Red City Radio

Red City Radio is a band that has been able to burst out of their panhandle state and make a splash on to the national punk scene. Guitarist and vocalist Paul Pendley was kind enough to sit down with Punknews interviewer Alex Eschbach and answer a few questions. Paul discusses the pressures of recording a full length record after having a popular EP, the origins of the band, cupcakes, and the ultimate goal of trying to make Vinnie Fiorello shit himself.

Your EP was really well received. Did that put more pressure on you for your first full length?
You know, a little bit. We’d been slaving on the roads of America for so long and then when we got the EP done, to have a really good response was validating. Then it was like, "Oh God, we can’t fuck up what we just accomplished." We knew the album we wanted to do. So we had this level of confidence. We knew our material was good and we’d been playing together as a unit for a while. We’re really intuitive when we know what we do best. It’s really kind of a funny story. I don’t know if I’ve ever told anyone this in an interview.

So Vinnie was like, "Hey let’s do the record." We were all stoked. He had worked with Stephen. Stephen does a ton of Paper and Plastick stuff. Vinnie’s comfortable with Stephen working on stuff he puts out. We were totally comfortable working with Stephen. He’s one of our friends. He does excellent work. We were like, "Yeah, this is going to work out really well." We had already had a plan, unlike the EP, to pre-production the songs because - especially considering the budget we were thinking we were going to get - just a little bit of that preparation pays off later. It just makes the recording process go faster. And Stephen isn’t hearing the songs for the first time when we’re tracking them. He already knows how everything should, in theory, go. So everything’s going to go much faster and they get a better final product. So we pre-productioned about half the record. It’s all we had time for. It’s the material that we had the most prepared for day one. We could have done it that day and it could have been album ready. So we’re demoing that.

So we get done with the demos. We did everything live except for the vocals and we did really quick vocal tracks. Didn’t try to get anything perfect; just went in there and sang them. Stephen mixes them and sends them back to us and we’re like, "Oh yeah, this is pretty good." For demos, this actually sounds better than a lot of records I’ve heard as far as production goes. So we’re like, "Hell yeah." We’re all drinking after we’re done; hanging out on Dallas’ porch, talking about how Vinnie is literally going to shit himself. Literally. Like poop is going to come out of his pants on to the ground because he’s so blown away by our demos. This is where our head’s at. We’re just feeling that good. So Stephen sends them to him and we don’t hear anything for like a week or so. So we’re calling Loper, our manager, calling Stephen asking, "Did he get him? Did he listen? Has he talked to you?" Finally, we got word back. First of all, he did not shit himself with joy or glee or musical appreciation. He didn’t even piss himself.

I’m not sure if this was a ploy - I realize I’m jumping around here - I don’t know if this was a motivational technique that he was using, like it was halftime and we were down ten points and he’s trying to pump us up to come back…

Waitress approaches the table: Do you guys want any drinks?
As a matter of fact, I would like two Miller Lites, please. I’ve got to be prepared here. I don’t want to stop.

So basically what he says is, "Okay, it’s good. But it’s not blow me away good." And we’re like, "What do you mean? You said you were hoping what we did would be along the lines of the EP. We thought we did that. Did we not do that?" And he was like, "No, no. You did that. And it’s good. But it’s just not blow me away good." And we’re like, "Well, do you have notes?" And we’re starting to freak out a little bit. Holy shit, does he even want to do the record now? So we’re like, "Fuck. Did we just screw our opportunity to get this record done?" In retrospect, we probably blew it way out of proportion on both ends. Our expectations and our response to what he told us. But we were freaked out. We were like, "Crap, what have we done?" And Dallas is second-guessing the songs we chose to demo. He’s like, "We should have done more accessible songs with the same chorus five times or whatever." As an aside, basically what we demoed was most of the first side and a little bit of the second side. I forgot where I was going…

Dallas was freaking out…
Yeah, Dallas was freaking out and we’re second-guessing ourselves. Finally, we get word back from Vinnie after all this and he’s like, "You know what… I’m not going to give you any notes. I want you guys to do your record. I’m not going to tell you how to make it." He was more encouraging at that point. He was like, "I know you guys are going to do a good record and we’re still going to do the record." The funny thing is, we went back and really started reexamining what we had prepared and we actually started changing a couple things. A lot of those songs had a really linear feel to them, so we took some of those elements away. But at the same time, Garrett and I would write a whole album of linear songs that start at point A and end at this other point with no repeating parts because we’re just nerdy like that. So we’re like fighting for a couple of those songs - one of them was "Blankets." There was no way I could change the song, this is the way the song is. I’ve tried. I cannot see it any other way. It’s got to be that way. But "50th and Western" was rearranged a little bit and half of the preproduction were rewritten, sort of. But the other three we were like, "Hell no. This is the way it has to be." So it was just funny doing all this process and that’s where the pressure came from. So in a way, I think we were all grateful that he totally gave us a mind fuck because it made us come back and make a better record. But as far as feeling pressure to live up to the EP, that was really were it all came from. It was all this kind of self-imposed, like circular brain eating itself thinking that came from one small little criticism from Vinnie.

