by Amaris Pollinger
No one has executed modern rock as flawlessly as Dee, Isaiah, and Solomon Radke of Kansas City rock band, Radkey. They emerged from a literal green room and propelled themselves onto the big stage, performing with Fishbone, Foo Fighters, and Local H. Currently, they’re on the “Let the Bad Times Roll” tour with 90’s punk legends, The Offspring.
Just days before hitting the pavement with The Offspring, the Radkey team arranged an interview, for which I am eternally grateful. Isaiah Radke, the bass master, and usual Radkey spokesman joined me on 4/20 (make all the jokes you like) over Zoom, bringing along one of the many Rad cats. (By the way, cats are always welcome in any interviews conducted with BLOCK THE NOISE! Magazine).
Since their tour with Foo Fighters last year, and then Local H, (which unfortunately saw a slew of cancelations thanks to COVID-19) the band has kept themselves busy in the studio.
“It’s cool to be heading out on the road soon to break up some of the recording,” Isaiah comments. “Once we get back [from touring] we’ll be right back in the studio.”
Back in 2021, as Radkey prepared to tour with Foo Fighters, they self-imposed one rule: “Don’t be weird.” Or, don’t let social anxiety get the best of you. Such a rule came about after a handful of experiences made the trio shy away from interacting with other bands backstage. The reality was (and is) that they’re shy and having that kind of crippling shyness can result in an outward impression of superiority or aloofness. As a fellow sufferer of social anxiety who needs to mediate and mentally prepare before talking to literally anyone; I get it. Often, avoidance of social interaction is an easy way out rather than suffering from a panic attack.
“Being homeschooled, we weren’t really ‘out there,’ so it’s…interesting,” Isaiah comments on this self-imposed rule. But as the band stepped out of their comfort zone, their confidence grew. They’ve since established themselves comfortably in green rooms attached to venues across the country.
“Once you get through ‘not being weird,’ you can survive a lot of things,” Isaiah says, as one of the Rad cats, Richie, hops into his lap.
There is always an underlying element of vulnerability to Radkey’s music. Particularly in their latest single, “Games,” and my personal favorite, “P.A.W.” My love for that track is unwavering, and when I heard that Radkey had partnered with VANS to make an accompanying music video for a song that “shifts perspectives,” I was thrilled.
“P.A.W.” is timeless in its concept. It is reflective of the times we live in, the times that came before, and times that will likely come again. When their friends associated with VANS in Chicago announced the “These Are Ads for Creativity” project, Radkey decided to go big or go home.
“It was really cool that they were down to do the whole thing,” says Isaiah. “Because we were like, ‘Man this is gonna be a whole crazy thing we’re going for.’ We went for something big, crazy; it was really cool!” [sic]
They employed the artistry of their longtime friend, Chris Durr, who directed Radkey’s music videos for “Bend” and “Feed My Brain.” The result is an in-your-face visual with the band and various people from different age groups and backgrounds shouting the lyrics in a black-and-white checkered room. Perhaps there’s symbology in that concerning Radkey’s mixed heritage, colliding with the song’s lyrical message in a crescendo of punk perfection.
“P.A.W.” is unique in its broad, political clarity. What makes it enduring is the hard truth that someone, somewhere will always try to censor, control, and ostracize you if you don’t fit into their box. “P.A.W.” is Radkey’s call to “challenge racial and social discrimination, shift perspectives, and spark a conversation.” On Youtube, the video’s description quotes Isaiah saying, “‘P.A.W.’ is mostly about ‘redlining,’ and how shitty it feels to be considered less than others.”
Being mixed race can leave people in a strange, often overlooked place in society. It’s equally as important an issue as anything else, yet it is rarely, if ever, considered a problem. When you’re mixed, you’re placed in this grey area of having to pick or “prove” you belong to one or the other, or even ALL the races that make you who you are.
Radkey knows what that’s like, and god damn, so do I. Usually, we are left feeling extremely isolated, depressed, and suffer from imposter syndrome. It’s a real challenge, and I’m still trying to figure out why no one is talking about it.
Isaiah nods, commenting on these harsh truths. “Just growing up mixed, and being in a Best Buy or something, being watched by people… [it was] an everyday reminder that we’re not the same as everyone else.”
“P.A.W.” raises awareness of important issues while not being overtly political. In fact, Radkey is anything but a political, rebel punk band. That’s just not their style. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they are more than just rock…they’re in a whole class by themselves. They are ‘Radkey Rock.’ And Radkey raises awareness without being aggressive or condescending, and that’s what their latest single, “Games,” is all about.
Like “P.A.W.,” “Games (Tonight)” will make you think. And while it isn’t complicated, it’s far more layered with analogies while remaining true to the traditional Radkey sound. There is wordplay in “Games (Tonight),” even with its title, harkening to the band’s love of all things video games and Marvel, which has become something of their trademark. “Games (Tonight)” also references the relationships you have between certain groups and the masks you may or may not wear.
“Like with being mixed,” says Isaiah, “it’s not always about being mixed, but [that’s an example] of being in contact with some things that you may or may not call out in a non-family setting. Maybe you have a mask on or a slightly different version of yourself… a numb version [so then] maybe you can play along.”
“Games (Tonight)” highlights many of the same societal challenges brought to light in “P.A.W.,” issues we dance around but don’t truly confront. Maybe we’re afraid to rock the boat or don’t know how to call something or someone out without it resulting in emotional fallout.
There are parts of “Games (Tonight)” that briefly echo memories of early Interpol, like Turn on the Bright Lights (2002) or Antics (2004). Starting as a simple demo, the band decided to experiment with “Games (Tonight)” incorporating a synthesizer for the first time. Learning to perfect it took a while, but Radkey was excited about the prospect.
“Games (Tonight)” is just a hint of what we can anticipate on Radkey’s upcoming album. A new single is on the way, which Isaiah reveals will be even more of a teaser of what we can expect. With this new album, Radkey wanted to live in parts of their tracks, like drop sections and bridges, letting the songs exist as long as they needed to rather than cutting them short. Because of this, Radkey has found more room to experiment in ways they never had before. In the past, the band was particular about the length of their tracks, but now things are different.
“We’re messing with different textures… still doing the classic Radkey-type songs but adding different flavors in there.”
Between tours, crash landing on main stage after main stage, and a new album in the works, Radkey just continues to soar. All they really want to do is to play that delicious rock noise. They’re a great example of what modern rock can be and how a band can reach all different types of fans. It’s everything Radkey has wanted since they started way back in 2010.
And as I write this, Radkey is gearing up to play in Dallas. While I count the days until I get to see them rock out in Baltimore, I can’t help but be elated for these three rad cats. They’ve come so far since I first saw them open for The Damned in 2018. If any band deserved this amount of success, it’s the Radkey team. They’ve perfected their style so well that they can start experimenting without compromising their trademark sound. But hell, even if Radkey decided they wanted to pull a 180 on us like Ministry did in 1988, I’d still support them, blasting every track they ever created. Why? Well, as any hardcore Radkey fan will tell you (and we’re as devoted to Radkey as Swifities are to Taylor Swift), “Because Fuckin’ Radkey!!!”
*If you haven’t purchased tickets for The offspring’s “Let the Bad Times Roll” tour, featuring Radkey, go buy them now!
*Keep up with Radkey at Radkey.net for tour dates, merch, and more! Catch them on Patreon, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also follow the Radkey cats here.
** Cover photo courtesy of Radkey, taken by Paul Andrews.