Sitting in the Dark with Chad from State Radio
Last Friday, up in room 331 in the HUB, Chad Urmston of State Radio and Dispatch fame was mentally preparing himself for his upcoming performance at the Last Stop Music Festival. As I ventured up to the room with fellow State Radio fan Kelly Brough, neither of us knew what to expect. We knocked on the door and entered, at first thinking that we were in the wrong room. But a shadowy figure on the opposite end of a long table wielding a guitar informed us that we were in fact in the right place. The following is a transcript of the interview with Chad, with topics ranging from his days with Dispatch to his song “Camilo”.
Tom Kent: First and foremost, one of my favorite songs of yours is “Indian Moon”, and I heard that it came from kind of a jam session in a barn. Could you tell me the story?
Yeah, that was so fun. I think that might be my favorite record because it was so impromptu. We were trying to figure out…we didn’t really need another tune but we figured let’s give it a try. The record was pretty much done, let’s just try to do something. So we sat down with Mad Dog [Mike Najarian, drummer] going off of different things and we were going to do a punk version, but Chuck [Fay, bassist] was like, “I’d rather do a reggae version of it”, and so we were all like, “What kind of feel would it have to it?” Our producer, Dom, starting playing an old Stevie Wonder song and I started playing guitar to the drum beat and Dom went upstairs and started playing the beat and it was sort of an improv. Everyone was in uncomfortable positions, instrument-wise. Mad Dog had never played bass before. We just pressed play and I started singing and we just immediately liked the sound to it because you can kind of hear the barn and has a big organic feel.
TK: Another song I was wondering about, “Camilo”, was based on actual events, correct?
It’s this guy I had met, he was hiding out in my hometown of Sherborn, Massachusetts in this attic of a friend of mine after he had come home from fighting in Iraq and that’s how we met. And then the military came and arrested him. And so the song is basically his story of being over there and seeing things and doing things he never thought he would do and then coming back and saying he wouldn’t return. He was eventually arrested and put in prison for a year. It was just his story.
TK: Do you feel that State Radio is more of a political band than Dispatch?
Yeah, it’s not really by design, but we’re kind of all on the same page politically, musically, and we can say pretty much whatever we want without having a label. Whatever moves us we can write about. Some people say that some of our songs are kind of like party songs, but then you listen to the lyrics and you’re like “ehhh”.
TK: How was the transition from Dispatch to State Radio?
Starting over was pretty complex because you’re back in the van, playing to like 15 to 20 people, driving through the night, trying to get to the next gig. The early days of State Radio weren’t too different from the early days of Dispatch, just slumming it, playing wherever you can. And then hopefully after a little while of road hogging it, a community builds around it. State Radio’s been a blast. We have this awesome organization, Calling All Crows, and we do service projects, raise money, raise awareness of violence against women. The transition to State Radio, when you play to those huge crowds like with Dispatch, they don’t really seem that real. When you get to a certain level, it starts getting a little corporate, so it was nice to get back to these smaller venues. You’re straight out front in these small dives.
TK: How does State Radio’s following at Penn State compare with that of other schools?
I feel like there’s a couple of schools that take us in and invite us into their fold. Penn State’s definitely one of our favorites. We’ve played at Lulu’s and the Crow Bar. [Last Stop] is probably up there, rivaling any other schools, because it’s this annual thing, you know, you just keep coming back. It’s great to be adopted by towns like this. There’s kind of this family vibe to it. There’s only a few towns that really take you in and adopt you like this.
[Photo Credit: Tom Kent]