When rockers from different bands get together, anything can happen and it's not always pretty.
One night a few months ago, AM Radio's frontman Kevin Ridel and his manager, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, hooked up to declare war against some less powerful players. On his way to their secret meeting location, Ridel stopped at a Hollywood costume shop and picked up a dictator's hat, a monocle and an oversized cigar. Then, he, Cuomo and another friend donned the disguises, pulled out the Parker Brothers board game Risk and began to battle.
"Rivers tried to dress up as some sort of French dictator," Ridel said. "But the hat was kind of nondescript, so he looked more like Fidel Castro."
Only close friends can act that nerdy and still be able to look each other in the face the next day. Ridel and Cuomo have been pals since they were teenagers growing up in Vernon, Connecticut. In high school, they formed a band, then they moved to Los Angeles and were courted by several record labels before deciding to go their separate ways.
"Originally, he was the guitarist and I was the singer," Ridel explained. "What happened was he started singing and I started playing guitar, so we kind of had to break up."
Cuomo went to Harvard, then formed Weezer, and Ridel played in various bands including Ridel High, which released Emotional Rollercoaster in 1997. But as Weezer's star rose rapidly, Ridel encountered some resistance. Regardless, the two remained close.
"We've always had fun over the years showing each other the demos we'd been doing," Ridel said. "I remember when he was first talking about Weezer, I was giving him sh--. I was like, 'Dude, that's the worst band name ever.' "
The two stepped up their work relationship in 2001 when Ridel was in a band called Peel which was getting toyed around with by a label that endlessly delayed the release of its record. Cuomo suggested Ridel shed his label and put a new band together, and since he had successfully self-managed Weezer, he volunteered to manage AM Radio as well, and helped secure them a record deal.
The band's debut, Radioactive, is a kinetic blend of spiky power pop, surreal rock and plaintive Britpop that's both powerful and infectious. Comparisons can be drawn to Weezer, for sure, but the band seems just as influenced by Redd Kross, Cheap Trick and the Knack. The first single, "Taken for a Ride," surges with overdriven guitars, harmony-laced choruses and a new wave beat. "If This Is the End of the World" is heavier and more direct, juxtaposing a melancholy verse with a fast, buzzing main rhythm. And "I Just Wanna Be Loved" is slinky and lyrically weary, with a shivery guitar slicing through a throbbing bassline.
Though the songs are all simple and straightforward, Ridel insists there's no formula, and he credits his bandmates — guitarists Rowan Robertson and Jason Moore, bassist Bryce Soderberg and drummer Joe Higgins — for the music's impact and immediacy. "I really love what they do with the arrangements of my songs," he said. "I'm not really sure how they come out the way they do. But I really like them. I just write about the stuff going on in my life, and musically, whatever comes out comes out."