After a much celebrated debut LP, Denton's Radioactivity returns with Silent Kill, the band's new album due via Dirtnap on June 30. Though pop-inflected punk is the band's MO, Silent Kill sounds quite a bit different from it's predecessor, upping the guitar attack factor while maintaining a strong pop sensibility. Fans of guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Jeff Burke's other project with Mark Ryan, The Marked Men, will be pleased, as will fans of guitarist Dan Fried (also of Bad Sports/Video). Stream the entirety of Silent Kill here at Noisey for the first time and guaranteed you'll be back for another helping; Radioactivity's new release is a surefire pick for one of the best releases of the year.
With Silent Kill on deck, we talked to Jeff Burke and Dan Fried about the release, growing up punk, and what the hell is in the water in Texas. The results of the conversation is below.
NOISEY: We first discussed the release about a year ago, and way back then you said that you were pretty deep into writing what would eventually become Silent Kill.
Jeff Burke: Actually by that point, I think the record was pretty much done, there were maybe some adjustments to the mixes after that but all the recording had been done at that point. And, it just took a little while to put it all together and send it off, we had the artwork delayed a little bit and it just takes longer to press records now.
Daniel Fried: We were told if you get everything done it’ll usually take three months to get to the press and get everything taken care of. Now it’s six, it’s doubled in time.
So those songs, have been something that have been around for a little while…
JB: Yeah, well it’s mixed up with songs that were written years ago and some that are newer. I lived in Japan for a few years and I wrote a few of them there, a couple of them I had I think before I even moved there, and a few of them I wrote after I got back from Japan. I had a different idea at first for the record, with a bunch of older songs, and then, wrote some new songs and it just gelled better. Mixing it up a little bit.
How does the songwriting dynamic work? Jeff, you’re doing the core of all of the writing but is there a sort of chemistry after that as far as how the track is arranged?
DF: Yeah, Jeff does everything. He’ll do these demos, that basically have everything laid out for us. And then there are little tiny things, like, ‘oh, we’ll throw this in there.” For the most part it’s a really nice blueprint just for everything we need to do. It’s a lot easier.
I was talking to him like a week ago, about how his songs are really hard to learn, because it’s just parts after parts after parts and they don’t normally fit in normal structures. So when you hear like the full song, you can actually hear how they go together. It makes a lot more sense.
That’s a great point because one of the things that marks your songwriting style is, on a macro level, the basic three or four chords, yet there are always all of these inner-weaving subsections that exist within that. Where do those ideas come from?
JB: I think for the most part I’m just trying to write regular three chord songs, but a lot of the times when I demo something I just record it right away and haven’t really decided on the progression for the verse. By the time I get to the second verse I’ve already changed it up a little bit. So I just kinda stick with what’s on the demo, and that becomes the song. It’s not intentional. I don’t think that hard about it.
It’s just playing off the melodies and moving in different directions with the same original trajectory. Silent Kill definitely has a bit of a different sound from the self-titled LP. Was there something that you decided to do on macro level that changed the direction on this record?
JB: In some ways yes, but I thought that the first album was really, really poppy. Like I think the vocals are kinda pop melodies or whatever, at least, at least what it seems to me. I think I was trying to get away from that a little bit. Some of it was intentional, some of it was just that I wasn’t writing those kind of songs anymore. I think I wanted it to be catchy but maybe not so much pop.
You’re doing these gigs on the East Coast, but are you doing stuff on the West? Is gathering the guys together a bit tough?
JB: Between the jobs and the other bands it makes it a little difficult scheduling tours, we’ve got this one tour for the Midwest and East Coast scheduled for late July early August and then planning to do at least a week on the West Coast, California probably up to Seattle and Vancouver. Then, maybe Japan in the Winter. Hopefully Europe at some time but just doing it one at a time at the moment until I know everybody’s schedules.
Daniel, are you still doing Bad Sports and Video and those bands?
DF: We’re recording a lot of Bad Sports stuff right now. We just finished recording the new Video record, so we’re still trying to find out when that will hit. Yeah, we finally have the label situation in order but now we’re just waiting on them to answer emails and things like that.
Are there any other projects that you’ve got going on?
JB: Yeah, we have another band that has a 12” EP on Dirtnap.
What’s that about?
DF: It’s Grave City. It’s me, Jeff plays drums, Mark Ryan plays keyboards. I play guitar and sing, and I have another guy who plays keyboards as well. It’s like all three of us from Radioactivity and Bad Sports and Marked Men, and people are gonna expect it to be one thing but it’s way different.
