The sound of a revolution doesn’t come with a bang; it doesn’t come with a whimper. Revolution reveals itself like a song. Cultural change starts with inspiration; the desire to break from the status quo and write a new chapter. For these days of uncertainty, the Boston-based trio State Radio set the explosive soundtrack for change with their latest album, Rabbit Inn Rebellion (October 23 via Ruff Shod/Nettwerk Records).
These 11 tracks create a concept album, depicting a dystopia world ravaged by endless war (“Take Cover”), wanton executions (“State of Georgia”), heartless oligarchs (“Big Man”) and the unlikely love between freight train runaways (“Adelaide”). But this isn’t science fiction; these stories are true, revealing facets of the world, as it is today.
State Radio’s Chad Stokes (of Dispatch & Chadwick Stokes), Chuck Fay and Mike “Mad Dog” Najarian serve up rock n’ roll realism that weaves together stories of the downtrodden and the oppressed, but never loses its sense of hope. The album is raw and gritty, rolling with thunderous drumming and delectably grimy guitars. If there is a through line of anthemic rock, it’s because the record was crafted from drummer Mad Dog’s basement - just three guys, some amps and ideas. “The best thing about this record is just the raw energy and the basic facts,” Stokes says. “We recorded it to tape with these old amps from the 70s and these big drum sounds in a warehouse.”
This is rock; unrefined, hard and volcanic. “There’s not much reggae or ska on this record, which is new for us,” Stokes says, “Mad Dog just crushes the drums so hard, and Chuck propels it with his bass. We were playing to their strengths. These tunes are more Zeppelin and Sabbath than ever before.” On “Roadway Broken,” interlocking bass and guitar riffs chop away, as the drums tumble and smash behind Stokes’ howl. The chunky up-tempo grooves of “Sugarbeet Wine” seem all that more energized, when paired with its slow-burning airy interludes and sternward-arcing slide guitar. Recorded in the Boston area, Rabbit Inn Rebellion is close to home, lacing together their personal histories and convictions.
With these songs, State radio crafts a narrative of where the world is going, and where it has been. If these songs sound like road trip music, it’s because much of it was written on the road…or to be more precise, on the rail. Between projects, Stokes decided to hop on the trains, the same way modern gutter punks and age-old hobos have traversed the country. Stokes and his brother rode from coast to coast stopping off in cities and towns, picking up stories.
“My brother Willy and I were jumping freight trains across the country and stopped in this town in Arizona,” he says. “I ended up getting back on the train with a dog, and he ended up getting back on the trains with a girl, Adelaide. We made it out to Sacramento, where we got arrested. But, the whole story is based on this crazy love that Willy and Adelaide had for each other and then their ultimate break-up.”
On “Desert Queen,” Stokes divulges his own love affair with his new four-legged sidekick, Lefty, who tagged along for their adventures. Rumor has it, Lefty has rocker roots too; he’s descended from the Grateful Dead’s touring dog, Karma. “He was given to me by a Choctaw Indian man called Toothless Donny near Flagstaff, Arizona. We bonded right away.”
With Calling All Crows – the band’s non-profit organization aimed to mobilize musicians and their fans to create change through music and service - State Radio interacts with fans in local service projects in the cities they tour. They meet the people who buy their records, while giving back to their communities. “We’ve never had major label help,” Stokes says, “we get together with fans at protests or do service projects between shows. It’s never been a top-down kind of thing, it’s always been from the ground up.” Founded in 2008, Calling All Crows has raised over $250,000 to empower women in Sudan and Afghanistan and invested more than 17,000 hours of service in local communities and across North America and Europe.
Action is hardly a new concept for the members of State Radio. Before the band, Mad Dog volunteered as mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters, while Fay was and continues to be a powerful voice for Instant Runoff Voting (or Rank Choice Voting) and comprehensive election reform across the country. How’s Your News?, a film project created by filmmaker/author Arthur Bradford and Stokes while working at a camp for adults with disabilities, was picked up by Trey Parker and Matt Stone for a run on HBO and MTV. On tour, State Radio have joined with Amnesty International to expose the injustices and improprieties of the legal system, worked to minimize wildfire danger by removing invasive plants from areas in California, raised money to support hundreds of Afghan women with shelter and education and have partnered with Oxfam America to organize home run derbies and 5K road races. Most bands have touring schedules. State Radio has an action calendar.
Organic musicality paired with socio-political lyrics, Rabbit Inn Rebellion is State Radio’s most urgent record yet. It’s a hopeful antidote to the plague of cynicism, a metaphoric candle lighting a world gone dark.
“We didn’t care if it was little messy or not perfect, if the energy and the driving nature and sense of urgency was in it, then we would go for it. That’s what carries the album,” says Stokes. “This is totally a full steam ahead, pedal-to-the-metal album. You can feel the blood coursing through it.”