Interview with Chad Stokes Urmston of State Radio
State Radio is currently
wrapping up the first leg of their tour in Europe and will be joining
John Butler Trio on stage for the second leg of the tour starting in
May. Be sure to check out State Radio’s
see when they’ll be playing a show near you.
In a dark corner back stage, Chad
Stokes stands facing the wall silently strumming his guitar in deep
meditation. For 15...20…30 minutes, Chad stands playing to an audience of his own
in his mind. His group, State Radio, just wrapped up
a sound check in preparation for tonight’s show at The Majestic
Theater in Madison, Wisconsin. The venue is small tonight, only
holding around 600 people, but when Chad hits the stage he knows he’ll
be playing for many more people than are just in the room. Chad, along
with State Radio, is almost fanatical about the many causes he
represents. Tonight he’ll be playing for the homeless, the disabled,
the political prisoners around the world and the people of Zimbabwe.
Entertainment is what the fans pay for, but the message is what Chad
truly wants the them to take away.
Activism has always been a big part of Chad’s musical career. His last
band, Dispatch, played some of their last shows as series of benefit
concerts, which sold out three nights in a row at Madison Square
Garden. The shows also marked the first time an unsigned band had ever
headlined The Garden, let alone sold it out. A fact that wouldn’t be
surprising to most Dispatch fans since their “Last Dispatch” show,
which took place three years prior, drew an estimated crowd of over
Even with the tremendous success of Dispatch, don’t be surprised if
you haven’t heard of them, State Radio, or Chad. Throughout Chad’s
career he, along with the various band members he has played with, has
always had fame and fortune take a back seat to the music. What may
seem like a rarity today, this kind of mentality was able to bring an
underground band such as Dispatch to the success it obtained. During
the initial explosion of pirated online music via Napster, Lars of
Metallica was screaming in the courtrooms over the potential reduction
of his multimillion dollar paychecks, while Dispatch was on stage
screaming “burn away”.
Noon Radio recently had the chance to sit down with Chad, along with
his dog Lefty, with a list of questions to chew over as well as some
Ben: The nations
of the world are currently being brought together with the Winter
Olympics. Are you a fan of any sports at all? Not that we just didn’t
see you watching the Olympics here on the bus.
Chad: [Laugh] It’s great actually
with the tour, when the Olympics are on, because they’re always on and
we kind of have down time at weird moments of the day. Like at three
of the morning you can still watch stuff even if they’re repeating. We
like the kind of roller derby speed skating, the border cross,
obviously we love the hockey.
Madison has been lucky to host State Radio several times within
the last few years. What goes into your decision when deciding to play
Madison versus any other city?
Chad: In the beginning, randomly
it works out where you play is where you can, wherever someone will
take you. And then you just stay loyal to those cities. Madison was
psyched to have us early on and so we feel like if a city is going to
take a chance on us, especially when we’re just getting started, then
we’ll stick with it.
The “Year of the Crow” had some heavy influences of Native
American culture. Anything particular behind “Let it Go?”
Chad: The title comes from the
song, which comes from the idea that the president of Zimbabwe let go
of his lust for power, his greedy tendencies.
Ben: So was a lot of the album
influenced by your trip to Zimbabwe?
Chad: Musically probably not so
much, but lyrically yeah. The song Let it Go and the song Evolution,
which is more of a positive song about the idea that we’re evolving
into a more peaceful society.
Ben: How do you come up with your
songs? We watched you play after sound check in a dark corner for
Chad: [Laugh] Yeah, I sometimes
have a melody in my head or at sound check we’ll come across something
that sounds good enough to stick with. I try to never shut off the
process. It’s like trying to catch things as they fly by like a dream
catcher. If you can catch it, then it’s good, but sometimes it’ll go
The show tonight takes place at the Majestic Theater, which
holds about 600 people. Is there a different set of nerves when
playing a more intimate setting than say a sold out Madison Square
Garden or a festival across seas?
Chad: Yeah, but not to say that
one is better than the other. These are some of our favorite shows
because this size is perfect. It’s not so big that you lose everyone
or that you’re just playing to the first rows. When there are a lot of
people there I get the sense that each person adds a little bit of
pressure for me at least. I don’t know if Mad Dog or Chuck do, I think
they get worked up, but I don’t know if nerves are the right way to
describe it. I do get nervous with the more people there are, I’ll get
more and more nervous, just more pressure I feel like I have to give
people their money’s worth especially in today’s economy. And for the
band to play well, but like I said this is an awesome size.
