Thursday, October 14, 2004

Interview with Radiant*

From Peruvian rock stars to Dallas’ best indie band, Radiant* lifts us up and celebrates the good in our spirit: redemption, friendship, faith. Melodic rock with a message you can take to heart, four guys from Grand Prairie never sounded so good.
Levi Smith, Daniel Hopkins, Dragan Jakovljevic, and Jon Schoemaker follow illustrious indie rockers who have risen in the heat of Dallas. Rock with a melodic sound, 2003’s The Sound of Splitting Atoms is a tribute to the depth of the band member’s souls. Striving for hope in changing times, Radiant*’s message has particular relevance today. The best quote about them has come from Carter Albrecht of Sorta. He said to Smith, ‘You guys make people want to go home. Not to go out and get smashed, but be at peace.’ That’s not a bad way to inspire. Whereas bands like Switchfoot rail against what’s dark in our hearts, Radiant* lifts us up and celebrates the good; redemption, friendship, faith. Levi Smith fronts the band with passionate vocals, reminiscent of Julian Casablancas on Prozac. Dragan (pronounced dragon) Jakovljevic’s Eire-inspired whining guitar riffs are inventive and powerful while Dan Hopkins keeps the energy high with incredible enthusiasm on the drums. Jon Schoemaker fills out their sound on keyboards and bass. DMG caught up with Radiant* as they were hunkered down in Deep Ellum, recording their as-yet-untitled new EP.

DMG: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you guys form, who got you guys together?

Levi Smith: We took a trip to Peru as a band, with Dan’s dad, who’s a missionary. We played around the universities, played on the street. Dragan wasn’t with us yet actually, he missed out. Before that, me and Dan, and my cousin was kind of with us. Then we met Jon, the bass player. Anyway, the original lineup was all of us, minus Dragan, plus my cousin, and then within 5 months, my cousin dropped off, and Dragan jumped in there through Jon’s ex-girlfriend.

DMG: (to Dragan) How did you get here from Bosnia?

Dragan Jakovljevic: I basically came for school. I chose between going to London to school or here, but they had a better music program here, so … I met Jon at Christ for the Nations; it’s like a bible institute. I always wanted to come to America because, you know, England is so close to Bosnia.
LS: Jon was going at the time, too, so… Anyway, we had to drive over there and pick up Dragan every day for every rehearsal, every show for a year, and all of us lived in the midcities; Bedford, Arlington, and so it was pretty far.

DJ: Thanks for coming, dude.

DMG: Is your family still over there?

DJ: Yeah, but now I’m married.

DMG: So it’s better to be here?

DJ: (laughs) yeah, yeah.

DMG: Who in the group is married, who’s still single?

LS: All of us are, except this guy. (points to drummer Daniel Hopkins)

DH: The only bachelor.

DMG: What’s that like?

DH: Well, it’s kinda cool. We’re not a crazy party band or anything like that, we’re just good guys. I guess we’re all good people. It’s not like I go around looking to hook up with chicks or anything like that so… I guess being the only single guy in the band doesn’t really benefit me that much. If I was a little crazier, or whatever, I’d have fun. (shrugs) You know, wasn’t a Christian guy, it’d be really cool.

LS & DJ: (laughing)

DMG: How would you describe yourself as a band?

DH: We’re real serious about making music and disciplined.

LS: (laughs) Have you ever heard of Fugazi? I’m just kidding; we’re not like Fugazi at all.

DMG: Your music definitely has a spiritual bent to it. Can you talk about that a bit?

LS: Yeah. We’re all Christians; we’re all really solid believers. We’re all really spiritual people.

DMG: Do you think that’s going to limit you commercially?

DH: Oh no. I mean, I don’t think so. It’s just part of who we are.

LS: It won’t limit us any more than anything else will, the way we play guitar or whatever.

DH: We’re not looking to use our Christianity as a marketing tool. We’re not trying to use it one way or the other. It’s just who we are. We don’t play where Christian bands always play. It gets you stuck.

LS: We’ve made a conscious effort to not be part of the Christian market. Just because we feel like that will limit us in the mainstream world, like our ability, like who would hear us.

DMG: I’ve heard you compared to Switchfoot.

DH: That’s a new one.

LS: Yeah, I’ve heard it. My dad heard this song and called me and said, ‘I thought it was y’all or something, I think it was by 311”.

