bill bodkin interviews the new indie hotness, Cicada Radio …
Last winter, Pop-Break’s Jason Kundrath shot me a text: “Hey, we should do something on my brother’s new band, Cicada Radio.” We often get a lot of those requests coming through e-mail or text at the offices of Pop-Break, and since it was the site’s Obi Wan Kenobi asking a favor, I told him we’d get to it eventually.
It didn’t take long for what was originally a favor for a friend to become a necessary interview for the site. Within months of that text, Cicada Radio has blown up as the indie band in the Jersey scene. A tidal wave of positive press and media hype, a slew of tasty gigs and a brand new, oft-praised EP has made Cicada Radio a force to be reckoned with.
Musically, the sound is immediate, it’s now, it’s savvy. It’s good rock ‘n’ roll music — something we’ve been lacking these days. Singer Pat Keefe’s vocals are what separates the band from the rest of the pack. It’s a unique voice, an indie version of The Pogues’ Shane McGowan — visceral, attention-grabbing and luckily much easier to understand.
Pop-Break spoke with Mike Keefe and Michael Kundrath, the band’s guitarist and drummer, about Cicada Radio’s past, present and future.
Pop-Break: Cicada Radio just came together within the past year. What drew you guys together to form this band?
Mike Keefe: Pat and I are brothers. We’ve been writing together on and off since high school. Pat’s original primary instrument has always been the drums — though he was always writing songs on guitar — so early incarnations of the band consisted of Pat singing lead vocals and playing drums and I was the main guitarist. When I went to college I met Chris [bass] and Mike Kundrath [drums]. Chris essentially started playing bass to be in the band. He’s improved dramatically over the past few years. We’re proud of him. Mike was in another band called Hero Pattern for a bunch of years. He and I were quick friends and always kept in touch. We were always fans of each other’s music, so when his band called it quits, and it felt like the right time to finally get together. Mike was a big fan of where the band was going and wanted to take over the drums to free Pat up to focus on playing guitar and singing live. The plan has worked out as I imagined so far. I feel as though Mike Kundrath has really bought a lot to the table. Our songwriting has improved drastically, and I feel we are really coming together as a band.
PB: Did you have an idea of a sound you wanted to create? What were some bands that helped influence what you were to become, sonically speaking?
Mike Kundrath: We’re all influenced by a wide range of bands, but we’ve all always felt drawn to the punk/alternative genre, i.e.: At The Drive In, Smashing Pumpkins, Cursive, Rival Schools, Jimmy Eat World, Deftones, The Appleseed Cast, The Descendants, etc. I think we’ve naturally gravitated to a sound that’s kind of a hybrid of a bunch of our early favorite bands. A lot of people seem to dig our sound because it sounds like the music that was around when they were growing up. The music that either fizzled out or was grouped in with the popular “emo” bands at the time. We feel as though the key to getting a signature sound is to draw influences from all types of music and make it your own.
PB: And the silly question: What’s the story behind the name?
Mike Keefe: It’s not a silly question. The band name is rather odd … we admit that. We tossed around a bunch of names in the early days [before Mike Kundrath joined in]. Apparently, there aren’t a lot of names left, and we kind of hate naming things. Pat’s great with lyrics, but it’ll take forever to actually name a song when it’s all said and done. We’ve always been fascinated by cicadas. And Chris once had a cicada as a pet, so it felt right. It’s really not that interesting a part of our story. [laughs] And apparently, Monster Squad is taken by a bunch of bands and rap crews already.
PB: You guys have been the talk of the independent scene since your formation. What do you think it is about your sound that separates you from the rest of the bands out there?
Mike Kundrath: I think people are digging what we’re doing because I we’re semi-successfully paying homage to our early 2000’s indie/emo roots, while bringing something fresh to the table. A local music blog, IndieRebellion described us by saying, “The band blends a nice mixture of thumping bass, shredding guitars, passionate vocals, and beating drums to create a sound that is wholly their own. Combine that with a blend of lyrics coming from the heart and you have some of the most emotional and intense music around.”
We try to deliver a mix of heavy emotion, and plain rock ballsy-ness. We think it’s important to bring something unique to the table. There are enough rock bands out there being rock bands, ya know? Like, where’s that real secret weapon, that spark? You gotta dig what you’re doing to make it work. We’re know we’re a young band and are still developing our sound, but we’re confident about what we’re doing and where we’re going/what we’ll be delivering next. We think we have a lot to offer.
PB: You have a new EP Impostor that’s up for download. Can you talk about some of the themes and ideas behind such songs as “Sleeper Hold,” outside of the obvious 1980s WWF/ Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake reference?
Mike Kundrath: Recording Imposter was a great growing/learning experience for us as a band. Like I said, we’re still a relatively new outfit and were just excited to get in the studio and see what we could do. It worked out better than we expected. Props to the gentlemen over at Treehouse Studios in Jersey City. We really hit it off with those guys and will likely return to do our first full length. Two of the songs on the EP were demo-ed a few years back on a crappy laptop, and we were excited to see them fully realized in a real studio. Lyrically, all I can say is that the songs are inspired by 2 years of post-college living on your own and a ton of ups and downs … mainly downs. Girls, rent, drinking, wrestling, video games, comics, the path train, everything minus politics. Music is our outlet. It makes us feel alive.
PB: How have the early live shows been for you guys, in terms of gaining an audience? You have the critics and press on your side, but are the crowds digging your sound?
Mike Keefe: We’re totally psyched with the positive feedback we’ve been receiving both for the EP and our live shows. It’s clear to us that our sound is connecting with a lot of people around our age who grew up listening to the stuff we were into. We’re really happy that fans have been showing up at shows time and time again as well as hitting us up online. Good stuff. We also know we’re still relatively unknown and are just amped to get out there in front of more music fans.
PB: You guys are on Killing Horse Records. Why sign with them, and what have they brought to the table for the band?
Mike Keefe: We’re really happy to officially be working with the guys over at Killing Horse. The label roster is full of tremendously talented bands from New Jersey that all have something unique to offer. Mike Sylvia and Ryan Gross [who run the label out of Kearny, N.J.] have been big supporters of our band since the beginning and have gotten that much more into what we’ve been doing these last six months, with the addition of Mike Kundrath and the release of Imposter). They’ve already helped us tremendously with shows, promotion, etc. It’s nice to know you have people like them — and the rest of the Killing Horse team — in your corner. The North Jersey indie scene is alive and well.
PB: What are your plans for the rest of 2011/next year in terms of records, tours, etc.?
Mike Kundrath: We’re currently writing new songs, and as soon as we’re ready, we’d love to get back into Treehouse and record. We love the recording process. We learned so much from the last recording and are anxious to flesh out some new material and put out a full length album. Other than that, we’ll continue to play shows and play together as much as possible. As a band we can already see some awesome progress in our songwriting/stage performance over the last nine months and just look forward to where we will be in a year from now. We are all very excited for the future as a band.