The Radio Fliers are an imminent Bay Area rock-and-roll trio mid-metamorphosis. It is an organic metamorphosis, a transformation brought on by the passing of time. A new sound is looming, a reconfigured lineup has turned the group into a lean machine, and their willful experimentation means the group's upcoming performances and record releases will be filled with energy and musical momentum built up over years of playing together.
The group features a pair of brothers, Jesse and Odie Summers. Jesse is the lead vocalist and guitarist with Odie taking on bass. The Fliers are rounded out by reliable longtime friend and drummer Owen Barrett.
Based out of the East Bay (El Cerrito and Oakland) at the moment, the group hopes to ascend beyond their local scene and enter a more mainstream stratosphere. With their upcoming projects on the horizon, it is safe to say the group could see their dreams realized sooner rather than later.
All questions were answered by lead vocalist Jesse Summers.
Q. There is not currently much Radio Fliers music out there but you guys are performing frequently and are seemingly collaborating with a large network of people – when do you plan on releasing more of your own music?
Up until June this year we were a four-piece (two guitar) rock-and-roll outfit, but since then we've changed to a trio – we rearranged a few older songs and wrote a handful of new tunes that make up an entirely new Radio Fliers set ad sound.
The small catalog of songs that are available on the Internet were made by the four-piece lineup and don't really reflect our current style. While we've stayed active in the area, playing small basement or storefront shows, we've been preparing the new sound for a West Coast tour in October and for some new recordings. We plan to put out an EP before the new year. Also, what started as recording a few songs for Odie's new stop-motion short film has turned into a full length D.I.Y. record that the Radio Fliers will release before the end of the year. It's tentatively titled Cowboy Boogie; I've been recording songs I've written over the past few years with Owen producing and engineering the project. We intend for the record to feel similar to an old, western film soundtrack, with sound effects and all.
Q. What is the songwriting process like for you guys?
My brother Odie and I both write our own songs, which the whole band then arranges. As a group, we've always put our faith in the band dynamic: our musical relationship will always bring the best out of the song – unlike many Bay Area musicians now who are primarily recording artists and don't have full-time lineups for live shows. That said, our recording style has tended towards a live band sound, with no studio tricks, just bare-bones guitar rock-and-roll. These new recordings will be different though, we are more confident with our sound than we've ever been and will definitely be employing some new touches and textures to the recordings, possibly some piano, organ, horns, synthesizers, and who knows what else. We want to make rock-and-roll recordings that are sonically modern and pop-accessible.
The [songwriting process] is pretty straightforward for us: Odie and I write songs on guitar or keys and then bring them to the band and we work them out. Sometimes a song will come together with the band in minutes, other times it'll take months to get it right. Owen just recently wrote a little guitar bit that we worked into a song, so it really can come from any of us.
Q. How did you guys come to form the group?
The group was formed in the Barrett's living room one summer when Owen and I were 19. I had plans to return to college that fall but decided to drop out & keep jamming with Owen. Miles, the second guitar player, joined shortly before Odie came in on bass. We moved to the East Bay that winter and have been living in various parts of the area since then. Miles left for school in Santa Barbara earlier this summer, we've been a trio since.
Q. On the topic of your now more frequent performances, how many shows have you played and which have been your favorite thus far?
Couldn't tell you exactly how many shows we've played, probably in the ballpark of 50. The best ones are when you receive some engagement from the audience, so usually college parties or house shows are the most fun. Halloween in Eugene, Oregon last year was pretty fun.
Q. “Ladylike” from your The Get Together EP has a sweet, contagious riff that reminds me a bit of “Waiting on a Friend” by the Rolling Stones, could you tell me a bit about your influences? I can hear elements of Dylan, the San Francisco scene of the mid-to-late sixties, no overt Grateful Dead nods but I would say the ghost of their early cuts can be heard on (the equally Buffalo Springfield reminiscent) “Mona”.
We don't really play those songs anymore, since they were all with two guitars. But you are pretty spot on with the core influences, Owen is a huge dead-head, I like Dylan, and we all definitely love the Stones. Recently though, our tastes have changed since the music we are creating has changed so much. We've gotten more into Punk and New Wave recently, as well as old country western music. Though, I would say that current bay area musicians have influenced me more than anything as of late - people like Sonny Smith and Dick Stusso, as well as Mayya Feygina and Daniel Bromfield.
Q. What are your aspirations as an outfit, are you guys actively working to develop a following or are you focused on playing live and developing the sound for now?
We have very high aspirations as a group. I don't think that you can develop a following without focusing on playing live and developing a sound, but we try to be social at our shows and attend lots of other ones. I think the only way to gain lasting mainstream success is to build a community of artists and art-lovers that supports itself, so we do our best to help facilitate that.The only thing in our power is to keep gigging, putting out new music, booking our own tours, & enjoying the hell out of it so that is how we plan to continue.
Q. How large is the back catalog right now? Are you prolific songwriters?
I have lots of material that I haven't even shown to the band, but we definitely have a full length LP's worth of tunes as a group. It's currently growing fast, too.
Q. Fortunately for everyone you are not cashing in on parody and rather banking on the infectious melodies to do the work. Was it a conscious decision to avoid dressing and pretending to be a rock-and-r0ll band (as if you were not of this era)?
We've all changed a lot this summer and our sense of fashion has too. Whether it's a conscious effort or not, I think we look more like a rock-and-roll band now than we did before. We definitely aren't looking to be a parody band though, we maintain a certain amount of modernity.
Q. What is your recording process like?
Recording has been kept simple in the past: get a live take of the song & over dub backing vocals & percussion. This time we are definitely going to be more creative.