Jan 05, 2012

Radio Moscow’s Parker Griggs carries the torch for psychedelic rock

By Michael Swanger

Radio Moscow performs Saturday, Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. at DG’s Taphouse in Ames. Admission is $10.

Radio Moscow’s frontman and founder Parker Griggs doesn’t just play stoner rock; he is stoner rock.

The proof is in his wafer-thin frame and long hair, his pot-inspired album artwork, his imprisonment for possession of hash and his unapologetic devotion to classic psychedelic rock and proto-metal blues inspired by Blue Cheer, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple and Cream. It is so ingrained in every fiber of his being that one could argue that he arrived on the scene 40 years too late.

Yet before anyone accuses Griggs of being the musical equivalent of an acid flashback, consider the modest success Radio Moscow has earned in its short life during a time when boring, predictable, corporate-backed musicians rule the roost. To be sure, the “new is old philosophy” that applies to retrogressive predecessors like The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Amy Winehouse and Raphael Saadiq applies to Parker.

“When we started, there wasn’t anything like us going on,” said Parker, 27, from his California home. “There’s more of the old school influence starting to pick up now, but there’s still not a lot of it out there.”

When Parker began his musical journey in his parents’ basement in Story City, Iowa, he did so with the encouragement of his father who played guitar and the inspiration of the 1990s grunge and alternative rock movements.

“I got into that and started playing guitar and drums at the same time,” Griggs said. “I liked the rawness of it. It was something I could relate to.”

Griggs began recording under the solo alias Garbage Composal before adding bassist Serana Anderson to form Radio Moscow. The singer/songwriter/guitarist/drummer would pre-record drum tracks for the duo to play along to at shows.

“I recorded the drum tracks because we couldn’t find a drummer to play with us for such a long time,” Griggs said. “There’s not a lot of people to jam with.”

That would change after Griggs moved to Colorado in 2005 and attended a concert by The Black Keys. After the show, he gave the band’s merchandise manager a copy of his demo of instrumental tracks and his phone number. Later that night, The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach called him back to inform him that he dug it and wanted to work with Radio Moscow.

“I was pretty surprised the dude from The Black Keys was calling my phone that night. I’m glad he checked it out,” Griggs said.

Soon afterwards, Auerbach signed Radio Moscow to Alive Naturalsound Records, and Griggs and new bassist Luke McDuff traveled to Auerbach’s home in Akron, Ohio, to record the band’s self-titled debut album that would be released in 2007. Griggs said the experience was enjoyable and informative.

“He’s a pretty no-nonsense guy. We got it done in a few days and he helped me with my vocals, getting me to be more confident to sing,” he said.

That growing confidence can be heard on the band’s 2009 album “Brain Cycles” and 2011’s “The Great Escape of Leslie Magnafuzz.” The latest album features bassist Zach Anderson and Griggs on tunes like the wah-and-phased delirium of “Little Eyes,” the UK blues-rock of “Creepin’” and the Middle Eastern-inspired “Densaflorativa.”

This year might prove to the be the band’s most prolific and newsworthy to date. On Jan. 10, Alive Naturalsound will release a compilation of exclusive tracks from Radio Moscow and their label mates entitled “Where Is Parker Griggs?” to be followed later this year by an album of basement recordings Griggs recorded during his teen years in Iowa.
After concluding a tour next month with Swedish hard rockers Graveyard, Griggs will recruit replacements for Anderson and drummer Cory Berry because “they want to stay in the Midwest, and I want to stay in California.” He will also continue working on new material for an album he hopes to release later this year, while squeezing in a tour of Europe this spring.

“I guess I always wanted to try as hard as I could to make good music. I always wanted it to work out,” he said. CV