DH: What?!

LS: (laughing) I was about to punch him in the face. Then he called back later and said, ‘Oh no, sorry, it was Switchfoot.’ That was the first time I heard that.

DH: I don’t think we sound much like them, really.

LS: I don’t either.

DH: I guess you can compare us (on the message), but…I mean, musically, I wouldn’t make a comparison.


Radiant interview (continued)
DMG: So how about Coldplay? Because I keep hearing that.

DH: We get it a lot. Our last album had a lot of acoustic-driven songs, very similar melodies and stuff. Our next album is more rock and roll, more electric, it’s a little faster at times. I don’t think we’ll get the Coldplay comparison that much this time around. Right now it’s pretty unlimited what we can do.

LS: We’re incorporating tracks, adding pedal steel, keyboards, tambourines. You know, different instruments.
DMG: What changed? Why aren’t you guys limited now?

DH: You just move on… this album will have a gospel choir on it. It’ll have a string quartet playing orchestra parts on it. Last time we had to do that on keyboards and go without the choir. We’ve also had a lot more time to really work on these songs, to fine tune it.
DMG: What do you think is going to be the single?

DH: Probably the “Way You Make Me Feel”, it’s re-recorded.

LS: We have a lot of songs that maybe could be a single, but probably not. We don’t fit into that standard pop format.

DH: I guess we’ll just leave that up to if we get a record deal or something. Just leave that up to those people.

LS: (laughs) Leave it up to the audience.

DH: Yeah, leave it up to the audience. “By round of applause…which song will beeee…”

DMG: So is anyone talking with you right now for a record deal?

DH: Oh, tons. (scoffs)

LS: (laughs) Yeah.

DH: You know that company Warner Brothers? They offered us like 6 million dollars, and we were like -pfft!- come on, we need some real money.

DJ: We need at least, at least, four limos. At least four.

DMG: So how was it opening for The Killers?

LS: That was cool, man. Yeah. We had a lot of fun. That was the first time, that night, that I had heard them, and then I got the record. I wish I would have already had the record before we played with them, but it was definitely cool.

DH: It was the end of a four show crap run for us; we were out of town, nobody showed, we had electrical failures, then we did that concert and it was nice for everything to finally go smoothly. Very encouraging, like ‘oh man, we don’t suck’. You start to doubt if you’re really good when everything goes wrong.

DMG: So who would you say are your biggest influences?

DH: The Verve, that’s one of them.

DJ: U2

DH: U2 has probably been our longest running influence, since the very beginning.

LS: A lot of eurorock; bands like Kent, The Walkmen.

DMG: Who’s in your CD player now?

LS: The Killers.

DH: South San Gabriel and Centro-matic out of Denton, Beck- Sea Change.

DJ: Travis - The Man Who.

DMG: If you could play with one artist, dead or alive… you know the drill…

LS: Tupac. I was him for Halloween. Dan drew on all the tats on me.

DH: I want to put it in, very heterosexually.

LS: (laughing) No, really, I’d love to do an acoustic set with Willie Nelson.

DJ: U2- very much.

DH: Oh, yeah! U2, but Radiant* would be killed if we played an opener for them, but we’d be a good fit, a great combo. It’s so hard to be into opening bands for the big huge bands because everyone has paid $100 to get in and they don’t care.

LS: It’s also cool because like everyone’s instantly lining up all day and they’re ready to get in, so when you get on stage as that opening band the place is packed already.

DMG: How has the experience been for you guys, getting the draw?

DH: The Killers concert introduced us to a lot of new people. Our Dallas draws are pretty steady, like 300.

LS: Dude- oh yeah? No, I don’t think so. (laughs)

DMG: So what’s the plan for the next five years?

LS: Release this record, keep just playing shows, and hopefully get on some good tours. Go from there. There’s just no way to plan what’s going on. You just never know.

DJ: Hopefully get a big fan base, but I guess that would come with the tour.
DH: I hope that within five years that we’d be headlining tours and playing big places.

DMG: What’s your message?

LS: To bring hope, a word of encouragement. The new EP is a dedication to the band. We were all going through hardships; we had divorces in three families. So this album is about identifying hurts, sending a message of hope.

DMG: Where can I get your CD?

LS: Good Records, CD World, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, it’s in the computer at Virgin Records, and

©2004 Dallas Music Guide

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