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Western Stars

Photo by Sasha Eisenman

It’s late afternoon at El Chavo, the gaudy Mexican joint just down Sunset from the Tiki-Ti, and Darren Rademaker and I are talking records and sinking drinks under a giant autographed photo of Dolly Parton. I’m trying to get the lowdown on Once, the gorgeous new album by Rademaker’s band The Tyde; unfortunately, whenever either of us mentions something musical, this 50-something roadie type to my right seizes upon it as an invitation into our conversation. “Lou Reed?” he belches at one point. “I useta work with Aerosmith!”

Rademaker just laughs and chatters on, undaunted by our companion’s interruptions or increasingly worrisome state of inebriation. When music is the subject at hand, there’s precious little in the world that can distract him from his train of thought. “Basically, my whole life, the only thing I’ve really cared about is music,” he says. “I’ve always felt that, if you quit, it never really meant that much to you in the first place.”

Not that Rademaker hasn’t been given ample reason to throw in the towel. For 20 years he’s kicked around in numerous bands, including late-’80s pop hopefuls Shadowland and ’90s indie goofballs Further; in the process, he’s endured enough personal and professional bullshit to make anyone consider a career in something more stable — you know, like farming or day trading. Thankfully, Rademaker has stuck it out long enough to come up with Once, an album that makes all his previous efforts seem shabby by comparison.

“It’s the one album I’ve done where I can say I like every song,” he says, laughing. “This is like the first time where I can actually say, ‘I’m not embarrassed about anything on here.’ But on the other hand, I’m not really delusional that anyone’s gonna actually care, you know?”

However, there are plenty of people who care a great deal about the recent reissues of Love’s Forever Changes and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, and while it may not be quite up to the level of those acknowledged classics, Once is certainly cut from the same brown corduroy cloth. The flagship release on Orange Sky Records — the new contemporary wing of Burbank’s garage-intensive Dionysus label — Once has already racked up substantial raves in the U.K., and is highly recommended to anyone who digs the more organic and idiosyncratic side of classic rock, à la Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Scott Walker and the Velvet Underground, or similarly rooted current artists like Elliott Smith and Spiritualized. But according to Rademaker, it was British cult heroes Felt who really helped him chart The Tyde’s musical course.

“Felt have been my favorite band for a long time,” he says. “Toward the end of the ’80s, they really started to sound like a cross between Lou Reed and Bob Dylan, done by English people. That’s the ultimate goal for me, because you have the dark and druggy type of thing, but you also have the whole California folk-rock thing that came out of Dylan’s music. I looked at these English guys doing that, and wanted to take it a step further.”

Assisting Rademaker in his musical mission are keyboardist Ann Do, guitarist Benjamin Knight, bassist (and younger brother) Brent Rademaker, drummer Christopher Gunst, and David “Farmer Dave” Scher on organ and lap steel. The fact that the last three are members of Beachwood Sparks — another local band that carries a torch for the sound and vibe of late-’60s California — is not coincidental, though it does occasionally pose some logistical problems.

“The guys in Beachwood Sparks are going in soon to record their album,” Rademaker says, “and then we’re all going to England in April for a short Tyde tour. Our album’s just coming out, and we can’t really go anywhere because they’re busy, but it doesn’t really matter, because you just can’t replace their vibe.”

When he’s not leading the band through such stunning songs as the poignant “All My Bastard Children” and the epic “Silver’s Okay Michelle” (partially inspired by figure skater Michelle Kwan’s 1998 Olympic defeat by Tara Lipinski), Rademaker spins records every Tuesday at the trendy Beauty Bar.

“My night’s called Middle Youth Club,” he laughs. “Which basically means a guy in his late 30s who’s still trying to live out a teenage California fantasy.” While some could accuse him of doing just that with The Tyde, he admits that there are other motivating factors for his musical pursuits.

“I love to read the good reviews,” he says. “Getting a good review in NME is almost as good as getting a platinum record. It’s kind of a silly thing, but it’s really cool to me. And being able to tour England, even though we’re really a nobody band — that gypsy thing of just being able to travel and play songs, have a good time and party. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”

THE TYDE | Once | (Orange Sky)