Sometimes the best way to make sure your voice is original in the ever-expanding world of indie rock is to avoid overthinking it. Instead of trying to be different, you just have to have fun. Look at Radiator Hospital. Every hook and melody that comes from the Philly-via-Michigan indie rock band may be simple in its technical form, but the natural ease from which it comes from all four members—singer and guitarist Sam Cook-Parrott, singer and guitarist Cynthia Schemmer, bassist Jon Rybicki, and drummer Jeff Bolt—ensures the song will be fun to play, and in turn fun to hear.
Radiator Hospital have been doing their own thing ever since the first album came out in 2010. Now on their fifth record, Play the Songs You Like, the band finds themselves in a funny place. DIY at heart but critic darlings, Radiator Hospital get to choose what path they take moving forward. But for them, the choice is obvious. They formed out of a love of playing music for fun. Fame isn’t on their agenda, even if a path leading towards such appears. They would rather play squats in Germany or BBQs in Worcester than try to climb the ranks in the music industry. “It got weird after a minute after our second LP, because things started to pick up,” says Cook-Parrott. But now things have cooled back down, which means they get the chance to go on tour opening up for acts like Japanese Breakfast while still sneaking in house shows along the route. The music industry is a “shitty, capitalist, controlling thing,” but Radiator Hospital are learning how to better navigate it with each passing year, from handling their music’s appearance on Spotify to spending more time on their albums.
“[Play the Songs You Like] feels like the most fully formed record we’ve done,” says Cook-Parrott. “It felt like a full band effort, and that’s something I’m proud of. Other records had the same band, of course, but those felt rushed. We would have preferred to take more time on them. Usually, I write simple songs so we can learn them quickly and then play shows. But then six months after we recorded it, we will look back at the recorded version and think we play [those songs] much better now after playing at shows all the time. You add things, you know, like a bit of flair. So this time we waited before recording, that way we were super prepared and felt like we exhausted all the possibilities to improve a song.”
To better understand the full picture of what Radiator Hospital is like, we interviewed Sam Cook-Parrott for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With Play The Songs You Like as the prompt, he gave answers that never took themselves too seriously, a quality that will shine through in the music when Radiator Hospital kick off Japanese Breakfast’s show at The Sinclair this Friday.
1) “Long Distance Dedication”
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever been in a long distance relationship before?
COOK-PARROTT: I have been in a few long distance relationships. They’ve been across states. I feel like I’ve been in more long distance relationships that were serious than short distance ones. The first was my first love in high school. She was a year older than me in high school and went away to college. That was super hard to have the person I loved move away. The other person I dated was a friend of my sister who I met at my sister’s wedding [laughs]. We sort of hooked up at the wedding and started seeing one another even though she lived in California. Recently, I’ve been seeing someone who lives across the country that I met on tour. I’m a very solitary and independent person, so long distance relationships actually work for me because I can do my own thing will still remaining who I am as a person. It gets complicated, and it requires more effort on everyone’s part to make it work, but it’s a lot chiller, too.
2) “Out Of Mind”
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever had an out of body experience via relaxation or meditation?
COOK-PARROTT: Not in that sense, but I did have a crazy out-of-body experience when playing a show when I was really sick one time. I had a 24-hour flu type of thing. In the middle of the show, I felt like I was going to die. Just so, so sick. I don’t know how I made it through the set, because I felt like I could see myself playing. It didn’t feel like me playing. I felt like I was watching the show happen and didn’t know how to pull through. And then I threw up immediately after [laughs].
3) “Pastoral Radio Hit”
DIGBOSTON: What’s a calming, peaceful song you wish would be a radio hit?
COOK-PARROTT: Do you know the band Bonny Doon from Detroit? They’re our buddies. Their music is super good and chilled out, especially the most recent record. It has stoner beachy vibes. Also this person Erin Tobey from Bloomington. She put out a record last year that’s very chill that I like. I don’t listen to the radio that often, and when I do it’s to listen to an oldies station or soul station, but that’s what I’d like to hear on the radio.
4) “Old Refrain”
DIGBOSTON: What are two of your favorite choruses by other musicians?
COOK-PARROTT: “Mommy’s alright, daddy’s alright, they just seem a little weird. Surrender, but don’t give yourself away.” Cheap Trick.
And let’s see. [Singing] “I don’t hold you down, and maybe that’s why you’re around. But if I’m the one you love, think about me.” Fleetwood Mac. Thank you, thank you.
5) “The Songs You Like”
DIGBOSTON: Which song do you like to cover the most?
COOK-PARROTT: Hm, we don’t do any covers live as a band because we have enough of our own fucking songs. Except on our most recent record where we covered Martha. There’s a song I’ve known how to play since I was 15 called “A Little Bit of Soap.” Do you know that song? [Singing] “A little bit of soap will wash away your lipstick from my face.” Just a great old folk song that’s really easy to play. I like covering that song. I like a song that I can cover where I know it by heart. I believe that one is by a band called The Jarmels. It’s a great song.
6) “Nothing Nice”
DIGBOSTON: When you feel like you have nothing nice to wear for an event, which articles of clothing do you usually turn to in order to spruce yourself up?
COOK-PARROTT: Oh man. Well, I don’t have a lot, so this is a familiar scenario. I certainly don’t own anything formal. So anytime I’m in this scenario where I need to look nice, I’m usually wearing what a fancy person would wear on their day off. Like, I don’t actually look nice. Currently I only have one pair of nice pants and they have a giant hole in the knee. I couldn’t look formal if I tried. But yeah, a nice pair of khaki pants and a button-down shirt.
