Interview With John Malkin of The Simple Radicals

Let's talk a little about the history of your band. When did you originally form and is this the original line-up?

The Simple Radicals officially formed about a year ago when I reconnected with my lead guitarist John Griffin. John and I are the nucleus of the band and control the direction and overall vibe of the band. At this point we’ve been working with different drummers and bass players which has been fantastic as we’re able to bring in different ideas and energy to the band and the songs.

Do you remember how the idea of forming the band first came up?  

I developed the concept and wrote the songs for the “New Revolution” album and began laying down the construct of the songs in the studio such as the rhythms, lead beds, drum sequencing and scratch vocal tracks. John and I played in many bands over the years and I reached out to him to on Facebook and asked if he would listen to the tracks and consider laying down the leads. He loved the tracks and laid down some absolute incredible shreds and then rest is history. The Simple Radicals were formed.

How would you categorize the style of the band?  

From a musical and stylistic standpoint, we describe our music as "retro-rock and roll" that combines sounds and styles from some of our favorite classic rock bands like Pink Floyd, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters and Cheap Trick. On a lyrical basis, I’m absolutely infatuated with the writing of Zach de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine and try to capture the messaging, passion and energy that he does in his songs. If I can even come within a million miles of what he does I’d consider it a success.

What image do you want your music to convey to your fans?

Ultimately, we’re trying to convey a refreshing change from the clichés that currently permeates rock with music and lyrics that aim to both observe and reimagine the current state of affairs in the world today. We try to capture through our music and convey to our fans what’s really going on in society with poignant lyrics and straight-from-the-heart energy. Our fans tell us that our music penetrates them on an emotional and visceral level and they feel that they are not alone in what they are thinking and feeling today. And if it helps spark a new revolution in how we approach society in a smarter way…then so be it.

Who are your influences and how have they shaped your bands’ sound?

There are so many bands and performers that have influenced us over the years including Zeppelin, Boston, AC/DC, Foo Fighters, Cheap Trick, Pink Floyd, Pearl Jam to name a few. I would sit there and play their albums over and over and literally dissect how they built their songs and sound, where they insert their bridges, how they constructed their lyrics, etc. And when I heard Pink Floyd's "The Wall" album I studied that day and night and still study it to this day. It truly had an influence on how I write and construct my music.

Let's talk a little about your latest album what are the listeners in store for with this release?  

Our latest release, "New Revolution", is our most personal and poignant project we've ever done that tries to capture what is really going on in our world today--the social unrest we're witnessing against oppression, trying to remain optimistic in this challenging world, the overindulgence and over reliance of drugs in our society like opiates, explaining to our children what they need to learn and understand to survive today, and trying to maintain a sense of civility. Our listeners and fans will feel the passion and "straight-from-the-heart" energy of our music. And for those Living Colour fans, they will definitely recognize the sounds of the guitar-God Vernon Reid absolutely shredding it on the track "Medicate".

Where did record your latest release at?

We recorded the initial tracks at Crime Dog Studios in Chicago as well as my home studio. We then worked with Factory Underground studios in Norwalk, CT where we did some additional vocal, guitar and drum overlays. They also mixed and mastered the album.

Producers are a very important factor in recording a good record. Who did you use to produce your record?

You are spot on there. You can write the best songs both musically and lyrically but without great producers the album can sound like total crap. We worked with Ethan Isaac and Kenny Cash from Factory Underground who did an absolute amazing job on the “New Revolution” album. These guys are true geniuses behind the boards as well as making suggestions on everything from guitar sounds, vocal intonations, song construction, etc. And some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet which makes the recording process even more enjoyable.

Does the entire band contribute to the writing process?

On this album, I (John Malkin) wrote all the music and lyrics for the tracks. John Griffin wrote all the lead guitar shreds in the lead beds that I created for him. I gave him an open canvas to work from and he painted some amazing pictures on each of the tracks. We’re now working on some new songs and we’re collaborating together from the beginning. It’s really a fulfilling process and we’re having a blast contributing ideas on the songs.

How do you feel the band has evolved musically and personally over the last year?

It’s really been an amazing year for us both personally and professionally as a band. We were really excited about the overall concept of the album and the final tracks and were just hoping that those who heard the tracks felt as strongly about them as well. Once we released our first track “Medicate” featuring Vernon Reid from Living Colour on lead guitar, we were so thrilled to see that it got picked up by dozens of digital stations across the country as well as overseas and is now being presented to terrestrial and college radio.  And the video to both “Medicate” and “New Revolution” hit thousands of views on YouTube right off the bat. It’s been such an exhilarating experience for us that it really matures you rather quickly both personally and professionally. You begin to see how your music can impact people and it really humbles and makes you want to work even harder and better.

Where do you draw the inspiration for the songs you write?

I hate to sound so cliché, but I really explore the things and issues that are near and dear to my heart or affecting those that are close to me. "New Revolution" is our most personal and poignant project we've ever done. These are such deep-hearted issues in my life and for many others that the words and music came to me literally in the form of pictures and images. I just needed to figure out how to best express them and put them down on paper and then on an album.

How important do you rate the lyrical side of your albums?

I place it at the top of the list. People are really taking the time to listen to what artists are saying. I think more so than ever before. You don’t really hear artists anymore where the music drowns out the lyrics and you can’t decipher what they are saying. Now people want to hear what you have to say and how you express yourself. And, they want to see if your lyrics relate to what they have going on in their lives. I think it’s a lot more challenging and requires a lot more discipline but it’s truly rewarding if you get it right. And your fans let you know that as well.

