Rocking Down the 405 – A Road Trip From Los Angeles to Orange County & Three Bands Along the Way

A quick journey down the 405, or a long journey depending on when you make it, gets you from Los Angeles to Orange County and the many cities in between. Countless bands, influential and nationally known, have come out of cities along this stretch of road. Interestingly enough, for such a small distance in between them, the imprint these cities have on musicians, influences them to make drastically different music, all representative of their hometowns. Even while each of these three bands could be considered rock bands, this differential phenomenon can still be seen with RadioFlag featured artists Popular GiantsIndia House, and Get Back Shadow.


Every so often, you’ll hear a band that will make you realize what you’ve been missing.  Listening to Popular Giants, I had that experience; it hit me like a brick—heavy, head banging, rock n’ roll, feel-it-in-your-feet bass lines.  I’ve been deprived.  With the popularity of bands like The Black Keys, Twenty One Pilots, The Dresden Dolls, Two Gallants, and, of course, The White Stripes, it seems like fewer and fewer bands are choosing to feature what was once considered a quintessential part of every band’s rhythm section.  Popular Giants is not one of those bands.  On the contrary, when bassist Chet Johnston adds his thick layer of bass onto one of the band’s tracks, it becomes a focal point of their deep and gritty sound.  Add to that the monstrous drums of Miah Palmer, all-over-the-neck guitar leads by John Fortin, and screaming vocals by Christopher Peacock, and you’ve got yourself a distinctly dark L.A. rock band in tune with Social Distortion and The Minutemen.  There are so many moments in listening to songs like “Revel” where it feels as if the band might just go off the rails into musical entropy.  However, unlike the mishandled attempts of so many garage punk bands out there, this is a controlled chaos that can only be achieved by mature and skilled musicians, like those in this four member rock beast.


Traveling south, we arrive at Long Beach—a city with as much of a musical identity crisis as a geographic one.  Not quite L.A., but not quite Orange County, Long Beach has a vibe all its own.  One that’s a little too edgy for Orange County, and a little too laid back for L.A.  It’s most musically known for producing two artists: rock band Sublime, and rapper Snoop Dogg.  The city’s mixed influences of rock and hip-hop have spawned several local bands who both recognize and exploit these contrasts.  Long Beach native India House is one of such bands who have created a fusion of styles truly symbolic of the city.  With a fuzzy sound and fun loving energy reminiscent of Grouplove or Best Coast, there’s an audible youthfulness to their genre-defying music.  Maybe it’s the way they are not afraid to experiment and take risks with their music, or maybe it’s just the fact that they actually are really young, (in terms of young I’m talking ‘enrolled undergraduates at Cal State University Long Beach young’), but it’s a youth that’s certainly detectable in their music.  In their first EP Party Wave, the band is still looking for its sound; a little bit garage rock, a little bit surf pop, but largely unfocused.  In their second EP Gnarly Safari, released just two months ago, it’s obvious that they found the sound they were looking for and made it their own.  From lyrics to production, Gnarly Safari is a much more sophisticated endeavor coming from a band formed not even two years ago.  Their rate of growth combined with their continued experimentation makes this band one to keep an eye on.  I recommend listening to their layered track “Daybreakers” off the Gnarly Safari EP to hear why.

                                                           ORANGE COUNTY

Last stop on the 405 highway before San Diego, our journey ends in Orange County.  Though it has the reputation of being one of the safest collection of suburbs in the country, Orange County has produced a preponderance of punk and rock bands that break the mold of their perspective genres.   From No Doubt to Agent Orange, rocks bands out of the area have a signature Orange County sound; that citrusy sweetness of harmonic melodies and surf guitars that allude to sunny days on the beach, even while the lyrics tell stories of losing one’s mind.  Get Back Shadow carries on this tradition well.  After listening to “Storm,” you’ll be singing the lyrics for hours afterward, but unlike the catchy pop drivel that usually gets stuck in your head, Get Back Shadow writes catchy songs with a soul.  From upbeat tunes like “Warrior” to the slower paced “Against the Grain” and “Everyday (We-At-Ease),” the indie band uses music to say something, which is something sorely missed on mainstream radio these days. Luckily they’ve had success getting radio deejays on RadioFlag and free-form radio stations like KCTY and KRFH to dig their sound and play their music live on air.  Their ability to mix guitar driven songs with tunes that have a more electronic vibe, and maintain those trademark Orange County melodies with thoughtful lyrics,  makes Get Back Shadow’s music easily recognizable, and harder to forget.

