Blink as you drive past St Joseph, Missouri, and you stand a good chance of missing it.
It’s one of 10,000 anonymous towns peppered across the American Midwest, where the boom industry is boredom and every day is like Sunday. Until now, only two interesting things had ever happened in the place that locals call Saint Joe, and they came 90 years apart. In 1882, the outlaw Jesse James was killed there, and in 1972, a more modern outlaw was born there: Marshall Mathers III, aka Eminem. There’s something about the place, it seems, that breeds rebels.
“It’s crazy, man,” says Isaiah Radke, 20-year-old bassist and moustachio’d mouthpiece with punko-metal rock’n’roll upstarts Radkey. “It’s gotta be the boredom. It inspires you to get assassinated or write some insane rap shit. Apparently his mom still drives a taxi there, dude.” He laughs. “Eminem’s, not Jesse James’s.”
Isaiah and his brothers Dee (22, wary eyes peering out from under a mop of dreadlocks) and Solomon (18, youthful insouciance topped off by a heroic mohawk) know all about the boredom of growing up in Saint Joe. It’s where they formed Radkey half a decade ago. They were fuelled by comics, videogames and their dad’s record collection – Led Zeppelin, Foo Fighters and Van Halen. “Our friends couldn’t believe we’d listen to that stuff,” says Isaiah, whose laidback demeanour doesn’t stop him from occasionally making an attempt on the land speed “dude” record. “They’d say, ‘Dude, rock’s dead. It’s about all this other stuff.’ It’s like, ‘No dude, rock music’s awesome. I don’t know why you’re listening to that other shit.’”
Radkey recently moved north to Kansas City, but their lives are exactly the same as when they lived in St Joseph. For instance, today has been spent, in Isaiah’s words, smoking weed (“At least for Sol and I”), playing the videogame Fallout, watching anime and having an hour-long conversation about the upcoming Marvel movies X-Men: Apocalypse and Ant-Man. “It’s kind of stupid how long we talk about that shit for,” says Isaiah. “Songs get written at some point,” he says with a laugh.
Between sparking up and nerding out, Radkey found time to pull together their debut album, Dark Black Makeup. In an expectation-confounding move, they decided to record a chunk of it not in the boho enclaves of Brooklyn or Austin, Texas, or London’s Trendy Hoxton™, but in Sheffield. Yes, that Sheffield. “We did four tracks with Ross [Orton, producer] in the States, so it was our turn to come down and finish the record in his studio in Sheffield,” says Isaiah. “It helped with the sound. There’s some heaviness in there; being in Sheffield helped a lot of that. It’s like a sweet, manly spot.”
Whatever they put in Sheffield’s water, it worked. The album yokes the fast’n’furious approach of The Ramones, Dead Kennedys and Misfits (the latter most evident in Dee’s Glenn Danzig-esque baritone) to the stadium-filling ambition of Dave Grohl.
“Foo Fighters’ Monkey Wrench was the first music I remember hearing,” says Isaiah. “I was maybe four or five and it was my fucking song.” Isaiah is the only member of Radkey who talks to the press for any length of time. The other two are either too quiet, too shy or just can’t be arsed. “I just talk more,” he shrugs. “I don’t know if it’s because they don’t know what to say or if I’ve said everything first. Solomon, he’s a little guy and a nerd. He has strong opinions on anime and stuff. He rocks.” And Dee? “He’s a weird, quiet genius. He’s got so many riffs in his head. You don’t know until you start jamming, and you’re like, ‘What the fuck?!’” You realise you have called one brother a nerd and the other a weirdo, right? “Ha ha, yeah. But I’m a mixture of both.”
Where fraternal violence is often part and parcel of being in a band with one sibling, let alone two, the Radkes get on like a house on fire. “We’re the weirdest, closest dudes,” says Isaiah. “We still sleep in the same room and shit. It’s weird, but we love each other a lot.”
Part of this is down to Radkey’s unusual upbringing, with their parents in what Isaiah calls The Little Pink House, the family home in St Joseph. “It didn’t have working water. It was a piece of shit, but it was all we needed,” he says. “We had a little jam room upstairs. That’s where it all started, where all the songs were written.” He laughs. “The Little Pink House – where the rock was born!”
If it was a tough upbringing, the brothers didn’t notice. Their parents took care of them, always managing to get them GameCubes or Xboxes if they wanted them. The Radkes also made sure their sons didn’t have to go through the US schooling system.
“We were home-schooled,” says Isaiah, like it’s the most normal thing in the world. “Our parents thought they could do a better job at home, and they did.” It was a combination of this educational independence and the tedium of growing up in St Joseph that prompted the trio to form Radkey. Their dad, Matt, is a music nut who introduced his sons to everything from the Ramones to Zeppelin, and he now manages his sons’ band. But it was Van Halen’s landmark debut album that convinced Isaiah he could be a musician. The fact that it came out nearly 20 years before was neither here nor there. “Van Halen blew my mind,” he says. “The first track [Runnin’ With The Devil]: ‘What the fuck?! Holy shit!’”
Radkey’s first gig was supporting 80s funk-metal pioneers Fishbone in 2011. It was, says Isaiah, “so cool I wish I could go back in time to feel it all over again”. Things subsequently escalated in a way that no one could have foreseen. They made their UK live debut at Download in 2013; a year later, they were on the same bill as Aerosmith in London. “It’s been fucking crazy, dude,” says Isaiah.
At some point between their first two EPs, 2013’s Cat & Mouse and Devil Fruit, Radkey found themselves perilously close to the pigeonhole marked ‘hipster-bait’. Everyone from Vice magazine to The Telegraph wanted a piece of them.
A hotel in Kansas City even decorated a bedroom wall with a mural of the band. It was a peculiar position for three kids from the Midwest who just wanted to rock.
“Oh man, I’d hope we wouldn’t become a hipster band,” he says. “I’m into crowds having a good time, as opposed to worrying about how cool they look or if they’re gonna stop listening to us after our second album, or some shit like that.”
If they’ve attracted the hipsters, at least they’ve dodged the haters. Their first EP closed with the powerful N.I.G.G.A. (Not OK), an anti-racism broadside. “The race thing hasn’t been a huge thing in our career, which is really surprising and incredible,” offers Isaiah, refreshingly. “We don’t have to deal with the racial shit. I love that. It’s been pretty chill.”
For now, Radkey are happy in Kansas City with their anime and videogames. And if Kansas City doesn’t work out for them? Well, there’s always Sheffield.
Dark Black makeup is out August 21 via Little Man Records