Radiator Hospital have mastered the art of creating deeply relatable music that tackles emotional obstacles in life, paired with contagious, inescapable melodies. It’s been three years since the band released their last LP, Torch Song, an album that increased their fanbase with songs like “Cut Your Bangs” and “Fireworks.”
Now Radiator Hospital have moved onto the new phase in their upcoming album Play The Music You Like, still making songs that resonate just as much but with a self-aware outlook that delves into what their songs mean, not just their fans but to the band itself.
The quartet makes its return on Oct. 20 via Salinas Records. Today (Sept. 26), they’re premiering new track “Nothing Nice,” a soft, melancholic yet catchy song about the deterioration of a relationship. Its video was directed by Nathan Stephens-Griffin, drummer and former tourmate from English indie punk band Martha. Frontman Sam Cook-Parrott discussed the song and album exclusively on Billboard.
Can you tell me a bit about the story behind “Nothing Nice” and what it means to you?
It’s just a song about miscommunication with somebody. It was the last song we learned as a band for the record and it feels sort of spontaneous. It’s not necessarily spontaneous…we were writing it how we used to do songs, which is rushing them sort of. It just turned out good. I like that one.
Your videos, including the one for “Nothing Nice,” often feature you singing directly to the camera instead of an elaborate storyline. Was this an intentional decision?
It definitely was. I don’t really like music videos with a storyline. I like something eye catching and something to look at, something cool visually going down but I don’t necessarily… I’ve liked some storyline videos in my life obviously, but generally I feel like if you don’t pull it off it looks stupid. And granted maybe some people will think our videos looks stupid because the lip syncing isn’t spot on, but that’s at least my personal pet peeve with it. I don’t love the storyline video because it ends up being a little cheesy. You want to listen to the song, you want to look at some shit going down, you don’t want to like have to be thinking about the story going down visually.
I think both videos [Radiator Hospital also released a video for “Dance Number”] turned out great for this record. I like music videos a lot, I just personally don’t make them and I’m not a visual artist by any means, so I like working with people who have a good eye for stuff and who I can kind of tell my idea to and they can make a cool video.
Something Wild and Torch Song were made and released within the span of a year. What made Play The Songs You Like take much longer and what was the goal for this one?
It’s usually just pretty organic. I’m never really like planning out like “Ok, we’re going to do the next record this time or that time” or whatever. I think the last ones came out really close to each other because I was just writing a lot at the time and it was fun to be recording. Our band was playing a lot more shows and it made sense for us to do a lot. The last LP [Torch Song] came out and we toured a bit around it and we sort of toured relatively consistently for about a year or so. After that, we started doing other bands and started not focusing as much on Radiator Hospital, so Jeff [Bolt] and Cynthia [Schemmer] have a band called Swanning and Jon [Rybicki] has a band named Attendant that he was doing for a while and I made a record with my buddy Mikey [Cantor] called The Afterglows so we were all doing other bands and putting all our energy into that.
Then when we decided to focus on actually working on stuff again and doing another record, we just wanted to make sure that we did it really good. The last couple records came out really fast with each other but we all hear them and go, “Man I wish we would’ve recorded this six months later” because we played all of our parts better. We wanted to make sure we were really happy with everything we were doing and playing the songs as good as we could and stuff before we recorded. We were just busy with other stuff so that’s why it took a little bit longer. Three years sounds like a long time but it’s also kind of not. We put out a split 7″, too, in the middle. We’ve released music, just not an LP.
Yeah. I remember you weren’t touring for a while.
We kind of stopped because yeah we were just trying to focus on learning new songs and getting better at the new songs. We’re trying to focus more on it now.
Torch Song was very successful and you have some of your most popular songs in that album that in the DIY indie rock world would be considered hits, like “Cut Your Bangs” and “Fireworks.” When you were writing this one, did you have some set expectations of how to follow that?
Yeah, well it’s interesting. I definitely was aware of it. Having any sort of success is just weird with this kind of thing. With songs that are very personal to me with music that obviously had nothing to do with anybody even hearing it when I wrote it, It was just a song that I needed to write and all of a sudden a year, two years, three years later and it’s this whole other thing to a lot of other people and that’s definitely intense. But it’s not as much that I was intimidated by following it up; it’s more that I just you know I already said what I said on that record and I want to make sure that I’m still… I just want there to be a point to what I’m doing. I don’t want to make another one of that record, I just want to keep on making good records. It’s definitely changed how I write songs and what I’m thinking about and sort of what I’m trying to say. There are songs on the record that are very much about how writing songs means something different to me now than it used to.
I definitely noticed that you referenced that a lot. Were you also aware of the influence and the impact of your music before or was it just with this album?
