On a cool night in late fall 2010, The Radio Dept. finally play the Bowery Ballroom in New York. “Finally” because securing their visas required pages of press clips to persuade our government that the Swedish indie pop trio are artists in such demand that refusing their entry would incite riots in America’s more fashionable neighborhoods. Latte would be spilled. International relations, strained. Fortunately, there is no shortage of rave reviews placing The Radio Dept. at the top of enough lists to bury all those other salacious rumors about missed interviews, fiscal mismanagement, drug demands and incendiary politically-laced lyrics.
The secret to their sauce is simple: sprinkle enough disco on the six-strings to charm critics, rockers and DJs alike. On stage Johan Duncanson, Martin Larsson and Daniel Tjäderbring are as low-key as the set is sparse. A bit of electronic gear, a couple guitars. No fancy lights. “Just three guys in t-shirts, jeans.” Everything else is stripped away to make room for the expansive, iridescent melodies and harmonies that permeate albums like Lesser Matters (2003), Pet Grief (2006) and Clinging to a Scheme (2010) and songs like “David,” “Heaven’s on Fire” and “Never Follow Suit.”
After the concert, upstairs in the dressing room, there is a spread of bodega bananas, cheese, nearly empty bottles of champagne. “This is not what we asked for. But you are welcome to it,” somebody says. It isn’t immediately clear if he means the food, the room, or this whole lifestyle. “What is this?” another one of them asks holding up a Tecate. “It’s beer, throw some lime and salt on it and chug,” I say. It is decided the party must continue elsewhere, like a basement speakeasy a few blocks away. At least for tonight, the riots have been averted.
A few weeks later, we are catching up with Johan, Martin and Dan over Skype. They have wrapped up their tour and are busy promoting their new double CD compilation, Passive-Aggressive. It is a collection of singles, remixes and rarities recorded over the last dozen years. They are presently nominated for two Swedish “Grammys” including Best Band; a Nordic Music Prize (similar to the UK’s Mercury prize); and, they are undertaking their biggest USA tour to date, with stops at several festivals including their Coachella debut. With all the praise at fever pitch and a new album in the works, could 2011 be the year The Radio Dept. break through?
URB: Any particular inspiration or theme for the new album?
The Radio Dept: The Fall – the band, not the season.
URB: How come The Fall? Is the new album going to be more rock and less pop?
The Radio Dept: It won’t sound like The Fall; it’s just an inspiration at the moment.
URB: Do you have any new material ready?
The Radio Dept: No, not really. We have just begun recording the next album but it will probably take some time for us. But we are releasing a singles compilation in the meantime.
URB: Are you doing any side projects? When do you think the new album will be ready?
The Radio Dept: Not right now. But we are open to do remixes – provided we can find some time for it. We’re just about to start recording actually so its kind of hard to say. We will be recording at home as usual.
URB: Where are you spending your time these days?
The Radio Dept: At home, in Stockholm, if not on tour. Which we will be quite a lot during the spring.
URB: I heard something about Saint Etienne and you guys playing together?
The Radio Dept: Yes! Two weeks after the London gig. We went back to support for them! Three shows. Glasgow, Manchester and London.
URB: Did you do any covers? I heard you like performing “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”
The Radio Dept: Ha-ha, no unfortunately we didn’t but Sarah wanted to do our song “David” with us. But we had no time to rehearse it.
URB: How is the scene in Sweden? Any political songs on the new album?
The Radio Dept: Politically it’s as bad as ever
URB: What is bugging you about politics in Sweden recently?
The Radio Dept: It’s depressing actually.
URB: You mean like all the animals falling out of the sky?
The Radio Dept: Well, we have a right wing government. There’s no opposition to talk about and in the meantime birds are falling from the sky..
URB: Is it the apocalypse?
The Radio Dept: Hopefully – “Come, come, atom bomb…”
URB: “Share some greased tea w/ me?” So do you have plans for “The End?”
The Radio Dept: We’ll have a slumber party!
URB: You got nominated for the Swedish “Grammys.” Congratulations.
The Radio Dept: Yeah, the nomination…we never went…
URB: Do you go to awards shows?
The Radio Dept: We have other hobbies than going to award shows.
URB: How do you stay out of trouble, in between making music?
The Radio Dept: Well, we don’t really…