This year they did it again with White Power Outage Vol. 2 and will be celebrating the release of the album with a backyard show at The Continental Club on Saturday, April 30 which is sure to make for a night of celebrating the diversity and talent of Houston.
“Whoever shows up can perform,” says founding member Nick Cooper of the band's approach to live shows. “We just always invite everybody.”
The Free Radicals have always been known to include a long list of collaborators, not only from Houston but from all over the world. Cooper describes the band as having essentially 12 members in its core but obviously, wrangling that many people together can prove challenging.
“There’s a lot of stories,” says Cooper of the many years of making music. He thinks back to a recent performance at Discovery Green where he looked around and thought about people that were in the band that night who had played with him in ‘90s and all of the collaborators who eagerly sent back their tracks for new projects throughout the years.
“What a beautiful thing to have a long relationship with people that are not just good musicians but are also refining and creating their body of work. That's how we've really done things, reached out to our friends who have time and availability and just manifest our ideas.”
"That's how we've really done things, reached out to our friends who have time and availability and just manifest our ideas.”
One new friend on White Power Outage Vol. 2 is Henry Alvarez who Cooper met through a mutual friend and his work with The Brown Berets, a Pro-Chicano organization that was born in the ‘60s and continues to fight for Mexican American rights, equality and protection from police brutality.
“When I heard them I was just blown away by it,” describes Alvarez. “The live music and the live sound because I'm used to doing hip hop music so when I hear those live instruments it's just like something really different.”
“I think with the instruments, it just boosted it 100 percent,” he adds. Alvarez, also known as Hennessy, can be heard on “Bipartisan Baby Jail” along with Karina Nistal, Michele Thibeaux and the sweet yet powerful voice of children from Peace Camp Houston.
In “Bipartisan Baby Jail” Alvarez links the immigrant detention center on Emancipation Ave. to the murder of civil rights leader Carl Hampton who was gunned down by police on the same street in 1970.
The Free Radicals have always been a socially conscious group of artists using their voice to raise awareness for a range of issues which affect the entire world and the responsibility to tell these stories with respect is not lost on them.
“You have to enter into a relationship where you are constantly open to feedback and people having some kind of veto power over their own stories or having some kind of input into what the output is going to be,” says Cooper adding that he also considers how he will find the means to provide compensation to contributors to the band any way he can through grants or paid performances.
White Power Outage Vol. 2 picks up where Vol. 1 left off with songs that can not only entertain the body rhythmically but also stimulate the mind and deeper consciousness of what it means to be a part of society.
“If you have a mediating aspect, which is melody, rhythm, danceability and all that stuff, sometimes the harder messages are a little easier to swallow,” says Cooper.
Vol. 2 also features some beautiful and complex instrumental tracks balancing out the hard-hitting songs and showing off the band's talent often showcased at their live shows and jam sessions around town — frequently at Avant Garden.
“Ghosts of Montrose” captures their jazzy, reggae talents and incorporates yet again Houston legend and master vibraphonist Harry Sheppard. “He brings so much energy to stuff and totally changes the feel of the tune,” says Cooper of Sheppard’s ability to take the focus off the B3 organ and straight to his dreamy vibraphone.
Some of the songs on Vol. 2 were already in the works when the band wrapped up Vol. 1 but others came about as the project progressed. For now Cooper believes the band will move on from the subject of white supremacy but they will continue to make music with a message.
“We are going to always be pushing boundaries,” he says. “But the thing about it is, when you look back at it years later it really seems like, didn’t people know this all along? The White Power Outage doesn’t seem that controversial of an album title after the Black Lives Matter movement took off but we were working on this album long before that because we were part of other things that were going on in the streets.”
Cooper and Alvarez are not only singing about change, they are constantly involved in community activism and protests around town. Despite many issues continuously requiring attention year after year, both artists and many of their bandmates maintain committed to pushing for improvement.
“Once you're doing something like this and you realize the way I was thinking, not caring about stuff, only going to work and paying bills, there's a whole lot more going on in the world. There needs to be some type of change. It wouldn't feel right not continuing doing this type of work or doing music that didn't have this positive message,” says Alvarez.
The Free Radicals White Power Outage Vol. 2 is available now. They will be performing on Saturday, April 30 at The Continental Club backyard Pachinko Hut, 3700 Main. Doors at 6. $15-20.