Radio Moscow cranks up the fuzz, channels old garage tunes
At times it is difficult to follow what Parker Griggs is saying—and not only because of the patchy cell phone reception he gets at his remote Northern California hideout.
It is entirely possible that Griggs, front man and lead songwriter for garage-psych revivalists Radio Moscow, is extremely baked as he mumbles on, sometimes inaudibly, about The Great Escape of Leslie Magnafuzz—a piping hot batch of overdriven, wah-wah-, and THC-soaked jams that his trio will kick out at the Blue Lagoon on Oct. 14.
The new record, Magnafuzz, which drops Oct. 11 on Alive Naturalsound Records, is Griggs’ third such homage to the heavier sounds of the Age of Aquarius.
His father introduced him to early garage music while in middle school, playing old vinyl, like Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac records. He says he’s been hooked on bands like Blue Cheer, Free, and Black Sabbath ever since.
“It speaks to me more than most [other genres],” Griggs explains in a laconic drawl, noting that he especially enjoys the mixture of bluesy guitars and cranked tube amps. “I just kind of got used to the way that the old bands play.”
With his long, straight hair, Griggs resembles a dirty blonde Ozzy Osbourne circa Paranoid. It is fitting, seeing how the fuzzy riffs and Hendrix-ian pentatonic solos he conjures on Magnafuzz wouldn’t seem out of place on an early Sabbath album.
Radio Moscow’s music is a bottom-heavy blues-bomb, with grooves that recall MC 5 and the contemporary Black Mountain, and shredding like a more structurally minded Jack White, with each note bleeding into the next under a sea of overdrive, yet not entirely off the wall as the “Icky Thump” solo.
Griggs would also fit right in at the studios where most of his favorite acts recorded their best music. With the exception of a few ProTools shortcuts, which Griggs admits taking with a hint of resignation in his voice, Magnafuzz was recorded on tape and using analog equipment.
“It ended up taking a lot more time and probably money,” Griggs says of the record, “but I think what we ended up with was a lot more fitting for the sound we’re doing.”
That sound got an early push from Black Keys guitarist, front man and songwriter Dan Auerbach, who was slipped one of Griggs’ early CD-R demos after a show the band played in Denver. The disc appealed to Auerbach, who hails from Akron, Ohio, a town located about 700 miles east of Griggs’ native Story City, Iowa.
But more likely, it was Griggs’ early work that Auerbach was interested in. In 2006, when Griggs passed his demo to Auerbach, the Keys weren’t the hit they are today, and with the exception of the White Stripes, there were no blues punk bands on mainstream radio.
Whatever the reason, Auerbach called the phone number scrawled on Griggs’ demo, signed the band to his Alive imprint, and produced the first self-titled Radio Moscow LP.
Griggs picked up a few tricks from Auerbach on the first record, but true to his lone wolf nature, the Radio Moscow leader has produced their two follow-up albums himself. It makes sense, considering his affinity for guitar heroics. It’s hard to imagine that any hit-driven producer would allow all of the minutes-long squealing and squirming, fuzzed-out guitar solos on Magnafuzz.
But, Griggs wouldn’t stand for that. He acknowledges, for the most part, that his guitar style is “different than people do nowadays,” but he is all right with that.
The concise songwriting and absence of solos that are so ubiquitous in pop songwriting today seem to indicate that the zeitgeist has little tolerance for flashy demonstrations of musical prowess. For Griggs, on the other hand, that whole scene “never seemed to grow old.”
Radio Moscow plays at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14, at The Blue Lagoon, 923 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $5. 423-7117.