JB: I kinda thought it was like synth punk until we finished the recording and now I’m like not so sure…
DF: It’s not really synth punk, it’s synthy and it’s punk, but it doesn’t sound like The Screamers.
Is it kinda like a Devo thing?
JB: No not really, it’s kinda noisy actually.
DF: Its got a lot of Hawkwind-y kinda space stuff… And it’s more like, I feel like it’s more like Video mixed with Mind Spiders in a way, because it’s like, I’m singing, so it’s like my voice in that way, but it has way more crazy space keyboard noises and stuff like that.
Unexpected! People might have an idea of Radioactivity being you know, melodic and three part chord punk and it almost sounds like you’re trying to get back to aggro a little bit.
DF: Yeah, which actually is kinda like one chord punk. The less the better for us for that band.
What do you guys think it is about Texas? There’s a lot of areas in this country that have strong universities and good music scenes, but there’s something about Texas and the punk that comes out of there. Where do you think that comes from?
JB: It depends. I think that Austin is kind of like New York, a place where people come from all over to go for the purpose of playing music. So I don’t know that it’s just Texas influencing that.
DF: I think a lot of it even classically, like going back to the 70s, there’s not a media outlet for them to get coverage, no infrastructure like NY or LA. So bands have to try a little harder in a way. You have to try to put out your records in other places. And most of the bands are probably going to do a lot better elsewhere than they do in Texas, that’s just how it is.
JB: None of the bands I’ve ever been in have done as well locally as we have in the Midwest or other parts of the country.
Interesting. As an outsider to Texas and that scene, it seems like Austin and the surrounding areas created something really interesting and unique. There are certain bands that came up that created a domino-effect for the rest. Big Boys, Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid…
DF: There’s definitely that an early 80s Texas hardcore thing that really permeates through a lot of what happens. Even if the bands don’t necessarily sound like that, the aesthetic is sort of similar.
JB: I think that a lot of those bands that you mentioned were sort of weirder punk, even then. They weren’t straight forward and I think part of that is just being like isolated from the rest of the country. In Denton, where we came from, there are no other bands to really watch and say “oh, I’m gonna try that style, or that style.” You just end up coming up with something and it’s a little different than everywhere else.
What was your revelatory “punk” moment growing up?
DF: The Ramones are one of my favorite bands; I guess it’s not really hard to tell. But when I first heard It’s Alive, the live album… My older brother just got a CD somehow and as soon I heard that, I was like, “yeah, that’s it! There it is!” It clicks. He would always want to listen to something else, and we’d always say ‘No, let’s keep going with that one.’ So that was the moment when I was like there it is.
JB: Well, I grew up in Connecticut where the punk is a little different than it is in Texas, where it’s a little bit more serious side, like the ideas and lyrics are stressed more than the music a lot of the times.
Where did you grow up?
JB: North of Hartford, near the Mass border. The bands I used to go see were like The Pist, and bands like that. Los Crudos when they came through, Dropdead, stuff like that. I started with metal and then metal bands played with punk bands and then I realized I had more in common with the people listening to punk. Little by little I think bands like The Pist are honestly what made me really want to do punk.
Living in CT, I would imagine that you had many NYHC moments.
JB: Yeah, I listened to the Gorilla Biscuits of course, and Youth of Today, and Judge… a little bit of everything around there. I was more into the local scene than the Ramones or anything else then.
My first punk show, I went with some of the same friends that I used to go watch the grindcore bands with, to a punk show, and it was like, Blanks 77 and Bunny Brains, and a bunch of bands.. This was very early 90s. It was, I still remember that show pretty well. So I think that really stuck with me.
I think I was just attracted to the kind of people who listen to the metal and punk just because I felt like I had more in common with them socially. I don’t know. I just fit in with their group and I was interested in that world and felt more comfortable.
Will the Marked Men ever do another record?
JB: No I doubt it, I don’t want to say no definitely but none of us are planning on it. I can’t see any situation that would make us write and record another record. We’ve moved away from the band in general; we don’t write like that anymore and we’re different people than we were back then so even if we tried to write a record, it wouldn’t sound the same. I think we had a good run, and we’re pretty happy with the records. It seemed to end, at least recording wise, well for us. We’re trying to play fewer shows. We’re just doing one this year in Mexico. Radioactivity is going to Mexico as well for a few shows in September.
Anything else you’d like to say about Silent Kill?
JB: It seems more of like a record than the first one did. We’re tighter as a band. I like it. There were a lot of songs that didn’t make the album; I had one idea first and moved away from that. We recorded 20 or whatever songs in total, and the ones that made the record are the ones that really fit the four of us playing together.