Behind every good band, hopefully, lies an equally good story. Case in point: Radio Black. TJ Courtney (formerly a Boston-based solo artist now) has found himself taking root in Los Angeles as the epitome of “I get by with a little help from my friends” especially if those friends are rock n roll badasses like a veteran engineer (John Lousteau- Foo Fighters, Alice In Chains, John Fogerty) and musicians Chris Chaney (Jane’s Addiction) and Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters, Birds of Satan) and recording in at an obscure location called Studio 606. Derek Gledhil (drums) and Dan Kremer (bass) now round out Radio Black: an alternative rock trio with a traditional and welcoming sound: one that those born prior to 1985 will probably appreciate. So in a sit down with TJ, we got his perspective on this ‘good story’ that was more like a very relatable musical fairytale.
High Voltage: So, back East you were into the punk scene. Who were you listening to when you grew up?
TJ Courtney: Growing up, a lot of Green Day and Blink 182 and stuff like that. And I had a friend who got me into Ozzy and Black Sabbath early on. We always had MTV on and that was when Red Hot Chili Peppers were coming out and Nirvana.
I remember being seven or eight, seeing the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video. But I also liked a lot of the lighter, more pop-rock stuff like Matchbox 20, Goo Goo Dolls, stuff like that. I kind of got a combo and then as I got a little older I was going to these punk shows, like local punk. So it was kind of like a combo between more of the pop songwriting type of rock and the harder-edge stuff.
HV: It sounds like you liked the combination of the hard and aggressive stuff that also has some melodic content.
TJ: Exactly, exactly. And then, thankfully my dad was always playing the Beatles and Lynyrd Skynyrd and stuff like that in the car, so I got a good foundation of some more classic stuff too. Elton John – a lot of that.
HV: So this phase that you’re now in: kind of unique how this all happened. You’re a guy in Massachusetts doing your thing solo, wanting more of a band situation. How did John Lousteau come into the picture?
TJ: He’s friends with my manager who’s based out here [Los Angeles]. In the Fall of 2012, we were running a radio campaign and getting some spins on some commercial stations and going after the active rock format. The feedback we got on our recordings was that they liked the song but that it was a little bit too pop, like the recording wasn’t quite rock enough, not guitar-driven enough. So we started circulating around, or my manager started circulating the tracks around, and we were going to get some stuff remixed to try to have it be a little more rock.
Eventually Lou got back to him. He was like, “Dude, I like the songs, I like his voice. But instead of doing a remix, why don’t we do just a new EP of new stuff and get him into [Studio] 606.”
I was like, “This is the studio that Foo Fighters own.” Okay.
Sound City had come out maybe a month before and I hadn’t seen it. So I went into my On-Demand, saw Sound City. I watched it like, “Holy shit.” Because the whole end of it is at 606 with the Neve Console.
It actually all worked out for the better because I was a solo artist. Lou was like, “Okay, let me see who I can get playing on the songs.” He said, “We interviewed so many guys for Sound City, we’ve got relationships with all these players around town who aren’t up to that much and would be down, probably, to work on a project like this.”
The first guy that agreed was Rudy Sarzo (bass), who played with Ozzy [Osbourne] for years. Such a good guy. He was only going to be able to play two tracks so then Chris Chaney [bass, Jane’s Addiction] said he would do it. And then Lou was making phone calls to try to find a drummer and Taylor was just hanging out that day in the studio.
HV: Just, you know, just there.
TJ: And Taylor was kind of like, “Dude, why don’t you ask me?” (laughs)
HV: For some reason, I can see that face.
TJ: Right, exactly! And Lou was like, “Oh, I just didn’t want to bug you, I didn’t think you’d be into it.” He’s like, “Man, I’ll do it. Why not?”
So, that was one of the coolest moments, when I got the call saying like, “I think Taylor’s going do it.”
The funny thing about the connection is that they were one of the bands that I always really, really looked up to. And the whole thing with Dave [Grohl] switching from drums to playing is similar. I was a drummer until I was about 20 and then I switched over so I always really related when I was first starting. I looked to that as inspiration like, “Dave did it, I can do it.” It’s just so bizarre that it ended up with this whole connection with the entire project.
And both Taylor and Dave are two of my favorite drummers, so to have Taylor play on it was just crazy.
HV: That’s great; you’re a random guy from Massachusetts and then you wound up in 606 Studio. Farthest thing from your mind.
TJ: Exactly. (laughs)
HV: Now, with this EP you worked on…
TJ: It’s recorded. We put out “Runaway” as the first single a couple weeks ago. And we’re going to keep kind of putting the tracks out one-by-one and then release the EP. I want to release the EP probably October-ish.
HV: All right. Any plans for a full- length record?
TJ: Yeah we’re going to round out an album. We have a Kickstarter going right now. So we’re trying to raise funds and get back into 606 and get the new guys playing on it and hopefully release an album.
HV: Derek [Gledhil] and Dan [Kremer] you met out here [in Los Angeles].
TJ: Yes. So I did the week at 606 and then I was like, “I’ve been thinking about coming out here for awhile. I think it’s time. I think I can justify moving out there now.”
So we came out about a month and a half later and then just started trying to work on finding guys. Eventually, Vanessa Silberman, who is the assistant…
HV: I’ve been meaning to ask you about that.
TJ: Do you know Vanessa?
HV: I do.
TJ: She’s the assistant at 606, and she was so supportive and one of those people when you’re tracking and feeling insecure, she’d be like, “That was a great take. Like that was, you were great right there.” And it would just like, she would really lift you up. She eventually ended up giving me Derek’s name, who’s my drummer now. And she’s like, “I think you guys would hit it off.” So we ended up hitting it off really well. And Derek was the original drummer of Smile Empty Soul.
