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Interview: State Radio

mit Chad Urmston vom 10. März 2013 Batschkapp, Frankfurt am Main
Sollte Musik nur bloße Unterhaltung sein, also etwas das uns eigentlich nur den Alltag vielleicht hier und da etwas versüßt? Oder sollte Musik doch mit ihrer Funktion in unserer heutigen Gesellschaft ein Stück weitergehen und unser alltägliches Leben reflektieren, sozusagen eine Art Status Quo widerspiegeln? Oder kann man sogar soweit gehen, dass Musik etwas ist, dass die Welt aktiv verändern und bewegen soll? Dass der Song einer Band sogar eine politische oder sozialkritische Botschaft vermitteln muss, um als ernsthafte Musik zu gelten? Ein jeder Hörer wird bei dieser Frage ganz sicherlich seine eigenen Präferenzen und Ansprüche stellen.
Die Jungs von der US-amerikanischen Alternative-Band State Radio gehören ganz definitiv zu den Musikern, die versuchen sowohl mit ihrer Musik, als auch mit ihrer Schlüsselrolle als Musiker in der Gesellschaft tätig zu sein. Dafür haben sie sogar eine eigene Aktivistengruppe ins Leben gerufen: Calling All Crows. Wie uns Gitarrist und Sänger Chad Urmston vor dem Auftritt der Band im Batschkapp in Frankfurt erzählte, gehören zu den Aufgaben, die unter dem Deckmantel der Gruppe stattfinden, zum Beispiel das Streichen von öffentlichen Gebäuden, das Säubern von Parks oder auch einfach das Verfassen von Protestbriefen an politisch streitbare Figuren.
Auch berichtet uns Chad, wie er die aktuelle Lage im Nahen Osten einschätzt, wieso die US-amerikanische Regierung in eine Sackgasse fährt und wie man diese damit verbundenen Probleme vielleicht lösen könnte. Aber natürlich gab es auch weitere spannende Themen abseits der Politik zu besprechen! So hat Chad zum Beispiel die Bedeutung des aktuellen Musikvideos "Take Cover" diskutiert, in dem die Posttraumata von Kriegsveteranen thematisiert werden. Ein Ausblick auf die Zukunft der Band und ab wann die Fans mit neuem Material rechnen können, durfte dabei natürlich nicht fehlen.
Viel Spaß beim Lesen!

The Interview:

Khanh: Hi Folks, this is Khanh To Tuan of Metal Trails and today we are with State Radio in the Batschkapp in Frankfurt. I am here with ...
Chad: … with Chad Stokes!
Khanh: How are you doing?
Chad: Great! Happy to be here. Thank you!
Khanh: This is your first headliner tour in Europe in 3 years. Are you excited?
Chad: Yes! Yeah, we rescheduled our tour a couple of times, so we are excited and glad people are coming to the show and held on to their tickets.
Khanh: What happened the last time? You were scheduled for last year in may to be here.
Chad: I didn’t finish the record in time. So the promoters here were ‘We don’t want you to tour unless you have any record.’ and I said ‘The record isn’t done yet’, so they said: ‘Okay ...’ But yeah, now we have everything we are supposed to have.
Khanh: So this is the fifth gig for this tour. Do you have any more expectations for this tour?
Chad: The german crowds have been the best. And I love this room! We are playing here, because I’ve just been here with Dispatch and they give us great food tonight. I’m excited about that! And there is just a nice vibe in this room. Everyone is just really nice. I am also excited to go back to Cologne or Hamburg and Berlin. It’s just nice to be back in this country.
Khanh: Have you tried any of the local specialties? Every german country has its own version of the pork cutlet or sausage.
Chad: I’m a vegetarian, so I’ve been eating a lot of wonderful bread and cheese.
Khanh: I see you have Emmentaler and Roggenbrot, so that’s one of the specialties of Germany.
Chad: I love it!
Khanh: For vegetarians there is also a so-called Green Sauce, that you eat with asparagus. Maybe you should try that at some point.
Chad: I think you’re right, I’ll look for that. What it’s called?
Khanh: The literal translation is “Green Sauce”, in German it’s called “Grie Soß” in the local dialect.
Chad: Whoa, thank you!
Khanh: Do you have any special plans for tonight? I think this venue is sold out.
Chad: I am trying to think. We have a cover, a song we are going to do, by a German, Peter Schilling, with his ‘Major Tom’. So do Germans know that song in German, or English? Do you know that song?
