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Interview with Caleb Scates - vocalist/guitarist for Radio Fallout
June 17, 2012
by Eldon McGraw
I conducted a phone interview with Caleb Scates. He is the singer and guitarist for the Austin, Texas based rock band Radio Fallout. They have a new full length album coming out this fall. Caleb comes across a lot more mellow than how he sings on record. He has an easy going personality and is concerned about more than just rock and roll as you will see in this interview.
We talked about his girlfriend, why he moved from Cincinnati to Austin for his music career, his take on the challenges of the current rock music scene, and if he is as depressed as some of his lyrics convey on the new album.
Where are you right now and what are your surroundings?
I am in the middle of Marshall Texas with my girlfriend for the weekend.
So tell me about your girlfriend.
We actually met from music. She was playing in a band and we actually met in Shreveport. There were on the road and we were on the road. We found out after talking for a little bit that we had a mutual friend and things happened from there.
So what are two of the most attractive things about your girlfriend?
She digs music and we can sit around and write songs together. Its pretty fun.
She is going to like your answer when she sees this because you didn't say something disgusting.
Yeah, I am going to stay away from the bad answers.
You are originally from Ohio. Why did you leave Ohio to go to Austin?
I was in a band in Ohio and it did what some bands do and kind of evaporated. I was looking for a city with a lot of musicians to meet and play with. When you think of music cities you think of New York, LA, and Nashville. Someone mentioned Austin and I thought that would be cool. I was kind of done with winters at that point.
When did you move?
That was at the end of 2008.
Was it worth it to move?
Absolutely. Austin is an amazing city to play music in and I love my band.
Has the move to Austin changed your writing?
Yeah, quite a bit. Any day of the week there are literally a hundred bands playing local shows all over town, so you really get a lot of diversity. Indie Rock and the “Black Keys” kind of sound is really big. Getting that big reverby sound is something I picked up from being there.
Why do you think the Black Keys have had such an influence on so many bands right now?
I don't really know. The Black Keys are actually one of the few bands that I know about because they are from Akron, Ohio. I knew about them when I was in Cincinnati. I started listening to them around 2004, 2005, back before things got really big and they broke into the mainstream. I like it. The early stuff was just really heavy lo fi blues based. I dug it and thought it was cool. I went to see them at a show and it was a thousand seat venue back then and they had it pretty much sold out. I think there is a lot of soul in that music. I think they have done what rock and roll does from time to time, it stays in the background for awhile, then a band like the Black Keys brings the old influences back up and then people kind of rediscover it. I see a lot of bands being influenced by them, as well as The White Stripes, kind of that folk rock. The generation now, we are gonna be spending our lives cleaning up the mess that the previous generations have built, so I think that bluesy soul music connects with people today. It's definitely hard times to come up in and certainly hard times to come up as a musician.
I see you guys talk about your 90's rock influences, but I also hear some 80's underground rock in your sound.
Yeah, I listened to the Pixies a lot, Billy Joel, Elton John, anything that was catchy. I liked anything you could sing along with and that gets stuck in your head. It's all we are really trying to do, get a good rocking song and a melody stuck in your head.
I noticed on your new album, the backing vocals are well crafted. How did that style develop?
The last EP we did was just a three piece, kind of Garage Rock, pretty straight forward and we didn't really do a lot of overdubs. On this album we wanted to make everything sound full and and add a lot melody and counter melody. It actually started with Dan, our bass player. He actually started out as a guitar player, then he switched to bass. He approached the bass lines like a lead guitar player. The bass lines in some of the songs are kind of a counter melody to the vocals. Mark, our drummer, in the last band he was in was the lead singer. He can sing and he writes the harmonies. We just made them sound full and made them pop out a lot.
"Falling In" is my favorite track on the new album. Tell me a little bit about that song.
It's actually a song I wrote back in 2006. I wrote it right after I graduated college. In college, I studied astrophysics. I wanted to get the feeling like when I looked up at the stars and seeing how vast and far away everything was.
There's a line in your song "Wishing Well" that says "Lonely weed amidst the flowers grow." Is that a metaphor of you?
It's anybody who feel out of place or you are not ok with what is going on around you. I wrote the song a long time ago, but the studio experience really nailed it. We would go and record and it would get to a point where you can't listen to your music anymore and you go outside and take a twenty minute break. We would talk about what is going on with music and the economy, just healthy little debates. That's kind of what that's about. Not being ok with the way things are.
You don't seem to present yourselves as a political band.
Not in the sense that we are trying to push a message or anything. It's political in a sense that there is a lot going on today. These are very turbulent times. It's just kind of the questioning. Where are we at in the world? Where are we at in history? How are things going to progress from here? It seems like it's been getting bad and worse for a long time. Is that going to continue or are we going to be able to turn it around and get back to better times?
You talked about the generations before you and how your generation needs to clean up a mess. So what are you going to do as a representative of your generation to help things in the future?
Become more active in things. I think our generation is going to have to suck it up a little bit and roll our sleeves up and get down and do some work. Do some things we don't really want to. We are gonna have to bite the bullet and realize it's a crap economy. We've got to get to work doing something. Just be thoughtful and be mindful that there are a lot of people suffering right now. There are a lot of people going through hard times and just be mindful of that and help each other out when we can.
