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Wavebreakers

It comes as a bit of a surprise when Radio Vago’s Adrienne Pearson confesses that she suffers from stage fright. The lithe, agile lead singer is one of the scene‘s 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 band’s 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 there‘s nothing predetermined about her feverish gyrations, despite a background in acting. ”I never think, ’This is how I‘m going to perform.’“

”You get really outgoing when the song‘s on,“ keyboardist Olivia Parriott tells Pearson. ”When the music stops, you’re like, ‘Where am I?’“

There‘s a transportive power in Radio Vago’s 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 don‘t 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. What’s the connection? ”I think it‘s the keyboards,“ Parriott says.

Synth wizard Parriott, a former guitarist and Radio Vago’s 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. Parriott‘s 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.

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, who’d previously played in a New England riot-grrrl combo called Sweet 16 (”only we weren‘t 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 don’t have to do that,“ Parriott says. ”Now Olivia can go off,“ adds Fiorentino.

”One reason we sound different is because most of us aren‘t 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 Pearson‘s cryptic lyrics. ”I like how Siouxsie & the Banshees are abstract; there isn’t 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 she‘s ”sarcastic about the American male standard,“ most aren’t 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, ”We‘re moving toward a darker-rock synth sound“ in newer blasts ”Racing Stripes,“ ”Butcher“ and ”Shudder,“ which will be heard on the band’s 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 weren‘t thinking ’Let‘s put together an all-girl band.’ It was just ‘Let’s 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.


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