Khanh: I think they only know it in German.
Chad: So I think we are going to sing it in English, but I am trying to figure out if we should stop during the last chorus and have people sing it.
Khanh: That would be a great idea. Talking about covers, who has influenced your music the most and who are your musical idols?
Chad: I think as a band we have Nirvana and Radiohead and for my personal growing up I liked Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jethro Tull, Traffic, Led Zeppeline and Rage Against The Machine.
Khanh: So it has mostly been the Rock Genre for you?
Chad: Pretty much. I mean we lean towards Ska and Reggae and the opening band is full-on Reggea. We grew up listening to some roots music from Jamaica, too. So it’s all kind of mixed in that.
Khanh: So you would describe your music as a mixture between Ska, Reggae and Rock. Do you think Genre definitions hold back creativity?
Chad: Hold back creativity? I think some people, when they are being creative, they are comfortable with one genre. We have always listened to all sorts of music, even African music, like Highlife or Juju Music from West Africa. I think we like to play around. So it stays exciting for us.
Khanh: Do you think there is a point when a musician can only improve his musical style if he mixes different styles and genres into his music?
Chad: No, I don’t think so. I think you can always improve in a specific genre. But it’s helpful for me to listen to different kinds of music and see how they do this, do that. You know it’s great with the Reggae that the drumbeat is switched, so you have the kick in a different place from where you’d have it in Rock music. It’s fun to mess around with that and therefore your songs can have different feels to them.
Khanh: Do you sometimes sit down with other musicians and exchange pointers and ideas?
Chad: I do a little. The writing process for me is pretty private until I get the song to a certain point. And then I share it with the guys in the band and we juggle it around and figure out the best way to play it. So definitely with Dispatch and State Radio the last process in the song is trying to figure out how to arrange it, where to put the choruses, how to tie the bridge. Often when I bring it to Chuck and Mad Dog they’ll make the song better than it was, when it was just me.
Khanh: Is there a musician that you would like to have the chance to meet? Any musician from any time?
Chad: Maybe, Jimi Hendrix ...
Khanh: That was the answer I kind of expected.
Chad: The way he plays is otherworldly. You know it’s like straight from his heart.
Khanh: So what technical skills do you think are most crucial to improve on when playing the guitar? What do you see that Jimi Hendrix does, that you think “I need to learn that!”?
Chad: He is such a natural player. Chuck, our bassist, plays so natural, it’s almost like that. He’s such a good bassist and his fingers are moving all over the place and he is not even thinking. It is really cool to watch, if you are into that kind of thing. So for me, I use the guitar for mostly songwriting, so it’s great to learn different chords and see how they fit in and listen to other music, so you don’t get stuck in doing the same thing. I solo sometimes in this band and I am not technically very good, so it’s a lot of listening to ear. Any musician in the beginning it’s all about just playing for hours and hours every day.
Khanh: ... until it becomes natural to play.
Chad: Yeah.
Khanh: So you don’t think you have reached the skill ceiling yet, there is always some more room to get better?
Chad: Yeah, tons of room.
Khanh: What’s your formula to keep the band clean of conflict? Because sometimes one guy wants to move into this direction, while the other guy wants to move into that direction. What do you do to keep it all under one roof?
Chad: That can be tricky. You just wanna listen to everyone and have people to be heard in the band, because that’s a lot of what that is and you just want to have an understanding of: “Okay, you wanna do that? Let’s try it, see how it works.”
If I don’t agree, I say “This is what I would do, let’s try that.”
That’s why it’s favourable when you have three people, because then the other person weighs in in which way they would like to go and sometimes it’s a two versus one.
Khanh: So three is the perfect size for a band?
Chad: I think it is a nice size. Sometimes we have a fourth member join us, it’s Matt Embree from Rx Bandits. And that’s cool because every other tour we do with him, so that keeps things different and fun for us.
Khanh: So he just comes with you on tours, he is not part of the creative process?
Chad: Not so much.
Khanh: You see that a lot. In the studio you can do stuff you can’t do live, so you need a guy to help out.
Chad: And he’s so good, he plays in a band called Rx Bandits, he sings in that band and they are like the best band in the world.
Khanh: Ok folks, be sure to check them out!