I guess I’ve been aware of it for a while. I don’t even know if I really understand it. It’s uncomfortable for me to call it like a hit or something or hits because I don’t think of it as… I mean it’s popular music if people like it, but here I am talking to Billboard. This is not like Hot 100 or anything. It’s just like a whole different thing. It’s always flattering when people like my music so I’ve been aware of it. Our last record was our most probably successful one that people heard the most of. It’s not like I was thinking of that all the time. I just like making records and writing songs. I’m not like super aware all the time. I’m not like constantly thinking about if people are listening to my music or not. It’s just the shit I’ve made already so I guess it makes sense if people have heard it but I like the new shit better personally.
I’m sure every artist probably likes the most recent thing they did the most because you’re always trying to move forward. You’re always trying to progress. I always like the most recent song I’ve written better than the last song before that. I guess I understand what it is about certain ones of my songs that resonated more with other people but I don’t necessarily hold ones over other ones. I just like songs and writing different songs and yeah you know I like writing all different kinds of songs. I’m the person who created it so it means something different to me than it would to just a fan.
It’s interesting because many consider Radio Hospital to be that one band that they listen to when they’re really sad and heartbroken and it’s that coping band.
It’s intense. It’s definitely something that I’ve thought of and that I’m aware of. I try not to search our band name on Twitter a lot but you know there was definitely a time when I did and it was like … I’ll see people write “listening to Radio Hospital wanting to kill myself.” They’ll tweet something like that and it’s a joke or something but they’re not obviously… they’re just saying that they’re sad but that’s really intense and that’s an intense thing to be the person that made that music. It’s like, f—. I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want anybody to kill themselves. It definitely can be scary I guess, but also its something that I think about for sure, I mean if there’s people who are sad who are listening to my music then I want to have a positive message for them and hope they listen to the music and find the answer is to keep living. Yes, life is sad and things can be really sad, but you know you, should still write songs and still make art and you should still just like wake up the next day.
This album is titled Play The Songs You Like and in the title track you also delve into the way that your previous work shaped your current songwriting. Can you tell me a bit about what the album title means to you?
It’s supposed to be sort of just a joke. For the album title, to me, it’s supposed to be read as like “Radiator Hospital plays the songs you like” like yeah we’re the band that plays the songs you like. But it also could be read as “play the songs you like” just whatever you want to do, whatever songs you like, play them. You could play them on guitar you could play them on any instrument or you could just listen to them. But just play whatever you like, do whatever you want. If it’s our music, that’s cool.
The song itself [“The Songs You Like”] is partly about writing songs and like I was saying about how a song like “Cut Your Bangs” doesn’t sound as good to me as it did when I wrote it. Obviously, because you know it’s been covered, people just like it. I don’t regret making that song obviously I’m glad I did. But I don’t like it. I certainly don’t like that song.
I don’t like most of our old songs. But not because I think they’re bad songs just because I’m sick of them. I’ve played them a million fucking times. Think of how many times you’ve listened to it, I’ve played it even more times than that because I have to play it all the time. I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m glad I did it. I’m ultimately glad that I’ve done the things that I’ve done in my life. And I’m just encouraging other people to do the same. It feels good to write a song and it doesn’t feel good because people like it or because people listen to it…it just feels good because it’s fun to do it.
For this album, you covered Martha’s “Sycamore.” How did this collaboration come about?
I met them when they were over here touring in the States a couple years ago, three or four years ago, and they were on tour with a band called Delay from Ohio. I just liked their band a lot and we wanted to go overseas because who wouldn’t. We were like “let’s try to go to Europe” so we were like “Who do we know in Europe?” and I knew the band Martha so I emailed them and they were like “Yeah, let’s go on tour together so we went on a couple weeks tour together and just like really hit it off. We love their band a lot and they mean a lot to us. We went over there this past New Year’s basically for their New Year’s party in the town they live in called Durham in the UK.
They played “Sycamore” and when I saw them do it I was like “Ah! We’re putting this on our record. We have to learn it and put it on our record.” When we go over there we borrow their gear so it sort of feels like we’re living in their shoes.
How did they react?
Oh they loved it. Nathan [Stephens-Griffin], who made the video for “Nothing Nice” is the drummer for Martha and he’s the only person I’ve seen since we sent it to them because he just came to visit the US but it sounded like they loved it and thought it was cool. I was joking to them that I almost wanted to call it “Sycamore American Version”. Almost the only difference between our version and their version is that it’s in an American accent. That was the hardest part of doing it was trying not to do a fake British accent.
What are you most looking forward to now that you have the album done and everything’s done and hope that fans react to the most?
Just get to do our band again to get to play our old songs and tour and stuff. I hope the people like it I hope that it’s not… I don’t know it’s just a weird thing about making music. I’m generally a person who doesn’t like to take up a lot of space. I don’t like to force my opinions down peoples’ throats so it’s weird to make a record and it’s weird to promote your music when you know I’m generally not the kind of person who’s trying to promote myself you know, like force my thing down people’s throats or force people to listen to my music. I only want someone to listen to it if they just genuinely like it and genuinely are interested in it. I just hope the people like it. I don’t want to keep cranking out records past the time that people want to hear them. I hope that people aren’t like, man, they should have stopped after the last one.