The title became more meaningful than the members of RadioRadio ever imagined.
"There's really a sense of togetherness that we were all fighting toward a common goal and everyone made a maximum effort on this recording," bassist Paul Cristiano said last week as I previewed Esprit de Corps, the Tulsa act's latest release.
"I feel like this is out third attempt," vocalist Greg Hosterman said later, "and the third time is the charm. There's something just cosmically right about it. It feels like we've found our legs and really figured out who we are and what we like. There's just a lot of spirit that comes across in the record."
After a few spins, the band's opinion of its new work appears to be dead on. More focused and concise, RadioRadio sounds like a band with a mission: brothers in arms now more than ever.
Not that RadioRadio has ever been a band to rest on its laurels. Even from its debut, the band burst out of the gate with its eye on being something more than just another local rock band. The sound has always been bigger, more focused toward radio, yet honest enough for the listener to connect to on a personal level. Even the band's name intimates more, taken from an Elvis Costello song that alternatingly sings the praises of music as salvation while lambasting an industry that strips it of its soul.
In truth, there have been times in the past when RadioRadio started to sound a bit repetitive. The lyrics were always connected, but a nearly over-polished production and instantly recognizable sound made some people mark off new songs as more of the same.
This time, the band took the entire recording process into its own hands, self-producing and mixing with guitarist Ben Hosterman at the helm and input from the entire band.
"It was a great experience," Cristiano said. "Ben really kept and open mind. We demoed 'The Understudy' with Ben and I remember leaving and thinking 'He's go to think we're weird.
"The next morning He'd turned it all around and I had a finished demo when I got to my computer," he said. "He just really connected with it and turned it into something."
Greg Hosterman's sense of the band's unity is the same, but his focus is more lyrically and melodically oriented.
"This band has a long and storied past and I've found that the band is stronger than the individuals," he said. "There's that spirit of togetherness with this album, of everyone working together for the larger goal, and I like how that idea translates, whether it be to a girlfriend, family, friends or the band."
Most of the songs began with Greg Hosterman and Cristiano trading ideas and work shopping elements together. Once they had a bass line and a melody, the band focused on the melody and lyrics.
Perhaps that's what sets Esprit de Corps apart from the other albums. Instead of focusing on broad arrangement, there was a conscious effort to zero in on the songs, which come across as more immediate and urgent.
"Writing good songs is difficult," Cristiano said of the process. "It may seem easy if they're done right, but it's not. The more you do it, the better you get at it and we've put a lot of effort into it."
According to Cristiano, there wasn't a lot of "cutting room floor material" from the RadioRadio. If he and Greg Hosterman started a song and felt like it wasn't' going anywhere, they moved on to the next idea."
"When we get together to write, we go in with a purpose. We couldn't waste a bunch of time with this. The days of writing 40 songs are over -- we don't have time to play around," he said. "We all have jobs and families and kids, our time is too valuable."
The musicians' busy schedule defined their writing and recording sessions, Greg Hosterman said.
""We were more focused in our pre-planning so when we hit the studio, there was no fiddling around," he said.
Along with that focus, the band's concentration of self-producing also allowed for a few changes right down to the end. A couple of songs made it back onto the record after nearly being left off. One in particular, "The Understudy" was still in limbo just a few weeks ago.
"That song was one week away from not making the record," Cristiano said. "We played it at a show on March 5 and I remember Ben and I asking each other 'Are we making a big mistake by not putting it on? Maybe we are.'"
When it all boiled down, simple change in how Hosterman sang the vocal line made the song work better and fit the record, making it one of the final two songs to be included.
In the end, the writing and recording process for the new album took roughly 16 months and saw the band go through personnel changes, including bringing in Greg's brother, Ben, as a member and the return of original drummer Scott Taylor. Through all of the work, however, the band has become more succinct and direct with everyone truly coming together through both band changes and individual crises.
"There's a line in the chorus of 'Esprit de Corp' that says 'We have this story...' The only thing you really own is your story," Greg Hosterman said. "This is our story for public consumption."
The new album's cover art features a fleur de lie, which Greg Hosterman said could be interpreted to represent a "holy trinity": the band, the music and its fans.
"Esprit de Corp is meant to be inclusive, from everyone who has been with us in the trenches to everyone yet to hear us," he said. "This is our story together."
That story will be revealed this Friday, March 25, with a release party at Ivey, 3340 S. Peoria Ave. Doors open at 7pm for a special show during which the Ivey will be an all-ages venue for one evening. Chase Stites will open the show at 8pm, followed by Jenny Labow and RadioRadio unveiling its newest and most focused songs to date. Anyone purchasing tickets in advance will also receive a limited edition concert poster. Details can be found at the band's website: radioradioband.com
After a busy week that saw a flood of bands flow through Tulsa going to and from SXSW as well as a weekend of NCAA basketball, Tulsa returns to some sense of normal, but doesn't slow down this week. From local shows and CD releases to national tours, we've got the highlights ahead...
•Thursday, March 24 -- offers up a few cool ways to jump start the weekend. This week's best bets include the return of Bravo Delta (Brandon Davis) for an acoustic show at The Warehouse and Dave Bowen bringing the red-dirt to Midnight Rodeo.
•Friday, March 25 -- RadioRadio isn't the only band releasing new music tonight. King Cobra is holding a special party at Arnie's and will be giving its new tunes away for free. Bring a portable USB device and the band will hook you up. This is a new project for Dustin Howard (of My Solstice), but it's a far cry from his old band: eclectic, alternative and indie all at the same time. It should be worth checking out and finding out what the new buzz is about.
Other Friday night highlights include Casey Donahew Band with 2 Steps Back at Cain's Ballroom, Paul Benjamin Band at Fassler Hall and The Last Slice at Tulsa Backwards. Doom Rocket Promotions also celebrates its 5th anniversary at The Marquee with Sworn Against, Cutthroat, Parallels, Eloi Eloi, So Far So Good and more.
•Saturday, March 26 -- a busy night with GHOSTS at The Colony, Apollo 18 at Eclipse, and Sam & the Stylees at Mercury Lounge. The night's best bet, however, is the return of Gooding to the band's old stomping grounds, now The TreeHouse, with Tony Romanello & the Black Jackets opening at 10pm and a $5 cover.
•Wednesday, March 30 -- The post weekend highlight of the week has to be Great American Taxi at Fassler Hall with Red Dirt Rangers opening. This is just the beginning of what promises to be a string of next level touring bands that will start gracing the Fassler stage before the summer is over. Just watch.
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