Pacific Radio Weave LA Heartbreak into Poppy, Irresistible Garage Rock
By Brody Coronelli
Hearing a song and feeling it instantly crawl into your head is an immeasurably warm feeling for any true music lover. It’s the high you’re quietly chasing every time you turn on a record for the first time, or watch a band come onstage and begin their set. Pacific Radio have taken it upon themselves to embody this sensation.
Rising from the ashes of the punk-rock band The Ringers, the band is gearing up to release their debut LP Pretty, but killing me on December 8th. This collection of songs are more appropriately suited for the late summertime heat, but lucky for the band, they’re based in Los Angeles, where their infectious garage-rock balanced with beaming pop sensibility is always in season. The songs have an undeniable grit, combing heavy, buzzing basslines that thunder in your chest, surfy guitar leads that chug with the fury of punk rock while sizzling with the shimmering glow of power-pop, and tantalizing, pop-flavored delivery that renders the songs instantly memorable.
“[When I was growing up] I spent a lot of time listening to ‘60s rock, albums like Pet Sounds, and old country music, trying to figure out what made me sing the songs when I walked out of the room. When you listen to an hour of songs, which is the one that sticks out? The pop element to me is something catchy-- something you whistle when you walk down the street. [With Pacific Radio], I’m trying to combine that with the energy of rock ‘n’ roll,” frontman Joe Robinson said.
Pretty strikes a flawless balance between the punk-rock roots of The Ringers and irresistible, surfy, SoCal flavored pop-rock that never goes out of style. From the Pet Sounds driven psychedelia on the smirking “Whiskey Girl”, the sleazy, rockabilly-reminiscent, New York Dolls romp “Last Night’s Makeup” (The Ringers opened for The Dolls a few years back), to the thundering bass and anthemic na-na-na’s on “Camaro”, the band’s debut is a rambunctious, sunburnt charmer that gets more infectious with each stride.
“We made this album old school. We used minimal plug-ins and virtual instruments. I want a guitar to sound a certain way, and on your computer, you can crank these knobs on a virtual amplifier, so instead, we worked out how to do that in a room with microphones, old amps, and different tubes. [We found a way to] crank up an amp so it sounds like the wood is cracking, so you can hear every screw in the amp about to fall out. It sounds like it’s not gonna be an amp after the song’s over,” Robinson said.
Despite the vibrant, raucous energy of the album, many of the songs were conceived in an opposing spirit. The most notable of these songs is "Kitchen Table", a formerly stripped back crooner that was given the full band treatment to an irresistible triumph.
"Kitchen Table is one I’ve been playing acoustic for almost ten years, and I never thought it’d see the rock light of day. Most of the songs on the album were written like that- me banging out songs at home and bringing them to rehearsal, and then we work on them and develop them. Everybody brings their own additions to the songs. They wouldn’t sound the same if they all weren’t involved," he said.
Combining the forces of Robinson's pop-sensible yet deep-digging songwriting and buoyant vocals, Joe Stiteler's thundering basslines, the stylistically-dynamic, constantly evolving guitarist Kyle Biane and the vivacious yet steady drumming from Hyke Shirinian (both of which also play with The Kepler Mission), Pacific Radio is the sum of its parts: a vibrant and contagiously catchy collective of musicians that each individually stand out when you press play.
Talking to Robinson immediately paints the band in a light unique to other bands in the scene. Not only do they take inspiration from eclectic acts The Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, and The Talking Heads to craft their surfy, garage rock sound, but they take an incredibly self-aware approach to the day-to-day life of being a band in Los Angeles. The album's standout cut "LA Is Pretty (but it's killing me)" takes on the excess and superficial lifestyle of the city through cognizant lyrical commentary and a sugary, nostalgic, and pulled back '60s rock composition that'll have you humming by the one minute mark.
“The song is about the excess of [Los Angeles], and overdoing it because there’s so much available here. Everything’s in front of you all the time. On a Tuesday night at midnight, you can find the coolest thing in the world in this city, and it’ll kill you if you act on every one of those impulses of ‘that’s happening, I better go do it.’ It’s a defeating attitude, and it’ll kill you-- it’ll kill you, man," Robinson said, torn between admiration for his city and acknowledgment of it's defeating reality.
Robinson hails from Minneapolis, so the vivacious, ever-churning gears of LA serve as a harsh transition between the charming vacancy of the Midwest. The band recently finished a tour of the Pacific Northwest, which brought forward the virtues of living the creative life in Southern California, while also casting light on its pitfalls.
“[Being a band in LA] is a blessing and a curse. You never know who’s gonna be at a show. We just did a West coast run through Seattle and Oregon, and everybody was into it because they don’t get it as much. They’re not punched in the face with the constant ‘I’m the greatest in the world’ attitude that is LA, and you should check out my shit. Halfway through one of those shows, this kid left and came back with some friends. I asked him where he went after our set, and he told me he went to pick up his friends because they were drunk and they ‘had to see this’. Something like that wouldn’t happen in LA," Robinson said, fondly recalling the experience.
“Going on that tour reminded me of the Minneapolis scene, where people have that ‘[this show will be cool], and my buddy the bartender’s in this band, so let’s make it a night’ kind of attitude," he added.
One listen to Pretty, but killing me and it's easy to tell that Pacific Radio has what it takes to both strike a chord emotionally and to pull you out of your chair and get you moving. This is a balance that many bands dedicate hundreds of shows and practice sessions to find, but for Pacific Radio, it seems to come completely naturally.
“Sometimes, I’ll go watch a show and the music isn’t there, and other times I’ll see a band and I’m left floored, but I walk away going ‘I don’t think I’d buy an album’. The energy was there, and the crowd was doing wild shit, but I'm not able to remember a single song. In my mind, I want all of that together; the energy, people wanting to buy an album, and walking home humming the hook to “Kitchen Table," Robinson said.
It's hard to deny that Pacific Radio have already reached this point after you've felt the smirking groove of "Katie", the sultry, surf-rock grit of "Dancin'", or the relentlessly uptempo groove of "Weekend". This isn't a band that grows on you; it's a band that you know you'll love from the first hook.