7) “Cheap Day”
DIGBOSTON: What’s a free activity to do in your area that most people aren’t aware is available to do?
COOK-PARROTT: Honestly, just walking around. People are so in their fucking mindset that they need to go to work and then go home and relax. I love walking around, sitting in a park, going down to the waterfront. Not spending a dime and just hanging out outside is great. I can’t think of a free cool thing to do, but that’s something I love that not enough people seem to do.
8) “Also Ran”
DIGBOSTON: Where is the last place you ran, be it a long-distance jog or a random sprint to catch something?
COOK-PARROTT: Probably that last one. If I had to make it on public transit, or if I had a lot of energy and am just running to catch up with someone. Lately on tour, we’ve been walking places. All of a sudden I’ll be behind everyone and realize I want to catch up, so I run to get there.
9) “Lonely Road”
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever seen Green Day perform live before?
COOK-PARROTT: Yes, I have! I saw Green Day in 2002. It was the “Pop Disaster” tour: Saves the Day, Blink-182, and Green Day. It was fucking dope. Green Day played in between actually. I remember Green Day kicking ass and being awesome, and Blink-182 being out of shape, seemingly exhausted, making fart jokes the whole time. Blink-182 is the stupidest band. But wait, why did you ask if — Oh, wait, nevermind. At first I was like, “Do they have a song called that?” but I just realized you must’ve been thinking [singing] “I walk a looonely road.”
10) “The People At The Show”
DIGBOSTON: How would you describe the type of people that go to your shows?
COOK-PARROTT: Um, usually it’s just nice folks. They’re nice people, usually into punk in some way, young, figuring themselves out. You know, sometimes they’re queer or trying to figure themselves out in some way. It’s young kids figuring their shit out.
11) “Dance Number”
DIGBOSTON: When you’re in a crowded audience at a show but want to dance, what kind of dance moves do you bust out?
COOK-PARROTT: I don’t know how to describe it [laughs]. But a fun one where you don’t care what people think, but like, not hitting other people in the process.
12) “Half Empty”
DIGBOSTON: When was the last time you felt empty?
COOK-PARROTT: Well, physically I felt empty recently where I hadn’t eaten in a while [laughs]. Emotionally, I don’t know. I always feel a little bit empty. Don’t we all? Nothing too specific. Being on tour can make you feel weird and isolated and lonely, like you miss people and don’t know how to feel. So maybe that.
13) “Love Story”
DIGBOSTON: If you could choose when, where, and how you fell in love with someone, what would you choose?
COOK-PARROTT: Interesting. When, where, and how. When would be right now, where would be right in front of me, and how would be, I don’t know, they just walk up and say, “Hey, I’m in love with you.” [laughs] Nah, the thing about love is that it creeps up on you when you don’t expect it. So I hope it just happens when and where I don’t expect it.
14) “Heart Of Darkness”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the most good-intentioned thing you’ve done that somehow went horribly wrong?
COOK-PARROTT: This story may be a little too long, but here goes. When I was in high school, there was a little courtyard you couldn’t get to but was an open yard area. This momma duck landed there and laid eggs and raised these little ducks. But then they were stuck in there, you know? Turns out the momma probably had a whole plan for it, but the science teachers at my school were like, “We gotta save these ducks.” Me, one of the teachers, and this other girl took the baby ducks and the momma duck and drove them to where this teacher lived, a little outside of the city, because they lived by a lake. We thought we could bring them to this lake and let the ducks live by the lake. The mistake we made was letting the momma out first. We put them in separate little cages to bring them there. They weren’t bad or anything. They were nice boxes that were safe for them, for sure. So we put the momma out and she’s standing around a little bit. Then we let the baby ducks out, but the momma had already flown away. We wondered where she went. The next day at school, the momma was back in the courtyard. She had flown like 40 minutes back to that exact spot where she had laid her eggs, looking for her kids. I think she thought she was kidnapped and taken away from her babies. So then all the kids at school were like, “What the fuck, why is the mom back and her kids aren’t here?” And we were like, “Uhhh, I don’t know.” I don’t know what happened, but I think they figured it out and reunited them all. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Maybe they never reunited and all died. But that’s definitely the biggest instance of trying to do a good thing and it definitely didn’t work out as planned [laughs].
15) “Sycamore (By Martha)”
DIGBOSTON: Excluding their music, what’s your favorite thing about the band Martha?
COOK-PARROTT: About Martha? Ooh! Well first off, they’re lovely people. Just so wonderful. One of their members drove us on our European tour we just did, so we got to hang out for three weeks which was nice. But definitely their politics. They’re into radical politics, anarchism, and cool things I believe in. They articulate them in a way that I think is nice but not heavy handed. Their music isn’t overtly political in a lot of ways. It’s catchy, poppy music that’s done with an anarchist mentality that I think is cool.
16) “Absolutely Positive (For Martha)”
DIGBOSTON: Though there’s few things in life you can guarantee without the shadow of a doubt, what’s one thing you’re absolutely positive of and will remain positive of years from now?
COOK-PARROTT: That, you know, there’s no guarantee of anything in this world. Nobody owes you anything. You just have to live your life and try to be happy.
JAPANESE BREAKFAST, LVL UP, RADIATOR HOSPITAL. FRI 6.1. THE SINCLAIR, 52 CHURCH ST., CAMBRIDGE. 7PM/ALL AGES/$16. SINCLAIRCAMBRIDGE.COM