Be Kind, Rewind: The Bedroom Brilliance of Radiator Hospital
Photo by John Hanson
At 22 years old, Radiator Hospital auteur Sam Cook-Parrott was just a baby during the early '90s, when the DIY ethic worked its way into rock music for good. He definitely carries on that modus operandi in Radiator Hospital, more often than not his one-man band.
While other bands often describe their lo-fi sound as "bedroom" pop, Radiator Hospital exemplifies the genre; all of Cook-Parrott's albums have literally been recorded in his own bedroom (or basement), by himself or with the help of his friends.
Despite the quality sound of Radiator Hospital's 2013 album Something Wild, it too was recorded in Cook-Parrott's own basement in Philadelphia, with the help of his engineering-savvy friend Kyle Gilbride. A feverish collection of punk-tinged guitar pop, the LP "sounds like a pro record" despite its modest production, according to Cook-Parrott.
He sometimes crowdsources his many musician friends to record full-band albums, including Something Wild; generally, however, Cook-Parrott records on his own as Radiator Hospital.
"I like recording by myself," he explains. "It's fun to play all the instruments and mess around with different sounds. I can't always make great-sounding high-fidelity records," he says, acknowledging certain limitations that accompany home recording. "But I can--and will--always make records."
Like most young musicians, Cook-Parrott appreciates affordable avenues, and recording at home certainly cuts costs.
"It seems silly to spend a bunch of money on recording," he says, "when I can do it myself, or have my friends do it for super cheap."
Furthering his thrifty DIY ideals, Radiator Hospital albums are usually released on cassette tapes.
"They're affordable, portable, and accessible," he says of his preference for tapes. "I've grown up with tapes, CDs, records, 8-tracks... all sorts of stuff. It didn't really occur to me that putting out a tape was weird until people were like, 'Whoa, you guys put out tapes?!' And I'm like, 'Yeah, who cares? It's just a tape.'"
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As the '90s rear their head for a pop-culture resurgence -- wherein throwback formats like tapes fight for a wistful comeback -- Cook-Parrott's DIY aesthetic seems intrinsic, not trendy.
"The beautiful thing about DIY music and culture is, it's the most natural way to do things," he pledges. "We're just making music, and doing it in the most natural way. We think, 'OK, there's this show happening -- let's play it.' Or, 'We wrote these songs -- let's record them.'
"I mean, I don't even know another way to do it," he admits. "Do you get a PR person who sends your record to Rolling Stone? Or do you get sponsored by Vitamin Water or something? I wouldn't know how to do that."
In lieu of high-profile publications and bigwig advertising endorsements, Cook-Parrott sticks to the essentials -- recording and touring. Radiator Hospital is currently touring as opening support to Waxahatchee; both bands play Mango's Friday evening -- whose band members are old pals (and former roommates) of Cook-Parrott.
"They're like best buddies," he says of Waxahatchee. "Last year, we all lived in a house together in Philly - the same house where we recorded Something Wild, and where Waxahatchee recorded (2013 album) Cerulean Salt. I'm super-excited they're getting a lot of attention, because it's totally deserved."
Cook-Parrott, too, is as deserving of such acclaim. He's currently writing material for his next album -- which, unsurprisingly, will also be home-recorded and released on cassette-tape.
Cook-Parrott hopes to release this new album by summer's end, giving you ample time to dig up and dust off your old cassette-tape player. And when you're inevitably reeling in the subsequent nostalgic glory of days past, you'll have Radiator Hospital to thank.
Radiator Hospital, Waxahatchee and Spare Bones play Friday night at Mango's, 403 Westheimer. Doors open at 8 p.m.; all ages.
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