For Radkey, the release of debut album Dark Black Makeup represents not only years of hard touring and determination to improve as songwriters, but also the culmination of about two decades of shockingly close familial support and an unwavering belief in doing things their own way. The mightily rocking family band — their group name is a spin on their shared last name, Radke — consists of three brothers: Dee, 22, on the Danzig-sounding lead vocals and guitar; Isaiah, 20, on bass and vocals; and Solomon, 18, on drums. Growing up in St. Joseph, Missouri (a majorly white city about an hour north of Kansas City), the boys were home-schooled after Dee and Isaiah, as pre-teens, decided formal education wasn’t for them.
After inheriting a love of rock from their father Matt, a former Wal-Mart employee who’s now their manager, they started writing their own songs and got their first gig as the opening act for Fishbone in 2011. After releasing the Cat & Mouse and Devil Fruit EPs, they cut their first full-length with producer Ross Orton (Arctic Monkeys, the Fall, M.I.A.) in Sheffield, England, and now are releasing it via their own label, Little Man. To coincide with the exclusive premiere of Dark Black Makeup (which is streaming below), we caught up with middle brother Isaiah to discuss their career, their “weird” family bond, drinking in English pubs, and the pros and cons of being a black band in a traditionally white genre.
You guys have been working on the album for a while, right?
Yeah. There was so much touring going on, so we focused a lot on writing and finally we got the songs together. Then it was a lot of waiting to get the perfect songs, because we definitely wanted to do our best possible record as our first album. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves. That was important.
We just wanted to make sure it was heavy, catchy and then really weird at the same time… people always call us a punk band — we have punk songs, that’s true — but we’ve always just wanted to be our own thing.
Which song do you feel is the biggest leap for you guys, stylistically?
I would say “Hunger Pain” is the biggest leap because we had never done a song like that, a song that’s kind of groovy and catchy with weird verses, and bass-driven as far as the riff goes. It was interesting, definitely.
“Feed My Brain” is all about yelling at a teacher, but you guys were home-schooled so you don’t really have teachers to be pissed off at. Where did that come from?
[Laughs.] I was watching a lot of Breakfast Club. We had the DVD on a loop there for probably about a month, so I had that s—t going on in my head and this song came up.
Without that traditional education and parents who are so supportive, what authority figures do you feel the urge to rebel against?
Well, Dee and I did go to public school for one year. I was in second grade, he was in fourth grade. That whole vibe was bulls—t. I never wanted to get in trouble with an entire class if I didn’t do anything wrong, and he felt the same way, so we didn’t really stick with it.
How did you end up working with Ross Orton?
Our very first U.K. tour was with the band Drenge and he produced them. He heard about us, came to the show in Manchester and said, “I’ll come see them and if Radkey sucks, at least I’ll have Drenge.” He was into us and that’s pretty much how it all went. He’s really chill about everything. It was the perfect situation for us.
What influence did he have on the album?
He had us slow down “Love Spills” a bit. It used to be so much faster, and after that [adjustment], we were like, “Holy s—t. We can do this kind of song now.” It was a really big moment for our songwriting. Going to Sheffield, we learned even more, just how to take the fat out of a song.
What was it like being in Sheffield? For once, two of you could legally drink?
It was really amazing. Sheffield’s one of our favorite places now. We would go to this pub called the Kelham Island and drink ale and eat a bunch of pork scratchings, this awesome snack that’s better than pork rinds. We’re like a legend there now for how many bags of pork scratchings we bought. The people in Sheffield are pretty friendly. I feel like the northerners, they have a way of knowing if you’re full of s—t.
You just moved to Kansas City, too. What’s that been like?
It’s been so amazing to change the vibe. It’s bigger than our spot in St. Joe. We can actually spread out a bit. We actually still share a bedroom but it’s a two-room bedroom. Which is weird, because I don’t know when we’ll decide to stop that. It is what it is.
Are your parents back in St. Joe?
No, they’re with us. We have no idea how to pay the bills and s—t, man. [Laughs.]
What was it like growing up back there, being black kids in a hard rock band?
It was really hard for us. We could not book a show at all. My main problem with St. Joe was that they didn’t give us a chance. You can kill a band by not giving them anywhere to play. Places like Kansas City and Lawrence took us in, and that was really cool. We got to play shows in St. Joe afterwards, so that’s why I don’t give it any credit. I don’t think we should.
There is a place in St. Joe called the Rendezvous, they’re really cool. They’re the one place that didn’t bulls—t us. They just said they didn’t want any underagers and that’s fine. That’s the only spot we will play in St. Joe now.
Do you get sick of being talked about as a black band playing a traditionally white kind of music?
We don’t get [tired] of it because there aren’t many out there, so it’s definitely cool. If people take notice of it, it’s no big deal, because we hope it would inspire more people to play rock music. A lot of people think of it as white people’s music — honestly a lot of black dudes — and they just need to know it’s everyone’s music.
Are there comparisons to other bands that you’re tired of?
I don’t think that we sound like the Bad Brains. They’re amazing, but I don’t think that we sound like them. I think it’s just because we’re black and we’re playing fast, but not nearly as fast as Bad Brains. We get comparisons to Death a lot, and that makes sense with the brother thing. Again, I don’t think our music sounds that similar. I think we sound more like Bad Brains than Death, except for maybe the vocals of Death. I don’t know. The Misfits makes the most sense.
What’s it like on the road being under 21 and playing venues that usually only let older people in?
It’s been surprisingly easy. Rarely do you get f—ked with for being younger. We don’t try to drink or anything because we don’t want to ruin our reputation at places we want to play again. I was like 15 on my first tour, and it was pretty cool being at bars every day. You get the offer for drinks sometimes. You don’t want to f—k them over, so with my conscience, I had to deny them. You just gotta save it for the U.K. tour.
By not going to school, do you feel like you missed out on anything that other kids got to experience?
We never really wanted to get away from each other. There are things like girlfriends and stuff, that was the only thing that, as young boys, we actually gave a s—t about missing out on.
Being in a rock band is a pretty good way to make up for lost time with girls.
Radkey tour dates: