Track By Track: The Radiators Welcome to the Monkey House
Dean Budnick | May 02, 2018
In January, The Radiators made a surprise announcement: In conjunction with a three-night 40th anniversary stand at New Orleans’ famed Tipitina’s, the group revealed that they had recorded a new studio album. The news came as a shock to their legion of devoted Fishheads. Back in 2010, the veteran New Orleans ensemble—Dave Malone (guitar, vocals), Ed Volker (keys, vocals), Camile Baudoin (guitar), Frank Bua, Jr. (drums) and Reggie Scanlan (bass)—issued a statement indicating that they would cease performing. Although they have reunited for a few select appearances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and at Tip’s since that time, they have not released a studio album since 2006’s Dreaming Out Loud.
“While the fans were surprised about the album, we were pretty taken aback, as well,” Malone admits. “The Radiators officially called it quits because Ed Volker decided he’d had enough of being on the road. He’d just had enough of being in a rock band: He did not want to get on a plane, he did not want to get on a bus, he did not want to get on a train. He didn’t want to go anywhere. I don’t think he’s left New Orleans. He also wanted to get back to just playing piano. He’s one of those songwriters who writes every day and he wanted to focus on that. None of us could fault him for it. We weren’t happy about it, but we had to honor his wishes.”
The other four band members continued to cross paths and perform together in various incarnations, such as Raw Oyster Cult, in which Malone, Baudoin and Bua teamed with Papa Grows Funk’s John Gros and Dave Pomerleau of Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes. Meanwhile, Malone remained in contact with Volker in order to solicit new material.
“While I was getting together with Ed, looking for songs, we talked about being ashamed that we had not gone into the studio more and recorded because Ed is really prolific,” Malone admits. “We had all these songs that we’d done onstage that had never been recorded in a studio and thought it would be cool to record them one day. I was waiting for Ed to give the go ahead, and he was finally ready.”
So, in October, the quintet entered Jake Eckert’s Rhythm Shack to work with Eckert and his New Orleans Suspects bandmate Jeff Watkins on what would become Welcome to the Monkey House. “We cut for just a couple days,” Malone recalls.
“It was very laid-back, very low key, no pressure. The studio was in a building in Jake’s backyard, and we all know each other really well. We all got together and, as soon as we started playing, it became this familiar sound. If I bring together the greatest players out there and mix in a couple of Rads, it’ll sound good. But if you get us five knuckleheads in a room together, all of a sudden, boom, it becomes this sound that only the five of us can make—like it or not, and I do like it.”
WELCOME TO THE MONKEY HOUSE
Our fans are hardcore music fans who know a lot about all different kinds of music. At some point, we had this notion that, when we’re there with this big family, a weird energy fills a room. “Welcome to the Monkey House” expresses that big family connection when it’s us looking out at our fans and there’s this mad energy in the room. I don’t know for certain if that’s how the song came to be, but it was a song that Ed wrote that I really liked and, somehow, monkeys became the theme of this album.
TIME TO RISE AND SHINE
Ed wrote this song after The Rads broke up, and I just really loved it, so I insisted we do it. It also was a chance for us to put vocal harmonies on a song, which was really cool and something The Rads aren’t really known for.
BACK TO LOVELAND
Ed wrote this song a while back. We had played it on a few rare occasions and I always loved it, and he agreed that we should record it. That’s the way we always did things. Ed is really prolific and, for half of the existence of The Rads— maybe longer—he and I got together to pick which songs we wanted to sing and then we brought them to The Radiators. The two of us did this more than anyone else because we were the two singers in the band.
I’m probably the guy on earth who has heard the largest percentage of Ed’s songs. Originally, I would get cassette tapes and then, later, CDs of his demos. Sometimes it was just piano and vocals, and sometimes he would do percussion and keyboard overdubs and stuff. He’s a really good percussion player.
We didn’t let his arrangements influence how they became Rad songs, but he would decide which ones he thought were a good fit for The Radiators and wanted to sing. I would do the same thing with my songs or someone else’s songs. He would constantly be surprised which songs I picked, but they always just came out really cool. That’s why we have had such an incredible, nutty, diversity of songs over the last 40 years. But it’s just as simple as me picking something I like and him picking something he likes.