Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sitting at the Kitchen Table: A Conversation with Joe Robinson of Pacific Radio

New bands are like craft beers.  You drink them and you enjoy them, but you are always on the lookout for the next new one. Then the day comes when you discover "the one" and you are ready to buy it by the case.  I want to buy Pacific Radio by the keg.  Hot off their new EP Kitchen Table and their upcoming gig at BottleRock, front-man Joe Robinson had time to field a couple questions from me over the phone.

Fran Chismar: I appreciate you taking some time out to talk to me. Do you have a few minutes?

Joe Robinson:  No sweat. Yeah, yeah. Totally.

Fran: I had a chance to listen to the EP [Kitchen Table], which I'm completely obsessing over right now.

Joe: Awesome, I really appreciate that. I really do.

Fran: You know, every day it's another song. Right now I am listening to, "L.A. is pretty, (but it's killing me)"

Joe: "L.A. is Pretty". Yeah, that's a special one.

Fran: I've listened to that probably at least twenty-five, thirty times today. I was driving my co-workers crazy. What I love about the EP is that the music reminds me of everything that I love about '90's indie, but at the same time it reminds me of the lyrical fun and the power pop scene of the late '70's in Los Angeles bands like The Knack. Can you tell me a little bit about your influences and the band's influences?

Joe: Oh boy. The influence is guitar-driven rock and roll. A lot of people are after tracks over songs, and synth here and there, and vocals everywhere, and we're just kind of like  I saw the Eagles of Death Metal, and they sit up there, and they have so much fun and it's simple to a point where you can pick up a guitar and play it. You want to air drum to their drum fills, and it's just great stuff, you know? I wanted to take that, and just put it in melodically. I've been playing music for my whole life, and I've gone down the path of being a guitar player in the band. Then, I've written songs in the background. These songs are just coming up now.  I have influences from The Replacements from Minnesota. Yeah, that's a big one for me. I'm from Minnesota, so you can't help it.

Fran: Since you're touching on it, you and your bassist Joe [Stiteler] were previously in a punk band. It's funny that you mention The Replacements because they kind of followed that same path.

Joe: Oh yeah and lifestyle.

Fran: What led to the change of musical direction for you? Going from a punk band to where you're at now?

Joe: As the punk band formed, we were called The Ringers, and it formed where Joe – the bass player of Pacific Radio right now – was the bass player of that. This is like 2002 or 2003 I guess.  He just picked up a bass and started playing for that. That was the genre for him, you know? Then, the singer was writing these songs, and he wasn't too great a guitar player, but they called him the Iggy Pop of the 2000's. People were freaking out because he was such a madman. We put out a couple albums and did the touring, and it just kind of wore us out. Because the songs – you know, there's the punk band mentality and if you don't start making money on that – you can scrape the gutter and live out of a van for so long, but you have to write something that people can sing along to and whistle to. The singer just kind of said, "This is all we're probably gonna get," and we all kind of  agreed.

Fran: So you just feel it kind of ran its course. You did as much as you could with it.

Joe: Yeah, and it was the singer's decision, but it was a long time coming. Then about a couple years later, I just had these songs in the background and Joe came over one day and he was playing this bassline and it turned into that "Kitchen Table" song that we did the video to. I already had that written from like 2002 and that thing fit and I was like, "Wow, let's rock it out." We got this drummer that filled in with The Ringers when our old drummer was out of town. He came over and we just played “Kitchen Table” for a day and we were like, "This could work as a band." And I went, "Yeah, cool. So, who are we gonna get to sing?" And they were like, "You're doing just fine. Let's ease you in." And I had to ease into that front man role. I started just sitting around and writing when I figured it out. I pulled out these old lyric books and just started listening to a beat, like on a Strokes album. Just taking that beat and grooving along to it and just making songs around that and demoing them. Then the band kinda formed and that's how it all went down.

Fran: Now, you're saying that's going all the way back to 2002. Now, the band's been together since 2010? Tell me a little bit about the journey. I mean, we're seven years later and what's been going on?

