Interview: Sub-Radio

10 years ago, just on the outskirts of D.C. and in the realm of Northern Virginia (aka NOVA), a group of high-schoolers decided to form a band. The six friends consisted of Adam Bradley (Lead Vocals), Mattew Prodanovich (Guitar), Michael Pereira (Drums), Michael Chinen (Guitar/Keys), John Fengya (Guitar/Keys), Barry Siford (Bass). Influenced by the music their parents listened to, they jammed out to classic and acoustic rock. When the group went off to college, they remained committed to band and playing music. But their style went through a metamorphosis and found their strength as a dancey, pop rock band and Sub-Radio was officially born.

Sub-Radio itself is still a young band, but its roots are incredibly deep.  Throughout our interview I learned that the members strike an elevated balance of 1) knowing how each can uniquely contribute to each song and 2) knowing each other so well that they’re fluid in “method acting” on behalf of another. While the band laughs a lot and are exceptionally goofy, it cannot be understated how hard they work at making their dream a reality. They all have full-time jobs, but spend their nights recording and playing gigs, sometimes even in the same night.

Towards the end of the conversation I asked the band what fictional characters they identify with, but if the roles were reversed and I had to associate Sub-Radio with a fictional character, I would say they’re your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man. I’m talking Disney-era Spider-Man, the guy who relentlessly welcomes unbeknownst challenges with a smile and a few backflips. You’ll understand why once you finish the interview.

CSDC: Okay, there’s 6 of you, what is the music process like given you have a larger group size? How does the music all come together?

Matt:  It depends on which one of us feels like sharing one of our ideas that day and all of us get together in a room, kind of like what we were doing on stage a couple minutes ago, and jam on either an idea that I have or Adam will come forth with a chorus and sometimes even a full song and then we’ll just write our parts into it. Everyone plugs in their own little feel to it. Until we hammer out a full song and Adam takes it home and he fixes the words.

Adam: You hear stories about artists now that are working in different living rooms or different states and just send each other stuff. We’re writing the songs, maybe like bands did in the 80’s, where you have to get into a room and play things over-and-over until they’re good. It’s funny when we think about how we used to write the first few years of the band. It was the same process, but one of us would have to dictate to the others what their parts were. We just weren’t there yet. Now Matt can play guitar and everyone’s like “I know what to do with that!” We’ll have half a song in 10 minutes. It’s the same process the whole time, but we’ve progressed in it. We can pop out a song in a day now.

Michael P:  I think that’s really cool about it, when we get together and we have those creative writing sessions, all the musicians, independently, are contributing their own voice to the song. Everyone has a hand in the final product. We’re not dictating anymore, we give each other feedback and we collaborate, but it’s very much that every member writes their own part in the song. I think that’s a really cool thing that makes us unique.

CSDC: You’re new EP, Headfirst came out. What does Headfirst mean? Why did you decide to name it that?

Barry: We picked “Headfirst” because we kind of just jumped into the EP. We had originally been writing singles every month. We released 6 singles over the course of 6 months. It was really taxing on all of us. We had written “What Are We” and that was going to be the 7th single, but then we decided to hold back on it to work on that and take time to take a breath because it was too much. We decided to take everything that we learned from writing the last 6 singles and amplify the heck out of it. We kind of wanted to take a new route with the band, we wanted to bring in more elements and more thought.

Adam: More investment of time and of money. Things started snowballing after October, we did single series up until September and “What Are We” was set to come out in October. Three weeks before we were like “We can’t keep doing this. We should do something more ambitious. We should take a breath and put out something that we really feel strongly about.” We brought in support, we’re working with PR folks and people who can help us with streaming and social media. We needed that support.

To go back to your question about, “Why Headfirst?” We wanted to pick a song title because we wanted the focus to be on the song and not on our artsy EP title. We felt connected to the EP and that song because the lyrics are about us saying, “There are some really scary things that are happening in the water and we’re not sure what’s going to happen if we get in, but we’re gonna do it anyways because we have to.” I can’t think of a better way to describe it. There are a lot of scary things out there that we’re jumping into and we’re gonna go headfirst.

Barry: Yeah, there were a lot of things happening and we’re just gonna go for it and see.

John: We were trying to put a lot more focus, aesthetically into ourselves and sonically that really came through.

Matt: Another thing, when we were writing “What Are We” we had “Flashback” coming right after it and another song “Miles” which is on the EP. Those three songs, as soon as we put them together we were like, “You know what this kind of sounds like one project”

Adam: These deserve to live together.

Matt: We wanted them to be all in one house, so that’s what we did.

CSDC: Elaborate on some of the things that are uncertain and scary or what are the “things that are in the water”?

Michael P: We had started doing a number of things that we’ve never tried before. We had done everything independently. What you see is what you get. We do all of our own production, all of our own recording, engineering, we write it all. Then for the first time we started working with this PR agency and working with consultants, other people, and drawing more influence from other places. We also wanted to, like John said, become butterflies and change our aesthetic. We had been wearing the same leather jackets and dark pants for like 8 years.

Adam: We were caterpillars.

Michael P:  Seriously. We wanted to take this and become a new band, kind of. It was a big step for us. I think the music reflects that.

Adam: We had a big meeting of us sitting in a room and coming up with idea after idea and got to the point where we were like, “Alright, we have 3000 ideas, let’s pick a couple.”

Matt: My wall used to be covered in sticky notes, we were like, “How would we define ourselves” “How would we define the music that we’re starting to make?” “What do we see ourselves as?” A lot of it is just a group of 6 guys.