  Contributing Writer,  Jessica Carreiro

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From Britain to Canada: How Pirate Radio and Radio Caroline Inspire Music Today

In the early 60′s, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was known as “Auntie” to its target audience of mild-mannered, working class, British households.  Pumping wholesome Jim Reeves standards and jazz renditions through the airwaves, Auntie BBC was seemingly oblivious to the frenetic counter-culture her nieces and nephews of Chelsea and SoHo were stirring up. Inspired by Detroit Motown, the blues, and rock and roll pioneers like Chuck Berry, British musicians saw the wave of subculture building from across the pond and used the momentum of the ‘Swinging 60′s’, to ride it into Britain in a style all their own.  There was a new sound to go along with the new thoughts and tensions of a new generation, but the BBC was a sonic breakwater blocking the growing subculture from “poisoning” their mainstream easy-listening.  A pool of popular music was sitting stagnant, waiting to be tapped and pipped through to an increasingly anxious audience. This cued up pirate radio’s appearance on the horizon; independent radio stations changing the tides of broadcasting from international waters. Various pirate radio stations competed for listenership, but none was more a reflection of the times which spawned it,  than Radio Caroline.  Radio Caroline was everything that the BBC was not: unorganized, chaotic, of-the-times, and buoyant.  Wild and unstructured, Radio Caroline, was made up of broadcast novices.  They were a band of former actors turned DJs,  headed by Ronan O’Rahilly, a musician manager and businessman looking for a way to promote the music he liked without having to cater to major record labels or the censorship of the BBC.    Established in 1964, Radio Caroline had two ships, the North and South, and a stream of DJs, which was all depicted vividly in the popularized movie “The Boat that Rocked”. While many of the DJs were unqualified by BBC standards, they had what DJ and program director, Tom Lodge, was seeking—a passion for music and emerging culture.

Robert Champan speaks of Lodge’s “new set of priorities” focused on spirit and attitude in his article, “The 1960s Pirates: A Comparative Analysis of Radio London and Radio Caroline.”  In a personal interview with Champan, Lodge said of his approach, “The DJs have to be totally involved with this new generation they are playing to.  This meant that you have to be the kind of person who goes to the concerts, who wants to meet the new people who are coming on the scene, and be absorbed in the music in every way.”  Lodge spent three years deejaying on both Radio Caroline North and South, and interviewing the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, until the Marine Broadcasting Offenses Act made pirate radio stations illegal in 1967.  Lodge tried to work at the BBC after Radio Caroline’s shut down, but he soon found it too restrictive and moved back to Canada—a country he had spent some time in in the mid-50s, chronicling his adventures in the book, “Beyond the Great Slave Lake.

Check out this classic clip of The Beatles in their earliest days winning a Radio Caroline Award.

Determined to spread his philosophy of “music without bounds”, Lodge set up the Music Industry Arts program at Fanshawe College in Ontario.  Before he discovered Lodge’s program, young Canadian musician, Greg Clarke, was playing coffee shop gigs in Toronto.  For Clarke, the Music Industry Arts program was more than just the place where he learned the facets of the industry.  It’s also where he met his future bandmate and songwriting partner, Brodie Lodge; Tom’s son.  In listening to songs like “Fly Away,” from their band The Corndog’s, it’s impossible not to hear the inspiration from the music Lodge used to play on Radio Caroline.                                

Even while the band delves into rock with a little more twang like in “Roll It Over,” their sound maintains an unruly edge in it’s irreverence to confine itself to any one particular genre.

Over the next few decades, Clarke went on to tour with many artists, including The Troggs, the Cowboy Junkies, and Johnny Winters.  His current band, Greg Clark and the Madvarks, have been together for nearly a decade, and it can be seen in the way they play together.  Clarke’s sweet-pitched Brian Wilson-esque vocals, paired with a raspy blues guitar and Lorne Gould’s saxophone accompaniment, make even their cover songs feel like an original experience.  

The support seen in their interactions on stage rings of a family dynamic.  When a band has that built-in comfort with each other, there is a safety that allows them to experiment with sounds.  Even with talkative, unreceptive crowds like in this clip,  the band dares to explore a jazzy spin on Charles Bukowski inspired Beat poetry.  

Spanning genres from jazz to blues and rockabilly to punk, Greg Clarke and the Madvarks enjoy playing together, and it’s a joy you can both see and hear when they performed at Hard Rock in Toronto.

The same musical spontaneity and passion that made Tom Lodge and his broadcasts on Radio Caroline revolutionary for their time, is what makes Greg Clarke and the Madvarks a significant band in their time.  Greg Clarke and the Madvarks continue to tour, and were recently featured on the Ruby Slippers show hosted by Carol Barrett on Toronto’s CIUT.

Contributing Writer,  Jessica Carreiro

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