Formed in the quiet enclaves of St. Joseph, Missouri, Radkey - the power riffing trio of 20 year-old Isaiah Radke (bass), 18 year-old Solomon Radke (drums), and 22 year-old Dee Radke (vocals/guitar) - began making music together in 2010. Fueled by a steady diet of Nevermind and small town boredom, Radkey’s music quickly went from a bedroom hobby into a full-time pursuit. The band opened for Fishbone in 2011 – less than a year after first playing together – and eventually headed out on the road to play shows with the likes of Red Fang, Against Me, and Touche Amore.
Given that the band members were homeschooled (and thanks to their incredibly supportive parents), the idea of jumping in the family van and hitting the road gradually morphed from a kind of surreal fantasy into a much-celebrated reality. In 2013 the band unleashed two EPs (Cat And Mouse and Devil Fruit) and knocked out tons of big-ticket live appearances (including Riot Fest, Download, and, in 2015, Coachella and Japan’s Punksping) in addition to taping a memorable spot for Later with Jools Holland. Though early press on the band often focused on their unconventional backstory—a rock band comprised of three homeschooled African-American teenagers from Missouri—the band’s backstory was always eclipsed by their incendiary live sets: balls-to-the-wall garage punk that is messy, explosive, and crazy loud.
“The last couple of years have been really crazy,” says Isaiah, the group’s most outspoken member. “Traveling in England in Europe was really cool for us. It’s incredible—and such a weird feeling—that you are doing something that is actually important to people. To travel to other countries and see people singing along with us is just…it’s really strange. I never thought our music would become a thing that could take us to all of these places.”
After nearly five years of playing and touring together as a band, all of the Radkey’s hard work comes full circle on Dark Black Makeup—the band’s full-length debut. Recorded primarily in the UK alongside producer Ross Orton (Arctic Monkeys, The Fall, Jarvis Cocker), the album is a blistering punk opus—13 tracks that show off the band’s knack for combining stadium-sized riffs with surprising pop sensibilities. Tracks like “Love Spills” and “Evil Doer” rank among some of the best—and hookiest—songs the band has ever written, while tracks like “Le Song” and the album’s title track show just what an unstoppable live juggernaut the band has become. The songs are both tightly wound and explosively huge-sounding “We wanted to show people that you can still make a proper rock record,” explains Isaiah, “Something that is both super catchy and super heavy. We want people to hear it and think Fuck Yeah! Mostly we just try and only write songs that we love—that we love the shit out of—and that way it never gets boring and it never feels like a drag to play them live even if we’ve been playing them for years. It seems like a simple thing, but we really just want to make the music that we want to hear.”
Dark Black Makeup tackles more than a few teenage tropes—boredom, anger, girl problems, broken friendships—but does so in a way that is not only clever, but also refreshingly honest. No where is this more evident than on the record’s title track, which itself is a kind of high-decibel wake up call for young people to take ownership of their own lives: a sort of punch in the face for teen angst that is made all the more visceral coming from three musicians just barely out of their own teen years. “That song is about how much of your teenage years can just be such a waste,” says Isaiah, “If you spend all of your time not caring about anything just because you think you’re not supposed to then you’re probably leading such a boring life. You could be partying or making something, as opposed to just spending all your time worrying about what other people think. It’s like, wake up. Hang out. Do something. It’s annoying that you can’t necessarily change the fucking world at that age, but you can make your own situation better. Stop wasting time”
Five years in and the brothers Radkey are happy to be making a musical statement that will hopefully put to rest a few of the preconceptions that have followed them throughout their career thus far—namely those based around their age, their hometown, and race. “Surprisingly that—the racial thing—hasn’t been a factor for us,” says Dee. “Honestly, it’s never been about that. Mostly we get given a hard time about our age, but that’s also something we can’t really change. We might walk into a venue and feel like people are taken a little bit by surprise when they see us, but usually after we play all of that stuff kind of goes away. We get a lot of questions about being brothers—like, do we argue?—and it’s a good question I guess, but the answer is no, we don’t really argue very much. And yes, we all write the songs together—everyone writes—so it’s not a thing we really spend too much time thinking or talking about it.”
The ambition of Dark Black Makeup is evidenced by the heightened songwriting and broadened sonic palette, but the energy behind the music remains the same—visceral, urgent, and raw. It is the sound of three people doing what they love…loudly. “Our only ambitions have ever really been to make a record that people will love and to be able to play as many shows as we can,” says Isaiah, “It’s also a personal journey. We’ve been living this for years now. This is literally all that we do and the record is the evidence of that. I stop and think, man I’m 20 years old and I’ve been doing this since I was basically 14. We’re still making the same kind of music we were when we started, but we’re better at it now. Thankfully, we’ve had the opportunity to actually go out into the world and experience some real shit, which gives us something to write about now. We just want people to listen. And play it really loud.”