Joe: We started soft. Basically, we sat in the living room and figured out that these songs  that "Kitchen Table" worked in 2010. Then, we went on and off with drummers. We got a couple shows. Then, we met Kyle, the guitar player. This girl and her brother worked with a guy named Kyle that was looking to record rock and roll. He heard the demo of that bassline and he was like, "Whoa fuzz bass. I'm in," and recorded, like, twelve songs for us. We're making these songs and I'm strapped to a guitar and singing. In The Ringers, it was like we could jump around and Joe and I were interacting a lot while the singer went off and did his Iggy Pop stuff. I'm hitting pedals and playing all the leads. I'm like, if we got another guitar player, it could really free us up. We were kind of bouncing around ideas for that and then we went went to Kyle, the guy that recorded us and has heard the song a million times. We went to him and before we could finish the sentence, he's like, "I'm in. Let's play." He's like this little go-getter, excited about life, and he could just put this new spark in us. [Kyle] had another band named The Kepler Mission. We pulled his drummer from that and just started making shows happen, and then we really got going about a year and a half ago. We got a residency at Boardner's. We played six weeks there in a row. The shows got bigger and we got more active with everything. About a year ago this guy came along, Eric Weaver, Kyle's friend. He's a Grammy-nominated engineer. That doesn't happen a lot. There's only like two engineers ever nominated. He wanted to get back into the rock and roll. He took us aside and him and Kyle and we all chipped in and we're slowly building this studio, right? We record everything in there and Eric's producing it and everyone's kind of like in that studio all the time. I mean, we're back in there demo recording the second half of those four songs that you heard. We got six more coming out and we're demoing them out right now to figure out what we can play to optimize the time that we have in the studio when we did get there so we're not clunking around like, "What should we do in there?" We're like a well-oiled machine and cranking out these songs now.

Fran: I gotta tell you. Getting the four song EP, it wasn't enough. I find myself listening to it, listening to it, listening to it. I'm trying not to gloss over it because I know you have a full length coming out. You guys are working on that right now?

Joe: Yeah. Yeah. We just  You know what happened was, we got this BottleRock show. In Napa, California. We got it on a whim. Kyle, the guitar player, he's from Napa.When I was in The Ringers, there was this guy who is now working in Napa for BottleRock Festival and that's his only gig. He was always like, "I gotta run it through seven different people and I can't pull favors for a new little LA band." He hadn't seen us or anything and he was like, "You know, if you guys get going and we can pull this off." So, Kyle's dad came to a show. Kyle's dad's friend in Napa said, "You know any bands in LA?" The Napa crew is all wineries and restaurants and all those people came up. We played a backyard barbecue with a pool party. Just because we heard that maybe there'll be people that have connections with BottleRock, right?  We got up there and we're on the grass. We learn Billy Idol covers. We learn Tom Petty for the old folks. We're like, "All right. Let's do it." We go out and smoke break and schmooze with people and everyone's getting drunk, you know? Apparently that worked because Tom Hoppa who now works up there called us about a week later and said, "You guys did something right. I've never heard of a band without an EP or an album or anything. You guys are coming across the table of the Napa people and they're kinda freaking out about you." So, about two weeks later we got the call and he was like, "Dudes, you did it. Everybody wants you at BottleRock and you're in." And we're playing Sunday with the Foo Fighters.

Fran: Oh man. That's incredible!

Joe: Yeah. Yeah. So Hoppa basically at the end of November ... or the end of October, he was like "You guys need some shit. You have a video?" We were already kind of in the works for a video and the EP was almost done, but that was kind of the catalyst, the kick in the ass to go, "Let's get this done by the 1st when they announce BottleRock so when people look at that poster and see Pacific Radio they have something to look at and buy."

Fran: How's the EP being received so far? What's the feedback that you're getting on it?  I hadn't heard you guys and now that I have, I'm like, "Why aren't I hearing more of them?" I know it's new. I know you're just kind of hitting the scene and that stride, but for the people that have heard it, are you getting good feedback so far?

Joe: We really are. Yeah. Everyone is like, "Wow. Surprised. Seriously, guys. Where'd this come out of?" I credit a lot of that to the recording process of it and how Eric has seen us enough and been with us enough to capture what we are. We are a really good live show too. Charismatic. Energetic. People laugh as much as they dance around, you know? It's a fun time.

Fran: For someone that hasn't seen you live, what can they expect from your live show?

Joe: Oh. They'll come back. Being the front guy and the guy with the microphone, I've got nothing but like, "We had no clue you had it in you." I come off a little quiet on the outside but then working with so many drummers you gotta have a little bit of your banter down 'cause you know drummers, especially when they're new there's a little blank spot in between a song or two here and there. I don't know. It just kind of worked off and with that positive energy that I was getting, I just kind of embraced this damn lead singer thing. Then, people are like, "I had no clue. We had no clue."

Fran: You know, because your music's fun, the music makes you move, I would imagine that you're bringing that energy to a show.  That same kind of fun vibe, that same kind of energy.

Joe: Oh, absolutely.

Fran: Oh, that's awesome. You're in the studio, you cut these four songs. Some of these going back over ten years. The stuff that you're doing now for the full length album, [are they] newer songs? Are you riding that energy from recording the earlier stuff? Is it still flowing for you that way? You have a back catalog that's just written down?

