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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Get Rad Celebrates Five Years of Growth

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Like many in Milwaukee, I’ve often overlooked just how good local hardcore punk favorites Get Rad really are. I’ve never dismissed them as a joke band, though it’s clear that all band members have well-cultivated senses of humor: Their debut album, Say Fuck No to Rules, Man, addressed such topics as breaking into West Allis water parks and the overall awesomeness of the 1986 BMX cult-classic Rad. From the start, they played songs that were fast, short and loud, and during their live performances they understood the importance of crowd participation. They knew, in short, what it meant to be a true hardcore band.

All of this is not to suggest that the group has not grown during its existence. The group, who will be celebrating its fifth anniversary (which translates into at least 15 years in punk time) on March 26 with a show at the Bay View Brew Haus, recently released the stellar I Can Always Live, one of the best hardcore records of the past few years—in Milwaukee or elsewhere. The record sounds surprisingly little like Midwestern hardcore. Instead, it sounds like an amalgam of East Coast veterans like Sick of It All and West Coast luminaries like Infest, Chain of Strength and Blast. Yet one also hears some melody sneaking into Get Rad’s frantic thrash, along with some Tragedy-inspired guitar lines. Explaining the evolution of the band’s sound, drummer Ben Davison notes that, after five years, “We need to keep things fresh and interesting for ourselves.”

And this record does seem to raise the bar. While the group’s sense of humor is still intact (the pro-pizza anthem “Drug of Choice” notes that “Crack is whack but pizza’s good”), the album ups the ante in terms of emotional impact. This is often a very angry, very serious record. There is a relentlessness present within these songs, one that creates a mood of near-claustrophobia at times, and the lyrics often help sustain this feeling of desperation. The album’s final track, “I Want to Kill a Priest,” touches upon the Catholic Church’s molestation scandal in a way that is both inflammatory and understated. The pain in vocalist Kevin Herwig’s voice as he screams “It’s something I never really understood” is undeniable, and it is difficult not to be moved by his anguished plea to protect the vulnerable.

These tracks hit so hard in part because of the production of Shane Hochstetler. Recorded at his Howl Street studio, I Can Always Live provides yet another example of why Hochstetler has become such an in-demand producer. Hochstetler and his studio have grown up with Get Rad, and there is a tight connection between producer and band.

“He’s definitely an integral part of the band now,” explains bassist Dave Rudnik. “He’s been with us since the very first demo, and we try to play with [Hochstetler’s band] Call Me Lightning as often as we can. He’s a good friend, and he knows what we want to do.”

There is little doubt that this friendship has worked well for Get Rad, as it is clear that Hochstetler knows how to record heavy music. Most importantly, he understands how to record group vocals, a skill that many who record hardcore bands simply lack.

Yet one gets the sense that Get Rad would record with Hochstetler even if he didn’t make the band sound so good. What is most noteworthy about the band is the commitment they feel toward their music, their friends and each other. When asked why the band has been able to stay together for so long, guitarist Brad Dunn immediately answers, “Friendship. I’ve known Ben since I was 12 years old. And Kevin is my brother, and he was best friends with Dave.” To the band, Hochstetler may be a rising star, but he is first and foremost a friend. To record with someone else would be unimaginable.

Such commitment would be laudable on its own. Couple it with the ability to turn out powerful blasts of hardcore punk and it becomes inspirational. Congratulations, Get Rad, on sticking it out for five years. Here’s to another five.

Get Rad plays a record release show behind I Can Always Live with Call Me Lightning, Direct Hit and Burning Sons at the Bay View Brew Haus on March 26.