The Future Faces of Rock Are Three Home-Schooled Geeks from the Midwest
Dee, Isaiah and Solomon Radke, a trio of previously home-schooled, garage-rocking brothers from St. Joseph, Missouri, have enjoyed a meteoric rise since their band, Radkey (@radkeyrock) — a slight tweak on their surname — was invited to play Brooklyn’s Afropunk Festival in 2012. But the journey really began when the guys were in grade school and had their minds blown by the Jack Black comedy School of Rock.
“That movie had a bunch of really good bands on the soundtrack,” says Isaiah, the group’s main lyricist and, at least in this interview, main spokesperson. “And watching it, it really makes you want to play. Bands like the Ramones, The Who, Led Zep. That got us into a lot of good music really fast.”
Along with all the traditional subjects they studied at home, the brothers (Dee is 22, Isaiah 20 and Solomon 18) spent hours a day pouring through their father’s massive record collection, learning all about the history of rock ’n’ roll and discovering their own tastes. They also began to learn how to play instruments, intent from the beginning on starting their own band. Dee had already begun playing guitar and Isaiah took to bass, leaving Solomon to climb behind the drum kit.
Songwriting soon followed, with tunes that mixed their classical influences and the fierce imaginations of young boys raised on geek culture and each other’s company.
“[The songs were] mostly about movies and anime and anything we could make up,” Isaiah explains. “Since we were home-schooled, we didn’t have a lot of real life experience to write about.”
They began gigging with their unique brand of geek punk in 2010, when Isaiah was 15. At first, their hometown wasn’t all that supportive; the club owners in St. Joseph, it seemed, were oblivious to the charms of a trio of precocious and prodigiously talented local kids.
“People wouldn’t book us for a long time,” Isaiah says. “We had to get booked in Lawrence and Kansas City; they would book us even though we were young. We wouldn’t have been a band if we weren’t getting booked there. Maybe it was the age, but it’s legal [to book kids] if a parent is there.”
It turned out to be the local clubs’ loss, as Radkey soon moved on to much brighter stages in much bigger music markets. The Afropunk set in New York led to a recording session at Entourage star Adrian Grenier’s recording studio, Wreckroom Records, which in turn led to an invite to play SXSW that same year.
“There were only maybe 12 people at that SXSW show. That did it for us,” Isaiah says. At that point, they were invited to play in the UK, and tours across both the United States and Europe have followed. Their first album, Dark Black Make-up, hit stores in 2015 — its songs clearly influenced by the guys’ heavy rotation of Metallica, Queens of the Stone Age and ‘80s synth rock bands like Duran Duran.
The ride has been exhausting, but also instructive, giving them the sort of life experience that brings depth to both music and lyrics.
“With that life experience that we now have, we’ve written about girls, who we’ve actually gotten to meet and hang out with,” says Isaiah, laughing. “[We do] more movie-inspired stuff, the nerdy sh–, with some more things that you could relate to in there. We wanted to dig into that. It’s cool because after each recording and big show, you just learn a sh–load. After this recording, I’m really excited for the next one.”
They’ve been home in Kansas City for a few months now, but plan to hit the road soon to continue to promote their album. One place they’re unlikely to play much in: St. Joseph’s, where it all began. Now that they’re an in-demand act, they can say no to the people who once kept them off stage.
“The one place we do play, the guy was honest and just said before that he didn’t want any kids at his place,” Isaiah says. “That’s fine, as long as you’re honest.”
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