Radio 4 | The Personal is Political

"You don’t want to sit there and go, “Yeah, it’s more of the same,” but in a sense, it is. I think it’s just a bit more vague when you get inside the song, but it still has kind of the same feeling to me, at least."


The  two years since Radio 4’s last album, Stealing of a Nation, saw the departure of original guitarist Tommy Williams. Always better received in the United Kingdom than here in the States, the Brooklyn-based quintet has just released its fourth CD, Enemies Like This. We had a chance to catch up with lead singer/songwriter Anthony Roman about the band’s recent past and near future.
What have you been doing for the last two years? It’s been a little quiet on the Radio 4 front.
Gotham! came out in 2002; that means from 2002 to 2006, we’ll have put out three full-lengths. That’s not really that long between records, especially in the current climate. We were just basically working on the band. We were in Europe; we went on tour with Gang of Four, the Libertines, the Raveonettes; we did a bunch of our own tours; and then, basically, we were writing. We were busy the whole time. I think we’re working at a slightly faster-than-regular-world pace, but nothing in comparison to how bands used to put out one record a year. Now it seems people wait two, three years between records, which is a pretty long time.
In the press for Enemies Like This, you talk about Stealing of a Nation as being over-ambitious and an over-calculation. It sounds like there was a lot of soul searching after that album came out.
I think everything was overly thought-out and overly ambitious, and there was this effort to do things with different people and just take things in a different direction. Some of the relationships we had set up in the past were pretty solid. We didn’t need to move away from them, just the way we worked with them. [This time], we tried to do everything differently. You know, you learn your strengths and you learn your faults in the process. I think there was a bunch of very good songs on the album that got kind of overcooked, and I think the artwork did the same thing. Part of it was being signed [to Astralwerks] and having a budget. Gotham! cost about $9,000, Stealing costs about $90,000 to $100,000, so it’s a big jump. With the new record, we wanted to use what we learned from the things we liked and didn’t like about the previous three, four years.
The new album was recorded with full band playing through each song, basically capturing the songs in one or two takes.
But there’s definitely an attempt to capture a band that was playing together rather than doing it in a dance way, where you’re dealing with parts and manipulating parts the whole time. We were like, “This is a band in a room; let’s try and record this thing.” Previously, there was always kind of a longer process. Or we would manipulate the drums to make them work well or put them in time or something. This time [drummer Greg Collins] played songs all the way through to the best of his ability, and we left it as is. Also, producer [Jagz Kooner] made sure everybody was in the studio at all times. There was definitely more of a group vibe than ever before, which was nice to be around. In the past, people do their parts and then kind of vanish. This was a bit more like everybody was getting along and everybody was happy with what they were doing, so everybody stuck around.
Is the songwriting style on this album more of a group effort than it was before?
I don’t think so. I guess, in a sense, people were more interested in what was happening. Before, I would write songs and Tommy [Williams] would write songs. Since Tommy left the band, I will say to Gerard [Garone], “We’ll need to come up with a riff or something,” but he doesn’t really write songs. So there wasn’t anybody writing actual full songs as there was in the past, when we had two songwriters. No one was writing complete songs with words and a melody and a start and end.
The songs on the album are described as being more personal, less political. Would you agree?
Well, I don’t know. [Laughs] It’s less sloganeering. I think the answer to that question sometimes changes depending on the mood that you’re in. The only thing I can say that really has changed is that we got away from the straight slogan type of things that we had done in the past. You don’t want to sit there and go, “Yeah, it’s more of the same,” but in a sense, it is. I think it’s just a bit more vague when you get inside the song, but it still has kind of the same feeling to me, at least.
I was interested in the idea of the love song that functions as a political song, or the other way around, because it is hard to provide any type of real, clear-cut answers or statements that can be looked at or touched in three minutes. You know, it’s a bit tricky. I was trying to be less direct. With Gotham!, I felt it came at a time where it was really necessary to behave that way, to speak out that way. And obviously, this was before 9/11, so it was really actually important to speak out that way because bad things were on the horizon. So, I do think that, at that point in time, I had no choice but to speak up, whereas now it’s a general consensus that this country screwed up, that things are happening. It’s not as urgent, maybe, that we put this out there.

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