Let’s put a question in your head here. If you could pick one
album or band to listen to for the rest of your life who or what would
you pick? This might be too hard to answer.
Chad: Either Joni Mitchell’s Blue
or Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire.
Eddie: From an activist approach
your website compares State Radio to Rage Against the Machine. Could
you expand further on that?
Chad: Yeah, I think they were just
such good examples of a band that was actively taking on issues and
that weren’t afraid. They would show up to the conventions. We’ve also
got to know them over the years. We opened for them a year and a half
ago and Tom Morello joined us up on stage in LA to play a song of
ours. They set up a template, I guess, for bands that really want to
do the same.
Eddie: Any future collaboration
with Del la Rocha at all?
Chad: Well, actually there is a
UXO tour that is being planned. It’s in the works to do a tour around
military bases, instead of USO it would be UXO, we would be in the
nearest clubs to the base. Rage is being asked to do that. We’re being
asked to do it. I know Noam Chomsky wrote a letter to the guys in Rage
saying that this needs to happen, that the anti-war movement needs to
Ben: What other musical influences
do you bring to the table?
Chad: We like the Clash, Nirvana, Jethro Tull, Traffic. Kinda anything
from the late 60s on. From the Zombies to System of the Down.
Taking a step back here to the activism component. Some people
may argue that entertainment and social idealism should be separate.
Do you feel that there is any responsibility there when an artist
steps up to the mic? Should they be separate?
Chad: I think they
can be separate, but I don’t think that it’s mandatory for all artists
to be political, but I personally feel like it’s an obligation. I
think it’s a responsibility because the media is so screwed up in this
country. I think musicians have the ability to be just one of the
people and because of the band they’re in and their musical
capabilities they happen to be in front of a large crowd.
It’s noticeable that State Radio is more “unfiltered” than Dispatch
ever was. Was this component a factor in what brought you guys
Chad: Yeah, it wasn’t that
Dispatch broke up because of different ideologies, but it’s nice with
this band that it’s full on. We can just roll and say what we want to
say. That wasn’t the case with Dispatch so much.
Eddie: Is there anything from your
experience with Dispatch that you’ve been able to take away that’s
made this band stronger in anyway, whether it’s lessons from the road
or even bringing it to the stage?
Chad: Yeah, although I can’t say
that I’m a master at it by any stretch. Keeping communication up and
checking in with everyone on a regular basis. How are things going?
How do we feel? How do we feel the show is? With Dispatch I was just
kind of passive and I could see it disintegrating; the connection
between the three of us. And I didn’t do anything about it. I was like
fuck it, fuck it, let it disintegrate, I don’t care. That was kind of
just passive a little bit maybe. It got to a point that the
relationships were broken down so much that I didn’t even want to work
on it. If someone had been like, “go to band therapy”, like Metallica
or something, I was like I don’t really want to be in this band
anymore because we would be going up on stage and act like we were
friends. It became something it shouldn’t have been. I just didn’t
want to be fake.
Here’s a questions straight from every employer’s interview manual.
Where do you see yourself or the band five years from now?
Chad: We’d like to still be
playing, maybe not touring quite as much. We’re in our early thirties
so it would be nice to have kids in five years. I’d like to have
another dog. It feels good when the band continues, you know, that
slow rise. When more and more people show up. We don’t necessarily
want to conquer the world but we would like to keep that momentum
going. We’d like to just make great music and that would be the best
thing for us; music that we are proud of. For people to keep coming to
the shows, and have fun shows, but also so the bills can be paid to
keep recording music.
Any side projects you’re currently involved with, even outside of
Chad: Yeah, Calling All Crows
continues to grow. It’s this organization that Sybil and I started a
year and a half ago where we do service projects. We raised a $100,000
for Oxfam to go to women in refugee camps in Sudan. If that could
continue to grow. If we could raise $100,000 in 2009, then what could
we do in 2010. We also have been spreading the word about Troy Davis
who is on death row down in Georgia. If the band keeps getting bigger
the more influence we have to be in front of people and get some
stories out there that we feel need to be told.
We’ll be doing a feature of State Radio on our website. Is
there anything else that you guys are involved with that we can talk
Chad: Howsyournews.com. Is a group
that we go around the country with involving five or six people with
disabilities and we’re like a news team. It was actually on MTV for a
season. We’ll continue with Calling All Crows, continued alliance with
Amnesty International and Oxfam. There might be a Dispatch show within
the next five years, at least one show, probably a few.
Ben: That’ll turn into a rumor
real quick. You guys have something unique there.
Chad: Yeah, it’s unbelievable