The Radio Dept.
Builders Not Destroyers
Mar 02, 2017
Photography by Ray Lego (for Under the Radar) Issue # 59 - 15th Anniversary
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In the 15 years The Radio Dept. has been around, the Swedish duo has tried valiantly to resist the required expectations of musicians: touring, promotion, interaction, even putting out albums has been a struggle. Despite this, The Radio Dept.'s Johan Duncanson and Martin Carlberg (ne Larsson) have managed to maintain a strong international following, gaining cult-like status in the process.
"It's extremely important to us to do what we think is right, what we think is fun, what we think is worthwhile," the unexpectedly affable and very agreeable Duncanson explains from a drab hotel room in New York City where he and Carlberg are doing their best to cooperate in talking about their fourth album, Running Out of Love.
"To some musicians, playing live is the point of the whole thing," he continues. "We want to leave records, that's the point for us. We weren't born to be onstage. We're quite shy and get really nervous. Sometimes just thinking about an upcoming tour is exhausting. Once we're out there doing it, it's usually pretty fun. But we hardly ever compromise. When we do, it reminds us we shouldn't do things we don't want to do. We'll work odd jobs every now and then to make ends meet so we don't rush things, even if we have to do music on the side."
Running Out of Love comes after much wrangling, most of it in court. It was initially created as a petulant move toward The Radio Dept.'s publishers and record label (Labrador Records), with whom the group started a legal battle to renegotiate their publishing contract. The band had already begun work on an early version of Running Out of Love. When the case was lost and they had to deliver an album, they didn't want to give the label the one they were already working on, as they felt it was too good. Instead they started writing the current version of Running Out of Love, which Duncanson now states—with a certain amount of annoyance—is better than the album they halted (and which now sits dormant).
The moodiness and dreamy pop nature of The Radio Dept. is intact on Running Out of Love, but there is less of the hazy shoegazing quality of previous works. What is present is a decided early '90s dance touch. "Sloboda Narodu" borrows its rhythms generously from The Stone Roses' "Waterfall," while "Occupied," whose lyrics are a direct dig at their record label, takes synths from Moby's "Go," and "We Got Game" does the same with Inner City's "Good Life." Still, The Radio Dept. put its own stamp on these influences, making Running Out of Love deceptively upbeat and chilled out in turns. The album is pregnant with its creators' dissatisfaction with the political climate in Sweden, most noticeably marked by the infectious anthem, "Swedish Guns."
"It's hard to build things, but it's not hard to destroy them," says Duncanson speaking of the social democratic set-up his country has had for almost a century. "Income inequality has grown really fast. People are upset and if there is someone with an easy solution, like the neo-fascists, they go for it.
"When I was a kid, I never saw anyone begging, ever. My grandparents were very poor, but after a couple of decades of hard work, they had a good life. Hearing their story made me feel anything is possible. Now, people are begging everywhere. It's a different country from the one I grew up in. As much as it scares me to see what Sweden is not so slowly becoming, I sincerely believe if you could get enough people to mobilize, it could go in the other direction as well. I want to believe."
[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue (January/February/March 2017). This is its debut online.]
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