What in hell is Radioboxer, you might be wondering, and why does it want to hurt me? Well, to answer the former, it's probably one of the coolest local bands you haven't heard of yet. The latter is just a thinly veiled play on words, but it's arguably an accurate description of the more aggressive tracks on the group's debut album, Radio Drama. Unfortunately, riffing on the whole boxer thing overlooks the melodic soundscapes painted by subtle ballads such as "Reckless Behavior" or quirky songs like "While You Wait," a brief instrumental featuring kitschy synthesizers.
It's a recent Wednesday afternoon at Shack North Studios, a 1,200-square-foot space nestled among a string of warehouses located just off the Palmetto Expressway near the Hialeah/Medley border. The group recorded its album here, and today the members have gathered to practice. Band cofounder, bassist, and, for all intents and purposes, leader, J (who uses the Spanish pronunciation, HO-tah), is partaking in Heineken with some of the others.
"We usually don't drink at practice. We just wanted to look cool [for this interview]," says keyboardist Gian, familiar green bottle in hand.
The quip is par for the course. It's clear the musicians — vocalist Vanne, bassist J, guitarists Santos and Esteban, drummer Tequila, and Gian — are all jokesters. Right off the bat, there's ribbing about which members J has kicked out and consequently let back in. He quickly replies, chuckling, that he'll kick them out again if he needs to.
Much of the interview goes that way. There are about 45 minutes of tape, only seven or eight of which are usable. The rest is mostly raucous laughter, but eventually the bandmates get around to discussing their music.
It's "electronic-driven with hints of country, straight-forward rock sounds," J says, "basically a 21st-century alternative rock band. We try not to stop any sound [from being included] under the pretext of 'it's not our sound.' We just play it."
There's even more to the stylistic intermingling than J has mentioned. Punk, ska, and 1960s garage also play lead roles. J agrees, pointing out that those are Tequila's big influences.
"Yeah," the young drummer says simply and then looks around shiftily to find all eyes on him. "Like, what else do you want me to say?" he asks to a chorus of laughter. "Um, I listen to the Libertines," he eventually continues. "I listen to Babyshambles. I just play for the love of it. I play for fun. I love playing with these guys. That's it."
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That sentiment seems to be the common thread among the members, and it shines through in their music. Radio Drama kicks off with a playful instrumental composition, "Run Away from Home and Join the Traveling Band," which sounds like something you might hear at a gypsy sideshow. That somehow melds seamlessly into the second track, "G.M.V.," one of the band's popular rockers, which begins with a crash of drums and a churning guitar oozing fuzzy distortion.
Across the rest of the disc, Radioboxer revels in variety. "Radio Broke My Heart" is reminiscent of early No Doubt, featuring dramatic melodies that Vanne delivers with her expansive voice before the track breaks down into funky ska for the chorus. "The Killer" opens with vocals worthy of golden-era cabaret and then with surprising ease sweeps from a flamenco-surf hybrid to punk. Another standout, "Placebo Effect," is all New Wave and power pop, featuring catchy synth lines.
But though the album bears a nearly tangible lightness, that perception can be deceiving. It was a labor of love two years in the making, which coincided with the tumultuous existence of the band's previous incarnation, Falaz, comprising most of the same members.
"We wanted to start over," explains Santos, who left the band for a period. "Something wasn't working. At the end of Falaz, everything was going downhill. I was gone, we'd already finished the record, and they sent it to me and it sounded nice. But then when I came back and saw them again, the energy was there. Seeing Radioboxer again, with Tequila and Esteban onboard, there was just so much energy."
Like any young musicians, their dream is to live off of their music career. But in the meantime, they're content to continue making music and enjoying the communion of a band and a crowd in one of South Florida's dives.
"We're very proud of our live shows," J says. "There's a ton of energy. People usually think Vanne has multiple personalities."
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Vanne nods in agreement as everyone laughs. "For me, when I sing," she says, "I get really angry, and that energy is exposed like that. So usually I try to kill Gian onstage."
Gian laughs. "It's true," he says. "Last show she slapped me and my glasses flew offstage. My ear was bleeding."
"Live shows, for us, are a release of energy," Esteban explains. "Monday through Friday you have to work. Definitely we release that energy in our shows."
And listening to the record, you feel like it couldn't be any other way. A group of young friends that enjoys making music together. A stage just a foot higher than the beer sludge-caked floor in a smoky bar. Rock 'n' roll, at once loud and melodic. What more could you want than the ass-kicking that ensues?