon hole would be from a marketing perspective, it’s antithetical to our true purpose and voice as a collective. Finally embracing that feels liberating beyond words.
You worked with producer Chris Peck on this album, whom you worked with on your first two albums, as well. What has that been like for you, to be working with a producer who has seen your evolution both personally and as a band? How did you meet and come to work with him and how do you feel that he has shaped your albums, especially the new one? Do you feel he has a unique perspective of your vision as a band?
Mike Harlen: Chris is the best. I met Chris on a session where I was playing bass for a great singer songwriter named Christopher Paul Stelling. He was producing/engineering the session and we immediately hit it off creatively as well as personally, so I reached out to him to work with us on some RT’s stuff. I think it’s challenging producing a band like ours because we already have 5 band leaders with 5 egos, but Chris manages to fit right in, and gently steer the ship. He does everything you want a great producer to do: encourages us to take risks, keeps us focused, keeps morale up. Not to mention he engineers the sessions and mixes the albums too! But most importantly, he constantly reminds us how much fun it is to be making music and being creative with your friends, and that this is why we do what we do. He’s really a member of the band at this point.
What can you tell me about the guest artists that are featured on the album- Ana Egge, Melody Rabe, Dave Spreanza, and your former bandmate John Fatum?
Patrick: We were very fortunate to have all of them contribute to this album. Ana Egge is a songwriter who we are huge fanboys of, so to have her on the album was both a tremendous honor and a huge confidence booster. She and Melody Rabe had a similar effect on the album and the band: their voices are so beautiful and distinct that we can’t imagine those tracks without them, and their presence in the room was fantastic for morale, putting everyone at ease when we were all feeling a bit jittery. Melody is a songwriter we love and one of our oldest friends, so it felt very special to have her on the album as well.I’ve known Dave for 15+ years and he’s always been one of my favorite bass players. He’s also been an ardent supporter of the band for a long time and I can honestly say his faith in us is something we’re always trying to live up to. Like our other guests, his willingness and enthusiasm felt like an honor and an indication that we must be doing something right. On this record it felt like we finally shook off our imposter syndrome, and it may have been largely due to Ana, Melody, and Dave. Thank you all, we love you!! In January 2020 when we recorded the record, John Fatum was on his way out of the band while Jamie Eblen was on his way back in, which was the kind of universal alignment that you simply can’t plan for. Having John in the studio with us at that time made for both a smooth transition and a very memorable goodbye, and we’re grateful for all his contributions, both to this album and over the preceding 8 years. Love ya John!!
Alden wrote the track “Need You Right Now” in about 5 minutes and has said that he read a Linda Perry interview in which she said that no good song was ever written in more than 15 minutes. What can you tell me about your views on that philosophy? Have you ever/often been hindered while writing songs by your inner editor & critic and overthinking the process?
Patrick: I think the 15 minute rule falls under the category of “rule of thumb” rather than “absolute truth”. I can think of many examples of amazing songs that famously took much longer than 15 minutes to write, and I myself have only recently shortened my turnaround from 3 years to about 1 year in terms of finishing a song. One of the things that makes songwriting both magical and mystifying is that there’s no absolute statements to be made about it except perhaps “to each their own.”That said she may also be referring to that very first draft that comes in a rush, and I think even the songs I’ve agonized over for years arrived in under 15 minutes initially. When you’re trying to write a song from scratch it’s best to move quickly and completely silence your inner critic. But at some point you have to look honestly at what you’ve written and decide if it can be improved upon, and as poisonous as it can be, your inner critic is very useful in that phase of the process. As long as the voice in your head is saying “I think this can be even better” not “this is garbage and so are you”, I think it’s worth listening to. Alden recently completely rewrote the lyrics and chorus melody to one of his songs and I was totally blown away by both what he wrote and his ability to write it. We all liked the first song but something inside him said it could be better and he acted on it! That’s awesome. So to answer your question I believe in Linda Perry’s philosophy but I also believe that there’s 1 million ways to write a song and they’re all valid. And as far as my inner critic goes, I’ve often over-thought and been crippled by self doubt but at the end of the day it’s about developing a healthy relationship with your own creativity. You gotta land somewhere in between “everything I write is brilliant” and “everything I write is terrible”, and you’ve gotta separate your insecurities from your genuine desire to improve. It’s hard work! But if you approach it with an open mind and open heart there’s no limit to what it can teach you and how much you can grow as a person through the process.
What can you tell me about your experience of playing live again and reconnecting with your fans? Do you feel that your live shows have a different energy than before the Covid shutdowns?
Jamie: I think we can all feel it. Everyone’s thankfulness is just a bit more palpable these days. Everyone is so happy to be seeing live music again and occupying that space together. You know, it was quite shocking coming out of a year and a half of isolation and social distancing, but there is a way forward and our most recent tour was proof of that.
You recently performed live for 800 high school sophomores as part of the NIACC Performing Arts & Leadership Series’ Explore Day! How did that opportunity come about and what can you tell me about the series and about Explore Day?
Patrick: We were performing at the Northern Iowa Community College the same day as a career fair for high school students, so we did a Q & A and a concert. We always cherish the opportunity to work with young people, and getting to play a full length concert for 700 of them was extra special. The kids were engaged, enthusiastic, inquisitive, and just a joy to be around. And how cool is it that NIACC chose to have a New York indie band come speak and perform at Explore Day?!? It was truly one of our favorite shows in recent memory.
With November being Men’s Health Month (Movember), what does self-care look like for you? In what ways do you care for your health, mentally and otherwise?
Jamie: Self care looks like, hydrating, sleeping enough, eating right, doing things that make you happy, therapy therapy therapy, focusing on the present moment and communicating with yourself honestly.
What’s next for you? What are your goals as a band going forward?
Mike Halren: We’re working on a new record now that we’re all really excited about. We’ve got some tour dates coming up, including a run on the west coast in December. Otherwise, we just want to keep being creative and making music and playing it for people!