Political dispatches

State Radio approach punk on Year of the Crow
By MATT ASHARE  |  April 15, 2008

DANGEROUS: The guitar might say “reggae,” but the anger level is in the red.

Last summer, Chad Stokes (né Urmston) had the ultimate New England jam-band experience: he and his comrades in the reggae-loving Dispatch headlined a sold-out three-night stand at Madison Square Garden to raise money for humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe. “It was funny even walking to the rehearsals at Madison Square Garden and seeing our name up on that big jumbo billboard,” he recalls of the experience, which is documented on the Dispatch Zimbabwe DVD that he self-released back in January. “That was a trip. And walking out on stage there was one of the only times I can remember getting weak in the knees recently. I was just hoping the equipment would work and that we’d sound good.”

Which is all well and good. But it’s also very much in Stokes’s past. In early February, the trio are once again on hiatus, with Stokes turning his focus back to the politically fueled trio he now leads, State Radio. As we sit in the Brookline apartment he shares with his girlfriend, there’s a flurry of activity as the rest of the band — drummer Mad Dog and bassist Chuck (no last names, please) — finish packing up the gear for an in-store performance at Newbury Comics to support their boldest disc to date (after an EP and 2006’s Us Against the Crown), the Tchad Blake–produced Year of the Crow (Nettwerk). It’s the last time Boston fans will get to see the band until this summer, when they’ll return from touring Europe with punk standard bearers Anti-Flag and a club tour of the States to headline Bank of American Pavilion on June 28 and then again on August 2 for a “Bikes Not Bombs” benefit.

This marks a major step up in terms of audience numbers for State Radio, just as Year of the Crow goes farther than the band’s previous releases to depart from the lite reggae ’n’ funk of Dispatch. There are still traces of Stokes’s faux Jamaican patois and a few funky reggae breakdowns on the new album. But you get the sense that he picked the muscular feedback and distortion-laced “Guantánamo,” with its references to “the war machine,” “torture advocates,” and a “war president,” as the disc’s opener for a reason.

“We had to fight our manager on that. It’s a slap in the face, and it’s definitely the angriest song on the album, so he wasn’t sure we should open with it. But Tchad wanted ‘Guantánamo’ to be first as well. Tchad was great: he was just about getting the right take, getting the energy right. He had us using an old drum kit and not tuning it or anything to get a nice trashy sound. He’d be like, ‘Take four of that song sounds like a good recording, but take two sounds dangerous.’ And he’d want to go with take two.”

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  Topics: Music Features , Chad Stokes, Bob Marley, Anti-Flag,  More more >
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