I understand, I am not expecting you to save the world, but what have you done for society specifically?
I try to start a healthy dialogue. It seems like a lot of people are just screaming at each other today. No one is really listening. We have to fix things because they are spiraling out of control. I would like to think if we could have any impact at all it would be just to calm down, talk, and listen.
On your song "Hour of Darkness" there is a line "Finger painting pictures in our blood." That conjures up a pretty heavy scene of joy and sorrow to me. What is that about?
That whole song is about feeling kind of lonely. Finding comfort in a person that you know might not be right for you and you are both in kind of a shitty place in your life. You get together and you know it's not real. It's a dark song from a dark time.
I'm going to read some lyrics from different songs on the album to you.
“I'd lay around and moan.”
“A tear escapes to break upon the ground.”
“Left behind my sorrowed tears.”
“A universe indifferent to my pain.”
“In my hour of darkness.”
“Hidden behind our years of shame.”
“Soul is inconsolable at my own wake.”
“There is no horizon.”
Those seem like pretty depressing lyric lines to me. Are you depressed?
No, not really. I think I get a lot of it out in song writing like a lot of people do, where the art is kind of an outlet. You get it out of your system and go about your day. We talked earlier how this is not the ideal time to be coming up as a musician. I think the realization of that and the economic times we live in and the time the music industry is in, there are a lot of bad feelings that go along with it, so I think that's where a lot of that comes from.
Do you ever think you can write a happy album?
Yeah, definitely. We definitely have some happier songs. This album just happened to go the way it did. We have some happy songs, some of them will be on the next album.
How did the recording process for the album go?
It was awesome. We recorded at Fifth Street Studios in Austin. Our producer came to a couple of rehearsals and listened to the songs and got a sense of the sound we were playing around with. The writing process was one of the weirder ones I ever had. Normally you go in and record for three or four weeks and it's done and move on from there. With this one we really wanted to take time. The three piece arrangements were done. The guitar, bass, drums. It took us a couple of weeks to lay those down, then we ran out of money. So the process was save money, go into the studio and record. That process took about six to eight months.
Is there a sense of pride in self funding the recording of the album?
I'm enormously proud. I'm proud of the DIY aspect of it in general. I'm proud of any band, which is a lot of bands today, that has to go through that. It’s a fight just to do it. It’s a lot of accounting behind the scenes, order merch, a lot of the stuff that fans don't see.
Financially, there's probably more profit in merch than the music. Is that accurate?
It’s t shirts. I was joking with my friends and said that when I decided to become a musician, I didn’t know I would become a t shirt salesman. It's merch and live shows. Even the live shows are dipping. In my experience, people are just not going out to the live small shows. If they are going to go out, they are going to go to the big national band shows.
Tell me a little about the other members in your band.
They came down to Austin in 2003. They were in another band called Push Factor. They were from Joplin, Missouri originally. Austin is one of those towns where people move to without knowing anybody, but they come to just play music. It's what makes it cool and such a diverse scene. I got ahold of Jonathan and he was looking for a singer and I was looking for a drummer and we met for a couple of sessions. I am more of a poppy songwriter and his old band had a heavier sound. At the end of our third session, I said if your bass player wants to come and hang out at the next session, tell him he can. Dan came to the next rehearsal and it was off to the races from there.
When you are playing live, is it hard to recreate your studio sound?
Our live stuff is very different. It's loud guitars and we speed the songs up. There are a lot of overdubs on the album that we just can't do with three people. We will be looking to add another guitarist or guitarist/keyboardist.
I noticed you have not played many live shows recently.
We took most of last year for recording off. Because the album is DIY, we have to handle everything to get the album off successfully and we all have day jobs, so we haven't be able to get on the booking and on the road as much. We are hoping in the next few months when the album is done, we can hit the road a lot more.
Where do you plan on touring?
It will mostly be regionally. We've only been around about three years, so if we drive more than eight hours, it's hit or miss for us.
Why do you think attendance is lower at shows?
I think kids in the younger generation, younger than me, are consuming music in a different way. They are hitting up YouTube to check out bands. Twenty years ago you had to go to a live show or you didn't know about anybody. Electronic music seems to be the big thing right now. I don't know if rock is on the back burner for the moment. It seems to be pretty much everywhere.
So what are some future plans?
We plan on heading out on the road in the South West. We just hope we sell enough albums to make another one.
So tell me one thing you learned this week and one thing you did for fun.
We design all of our album art. I also design the physical press kits that we send out. I'm not a graphic artist so I don't know a lot about this. So we sent the album and the press kit out for printing and we got everything back and everything was very dark. I learned you have to brighten things up in the digital realm. For fun this week, I came down to see my girlfriend this weekend.
Good luck on the new album.
Thanks for the interview.
Check out the first song, "I Want to be Alright" from their new album "Vox e Tenebris."
For more information about Radio Fallout, please visit their web site at http://radiofallout.com/fr_main.cfm