Joe: From 2011 to, say, 2013, I was just writing. That's all that I was doing. I was coming up with riffs and I was writing and then I'd get a chorus down and I'd do this, bring it to the band, back and forth. All this stuff. Everything except Kitchen Table is this band since it started has been written. All these songs are new. I'm pulling ideas and feels and lyrics and whatnot, but every song is like the new me after that punk band, you know? Let's do this. We're doing this. Then, you listen to an old Wolfmother album and you're like, "Whoa! That guitar. What is going on with that guitar?" And I'll bring it to Eric Weaver, the producer, and he'll be like, "Yeah, we can totally do that. Let's do that." Back and forth. It's just exciting, man.

Fran: So you guys are just feeding off of each other at this point and it's just growing.

Joe: Oh, big time. Yeah. We've been flying on these new [songs]. This year we've been working really well, too. You're gonna love it, man. When I get something in my head, and I think about how it's gonna come across on tape, right? Sometimes I'll be like, "Oh, this one might not work." So, the first batch of songs that we did, those four were the ones that I thought worked the best. Now there's two songs that we're recording now I'm like, "We should have put that one instead of this one." You know what I mean? So, there's this new little excitement like, "When this comes out, people are gonna flip." So, hopefully these four songs will get people interested enough. Where when the album comes out, it'll be like, "Bang bang bang bang holy shit," you know?

Fran: Like I said, I've been listening to it nonstop. I play it at my job and I have coworkers walking by going, "Who is this?" It's kind of piquing everyone's interest. Granted I am one to obsess over something, So "Kitchen Table" I played nonstop. and right now it's "L.A. is Pretty."

Joe: So good to hear.

Fran: Now, going off [L.A. is Pretty] lyrically, I could kind of tell that you weren't an LA native. You're saying you're from Minnesota.

Joe: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Fran: Was LA an adjustment? How long have you been out in LA?

Joe: Been out here since 2002. I basically packed up a car, a Mazda 626, and drove to LA with a few friends and then more friends came out, more friends came out and some friends left and here we are. Still here.

Fran: How about the other guys in the band, are any of them [from LA]? You were saying the guitarist is from Napa?

Joe: Yeah. The bass player is from Hondo, Texas.

Fran: Okay. So, you guys are pulling from all over the place.  From the imagery from the video for "Kitchen Table," it looks like you're all representing a different musical era and genre almost from your looks. Is that representative of you guys in real life? Is that imagery for the video or is that, kind of, really who you guys are?

Joe: That's who we are. We didn't intend it to be like genres, you know what I mean?

Fran: By the way, I love the 'stache.

Joe: I appreciate that. Now, I'm stuck with it, right? I'm a lifer.

Fran: You're a lifer now. Until it turns gray.

Joe: I show up without the 'stache, people are like, "Hey, what about ... where's the guy in the video? He had a mustache."

Fran: That's true. You can completely go incognito if you shave that off. You definitely each bring out your personality in that video and you can see it's kind of like you're all one, but you each can tell your individuality from that video.

Joe: That was basically the goal. In being locked into the microphone and the guitar as a singer of this band, I can see the bass player and the guitar player in my peripheral and I know that they're exciting to watch. The live shows are very important. More than a video and anything like that. I see a lot of music and what's important to me is engagement, you know? If there's two people in the crowd or if it's a room full of people watching The Hives. That dude from The Hives has you from the time he walks on stage until the time he leaves.

Fran: You know, as a fan, I completely connect with you on that. I've been to shows that bands that I love that I was so excited about and you see them live, like it sounds better than on album, but there's just no connection. It's kind of like you're watching them in a zoo through a cage. Then, you go to shows and you don't know who the opening act is and they just come out and fucking blow you away with their energy. I just recently went an saw FLAG and the opening band was from Canada, a band called The Dirty Nil, and they just completely fucking blew me away. 

Joe: And you got new fans.

Fran: Yeah, exactly. Just from your video and your music, that's kind of what I expect from you guys.

Joe: I think it was a couple shows ago, someone came up to me who has been to shows before – and I respect their opinion  they were like, "I couldn't take my eyes off your drummer. That guy is so entertaining." And that's one of the best things I can hear, 'cause somewhere in my paranoid head, I'm like, "If I'm not doing something right now, what are people gonna look at?" You know? In my stupid small little brain, I'm like, "Oh, I'm being boring right now." But, knowing that all three guys are going nuts and totally in it at the same time with me, it takes so much pressure off. I can actually concentrate on sounding good. Whoa.

Fran: Not only that, it takes pressure off of you, but I'm sure that you all feed off of each other, too.

Joe: Oh yeah. There's definitely a vibe, a spark up there that we all share. It's really cool. It's such a good band to be a part of.