Then we started doing bass player auditions; that led us to Dan. Really, the whole 606 thing, not only was it a great experience, that’s how I met Vanessa who introduced me to Derek. So the whole thing is kind of tied into that entire experience.
HV: Obviously there’s a lot of magic at 606. Besides who owns it and what equipment is there, it’s obviously a great place to spread out and network. And you just never know who’s next door and has nothing to do.
TJ: Absolutely. And the thing I’ll say about it, too, is that everybody who worked on the project – the entire vibe was so relaxed the whole time. I recorded out here three years ago and that was great, but the experience was more uptight and you felt like everybody was kind of in it for themselves. Whereas at 606 it was so relaxed and open, people hanging out and making music. It was almost like nobody there has anything to prove, so they’re just all like relaxed, you know? Which was great because then it opens you up. It was crazy.
HV: So, you describe your music as…?
TJ: When I describe it, I say it’s kind of like ’90s throwback rock because it’s got more of a ’90s alternative rock. I wouldn’t say it fits, necessarily, into what you would call alternative now. I think things are kind of coming back, where it’s going to come back into style.
HV: Are you kind of tired of electro-pop?
TJ: Yeah (laughs). Big time. Guitar-driven rock – I just don’t think there’s enough acts with really solid songwriting doing it. Where it doesn’t have to be so heavy, that there’s still, like you said earlier, melodic content there.
HV: So this year, Kickstarter. EP. Eventual full album. How well have you guys gelled? You’ve known Derek and Dan for how long now?
TJ: Derek I met in like January and then Dan and I, late February. So we’ve gelled really, really well. They’re like two of my best friends now in LA, which is awesome. And I feel like we all kind of have the same ambition and outlook on the whole thing. And also there’s just a natural chemistry. I’ve been in some bands where we’re going after the same thing but you’re almost forcing a friendship because you know you have to spend a lot of time together.
HV: So you have good hopes, if you found yourself on a tour bus for six months, you wouldn’t kill each other.
TJ: Absolutely! And it’s one of the reasons we have not brought on another guitar player yet. We were going to audition people right away, and then after a little while we were like, “You know, our chemistry is really, really good. Let’s make sure whoever the fourth guy is really feels like the right fit,” instead of, “we need a fourth guy.”
HV: At this point you’re still pretty DIY. It’s like all-hands.
TJ: It is, and it’s kind of cool. We’re starting to get a little bit of team behind us. Derek’s brother works for The Uprising Creative. He’s doing our artwork which is awesome because I used to kind of fumble my way through artwork. Basically, me and Derek will try to do it, then he’ll look at it and he’ll be like, “Guys, just send me that as a mock-up and I’ll give you something real.”
And he gives us something back, we’re like, “Oh, that’s so much better.” (laughs)
HV: So, this is like real shit. This is a real band starting at…
TJ: Starting at the bottom, yep.
HV: Figuring it out.
TJ: Exactly. And it’s good. I feel like we’ve all been in enough bands where we at least have a general game plan that makes some kind of sense, which is nice.
HV: You think you’ve made some appropriate mistakes to make.
TJ: Exactly. I was talking to one of my friends in one of my first bands that had actually some label interest when we were like 18. And I was in the band with him for maybe four years. He had me cracking up because he was like, “Literally, think of any one day in that band. We did at least one destructive thing for our career every single day.” (laughs) It’s actually true.
HV: What can you think of as a mistake that you learned from?
TJ: I think one of the big things that I’ve learned is that you have to keep things moving ahead and it’s better to do something – it’s better to put things out even if you look back on it and say, “Now I’m not 100% happy with that.” Just keep things moving. I’ve been in projects where it’s like, “Don’t do anything until everything’s perfect.” I feel like that can kill a project because as soon as everything’s perfect, then you’re starting from scratch getting the word out. It’s get the word out there and grow and evolve.
And your fans will start to see improvement or – not even improvement – but an evolution. And you have to be generating that interest right off the bat, which I think is what we’re trying to do in this band.
Let’s get the word out right away and just figure everything out as we go along. Because I’ve been in way too many bands where it’s been like, “Let’s spend a year and a half until we have a perfect album.” You know, we’ve had managers in the past say, “Stop playing shows, don’t play shows. We don’t want anyone to see you because we’re going to showcase you in this and that.”
Nobody really cares about something that isn’t developed and doesn’t have interest. It’s not like hide away and write a record anymore. That just doesn’t work.
HV: And then boom, we’re going to play the show at Viper Room and sell it out.
TJ: Exactly right. It doesn’t work that way.
HV: Alright. Tell me something absolutely random about you. That you haven’t said in an interview before.
TJ: That I haven’t said in an interview before? Okay.
HV: Something nobody knows about you.
TJ: I have a really nerdy hobby that I generally don’t talk about: Golf. I love to golf.
TJ: Yeah. I can’t go more than a week without playing a round.
HV: So I guess it means you own the clubs…
TJ: Yep. And I have to get in the stupid-looking khaki shorts and a collared shirt. The ponytail. Maybe shave the mustache that day (laughs). And I get out there and it’s a totally geeky thing that I love.
HV: This is not very rock-and-roll.
TJ: No, it’s not at all (laughs).
Radio Black’s Kickstarter is officially a success as their campaign hit “fully funded” status earlier this month reaching their goal of $12,000. So TJ, Derek and Dan will be heading back into Studio 606 to record that album. Congratulations to Radio Black! And here’s the EP’s first release, “Run Away,” featuring Taylor Hawkins.
Keep up with TJ, Dan and Derek on Facebook.