“Things are really cool between us now. We don’t want to appear to be back-stabbing them at all…”
Dignified resolutions to the infamous history of ‘band vs record label’ disputes are very rarely found, but it’s important to note – before approaching the first new album in six years from The Radio Dept. – that for all their recent legal troubles, their relationship with Labrador Records is, finally, in a good place. It’s relevant to mention because there might be some who approach this record thinking that Running Out Of Love is simply a throwaway collection of songs; a contractual obligation and nothing more. The truth is something altogether more affirming; a gleaming pop record in its own right and one that sits as a worthy and intriguing addition to the Swede’s most glorious of back catalogues.
“Yeah, we’d talked about that,” Duncanson says of people’s apprehension to the new record, when I meet the pair in their Stockholm studio just before the release of the new record. “If that was going to be the case though,” he continues, “then we would have made it really obvious! Thankfully we reached the point where we wanted to make a really good album – and so that’s what we tried to do…”
Beginning in 1998, The Radio Dept.’s story has always been one that evolved at their own distinct pace; the band’s debut album, Lesser Matters, arrived in 2003, some five years after their initial inception. As debut albums go, Lesser Matters is up there with the very best of them; a uniquely warm, beautifully constructed burst of Scandinavian pop music, like an imagined bridge between My Bloody Valentine and Pet Shop Boys. They’ve released two albums since then, 2006’s beguiling Pet Grief and 2010’s glowing Clinging To A Scheme, as well as a handful of EPs and singles, and the very occasional live show thrown in for good measure.
“We’re not political agitators.We make pop music and that’s still the main thing that we do.The world needs music and art as much as anything else.”
So far, so mystical, then. But as is often the case, real-life landed with a thud. Taking their label to court over serious royalty and contract issues (which they ultimately lost), the pair were tied-up with the dispute for so long that they all-but stopped making music until a resolution came. “We saw the end of that finally coming and we started to feel like making music again,” admits Johan, before adding, “Usually we just didn’t feel like making music at all.”
The result of the court-case means that the band have to release this one last record with Labrador, before they can go their own way; something which had a big effect on their artistic choices at the time. “Every time we made a good song we wanted to keep it for ourselves!” Martin jokes. “The others that weren’t so great, they could have! But then the legal issues were at an end so we decided we just had to make this record as good as we can.”
Full of vibrant, dance-enthused pop songs, Running Out Of Love is a politically charged snapshot of the world as they see it today. For all of the lyrical journeying, however, it’s perhaps the music itself that speaks the loudest. Barely featuring their signature shoegaze-y guitars at all, the record is a multi- faceted collection of keys, beats, samples and that dreamiest of lead vocals. “I had a period where I listened a lot to early house and techno music,” says Johan.“I haven’t always been into that but I grew up with the Pet Shop Boys, who certainly drew a lot from that scene, so it wasn’t a huge stretch. We also saw Factory Floor play a show over here and that was incredible,” he says of a more unexpected influence. “It made a huge impression on us, and really steered us in this direction. It’s not that we wanted to make a Factory Floor record,” he clarifies, “it was just really inspiring to see what they were doing, and we always try to reach for something new with every album.”
Another pertinent aspect of the band’s new record is the political vein that runs right through the heart of Running Out Of Love. “I tried writing about stuff other than politics,” admits Johan, “but it was difficult. Every time I started writing something it became political. It’s a very political time right now.”
Arriving at the most politically-charged time in both their lives and that of their fanbase, I ask Johan if felt like he had a moral obligation to confront such things? “There probably should be more people writing about it,” he says, “but I don’t think bands and artists have any responsibility to comment on politics or society, because it can easily become very boring. It’s better that people write about what they care about; whatever that might be.”
It’s rather presumptuous to assume that the band’s political leanings are obvious, so it should be pointed out that both Johan and Martin sit firmly and proudly on the left side of the political spectrum; and the new record sees them confront the Swedish government, fascists, racists, and the seemingly ever-growing hard-right crowd. Despite this candidness, however, it’s very clear how they perceive their own roles. “The band will always be a pop group first,” confirms Johan. “We’re not political agitators. We make pop music, and that’s still the main thing that we do. The world needs music and art as much as anything else.”
With the record now released in to the world, The Radio Dept. recently announced a rather large (by their standards) tour across the U.S – seen by some as a hint that perhaps their attitude to touring and performing has eased a little over the past few years. “It’s not that we think it’s boring or anything like that,” says Martin, “we’re just very nervous when it comes to playing live. It’s not a thing that comes naturally to us at all and I don’t expect it ever will.”
“We really weren’t born on stage…In fact you could say we were born backstage…I really like it backstage!”
“We really weren’t born on stage, as they say” adds Johan. “In fact you could say we were born backstage…I really like it backstage!” At odds with most other bands you’ll meet in this industry, The Radio Dept.’s on-going anxiety also helps to explain their somewhat barren spells between albums. “It’s hard for us to release an album,” confirms Martin.“To put ourselves out there and be judged like that is a really difficult thing to do – and playing live is even more of that feeling. Stage fright is just common sense to us.” “After fifteen years of doing this we’re still incredibly nervous before a show,” Johan adds. “Maybe during a full tour you can eventually reach a point where you can go on stage without wanting to kill yourself, but in the beginning I’m physically sick, almost every time.”
With a good couple of decades under their belt, it’s gratifying to hear The Radio Dept. still so committed to their craft. Where other bands tend to sink in to conformity and comfort, both Johan and Martin continue to drive this project in to new territories. With Running Out Of Love now released in to the world, I wonder if they’ll allow themselves some time to reflect and, perhaps, feel proud of what they’ve achieved? “The first track on our debut album begins with the line ‘You’ll have us figured out soon, too soon’,” says Martin, somewhat enigmatically. “That was our way of saying that we’re scared that one day we’ll be figured out, that we’ll suddenly be boring. I think it’s nice that we had that outlook from the very first line, on the very first track, of the very first album we ever made!” They’ve not been caught out yet though, I proffer.
“Exactly,” he says with a grin.
Photos: Lucy Johnston
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