Fran: Now, growing up in Minnesota, is this something you always envisioned yourself doing? Was this the plan for you that you were gonna be a musician? Or did something else take you there?

Joe: No. No. I moved out here to be an actor and I did commercial acting for eight years. Yeah. I was working in bars and playing in bands and acting in commercials. That's what I did. All of a sudden the commercial thing collapsed with Netflix and Hulu and all that. The whole industry is suffering right now. It started doing that when we started this band. It was like I came out here to do that and one day looked at a Craigslist ad and there's this ad for the punk band. Was doing that for five years, I was the bass player and now I'm in this band. We decided to throw all our cards in this one, you know? It's like, "Jump? How high?" Today, I sat here for four hours already working on this demo at my computer walking back and forth seeing what melody works with it the best before I bring it to the guys tomorrow to start writing for the new stuff.

Fran: With the way the industry is nowadays compared to, say, thirty years ago, the people that are in it, aren't necessarily in it to get rich, they're in it 'cause they love it. They're hustling and they're doing it for the love of it. That's what I appreciate anytime I hear new music with the kind of energy that you guys are spitting out. You just really have to appreciate it 'cause I know behind the scenes, what a lot of people forget – they see this great video and they're forgetting how hard you guys or anyone has worked to get to that point and that they're still working hard, even after that point. The punk lifestyle, you know, even when you look at how many years Black Flag traveled in that van or The Ramones. Up until the end were still traveling in a van together.

Joe: Yeah. How did they get along?

Fran: Well, if you read their biographies, they didn't [laughs]. They did respect each other though.  It's just you can appreciate that you're doing it for the love of it more than anything else.

Joe: When it becomes a chore or anything, like, negative – There's this one guy, you ever hear of the band Soul Coughing? M. Doughty, that singer? He's got a good story.  You know, they were big in the late '90's. Lyrically and vibe-wise and groove-like, I just love what they did.

Fran: Yeah. 'Cause it was really different. It really stood out compared to what else was out there at the time.

Joe: Yeah. Yeah. They were sampling with their upright bass and rock and roll. It's like, "What? Cool." Then he said there was jealousy within the band and they were just playing shows. I think they were on Letterman or something and he was like, "I walked out on stage and got bad looks from the guys. We didn't talk before or after the show." It left such a bad stain on his soul that he won't even play their covers anymore. He's like, "If I played Super Bon Bon or whatever ..."  That's a terrible experience. The second bands started imploding, it's like no fun anymore, then you can see it. It reads in a live show. That's where engaging bands are fun. We want to be the band that you want to hang out with afterwards and, by the way, we will hang out afterwards.We're the dudes who go from the stage and we don't go in the green room and say, "Oh, that was a good show," and pet egos. No, we go out and throw stickers in peoples' faces and be like, "Here, put this on your phone. Let's hang out. I got a car, you need a ride home?" It's like that kind of thing.

Fran: That's awesome. That's what it's all about these days. That's the kind of experience the fan wants, I think, these days.

Joe: Yeah, and you don't get that much anymore with Instagram bands and SoundCloud bands. They aren't even people.

Fran: I completely agree. Speaking about you guys hanging out after shows. Any touring plans? Or is that something that will unfold after BottleRock?

Joe: We want to get in on something good, you know? If something would get thrown at us we'll pick up and go on pretty much anything right now. Right now, we're going up to San Francisco and we're playing a Napa show pre-BottleRock. We're trying to hustle that thing again. The head sponsor of BottleRock is this winery and they're like, "Yeah, if you want to come up." And we're playing acoustic guitars and light drums which really doesn't work for us, but we're gonna go up and entertain the shit out of these people drinking wine. Hopefully, we're trying to pull an aftershow because BottleRock closes at 10 pm. They gotta shut down the whole festival. So, from 10 pm to 2 in the morning, you got all these little bars around man. We're just gonna go around and introduce ourselves. So, they come see us at the winery down the street tonight and then they'll check out the video and go, "Hey, maybe we'll have them play with whoever."

Fran: I don't see how you guys aren't gonna take off. Just as a fan. I could throw your music that just came out in with a bunch of other stuff that I listen to all the time from known bands. Like I said, my coworkers look at me and go, "Who are these guys? What are you listening to?" To me, that's the biggest compliment. When it sounds like it belongs, but they don't know who it is and they can't put a finger on it. That means you're doing something right. I'm really digging it. I was really excited to get the opportunity to talk to you.

Joe: Awesome. Great talking to you. 

Fran: Thank you Joe!

Catch Pacific Radio at the BottleRock Festival in Napa, Ca on 5/28/17 and pick up their new Kitchen Table EP at their Bandcamp page.

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