It comes as a bit of a surprise when Radio Vagos Adrienne Pearson confesses that she suffers from stage fright. The lithe, agile lead singer is one of the scenes most animated performers, convulsing onstage like a puppet jerked by invisible wires, channeling what appear to be some angry ghosts. I get really, really nervous, she says during a recent interview at the bands downtown rehearsal space. To compensate for the nervousness, I just have to listen, and whatever happens, the music informs my body and I go from there. Pearson says theres nothing predetermined about her feverish gyrations, despite a background in acting. I never think, This is how Im going to perform.
You get really outgoing when the songs on, keyboardist Olivia Parriott tells Pearson. When the music stops, youre like, Where am I?
Theres a transportive power in Radio Vagos unusual song constructions, which replace formulaic rock shapes with shifting slabs of post-punk noise (Blood on My Hands, Shotgun), dream-time pop interludes (Sophomore) and the desolate, radioactive spaces of Intro (Yearly Note). Radio Vago dont seem to mind being loosely aligned with L.A.s newer-wave movement -- which includes Squab, the Von Steins and Miracle Chosuke -- even though these groups take 80s influences in radically different directions. Whats the connection? I think its the keyboards, Parriott says.
Synth wizard Parriott, a former guitarist and Radio Vagos only L.A. native, had never played keyboards before deciding to start a band with fellow CalArts student Pearson, who grew up in Reno and Seattle, and guitarist Jen Gillaspy, a former Hoosier. Parriotts brother Jed was briefly the drummer when Radio Vago began in early 2000, playing house parties and shows on campus. We were just doing it for fun. Whew! A break from CalArts, Parriott says. Things grew more serious later that year when Chicago exile Jenny Vassilatos replaced Jed and Radio Vago gigged at their first nightclub, the Garage.
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In those early days, My guitar had a lot more feedback, Gillaspy says. We were more experimental, because it was just keyboards and guitar and drums, a lot of noise. We were also more pop, Pearson says, so when the bass came in, it allowed more of the heavier side, and I felt more creative and open. Bassist Nicole Fiorentino, whod previously played in a New England riot-grrrl combo called Sweet 16 (only we werent 16 yet, she says), became an official Vago early last year, thickening an already ominous sound. When Nicole joined the band, everything clicked, says Vassilatos. I was keeping the ground before, trying to play bass lines and higher keyboard stuff, and now I dont have to do that, Parriott says. Now Olivia can go off, adds Fiorentino.
One reason we sound different is because most of us arent trained on our instruments, says Vassilatos. Whatever we learned, we learned on our own. Parriott concurs: All of us got into this band and started doing something totally different than the music that we grew up listening to. Pearson idolized Joy Division, while Gillaspy liked Devo and Dinosaur Jr. Fiorentino, meanwhile, was never a big fan of 80s new wave, preferring harder stuff by L7, Sonic Youth and the Pixies. Vassilatos is teased by the rest of the band when she admits that she was inspired by the drummers of Smashing Pumpkins, Tool and Rage Against the Machine.
This combination of elements Creates an often spooky background for Pearsons cryptic lyrics. I like how Siouxsie & the Banshees are abstract; there isnt a storyline, Pearson says. My mom used to read my journal without my permission, so I started writing in poetic format, in code. She could never translate it. She thought I was just writing poems. Although some of her lyrics are straightforward, as in Mail Order Bride, where Pearson says shes sarcastic about the American male standard, most arent that literal. TV Guide, according to Pearson, is about the end of the world, as forecast in the TV Guide. Stranger still is Intro (Yearly Note), with Pearson singing somberly in Latin, alluding to the New World Order, the Freemasons, George Bush and the meeting at the pyramids. Dismissing the breezy pop of early tunes like Sophomore, Fiorentino says, Were moving toward a darker-rock synth sound in newer blasts Racing Stripes, Butcher and Shudder, which will be heard on the bands debut CD this fall, in addition to a split 7-inch collaboration with Squab on Dionysus Records.
In response to the inevitable girl-band question, Parriott says, We werent thinking Lets put together an all-girl band. It was just Lets play as people who are musicians. And it happened that it was me and Adrienne and Jen and my brother. Does Jed Parriott feel like Pete Best now? Not yet! Radio Vago answer in unison.