The Pains of Being in a Band After Age 30
Radical Dads jammin on some 'za down at the Y
"You don't really start a band in your 30s," Radical Dads' Robbie Guertin says. "Well, you do, but the motivations are different." Guertin knows what he's talking about. A veteran of mid '00s powerhouse Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, he's recently started focusing on his other project, Radical Dads. Guering and his bandmates Lindsay Baker and Chris Diken are all in their mid-30s, all married, all facing down life changes like children, home ownership, and big career moves. Somehow, they all find time to practice and play in one of Brooklyn's most exciting rock bands. Why exactly is it worth all the trouble?
See also: Should I Manage My Husband's Band?
It's Friday night, and Guertin is throwing together a little dinner at his rent-stabilized Williamsburg apartment. "Sorry, but I forgot to eat earlier," he says, standing above a sizzling pan of chard, rice, and onions. "We found this new farmer's market and got a bunch of food, but totally forgot that we're going out of town this weekend. Do you want anything?"
NPR is playing in the background, his wife's old marathon bib from Wisconsin is pinned to the fridge with a magnet, and his old artist lanyards from his time in Clap are stuck to the kitchen cabinets; it's a textbook scene of early 30s bliss. Guertin was in that band--one of the first indie buzzbands, one of the first to release their record by themselves over the internet, and one of the first to generally point the way to today's fractured music business landscape--from virtually the beginning until last year, when he quit. Now, he's waiting for his wife to finish her PhD in Sociology before they probably-but-not-definitely move out of the city for her to start her career as a professor.
Clap released its self-titled first record when Guertin was 26, in 2005. They were a phenomenon, playing television, touring the world, selling their album on their own. David Bowie was reportedly a fan. Yet Guertin still looks back and wonders if they could have done more, become more successful. "It's never really been about money," he says. "It's just fun to advance, to make more people psyched about it." When you start out at the top, though, it's hard to advance. According to Soundscan estimates, the band's second record sold close to a third of as many copies as their debut. Their eventual follow-up, 2011's Hysterical, did even worse. Some of that had to do with the bottom falling out of the industry, but that didn't make the numbers go down any easier.
All the while, Guertin, Diken, and Baker were working on Radical Dads. "I was having more and more fun doing this than I was in Clap Your Hands," says Diken. It shows in the music. While Clap seemed caught trying to catch up to its audience, trying on new sounds in attempt to recreate their early success, Radical Dads have an easy vibe. Guertin laughs when I describe Radical Dads' as loud, guitary, melodic noise "90s-style college rock," as he met his bandmates at college in the 1990s. "We're just doing the same thing we were doing, I guess," he says. Today, all the bandmates live in the same building. Diken and Baker are married to each other.
Their influences include Dinosaur, Jr. and Yo La Tengo, and you can feel the pull of the classical period of guitar noise in other ways when you listen to them. "I've named so many different songs 'The Sonic Youth Song' while I'm writing them that I lost count," says Baker. Diken's AOL screen name was Pixies1.