Up Close with Radiation City

Portland Rockers Sacrifice a Piano in the Name of Art (and Merch)

Radiation City

Everywhere you turn — or click — it seems someone is touting one band or another as the “next big thing.” Still, there are those rare occasions when the hype comes from a reputable source, or, in the case of Radiation City, a lot of reputable sources. In the past few months, the band has won over more than a few of my most trusted fellow music junkies. From club owners to booking agents to their comrades in the Portland music scene, the consensus is clear: Radiation City is the real deal. Just a few spins through their debut full-length, The Hands That Take You, and I, too, was sold. Their sound is a curious and eclectic mix of ’60s girl-group harmonies, loungy bossa nova balladry, and ethereal orchestral pop. At the center of it all, frontwoman Lizzy Ellison’s sun-drenched vocals call to mind Beach House’s Victoria Legrand and The Crystals in equal measure.

“In the beginning we were definitely influenced by a handful of bossa nova records [Lizzy and I] were listening to at the time,” said guitarist Cameron Spies. “We love the ’60s girl groups and stuff, but we also love modern electronic music and a lot of modern rock music. I think Radiation City’s kind of a natural result of all of our influences, hopefully without sounding too contrived.”

Next month, the band releases its Cool Nightmare EP on Portland-based label Tender Loving Empire. Propelled by the atmospheric single “Find It of Use,” and an interesting backstory involving a vintage piano, the record is destined to win over more than a few new Radiation City fans.

“It has some darkness to it. It’s a little more layered,” explained Spies. “We recorded a lot of the album on this piano, and it was pretty much useless by the time we finished the recording, so Randy suggested we destroy it and, in doing so, breathe life into the EP. Not only was its last gasp captured sonically, but we’re using the keys to make these USB drives that will contain the album.”

As for the hype, though, Spies insists that the band is just taking it all in stride. “We’re just trying to ignore all the pressure to some degree. I feel like we’re comfortable with our stuff that we’re just going to go out there and play as hard as we can. We’ll see what happens.”

Radiation City plays an all-ages show at Muddy Waters Café (508 E. Haley St.) on Sunday, March 25, at 8 p.m. For tickets and info, call 966-9328.


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