Rock bands are often best run in a fascist manner, with one visionary serving as the leader. For instance, the Ramones, run by iron-fisted guitarist Johnny Ramone; or Metallica, led by the demanding James Hatfield.
There are exceptions, of course – the Beatles being the most notable in rock history. And Sebadoh, whose most talented member, Lou Barlow, runs his band as a democracy.
Radio Birds is another anomaly. The Atlanta-based group is equally divided in terms of songwriting amongst its members.
“We call ourselves the socialist band,” vocalist-guitarist Justin ‘JK’ Keller says while calling from his Atlanta home. “Everything is equal in our band. That’s just how we operate. All of us are writers and I think that’s why our music is pretty diverse. None of our songs are going to sound the same since we each write – and that’s not a bad thing. I don’t enjoy being the only writer. It’s more interesting when you have multiple people involved. That’s so if everyone can write, and everyone in this band can write and I think our ability is pretty similar. We all want to add something. We want to capitalize on our ability to bring additional flavors to an album.”
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The collective approach works for the group’s first album, “Contemporary American Slang.”
Radio Birds craft meaningful rootsy rock, which at times is reminiscent of veteran jam band Widespread Panic. At other points, the band sounds like the criminally underheralded central Pennsylvania-based band Marah.
The group, which also includes vocalist-bassist Chase Lamondo and drummer Colin Dean, has plenty of range. Radio Birds goes bluegrass on “Wait For Me in the Fall,” and there’s the bluesy “Hold On Me.” The standout track, “Miss Ilene,” is a classic Southern ballad.
“‘Miss Ilene’ is for my wife,” Keller says. “I wrote that before we got married. Her name is Katie but not much rhymes with Katie.” So Keller went with her middle name and nails it.
The guys in Radio Birds, who perform Wednesday at the Pour House Music Hall in Raleigh, are working on new material. “It’s more story driven stuff,” Keller says. “I’m working on a new song about a woman with a gambling problem,” Keller says. “They only issue now is that my wife says she thinks people will think she has a gambling problem, which she doesn’t. A lot of the new songs are lighthearted and fun.”
Radio Birds will preview some new songs when the band hits Raleigh. “That’s something we’ve been looking forward to doing,” Keller says. “I love it when we get to play new stuff in front of an audience. I know a lot of bands don’t play new songs before their albums come out anymore because of YouTube. The last album we wrote really quick. This will be a bit different. We want to road-test the songs. We want to get an idea of what works.”
Keller says the band plans to record during autumn and then release the next album in 2017.
“We’re planning to have the follow-up out next year,” Keller said. “But an important part of the groundwork is recording this next album. Coming into places like Raleigh and seeing what the response is like and how the new songs feel in a live setting is significant. We’ll see how it goes.”