Chad: [laughs]
Khanh: So is there a point when you lose objectivity when you look at your own work, when you need to ask somebody else “Hey, can you listen to this? Do you think this is played right, what should I change?”
Chad: Yeah, it’s always good to have our friends and family weigh in on what I like, because otherwise you are in a kind of vacuum. Even in the band it’s good to have people come in for the first time and say “That’s good”, “That’s bad” or “That’s terrible”.
Khanh: The latter one of course not so much. So you are part of an independent label, right? I guess there is not so much pressure, you still have full artistic freedom to do what you want?
Chad: We don’t have a label at all in the states. We can do whatever we like. It means we don’t get the help or the money a major label has, but it does mean we can just go at our own speed and put out the music we like to and say whatever we want.
Khanh: I just looked at Germany, so I thought you were part of an independent label.
Chad: Over in Germany we are, but in the states, we are not.
Khanh: Your music deals a lot with society and politics. For the new fans out there, what is “Calling All Crows”?
Chad: Calling All Crows is an organisation we started to incorporate service projects into touring. So we do stuff like clean up gardens or write letters or paint school. Just kind of anything to get a lot of people together before shows and do good work.
Khanh: So what are your plans for this tour regarding Calling All Crows? I read there is something planned for the tour final in Berlin?
Chad: I think Berlin is with Amnesty International and we are playing a few songs and writing a few letters to leaders who have captured political prisoners. And then in Cologne and Hamburg we have fixing up a garden and doing a mural somewhere else.
Khanh: Who are your biggest idols as humanitarians, not as musicians?
Chad: Howard Zinn, Gandhi, you know other academics like Noam Chomsky. People who I feel like are telling the truth and are not afraid to stand up.
Khanh: Of course sometimes when you tell the truth you get locked up. Happens in Russia, sometimes.
Chad: Yeah with the Pussy Riot band of women who are in jail right now, I think.
Khanh: They disappeared somewhere.
Chad: I really admire people like that. There is a woman named Jenni Williams in Zimbabwe, who has been locked up hundreds of times and is still leading the fight there for justice and gender equality. So amazing people out there.
Khanh: What do you think is the biggest current problem in society? For example, there have been talks about water privatization in Germany.
Chad: The US is kind of a mess here. It is a system of checks and balances, but Obama has been having a lot of trouble getting something done, because he just comes up against the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Not sure what needs to happen. I guess my answer is, I would like to change the system a little bit, so there are more parties, not just Democrats and Republicans and you don’t need to be a millionaire to run.
Because then I think you get a better representation of the people. And then that could change everything. Our healthcare is somewhat nationalized, but could be more like a system in Sweden where the taxes are higher and you have great education and great healthcare. The water thing is scary, I think that is the next war of our future, our children’s future. It’s quite frightening. But there is so much going on in the world. I guess the Israel/Palestinian conflict is always on our mind.
Khanh: That’s a real controversial topic. What’s your stance on Israel and Palestina?
Chad: I believe that in 1948 when the UN put Israel on the map, I believe they did it in a place that was too much of a hot bed for future violence. And if that could’ve been another place nearby that didn’t have Jerusalem in it, then maybe todays situation would be less violent. If they had borrowed a little bit from this country, a little bit from that country instead of the UN just sweeping the Palestinians aside ...
I think Hamas and the right-wing leadership in Israel, they depend on this blood flow for their own power and aggression. I was just talking to my friend Nick in Zürich about this. I like his view, that hopefully the right-wingers, just like in the United States the Republicans, grow out of favour and are outnumbered as they get older. I think in a world today it is easier for us all to communicate. So we hope the moderates slowly start to take over from the right-wingers and there is some kind of inclusion program and Israel redefines itself. Maybe it is still Israel, but much more open: There is no walls, no borders between. It’s kind of a one-state solution, that I know is optimistic, but I like that idea.
Khanh: I think most countries’ official stance is Jerusalem is not the capital and they want a two state solution.
Chad: That could be okay. It just seems that there will always be those conflicts around Gaza and the West Bank. As long as the violence is going everyone is going to feel like they are going to need revenge.
Khanh: From the outside view you might think they are all extremists. But the regular people just want to live their lives.
Chad: As more people get connected with the internet and everything there is a leveling of the playing field, hopefully. I am not sure how technically advanced Palestine is, or if smartphones have creeped into that world. So maybe if everyone has a camera, they can be their own media and kind of create a more true sense of what people really want.