Adam: Again, what’s scary is that a lot of this is so new for us. Being open and vulnerable to the audience while also accepting that you might fail in a really big way. This is something that we all really believe in, but if nobody else buys into it, that really sucks and that’s a scary outcome. I think that’s what a lot of us were thinking about back in October/November- we can continue doing what we’ve been doing or we can do something big and potentially stupid and see what happens, and we chose route number 2.

CSDC: With the EP out, are you going to go on tour, what things are you going to do to push it? What are your next steps?

Matt: We would love to go on tour, we’re talking to a couple people about setting up tours. It’s never been easy for us since we’re always busy, but we all really want to do it, but that is in the works.

Adam: Not to say that we’re not playing all the time.

Matt: Right, we are playing shows all the time.

Adam: Anywhere on the East coast, but we would love to go elsewhere.

Matt: As far as next steps, we want to shoot another video. We had one that just came out for our single “What Are We”, it was directed by Mike Henneberger, he’s the best. We’re still deciding on what song to do next. We want to release something by the end of this year, early next year.

Adam: We’re always writing.

Matt: We were writing on stage.

Adam: I don’t think we’ve ever stopped writing music

Matt: It just keeps flowing.

Adam: Some bands work in shifts, where they’ll spend six months recording, four months touring, take a break, then go back and write some stuff. We’re just writing and playing and recording all at once. It’s ridiculous, but it works for us right now. 

Matt: It was especially like then when we were releasing singles. It was single after single and recording after recording. We’re a little bit more structured now, which is nice.

Adam: We’d sometimes go from shows to the studio in the same day.

Barry: Yeah, it’d be like you’ve got a show in New York and we’re going to record in the studio on Sunday. That’s just how it is.

Michael P: Man, it was a drag, it was a grind, but it was a blast. There was so much going on and there was so much to do all the time

Matt: Never a dull moment.

Michael P: You’re always being creative, every second of every day, “What are we gonna do with this song? What’s the tone we’re gonna do here?” It’s just ilke that every day. It’s super fun.

Adam: We’re totally self-funded, but also means we have to pay our own individual rents and survive. We’re also all working during the work. I think it’s very fortuitous that we’re sitting right in front of this graffiti right here [Capitialism Sucks]

*All Laughs *

CSDC: What keeps you going? What’s the drive?

Barry: We just love music

Adam: We all love each other too. We’ve been a band for 9 years and friends long before that. I literally couldn’t imagine having more than two weeks of not playing music with these guys. I don’t think it’s ever happened

Michael P: Yeah, more than two weeks max.

Adam: I don’t think I’d still be doing this if this was a band of guys I found on craigslist

Barry: That’s specific.

Adam: This is the only way it’ll work. We’re committed to each other as people in addition to the project.

Michael P: We’ve organized our lives around this project. It’s just a part of our life now. We all love music and if we weren’t playing music we’d be hanging out anyways, so we might as well be playing music.

CSDC: What is the inspiration behind the clapping thing? [See video for submitted to NPR Tiny Desk for reference]

Michael P: Most of the music comes from guitar first, especially recently, Adam’s come up with a lot of it, like the genesis of songs, but sometimes we come up with percussion first, which is kind of wild. Sometimes I day-dream about rhythms and we had this wild weekend where I came up with a weird rhythm  and Matt came up with a guitar part, totally independently, I wasn’t really sure how to do it on a drum set, so I just kind of did it [the clapping] with my hands and feet. When we got to practice, Matt played that guitar part and I was like “Oh I have something to show you!” and it just happened to work out, kind of amazingly. It sounds like we planned it from the beginning.

Barry: Yeah, like I was in the room when he was writing his you know [does clapping thing].

Michael P: I have so many voice recordings of me just beatboxing in my phone. I am always conceptualizing different rhythms, all the time, without any music. It’s just another source that we can write music from.

Adam: Michael talks about the whole sequence as if he came up with it in 5-seconds and he probably did, but it took me 3 days to learn it.

Matt: It took me a second too. It looks like can do it on Instagram, but it took like 4 takes. Chenin can attest.

Michael P: He’s [Chenin] good now. He’s super good.

CSDC: If you could be any fictional character what would it be?

[“wows and ohhs”]

Adam: Like I aspire to be this character or deep down I know I am this character?

CSDC: You are this character.

Adam: Let’s answer this question for other people

Matt: Who’s gonna go first?

Matt: Chenin would be Johnny Bravo.

[All Agree]

Barry: That’s a read.

Adam: Barry, I don’t mean this as a personal insult, but I see you as many Seth Rogan characters.

Barry: I accept that. As long as I’m not Seth Rogan Pineapple Express dating a high schooler.

Matt: I think Mike Perrera is an anime character in general.

Adam: Like anime spongebob, because you have all of the enthusiasm, exuberance, and constant smile of spongebob squarepants, and the work ethic, but the hair of an anime character.

Adam: I can’t brand everyone like this.

Barry: Adam I would put you as the Pink Panther.

Adam: Okay… Slinky.

Matt: Hours of fun…

Adam: Out there but measured, okay.

Barry: Respected.

Michael P:  who is the stoic, reasonable, grounded character in every movie?

Matt: Brock. I’m a huge pokemon fan.

Michael P: John is Brock.

Michael P: You know that show Pinky and the Brain, Matt is the Brain. He’s the mastermind behind everything. He knows the path

Adam: I think theres a combination here, I’ll take the Brain because Matt is the brains of the operation, but also Arnold from Hey Arnold. He’s the glue, but also the brains. Chinen is also gets some of Arnold as well though, somebody’s gotta hold the pack together. If anythings out  of hand, Chinen sends out a joke in the group text to diffuse everyone. That’s an Arnold moment.

Adam:  this is a fun exercise we could do this for hours.

All photos by Raelena Kniff for Capitol Sound DC.

Follow Sub-Radio at the links below!