The three brothers from St. Joseph, Mo. that make up the punk band Radkey are about to release their second EP and tour Europe. But recognition at home has been harder to come by.
When they came into the studio for our interview late one night I was surprised by how small the brothers were. Considering their deep vocals and charging sounds I had suspected they’d be bigger. They sat down to the mics one dressed in a flannel button down, the youngest in a Star Wars t-shirt and the other in a torn and faded denim vest.
Darion Radke, 20, plays guitar and sings lead vocals. Isaiah Radke, 18, plays bass and sings background vocals. And Solomon Radke, 16, plays drums.
They formed the band three years ago when Sol was just 13, Isaiah, 15 and Darion, 17. Besides their age the other remarkable thing about them as a punk band is how often they’re with their parents.
"All the time," they say.
"We have a better relationship with our parents than a lot of people have with their parents or siblings. I don’t remember what they did, but whatever it was, I wasn’t taking notes," says Isaiah.
One of the things their parents did was share music. Their father, Matt Radke, had a library full of music like Van Halen, The Pixies, the Ramones and others. And another thing their parents did was homeschool the brothers.
Isaiah and Darion say they don't have good memories of the year they spent in school.
"I wanted out of there though because I wasn’t into, I don’t know, just the kids didn’t get me. They didn’t get the music we dug," says Isaiah.
"They’d get you all in trouble for no reason. For some reason you get in trouble for their stupid decisions," says Darion.
They returned home for their studies and focused on their passion — music. In 2010 their father sent a demo to a club in Merriam, Kan. There spot to open for the long established ska punk band Fish Bone and surprisingly, they got the gig.
"We had no business playing that show," says Darion.
"But we did and it gave us a really good head start," says Isaiah. "They didn’t ask us we had played a show before, they didn’t ask us how old we were, so we just had to get in and play our set. Everyone dug it. Then we can say, 'hey, we opened up for Fish Bone.'"
Slowly Radkey gained recognition regionally.
"Just walking down the streets we get noticed," says Darion.
In the past three years they’ve played at South by Southwest, the Afro-Punk festival in New York, been written up in the New York Times, and toured in London.
Before we even get there they know our songs," says Darion.
"Some of our EP had been getting radio play... and people were down front and like mouthing words to the songs and while you’re playing you’re like, 'WHAT!?'" says Isaiah.
Despite their growing recognition over the past three years, as three black teens playing punk rock Isaiah says they still have to overcome audiences expectations
"They never know what to expect, definitely," he says. "I get a lot of people who are like, 'How do you guys not like a rap group? How’d you do that? How are you playing punk rock?'... Just because we’re black doesn’t me we have to rap."
"It’s ridiculous, some people have thought we’re a rap band just by looking at the cover of one of our earlier demos," says Darion.
And even though they’re playing larger gigs in St. Joseph the crowds have still been hard to come by.
"We played a headlining gig there on a Friday night, 15 people, maybe," says Isaiah. "I may be generous here..."
"That’s generous," says Solomon.
"If we can’t draw here, in our home town," Isaiah continues, "that just says something about the scene to me. That’s what it is. There’s a lot of bands that play all the time... they play to no one all the time."
He says when that happens they try to pretend and have a good time anyway.
"We’ve played in front of 11 people who are enthusiastic, and that’s a lot of fun. But if you’re playing for your home town for the seventh time after accomplishing so many things and no one cares then it’s like, alright, I’m done then," he says.
The band's discouragement about hometown support isn’t stopping them from making music. Their new EP, Devil Fruit, comes out in October and their single “Romance Dawn” is getting radio play.
Isaiah says the inspiration for this single came to him while sitting at a Japanese restaurant with the band’s lawyer.
"I started hearing this [hums and taps out], I’m like what’s this, I hear it, and I get on my phone and hum it, and get it recorded. And it just came into my head like that," says Isaiah.
"I think we wrote our best song yet."
Other songs on their EP are inspired by from their love of anime, the Japanese cartoons that often feature fantastical and sci-fi worlds disparate from ours. In so many ways Radkey goes against the grain of what you’d expect from a punk rock band. They aren’t rebelling against political, social or economic establishments as their predecessors did, they don’t even rail against their parents as teenagers typically do, in fact they spend almost every moment with them. And perhaps that’s what is so refreshing about their sound, particularly in a genre that has fallen from mainstream attention.
Despite previous experiences, it is still important to them to play for their hometown. At the time of the interview, Solomon, Isaiah and Darion were all anxious to see what their upcoming show in St. Joseph would be like.
"Rendezvous is a cool club and hopefully the show is very well packed because it’s about time," says Isaiah.
And four days later Radkey played a set to a packed crowed at the Rendezvous in their hometown, St. Joseph, Mo.