So what was the biggest change that you made from the demo to the final product?
It was just making them a little bit more accessible. We have a very particular way we approach song writing. We never want to be slaves to this verse-chorus-verse-chorus format. That works great for Alkaline Trio, Teenage Bottlerocket and whoever. And those bands write great songs, but for me, personally, and for Garrett, it’s just more interesting for us to make this coherent song that’s a unit that feels right, but it being eight different parts that might slightly reference each other. Like, you just listened to an entire pop song but you didn’t hear a song with a distinct chorus, or you just listened to a song with three different variations of a verse, but it feels like a real song. So keeping that in mind, when we went back and rewrote those demos, we dialed back that aspect just a little bit. Like I said, on "50th & Western," there was more referencing on previous parts. One of the last few songs we wrote for the records were "Spinning In Circles Is A Gateway Drug" and "I’m Well, You’re Poison." Those were conscious efforts on Garrett and I’s part to still have that aesthetic of trying to make an interesting, crafted song but still having a hook that people can grasp on to.

Even though there is still a long way to go in 2011, a lot of people are saying The Dangers of Standing Still is the album of the year. Did you expect this kind of reaction?
Honestly, I had no idea how much people would like it or not. I was a little scared because people had been anticipating the record for so long and we had been shooting for a little earlier release date. I was almost scared that whatever hype we had would tip the scales to where the expectations far out exceeded the product - even though the product was really good - just from anticipation. I think we were all a little worried about that. But we all know we made a good punk rock record. We gave it to Vinnie, even after that whole episode with the demos. We didn’t have any worries what-so-ever that he wasn’t going to like it. Not to be arrogant or anything, but I think we made a really great record, Vinnie thought we made a really great record, and Stephen thought would we made a really great record. Unless all of us are idiots - which I won’t speak for them - but I am an idiot. We thought it would be a positive response.

Did Vinnie literally shit himself when he heard the final product?
You know, he never mentioned that. The funny thing is, we didn’t say anything about him shitting himself when he heard the final product. There’s a problem, a jinx thing going on there. I don’t know. I’m going to call him after we’re done and ask. I’m guessing no though. Vinnie’s a really clean man.

Until there is a detailed Wikipedia page on Red City Radio, this question will be asked. How did you guys form as a band?
The wife and I moved into this house, and at the time, I wasn’t really playing music anymore. I kind of fell out of love with it. There was this guy next door that had a Jawbreaker sticker on his silver Chevy Lumina. And I was like, "Oh shit. This guy must have good taste." So I started talking to him about bands we’d been in and music. Hanging out with him, playing acoustic guitar, and drinking whiskey reignited my love of writing and playing music. After a while, we started writing songs. One of them was "Bike Thief" from our first EP. So we went and found Dallas, who hadn’t been playing drums since high school; he lied to us about that. And we found out he could sing. Not only could he sing, but he could harmonize. And after searching for and finding and losing several bass players, we finally found JoJo. That’s when I really thought we came together as a band is when he joined the band. I had to bug him for a year to join. To quit his other band and join my band. To stop playing guitar and singing and being a front man - the center of attention in his own band - to move to write and play bass and sing back-ups. That is the shortest I’ve ever told that story.

How did you convince JoJo to quit his other band?
It was a very simple argument. You can either do the band you’re doing now and, in fairness to him and his band mates, his band was really good. I guess they weren’t quite as motivated as we were to get in and record and go on the road and take these baby steps necessary to take these next steps as a band. Garrett, Dallas, and I were always of the opinion that we didn’t want to just be the best punk band in Oklahoma City, we didn’t want to be the best punk band in Oklahoma, we wanted to be the best band in Oklahoma and we wanted to expand on that. So with that mindset, I went to Jonathan, and was like, "I know you’re doing your thing. I love your band but I really want you to join this band. How awesome would it be to have four songwriters? To have four vocalists? To be able to do three- and four-part harmonies? How awesome would it be for you to not be responsible for the aesthetic, the financing, the songwriting, the singing… having to do everything, to have a group of guys around you who are just as dedicated and contributing just as much? This is what we’re offering. I can’t think of anyone else in the city who can be the bass player for this band. It has to be you." I kept telling him, "It has to be you." So after a year, and Jonathan is an old friend so I talked to him all the time, but I would give, at least once a week this band related phone call, where I would pressure him. Finally, he relented. I shamed him into it. That’s what it boils down too.

Does having two primary songwriters in the band cause any difficulties?
The great thing is whether I, or Garret, come with a mostly complete song, there’s still aspects of both of us in that. The main thing is though, even though Garret and I are the main songwriters, it’s not done until Dallas and Jonathon put their own touch on it. Or as Garrett likes to say, "We bake the cupcakes. They put on the sprinkles." Those could be some badass cupcakes, but with sprinkles, they’re just over the top.

And without sprinkles, who wants a cupcake?
Right. It’s like a day without sunshine.