One regular criticism of music in this hyper-creative digital era is that too little attention is given to the details, to perfecting recordings, to ensuring a consistency of quality and to the presentation of the finished product. None of which can be leveled at Radioglo, the duo-plus of Aucklanders Heath Watson (pictured at right) and Gene Bennett (front). Silke Hartung spoke with the pair about their new album ‘In Between Time’.
Gene Bennett builds “dream guitars” for a living. Once the pony-tailed guitarist of late ’90s/early 2000s pop punk outfit Rubicon, he has run his Avondale-based luthier business, G-Spot Guitars, for about a decade. He is also a much-respected guitar tech and a regular aid touring acts on our bigger stages.
It was while in Rubicon that he met fellow guitarist Heath Watson. Perhaps not surprisingly it was over guitar parts, with Heath then working at South Pacific Music. Starting to jam as an acoustic duo called Udro, Italian for ‘I shall hear’, they soon added band members, amps and ditched that odd name for the sake of easier to pronounce Radioglo. As illustrated by their new album artwork, this much more fitting (and aspirational) name is inspired by an early 20th century brand of American deco radios, covered with backlit, stained glass panels.
Officially their first, unofficially their second album (‘Imperfectionism’ funnily never saw release), ‘In Between Time’ came out quietly on Triple A Records in early May, meeting a deservedly warm critical reception. An unassumingly smart album, it had taken them almost five years to finish.
“That’s not Steely Dan long!” Heath quickly counters in jest, when challenged to explain the time taken.
Self-recorded across various Auckland studios including Redroom, Bronzewing, Gene’s and Heath’s homes, the late York St Studios and back again at Redroom, it was Gene who took the lead on recording and mixing duties.
“I knew how I wanted it to sound, but didn’t have the skills yet,” he admits.
Heath, the loud guy foil to Gene’s subdued quiet, interrupts revealing what seems a rather ambitious goal.
“We wanted it to sound something like a modern, sexy version of [Fleetwood Mac’’s] ‘Rumours’. That nice black space and the tightness… although we’re not that much like them, but that sound, that ’70s tape sound. We really love that organic, acoustic guitar buzz in our songs.”
“The first EP [2007 release ‘1 Take Wonders’] was really simple with three tracks and a couple of overdubs, but with the second one [‘Batter Up’] we went the whole hog, and had about 15 to 20 tracks per song. Then this one came along, Gene got a new computer and we had more nuts, so some of them actually are up to 38 tracks per song, which is a lot of shit to juggle…
“So we spent quite a lot of time on it, even once the recording was finished –two years ago –– just with mastering and EQing. Then we recorded the last two songs at Redroom. On Your Own Again and Dream Loud we recorded live, just adding overdubbed vocals, and that was really fast. We got two songs done in one night! It sounded really fresh and it turns out we didn’t need all those overdubs. We didn’’t need five, six, seven, eight acoustic guitars!” Heath laughs.
“That was the catalyst to go back and get rid of a lot of stuff. At that point the sound of Radioglo really came together,” adds Gene.
The pair make the core of the band, currently joined by drummer Shannon Slade and Rob Maskill on bass. Rob only recently joined after a variety of bassists over the years that has included Jonny Corker, Gene’’s former bandmate from Rubicon days, and Matt Short who has provided bass for Sola Rosa, The Vietnam War and The Feelers.
Mostly upbeat, without being overly happy, ‘In Between Time’ would make for a great long distance driving album. The melodies show a sensibility for pop music, without being either obvious or strained, and the combined powers of the two on guitars throughout is a true delight.
“Acoustic guitars still hold the guts of the songs,” Gene explains. “And we’re a lot more rock than we admitted for a long time.”
Somewhere between roots rock and alt-country, with hints of ’90s grunge influences, they manage to sound timeless and positively American, bringing the Radioglo name back to mind. The two also share vocal duties through the 13-track album, keeping things interesting. Opener On Your Own Again with its simple but catchy riff enjoyed some airplay on Hauraki, and they released a self-funded music video for Pusherman in early June. So what’s next?
“We’ve got heaps of songs ready for the next album,” laughs Heath, inadvertently reinforcing the reality that no matter how good ‘In Between Time’ is, and it is very good, Radioglo is likely to remain a hobby band, a secret pleasure for their fans. Which only makes the attention to detail, the quality and consistency of their ‘debut’ album that much more remarkable.