Interview with bassist Ed Olsen and drummer Adam Caldwell | By John B. Moore
The Philadelphia scene has always been pretty vibrant; the rest of the world has just finally started to notice it. The past few years have seen everyone from The Menzingers and Beach Slang to Modern Baseball and Restorations impress with wildly original albums.
Based on their stellar debut, Telemetry—released in May on Wednesday Records—Fire In The Radio is the latest Philly band to keep the streak alive. The record is a creative amalgam of Jawbreaker, Weezer, and a slew of other great ‘90s punk bands.
How did the band first get together?
EO: [Guitarist and vocalist] Jon [Miller] and I knew each other from college. We ended up at the same house party one night after our previous bands had broken up. We were both looking to start something new. Jon and I got together to jam a few times till he connected with [guitarist and vocalist] Rich [Carbone], who was living with Jon’s sister’s boyfriend.
Anyway, we were a three piece looking for a drummer. We put ads everywhere. One day, this guy shows up at our practice space in some fetching running gear. He’d had our ad for several months, but neglected to call. That was Adam. He secured the position almost as soon as he walked in the door. Seriously talented and cool dude! The lineup was solidified.
What was it like working with engineer Don Zientara of Inner Ear Studio on your demo?
EO: Don Z is the coolest cat in town. It was awe inspiring to work with the Don, who recorded the likes of Fugazi, Bluetip, and, more recently, The Foo Fighters! Don knew what sounded good, but let us fully explore our songs. He also knows all the good spots to eat in [D.C.] and he knows the owners! When you go out to dinner with Don, you get VIP status!
How did his style compare to the album producer Thom Flowers’?
EO: Thom Flowers is also a cool cat, but probably the opposite of Don Z in a recording capacity. For me personally, Thom guided me to play the way I wanted, but was afraid to do so before. [He had] a “less is more” approach at times. Jon brought Thom on board to actively produce the record, and he definitely had a huge part in the overall sound and feel. Much of his magic remains a mystery, as we were often ordered to leave and could not enter the control room until granted permission.
What about the videos you made to go along with the record?
AC: As we were finishing the album, we thought about creating a series of videos to go with each song. We wanted to do something different than a typical music video, but still wanted each video to be connected with the music somehow. We came up with the idea of doing a short film that centers around a fictional eccentric character named Donald C. He’s a drummer with an inferiority complex. He is dead set against the stereotypes he faces as a drummer—as some kind of “less than” musician [or] band member—and seeks to break down this hierarchy, much like his idol Phil Collins.
The storyline follows Donald in his attempts to debunk the dumb drummer myth. It’s a satirical look at the ins and outs of being in a band, and serves as a platform to feature songs from our new album.
The concept for the first video [“Episode 401 – Crickets”] began from a conversation about recording crickets for a song, “Luna, I’ll Be Home Soon”—which we did on a hot August night last year—and evolved from there. [It is currently featured on Funny Or Die.]
As a band, we are interested in finding new ways of sharing our music. How can we present the music in a different and original way? Even though the music isn’t necessarily “funny,” our group dynamic is far from humorless. Playing in this band is fun. These guys are great musicians and we have a great friendship. A funny, fictional story that features our music feels like a good fit.
Philly has a pretty impressive punk scene. How tight is your music community?
EO: Philly has really always had a tight and vibrant scene, and many bands have relocated here because of that. It’s like three degrees of separation; you may not know every single person, but pretty close. Legends such as Chuck Treece [McRad, Bad Brains, Underdog, The Roots, Billy Joel], Rodney Anonymous [Dead Milkmen], and Dan Yemin [Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, Paint It Black] have routinely embraced and encouraged each successive upcoming generation in the scene. It’s great to see Philly and new and awesome upcoming bands like Beach Slang, Modern Baseball, Cayetana, Three Man Cannon—which Matt [Schimelfenig] who helped engineer our record plays in—and many others getting the respect they deserve!
Is it intimidating to come from a scene where many bands go on to do some big things?
EO: It’s really more about [the] pressure to produce quality and tight music. With elder statesmen like Yemin, Dave Hause [Paint It Black, The Loved Ones], and Colin McGuiness [Paint It Black, None More Black, H20] in the scene, people are not shy to give you their honest opinions. I think it’s rubbed off on the way that new bands focus on what’s important and try to make great music. Philly attitude is legendary.