When I first came across Radkey the it was 2014, they were playing their first SXSW and the trio of brothers were operating distinctly below the threshold to get a drink anywhere in Austin. While the fresh-faced brothers from Missouri may have looked innocent offstage, their presence once the first note hit was immediately jarring, a true rock act in an age when few still exist in progressive entirety. While 'punk' may have already had history books written by the time the Radke brothers from tiny Saint Joseph, Missouri have built a cult following around the sound by a relentless touring schedule that they have stayed dedicated to through much of their adolescence. With their father, Matt Radke handling management and a brother on either side, these kids have made the genre their own, and a family affair in the process.
I caught up with Isaiah ahead of the trio's recent show at the Double Door, marking the third time we've touched base since that first SXSW. In the time since, the guys have settled nicely into a lane largely unto themselves. Their music is frenetic, gritty and without boundaries. At a couple of the shows I saw them at in Austin, they were booked to play small showcases, the kind of delicate cocktail-supported garden party that has come to pace the yearly festival. After quietly approaching the stage, plugging in Dee, the ever-quiet and understated frontman and middle brother muttered an introduction: "hey we're Radkey, we're going to play some songs," almost inaudible through his dreads, left covering his eyes haphazardly, to the crowd of mostly white twenty-somethings in free sunglasses. A second later, nearly everyone on the private deck caught whiplash as the boys tore into their instruments, flailing about on the makeshift stage as if playing The Grande Ballroom in Detroit twenty years prior. Unabashed and confident in their craft, it was almost immediately obvious these three were going somewhere. And even if they weren't they were gonna play some fucking rock music.
"It's been pretty cool and kind of surprising how much rock music is out there, you know. It is kind of weird sometimes though because a lot of people like to think we're the only ones doing our style of rock and we've been seeing it build, seeing bigger crowds at shows, our first sold-out show was here in Chicago actually. So yeah, it's
Despite their age, the Radke brothers (they added the 'Y' for dramatic effect) have always operated above their age range. After growing up rough, with little else to do, the music became central to their lives. By the time they began touring, the youngest, Dee, was just barely in high school. The music was really all they've known. Perhaps because of that, like a teenage sports phenom pushed to succeed, they have developed into a finely-tuned machine. Their 2015 release, Dark Black Makeup serves as a marked show of growth from the band's 2013 debut, Devil Fruit. Dee's vocals are deep, resonating and powerful while maintaining an obvious sense of texture that calls to mind imported acts ofs the early 80s, quick to dip into almost-creepy verses accentuated by the overpowering feel of the youngest brother Solomon on drums and Dee on bass.
"We were home schooled since I was 15, I'm 20 now so this is really all we know, being on the road and how to deal with it," said Isaiah. "My teenage years were just doing that all day, it's been crazy but we all love it."
Since hitting the scene with a stir in 2014, Radkey has seemed to settle in nicely to a new, adjusted rock landscape that is as wide-open as it is confused. Sort of like the Republican party of music, rock has been looking for something to bring it back to a younger audience with real cultural appeal and in this Missouri trio they just might have it. Currently working on a follow-up to DBM, these three have found themselves once again right back where they're comfortable: on the road.
For their show in Chicago last month, the guys stopped by The Double Door for a headlining set at the historic Wicker Park venue currently in a fight to stay open with its landlord. True to form, the purveyors of punk that they are, the Radke brothers took a certain pride in being part of the middle finger to "the man".
"It's pretty awesome to be able to play the Double Door and headline it'd be great to be able to get through here a couple more times, it's such a cool, legendary spot," said Isaiah. "I didn't know about all that though, that's rad!"