“We’ve Been Obsessed As Long As We Can Remember With Vintage Music” — Q&A With Lizzy Ellison of Radiation City
The second decade of the 21st Century has brought us all sorts of throwback sounding bands resurrecting the vintage sounds of yesteryear but for every Amy Winehouse there have been thousands of painfully unoriginal derivative bands jumping on that same bandwagon. But every now and then a fresh young band like Portland, Oregon’s Radiation City come seemingly out of nowhere and proves that the classical pop formula of the late 50’s / early 60’s is still relevant.
Lizzy Ellison: I think every band can attest to the fact that it’s hard to come up with a band name because most ideas are ridiculous. Sometimes they have nothing to do with the music at all, and other times they are just bad. If you plan on the band being around for a while you better like it.
When the band first started it was just Cameron and myself, and we had toyed with the idea of moving to NYC, which in my experience has radiators in most, if not all apartments, whether they still work or not. Radiator City did not slide off the tongue very sweetly, so we came up with a few other options, Radiation City being one of them. We use the term rad city as an exclamation of awesomeness, but thought that alone seemed disconnected from the music we were making. Upon marinating on the name, it became clear that Radiation City was the right fit. A post-apocalyptic city, where music was found as a reflection of the past and future.
DS: What was the inspiration for the lush vintage sound of your band?
LE: We’ve been obsessed, for as long as I can remember, with oldies/vintage music, not only for the charm, but the production of the music itself. Aretha Franklin, Sly, Ray Charles, the list goes on… These artists will never become obsolete. It’s timeless and it’s always provoked strong emotion in us, so Cam and I thought it was at least worth a shot to see if we could create the same mood with our songs. I suppose we just had a strong desire to see if it could be achieved.
DS: Are there any challenges recreating the sound of your recorded songs live on stage?
LE: We use a lot of old gear that helps in recreating our sound live, but we also have parts on the recordings where Patti has recorded lush string arrangements that just can’t be done live, or 4 part choral arrangements that I’ve done, and it’s just not possible. We’ve definitely learned to adapt to the live setting, letting go of certain parts, and sometimes replacing them with a different instrument. It’s not realistic to think that you can do everything that’s on the record. Improvising is key. We also believe in creating a different experience live than what someone might hear on the record. If you want to just hear the record, why come to the show?
DS: Are there any notable highlights in your band’s career since 2010?
LE: We’ve had a great trajectory since we started playing together. It hasn’t been overnight, but we all feel that this pace is just right. We’re not making disposable music to have quick success. We see this as a career and hope to make it long lasting and memorable.
DS: How did your band change from a local Portland band to a nationwide touring band? Were there any challenges in making that transition?
LE: We’ve been touring the country since 2011, and the same challenges still remain. It’s very difficult making a mark on a national audience, but I think we are making steady progress. Hopefully we can really crack that nut soon.
**upcoming tour dates**
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