March 5th, 2010
   

 

State Radio
Interview with Chad Stokes Urmston of State Radio

Interviewed By:

 

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 website to 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 100,000.

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 organic walnuts.



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.


Eddie: 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.


Ben: 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 awhile.
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 by you.


Eddie: 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.


Ben: 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 be revitalized.
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.


Eddie: 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.


Ben: It’s noticeable that State Radio is more “unfiltered” than Dispatch ever was. Was this component a factor in what brought you guys together?
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.


Eddie: 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.


Eddie: Any side projects you’re currently involved with, even outside of music?
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.


Eddie: 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 about?
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
 

 


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