Kicking Over the Speakers with Parker Griggs of Radio Moscow
Words by Audra Tracy
Imagine you’re a young ax-wielding punk from Iowa, and you play the blues, loud and dirty. Then you make a dirty demo in your Story City basement. At a Black Keys concert in Colorado, you somehow get your music into the very hands of the Akron duo’s insanely hip guitarist Dan Auerbach. And then? He calls you back that very night, saying he’s “interested”. Happens all the time, right?
While Radio Moscow has more of a 70’s psychedelic vibe, its sound shares that gritty, echo-filled, best-appreciated-on-vinyl appeal of The Black Keys. So what’s their secret? Was it good timing? Pure luck? Or does it really sound that good? The Waster caught up with the band’s ringleader Parker Griggs as he anticipates the April 14th release of Brain Cycles, now his sophomore effort on the Burbank, CA based Alive Records.
Radio Moscow’s rise may sound like a fairy tale, but the dream didn’t materialize overnight. A full year after that fateful meeting, Griggs found himself in Auerbach’s studio, recording Radio Moscow’s self-titled debut. Released in 2007, the album is covered in Auerbach’s fingerprints. “He recorded it all, he did some background singing on a few songs and played guitar”, Griggs says of his guru. “He helped a lot with the singing. The songs started out instrumental and I added the vocals last minute”, he confesses.
Not only did Auerbach produce, he and Griggs also collaborated on a take of an old Muddy Waters track, which is available on Radio Moscow’s myspace page. “We went back to his house one time and did a jam, a cover of ‘I Just Want to Make Love to You’, Griggs relates. “It was a good experience!”
You could say that Griggs takes the Dave Grohl approach to music making – rock first and recruit later. For all intents and purposes, Parker Griggs is Radio Moscow, because the raw sound you hear today started as his solo project. At just 24, he’s a composer, a drummer, a singer – but it’s his mischievous guitar play that really stirs the pot. It’s filthy, it’s self-indulgent, and it howls ‘I’m a f***ing rock star’.
His band has been through many personnel changes since its 2004 inception, but for the upcoming tour Griggs has found a “pretty permanent” lineup in bassist Zach Anderson and drummer Cory Berry. “We were going through a lot of drummers when were doing this last album, so I have kind of still been writing everything”, Griggs reveals. “Zach came up with one song, but I pretty much wrote all the new stuff too.”
When you hear Radio Moscow, you’ve got to appreciate how a state with virtually no music scene could breed such a rock and roll racket. “Seems like a lot of bands skip Iowa, there’s not really too much out here”, Griggs gripes. Little exposure to live shows led Griggs to draw his musical influences from old records and garage rock compilations – one of which even inspired the band’s name. “There’s this one garage song on this compilation You Gotta Have Moxie and it’s called ‘Go Go Radio Moscow’, he explains. “It’s just kind of a weird fake song we got the name from.”
“It was heavy blues based, made me want to pick up the guitar more. It changed my musical direction.”
– Parker Griggs on Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac
Garage rock may have been Griggs’ gateway drug, but it wasn’t long before he got into the harder stuff. His father introduced him to the infamous Peter Green’s hey-day in Fleetwood Mac, which Griggs credits as his “biggest inspiration”. “They were way different than the other Fleetwood Mac”, he recollects. “It was heavy blues based, made me want to pick up the guitar more. It changed my musical direction.”
That path has led him to Brain Cycles, an instant guilty pleasure full of catchy riffs and retro reverberations. Much like in Radio Moscow’s debut, surly lyrics about wicked women and getting ‘too high to climb’ seem like an afterthought, or secondary filler. But admittedly, preaching a message was not a top priority in the creative process. Griggs’ true focus is on capturing that truculent tone.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the aggressive instrumentals on Brain Cycles pay due homage to the founding fathers of electric decadence. “I play through an early 60’s amp and the bass player uses some 70’s gear”, Griggs offers, “to try to keep the tone pretty old -sounding.” It works. Griggs’ guitar licks in ‘Hold on Me’ could have been swept up from Electric Ladyland’s cutting room floor, while the edgy single ‘Broke Down’ is dark enough to please fans of early Black Sabbath.
Now with 2 albums under Radio Moscow’s belt, Griggs has a better grasp of the mixing process and how to “make it sound interesting on headphones, like the old classic psychedelic albums”, he shares. “I kinda want to do that again, but be even more extreme.”
Even with Auerbach’s Midas touch, Radio Moscow may have a long road before they become a household name. Because, really, where does a throwback to 70’s psychedelia belong in the 2009 rock scene? “We got some support from the stoner rock community”, he says. “We are playing the High Times Doobie Awards, that should be fun.” The odds may be against them, but the blues hounds plan to “keep pushing”, starting with a European tour this April. And you never know – maybe it is time for a classic rock revival. After all, you’ll find emblazoned across their homepage the all too fitting famous last words: ‘Every dog has its day’.
TheWaster.com | Brain Cycles