Khanh: There is also the problem of copyright. The copyright industry wants stricter laws so they can take down pirated music.
Chad: My opinion that there should be just no copyright. I think it’s a slippery slope once you start to say “Oh you can’t put that up, we own that.” It doesn’t seem right to me.
Khanh: Of course as an artist on the one hand you want exposure, you want to be heard. On the other hand you need the money to live.
Chad: Yeah. You just hope that people come to your live shows. That is where you get your bread buttered.
Khanh: Talking about digital, Rob Wells of Universal said last year: “We have really only scratched the surface of digital music in the last decade – now we are starting the real mining, and on a global scale.” Would you agree on that? In China, 70% of the revenue comes from digital. In the US it is 50%. With iTunes, Amazon and Spofity emerging, is that a good thing for you?
Chad: I miss the days of vinyl. We still have vinyl here and a lot of bands are doing vinyl again. I even miss the tape and the CDs, it’s fun to have something in your hand. But is an undeniable future that we need to accept. I think Universal is right. Those big record companies were so slow to accept the change. But it is here and is one of those things that has to be accepted. To me with Dispatch as an independent band, in the old paradigm I would’ve had to sign with a record label to get the help. But because it’s this instant distribution the songs can go everywhere. For an independent band that’s a plus to the system.
Khanh: What’s up next for the future of State Radio?
Chad: We have some shows in April when we get home. We did five cover songs that we recorded that we are going to release, with I think “Major Tom” being one of them. We are going to release a live show, too. Just stuff that we are going to roll in the next month, then we are going to tour in the spring and maybe a festival or two in the summer. I go out with Dispatch in the summer, too, so I have to kind of balance the two.
Khanh: I saw your last album had a commentary track. Are you planning on doing that again?
Chad: Yeah, probably! Spotify asked us to do that.
Khanh: So that’s a Spotify exclusive?
Chad: I think so. I think that’s it started.
Khanh: That’s pretty cool actually. Sometimes you don’t want to just listen to the music, but you want to hear the stance of the creators with it.
Chad: Sometimes it’s good to create your own idea of what it is and sometimes it’s good to have the artists’s stake on it.
Khanh: You current video, or single, is “Take Cover”. What’s going on in this video?
Chad: Basically it is this parallel world, where violence has taken over. The thing in the states is that we mostly fight our wars overseas. The idea is that the veterans are coming home and it’s not just like they can forget the war. There is so much veteran suicide and the war is still inside of these men and women who come back. So the idea is that this woman maybe has come back from war and the allegorically has brought the war back with her.
That’s what she’s looking at. Maybe it’s all in her head. But she struggles and there are bombs going on. She is looking for relief, so she jumps into the pool to get away from the heat and the explosions. And then she thinks she’s saved and then all these corrupt fighting officials, almost like businessmen jump into the pool with her. This shows the other side of america, with the corrupt leaders and greed. Then they try to take her down. Then this one woman saves her and for an instance they’re OK and they are even falling in love, in this new world underneath the water. At the end it’s scary again, she doesn’t know if she is going to the surface or getting dragged to the bottom or which way she wants to go even. In the end she wakes in the bathtub. It’s her trying to figure out how to reconcile the war inside of her.
Khanh: It is kind of reminiscent of Mulholland Dr., if you know that movie.
Chad: That’s David Lynch, right? I haven’t seen that but I know Chad Everett who is in that. He’s the older actor in that movie.
Khanh: It’s a great movie, you have to see it!
It’s up to you now, do you have some final greeting or shoutouts for your fans, family and friends?
Chad: My lady back home is about to give birth to our second kid, so that’s exciting. I feel so bad because she is 9 months pregnang and I left. She is taking care of our one-year-old. Chuck has a wonderful family and he has a little daughter who is almost two. We would like to say hello to them and that we love them.
We’d like to thank the German crowds for being so friendly and energetic and singing along with us. It’s always been a special feeling to come here. A feeling of gratitude.
Khanh: Thank you very much! I will be back tonight to take some pictures of your show.
Chad: Cool, See ya there!
Moderation: Khanh To Tuan; Fotografie: Khanh To Tuan
Wer in das aktuelle Album „Rabbit Inn Rebellion“ von 2012
reinhören möchte, kann dies hier tun:
[amazon "State Radio – Rabbit Inn Rebellion (2012)"]B009JOY1IK[/amazon]

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