What are your current tour plans, if any?

We just came off of a great summer playing dates in the Midwest and were invited to play festival dates with Stone Temple Pilots and Blue Oyster Cult. We’re playing a fantastic event at the North Fork TV Festival in October and then closing out the year with a capstone date at The Cutting Room in New York City on December 14th. We’re looking at possibly playing some more Midwest dates as well.

Describe your live performance for those who have never seen you live?  

We love to perform live and our fans know that. We feed off their energy and passion and try to give it right back to them in the way we play our music. We also try to interact with the audience as much as we can since our songs are so personal to many. There is nothing more rewarding than watching people sing your lyrics back to you and lose themselves in your music. It’s intoxicating.

Do you see as we do that most local radio rarely support the up and coming new bands and even more local bands just starting out?

No doubt. It’s definitely more challenging than ever to get your songs on local radio. They have their genres and set lists locked and loaded and rarely do you hear any new or up and coming bands. There used to be a great show on WXRT called “Local Anesthetic” that played music from new and up and coming Chicago-based bands but even that show is no longer. There’s some amazing music out there and I wish local radio stations would provide more opportunity for all of us to be heard.

What do you think of the music industry right now?

Great question. The music industry today has incredible opportunities but also huge challenges. From an opportunity standpoint, with such advanced technology and portability, you can create some amazing music in your bedroom and even collaborate with people without having to be in the same room. You really don’t even need a label anymore. On the flip side, there’s thousands of songs being released on Spotify and other platforms every day so the ability to break out and get noticed is highly challenging. Unfortunately, the industry is not really looking to develop bands anymore. I think the first thing they ask now is “how big is their social media following?” No one is really investing the time and resources to develop bands and musicians. You’re on your own to develop your sound, talent and audience and then you can try and make it. And, there’s no money in the business like there used to be. You only make your money off of touring and selling merch and to do that you need a big following. Tough times no doubt and it’s only for the diligent and resilient bands that want to really invest in their music and build an audience. You constantly have to think and rethink what it takes to break out and get noticed.

Did you find it hard to break into the business and what was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

Absolutely. But we were so committed to our music and wanting it to be heard that we never gave up. It’s so important that you surround yourself with a great team. We’ve been so fortunate to be working with an amazing team at Factory Underground in Norwalk, CT who work with us on developing and pushing out our social media, producing our videos, handling our publicity, and even producing our weekly podcast called “Bands We Wanna Open For” where John and I talk about bands that had an influence on us and ones that we would love to open for—even if they’re not around anymore. We’re all constantly thinking how to break out and get our band and music above the fray and continue to grow. It’s a tough gig but we really love it.

Tell us about your thoughts on your local music scene?

We’re so blessed to live in such a rich and vibrant city like Chicago where there are so many local bands and venues and clubs that you can go to virtually every night to see live music. Rock, blues, reggae, coffee shop music, etc. It’s such a versatile music scene and is filled with such talented musicians. After all, you’re talking about the city that produced rock icons like Eddie Vedder, Billy Corgan and blues legends such as Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. So we must be doing something right.

Are there any new and upcoming bands that you are into?

There are some great Chicago-based bands we’re into such as JD’s Revenge, Mystery Action, Rookie, Outronaut, and Super Sonic Space Rebels. And we’re totally digging this band out of Texas called Post Profit. And my wife and I just saw this really cool band out of North Carolina called Bad Cameo. We’re discovering new bands all the time.

How has Social Media impacted your band?

It’s really been a lifeblood of our band and our ability to continuously engage and build our fan base and keep them apprised of our music and activities. And, it gives us the opportunity for current and new fans to engage with us and tell us what they like and don’t like so we can constantly evolve as a band. We’re doing everything we can to capitalize on our engagement through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms where we can reach and grow our base. We’re also using our collaborations with other artists such as Vernon Reid who tweeted about his collaboration with us on “Medicate” which generated some great comments and new engagements. We’re speaking with a couple other artists about collaborating and tapping into their social media followers. Of course we can’t forget about YouTube. Our first video for “Medicate” and second video for “New Revolution” hit thousands of views in such a short period of time and has facilitated some really good chatter in the comment section. The metrics we’re witnessing on how long they are engaged with the video is really amazing. And, we’ll soon have a national radio show based on our podcast “Bands We Wanna Open For” that we’ll be announcing shortly. So as you can see, social media is a huge component of our band.

Where can our readers find you on the web?

They can access our music through our website (www.thesimpleradicals.com) as well as on Spotify, Apple and Amazon. We’re on all social media platforms including Facebook (The Simple Radicals), Twitter (@SimpleRadicals), Instagram (simpleradicals), and YouTube (The Simple Radicals). We also have a few of our podcasts out on Spotify and other platforms including a great interview with Eric Sherman who previously managed Steven Tyler from Aerosmith.

What equipment is the band using and do you have any endorsements currently?  

Our Radical guitar shredder John Griffin uses numerous guitars from Fender, Reverend, Gretsch and Parker and plugs into Orange and Fender amps. I’m a much simpler Radical and stick to my Fender Strat and Fender Deluxe tube amp. As for endorsements, we’re hoping that Reverend guitars reads this interview and gives John an endorsement. He’s a huge fan.