The Modern Lovers' 1976 cult classic “Roadrunner” epitomizes the spirit of Radio On, a new Tacoma rock band that will make its public debut on Saturday, Oct. 12, at O'Malley's Irish Pub.
For starters, the quartet's name is plucked straight from that song's opening stanza. “Going faster miles an hour,” Modern Lovers front man Jonathan Richman sings. “Gonna drive past the Stop n' Shop with the radio on.”
More importantly, though, “Roadrunner” takes Radio On guitarists Stu Miller and John Carey back to some of their formative musical experiences. The simple, two-chord anthem was among the first cuts Miller learned when he started jamming with local bands in Olympia in the '90s. Carey is from The Modern Lovers' hometown Boston; and the song harkens back to the thrill of catching his favorite tunes on the radio as a kid in the '70s.
“I listened to AM radio on my bed, sneaking it in, lights out,” Carey recalled, gathered with his band mates outside of their Sixth Avenue practice space. “So I would hear this song on the radio all the time, and it would be late at night; and I would always wonder, 'Where is this guy from? He has a Stop n' Shop just like I have. They've got a Route 9.'”
Last year, Miller and Carey were at an impasse when it came to naming their new musical project. Then the Modern Lovers song came on Seattle station KEXP-FM (90.3). The lifted lyric felt right for the raucous, no-frills party jams they'd been coming up with writing in Miller's North Slope living room.
“Even if you owned the record, to hear your favorite song on the radio was better than just putting your record on,” Carey said. “When I was a kid I would just call up my neighbor and be like, 'Hey man! 'We're An American Band' is on right now! It's on RKO!' (We'd) hang up, run over, tune it in halfway and listen to it loud.”
Radio On may be new, but its roster will be familiar from several other Tacoma rock outfits. Miller is an owner of local beer and hotdog haven, the Red Hot, and has played in the Coloffs and Gold Teeth in recent years. Drummer John Leddington also keeps the beat for Blanco Bronco and the recently reloaded Pioneers West. And bassist Andy Childs has played keyboards for Brotherhood of the Black Squirrel and Legend of Bigfoot.
Together, their sound is brash and hooky, a mish-mash of classic garage, punk and college rock from the '70s, '80s and '90s.
“It's one, two, three, four and hold on for 2 ½ minutes. It's gonna be loud and fast,” Childs said. “There's not a lot of hidden agenda. It's power rock n' roll, right down the middle.”
“There's not a lot of clever vocabulary,” Carey joked. “You're not going to get the Decemberists.”
Visit our Daily Mashup blog, at http://www.tacomaweekly.com/dailymashup, for bootleg video of “Electric No No.” The song is inspired by the late Dock Ellis, a Major Leaguer best known for pitching a no-hitter in 1970 while under the influence of L.S.D.
Saturday's show also features Planet of Giants and Vamanos. Music starts after 9 p.m., and there is no cover charge. O'Malley's is located at 2403 Sixth Ave., in Tacoma; (253) 627-9403 for further details.