State Radio

Download the free track “Unfortunates” here
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Something about State Radio just connects with people. Proof: Chad Stokes' first band Dispatch sold {{{600}}},000 albums on word of mouth alone. Now, having just released the second album as State Radio, with Chuck Fay on Bass and Mad-Dog the street-drummer on skins, the punk-rock-reggae trio is taking their sing-along activism to a whole new level. The up-beat, catchy rock will have you hooked before you realize you're humming along to such fluffy issues as Darfur massacres (Sudan), Guantanamo Bay's secret detention camps (Guantanamo) and the suspicious murder case of the West Memphis Three (Unfortunates). The idea is simply to entertain, not to preach, but if you absorb a little info in the process, all the better. —Nathan Myers

SURFING MAGAZINE: Your first band, Dispatch, grew to huge proportions, considering you just started playing in your college dorms?
CHAD STOKES: Yeah, it just sort of ballooned. It started to get big in the late '90s, just when Napster was blowing up and we were touring a lot. I think we had a strong word of mouth thing going, and that coupled with Napster, we were part of this explosion of free music. Anything you wanted, no matter how obscure, it was right at your fingertips. So we kind of exploded with that.

So, you guys were on board with giving music away for free from the very beginning?
Yeah, I guess that was a precursor to the way the industry was going, but everything now is just about the tour. And that's what we were about anyway. We weren't about selling millions of records – we play a city and people sing along, and that's what was real to us. And Napster helped that.

What happened to Dispatch?
In 2002 we were wrapping up our tour and it just seemed like we were going through the motions. Nobody wanted to be there. It didn't feel like we were even friends anymore. We were supposed to be this organic, true band, and here we are not doing justice to our fans or ourselves by continuing to play if the heart wasn't in it anymore.

So, how did State Radio come together?
I took a year off for vocal surgery. We were about to go on tour with Slightly Stoopid, but I lost my voice and it never came back. The doctor said you can't go tour, you need surgery right away. I had surgery and couldn't talk for a month. I had to learn sign language for about a month.

Where did Chuck Fay (bass) and Mad-Dog (drums) come from, though.
I was already playing with Chuck, and then we found Mad Dog playing buckets outside Fenway Park. And I just started hanging out and turns out we had a mutual friend. So, we started playing together and it's felt good ever since.

You tour a lot?
We've been on the road for almost two months now. I like the road, but if a tour's too long, you can hit some low points. Everyone hits 'em. You gotta tour just enough, without burning everyone out. Between the Dispatch shows and touring with State Radio and recording a record, I don't want next year to be this crazy.

A lot of your songs have real heavy political statements — where does that come from?
I have a real liberal mother, and my dad was always the one driving the current events at the dinner table. And then I went to Zimbabwe when I was 18 and that sort of woke me up to certain truths about the world. Coming back, in my hometown in Massachusetts, there's a Peace Abbey, which is a church dedicated to pacifists and activists. I started traveling a bit and certain role models in my hometown led me to think a certain way.

What were you doing in Zimbabwe?
I went over there without much of a plan, but I ended up teaching English to sixth graders and coaching soccer. What struck me was the lack of material goods. There was a draught and HIV was everywhere…so, you'd walk past fields of open graves; fresh mounds of dirt. And trying to make sense of it all and where it's going. And since then, that country's so much worse now, I can't even believe it. So I think by just being confronted while I was trying to form my thoughts about my place in life really had an impact on me.

Is the point of writing political songs to deal with it personally, or to help educate others?
I think for me it's to deal with it personally, and if a derivative of that is that it raises awareness, that's all the better. But it's mostly just me trying to get my thoughts out and express myself.

As you play these songs night after night, do the original feelings stay the same?
Sometimes my mind wanders, but in most cases, the words I'm singing are reminding me of when I wrote it or the story that inspired it. I try to get into each song again every night so that it's genuine.

You keep the songs pretty loose, right?
It's fun for it not to be overly-choreographed, so that anything can happen. Some songs call for it and some don't. Sometimes something good comes from that, sometimes total shit comes from it. You never know, but that's part of the fun of it.

Who were you inspirations and heroes with writing political songs?
Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Cat Stevens. Even Black Sabbath and Rage Against the Machine and Pearl Jam as I got older.

Do you plan to do a "Rock The Vote" type political tour?
We always try to do it ourselves. We have voter registration at our merchandise tables. But it would be great to be part of a bigger movement. We do everything we can to get people involved so that our democracy actually works.

Are you backing a candidate for 2008?
Not really. I like Kusinich, but it's pretty unrealistic to pine away for him. Barrack Obama is interesting. If we had vote now, we'd lean towards him.

What's the "How's Your News" project?
That grew out of this camp some friends of mine worked for ten years. It's a camp for people with disabilities out on Martha's Vineyard, and we just started making movies and interviewing people on the street, and the news reporters were these friends of our with disabilities. It's sort of a different kind of news show: John Stewart meets the Muppets meets the Partridge Family. MTV just signed on for six episodes. Trey Parker and Matt Stone [South Park creators] are executive producers; they've helped us all along the way. They've been great about helping us keep doing this.

Is it comedy?
Yeah. It's touching and funny; it's political. It's an interesting forum when you have Larry Perry interviewing Hillary Clinton, and he can't talk, so he's just pointing at different questions on a cardboard box. In some ways, it breaks down the convention of regular interview so much that people can't answer with their cookie cutter answers. There's some soul to their answers. You do get a nice sense of truth with it. But overall, the disabled reporters really see themselves as entertainers. They are really funny. So there's a comic element, but people have a hard time if they're not familiar. We try to put some context in there. One thing we always say, it's OK to laugh.

Yeah, it's hard to laugh at people with disabilities?
Yeah, but our point is, people with disabilities, they're also really funny. And they're trying to be funny. So it's OK to break down that barrier. The director is my friend Arthur Bradford, so I'm sort of assistant director and co-founder. You can find out more at

Any long-term goals for State Radio?
We want to keep recording, maybe a new album within the next eight months. Keep touring. But there aren't any huge goals. We play because we love to play. We have this cool barn that we rehearse in, and we'll keep playing as long as we keep feeling it and as long as people keep coming out.