Wisconsin rockers So So Radio are beginning 2011 with a short tour celebrating the release of the band's debut album, Dustcovers. It's a catchy listen that should immediately appeal to most indie pop listeners who encounter it, showcasing carefully constructed songs that at times are as steady-building as the buzz around the group.
Though So So Radio has only been around a couple years, it's already shown a determination to move beyond the region's borders, placing their first single on an episode of the ABC network show Scrubs. And unlike many new bands trying to get their name in the public eye, they've also been selective when playing shows, which so far have included opening slots for touring acts as varied as Ha Ha Tonka, The Hold Steady and Smoking Popes.
So So Radio is a trio of lead singer/guitarist Ryan Garcia, bassist/singer Nick Hoffmann and drummer/percussionist Sam Arneson. Garcia explains: "We came together -- the drummer, Sam, and I -- for So So Radio in about January 2009. We had known each other since we were teenagers; before [So So Radio] we'd played in bands off and on for awhile. We had a little trouble finding a bass player and we finally found Nick last summer."
Though their online press kit lists Fort Atkinson as the group's location, naming an official hometown isn't so simple. "We rehearse in Fort Atkinson, where Sam is living; Nick is a student at UW and I am from Janesville," Garcia says. "So we're from all over -- we don't really have a home base exactly." That semi-rootless state has allowed them to simultaneously work to build a following in both Madison and Milwaukee.
As guitar rock creeps toward sexagenarian status in the 2010s, finding a way to combine one's influences into something a band can call its own can be a tall order. So So Radio has managed to pull it off, as there are echoes of what came before all over their album, but nothing that sounds exactly like any previous band. There are hints of the single-minded rhythm of recent Spoon albums, the anthemic quality of Joshua Tree-era U2, and the minor-key guitar figures of Big Star, sometimes all in the same song.
"Hospital Food" begins with a Beach Boys-worthy vocal intro before launching into a bass-line driven indie rocker. The song's genesis came from a real-life hospital visit. "My mother-in-law fell ill -- she's now recovered -- and it struck me how lonely and cold hospitals are, and basically how hospitals consume people's spirits, souls, and well-being," says Garcia. "Hence, no matter how you end up there, you end up as hospital food. Yeah, I know, hospitals are where people go to get well -- or so some would say -- but I'm not totally buying that. It's about your body being reduced to dust in a hospital, and how the connections you make with other people in your life (bridges) are all that remain true."
Fans who have picked up either the "Moenjodaro" single or Ponder EP will recognize that all those previously released songs are here. "We re-recorded everything for the album." notes Garcia. "'Moenjodaro' is noticeably different than the one released last year, which was just Sam and I. Last spring's Ponder EP was a live recording we did for 91.7 WMSE in Milwaukee." Fans of the vinyl format should keep an eye out later in the year, as a version of Dustcovers in that format is planned. "We may add a track or two vinyl-only," Garcia says.
Listen to an MP3 of "Hospital Food" in the related files at right. More music by So So Radio is available on its website, and more info can be found on its MySpace and Facebook pages. Listen to more songs from Dustcovers when the band plays a release show at the High Noon Saloon on Wednesday, January 12.
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