Radical Dads perform during Indie Fest alongside the Suicide Dolls, Farewood, Ovlov, Post-Modern Panic, Kevin MF King, Bret the One Man Band, Rum Glass Serenade, Jared Knapik, Up Up We Go and Ragtime Revolution
Free, 7 p.m., July 14. Charter Oak Cultural Center, 21 Charter Oak Ave., Hartford, charteroakcenter.org
Devoting the occasional lunch break to studying the story behind a notable or peculiar song is always a worthwhile time killer. Was "Billie Jean" inspired by a real person or fictional? Did Jeff Lynne insert a backwards message into Electric Light Orchestra's "Fire On High" for snark, subversiveness or both? Does Carly Rae Jepsen have such low self-esteem that she's grown content with the simple possibility of you calling her maybe?
Radical Dads' "Skateboard Bulldog," on the other hand, requires no such research or philosophizing, as the band members themselves are willing to explain why they eyed such an esoteric subject. "I was told to write a song about skateboarding bulldogs and I did," guitarist/vocalist Lindsay Baker says, with laughs following her voice across the phone line. Drummer/vocalist Robbie Guertin elaborates: "We wrote the song. I think [Lindsay] literally said, 'What should it be about?' Before practice, [guitarist Chris Diken] told us he had been skateboarding and this guy had a bulldog, and the bulldog actually skated. There are YouTube videos on it. You can check it out." (Apparently, this is quite the little subculture.)
Recorded in spring 2011 and released on a seven-inch in December, "Skateboard Bulldog" exemplifies Radical Dads' sweet, undemanding charms. It's a propulsive, autumn-colored slice of old-school indie rock that carries Baker's enthusiastic shouts in tow. Her lyrics are only half-intelligible, but as if to confirm the track's subject matter, the seven-inch's cover depicts a bulldog wearing a hoodie, glasses and sneakers while stationed on a skateboard. "In general, we try not to write songs about the same stuff that everyone writes songs about. You can be more intelligent with lyrics, but often, we end up getting into random topics like new age dinosaurs or modern pirates or skateboard bulldogs. I guess 'cause we're too old," Guertin says. "When we named ourselves Radical Dads, we just kind of liked the name and we thought it was funny and good. Then, we started playing shows and realized it was a little too appropriate because we were so much older than everyone else."
The conspicuously bass-free Dads — who perform at the free Indie Fest at Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford alongside a bevy of other bands including the Suicide Dolls, Farewood and Ovlov — were formed in 2008 but trace their history to 10 or 15 years earlier. Guertin and Diken attended Connecticut College together, and the pair met Baker (who was at Brown University) through a friend. The trio subsequently bounced in and out of bands. "We just sort of picked up where we had left off years earlier playing music together, and I feel like we just sort of do what comes out," Guertin says, and their sound does reveal a serious affection for '90s indie rock — a sound still glowing right around when they would have met. Dads have been repeatedly asked questions about the decade in interviews, and several reviews of the group's works have pointed to these sonic ties. "We're just old," Baker says with a laugh. "I guess we were teenagers in the '90s. We like a lot of music from then, and we are in no way aiming to sound like the '90s. We're influenced by some bands from the '90s, but we're influenced by a lot of other bands, too." Still, there's damning evidence when you learn about what bands Baker saw in that decade: Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement. Sure, she saw groups associated with other scenes, too — post-rock bands like Tortoise and The Sea and Cake and Louisville-based acts such as June of 44 and Rodan — but by and large, Dads' production and songwriting styles indicate that their releases would be best accompanied by a Matador Records logo.
Now is a great time for young and new bands reviving the wallflowers-in-bloom vibe of '90s indie; Male Bonding, Lemuria, Screaming Females and Yuck would all make perfect touring partners for Dads. Guertin dives into no details about the future of his own band's sound (which probably means that more sounds from the same school are forthcoming), but he emphasizes that Radical Dads are two guitars, drums and vocals, and he likes having those limitations to help them focus. "We don't have any plans specifically for where it's going to go. There's big changes and little changes. I feel like we're going to keep making little evolutionary steps," the drummer says. "We're not going to go extinct."