Defensibly, the mid-'90s saw the death rattle of "real" punk rock. To the chagrin of purists everywhere, the popularity of bands like Green Day and Blink-182 brought the genre's message of rebellion to a new audience and its arguable nemesis: commercial pop radio.
Where the music's edge has been traded out for high production, and the anarchy for occasional humor, at least one aspect remains: Punk bands always have something to say. For Oklahoma City's Red City Radio, however, it's a toss-up which comes first: music or message.
The band formed in 2005, when neighbors Paul Pendley and Ryan Healy discovered a commonality beyond geography.
"They realized they shared a love for writing evocative guitar riffs and melodies," said bassist Jonathan Knight. "I had known Paul for many years and was very close to Ryan since childhood, although at this point, I was in no way part of the project. I just loved what they were doing."
The pair found drummer Dallas Tidwell through a message board, and after a few personnel changes, Healy parted ways, so the band recruited vocalist/guitarist Garrett Dale and Knight to play bass. What's unique about the act is that while the guitars/bass/drums trio arrangement is relatively common, all four Red City residents vocalize.
"It's now a band of four guys that all sing." It's punk rock with "three- and four-part harmonies," Knight said.
Those harmonies are uncredited on the band's new EP, "To the Sons and Daughters of Woody Guthrie," in keeping with the group's mantra. Its MySpace page has a mission statement of sorts, wherein Red City Radio asserts itself as "a truly democratic band, devoid of ego ... no chief songwriter, no dominant personality, no unilateral decisions," and in performance, at least, this rings true.
The disc was recorded with Stephen Egerton (of legendary punk bands The Descendents and ALL) at Armstrong Studios in Tulsa.
Last week, the band inked an arrangement with indie outfit Eyeball Records (Thursday, My Chemical Romance), which is planning to re-release "Woody Guthrie" on vinyl in the fall. Eyeball owner/founder Alex Saavedra also confirmed his label's plans to release a yet-to-be-recorded Red City Radio full-length album sometime next year.
From the antiwar sentiment of "If All Else Fails, Play Dead" to the aptly titled "We Are the Sons of Woody Guthrie" " a narrative nod to Oklahoma bands who try to make something of themselves " the record is filled with five loud, rowdy punk-rock songs steeped in a real Americana.
"We try to write anthemic, sing-with-us, put-your-fucking-fist-in-the-air music," Knight said. "All we care to do, honestly, is make music that is catchy, fast, powerful and screams Oklahoma. We love this state, we love great sing-alongs, and we love making music. 'Woody Guthrie' is about not forgetting where you came from, being proud of what you're made of, but not afraid to branch out. It's about never losing your voice and paving your own way."
Balancing the fun with the fundamental seems this album's underlying ideology, but sing-alongs aside, Red City Radio wants it clear that there's a message not to miss.
"With broken hearts, we swore allegiance / But not today and not no more," they sing in "If All Else Fails." And again, in "No One Believes In Moons and Goochers": "It's the irony of being an American / Support your troops so we can piss on a veteran."
"I don't feel like there is necessarily any intentional anti-American-government sentiment on this record," Knight said. "There are certainly some antiwar messages here, but we all love this country. We are trying to invoke change in the mind-set of the average American. Maybe we're just hoping to wake some people up to the notion that change is possible."
Red City Radio celebrates its CD release 8 p.m. Saturday at The Conservatory with an array of local performers, including Jabee and Tulsa's John Moreland and The Black Gold Band.
"What more could you ask for in a local show (than) hip-hop, country and punk rock?" Knight said, heralding "a diversity that's missing in a lot of Oklahoma City shows. Seven dollars will get you into this show and get you a copy of our EP!"
Afterward, Red City Radio is taking its patriotism on tour, starting with an ironic yet appropriate July 4 show with Riverboat Gamblers in Denton, Texas. "Becky Carman