Jonathan Rado

Music Features Jonathan Rado
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Hometown: Westlake Village, Calif.
Record: Law and Order (out Sept. 3)
For Fans Of: Foxygen, Lou Reed, The Kinks

His name might be unfamiliar, but if you’re at all tuned in to the indie-rock hype machine—or if you’re a regular reader of this magazine—you’re already aware of Jonathan Rado’s work.

And as one-half of Foxygen, the 23-year-old multi-instrumentalist has already been through the wringer. After the band’s Richard Swift-produced breakthrough We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic was heralded as…well, a 21st century rock record full of the kind of peace and magic formerly doled out by the likes of The Kinks, The Rolling Stones and The Velvet Underground, a high-profile breakdown at SXSW and a canceled European tour in March led many to wonder if the young band had taken on too much too soon. More canceled dates followed just a few weeks ago when lead singer Sam France fell while climbing a monitor during a show, injuring his leg and requiring surgery.

“Things are still kind of tough in Foxygen just because it’s sort of hard being in a band with someone you’ve known for so long, your best friend in the whole world,” Rado says. “It’s like a classic story, you know? But we’re working on the next record, and it’s gonna be pretty good I think. I’m pretty excited about it. But I mean definitely not going to Europe for that month that we canceled was for the best. But obviously the things that are hard are still gonna be hard. Touring like, at all. You know, we’re not really good at touring.”

“Because when we got signed to a record label, we’d played like 10 live shows,” he continues. “We were in high school. And all of a sudden we were expected to be a touring band and do this professionally, and that was pretty hard to throw that on young kids, like ‘All right, hey, you know how you thought you’d have a life that was completely different than this? Here you go. Here’s this right here.’ You know, ‘Oh, you have a girlfriend? Oh, you’re not gonna see her. You’re gonna go on tour for a year.’ And that’s sort of a rough thing for a band that really isn’t so into it and wanting to tour for a year. And it’s not that we don’t like playing shows or regret any success that’s happened, but it is a toll on your personal life to tour, and it was a shock to us because we had never done that before and never expected to do that. There’s no learning how to do it; we just had to do it. And we discovered very fast that we really didn’t like it.”

What Rado does like, however, is writing and recording music—so much so that he does it every day, a frequency he plans on maintaining for the rest of his life. His solo debut, Law and Order, out Sept. 3 via Woodsist, is a result of that prolific tendency, a collection of odds and sods he penned and recorded at home between January and May of this year.

“I just did it in my apartment in New York. I have like a tiny—like it’s maybe the size of a walk-in closet in any larger home,” he says. “Like if there were people in there, you pretty much couldn’t walk into the room. So I had all my stuff in there just like on the floor, and I would set up drums and they would take up the whole room, and then I’d have to put them out in the hallway and set up something else, and it was all done in this hot, sweaty room, and for some reason I would always have a disco ball going. It was like a double-sided disco ball that would spin and go in this circle, and then the disco balls themselves would spin, so it was like this claustrophobic nightmare.” He laughs. “I did all but two tracks on this really, really shitty old TASCAM 8-track and only seven of the tracks worked. So yeah, I recorded everything on that.”

The result is an impressive collection of songs (perhaps surprisingly so when you consider the disco ball and the semi-functional 8-track). Foxygen fans will immediately latch onto cuts like the paisley-era-inspired “Faces” and the Johnny-and-June-style romp of “Hand in Mine,” but there are also a handful of instrumental tracks and a totally unexpected one Rado refers to as his “Bruce Hornsby song.” He sees his solo career as an opportunity to dig in to some genres outside of the Foxygen wheelhouse—as far out as hip hop.

“I definitely have some songs I’ve got that are definitely not Foxygen songs,” he says. “I’ve got some hip-hop stuff right now. I don’t know if I’ll ever release it in like a traditional, put it on a record label kind of sense, but I’ve been doing like, beats…But I can’t rap.” He laughs. “Like, I’m a terrible rapper. Like, it’s literally just me chewing on my finger giggling. That’s really the amount of thought that gets put into anything I do with my solo career, like, to potentially make my friends laugh or something. It’s always a joke or something, like if I want to do like a Bruce Hornsby song, I’ll just do that because I have the ability to and it’s hilarious to me, so I don’t know.

“Because most of the solo stuff I do is not going to be judged as harshly as Foxygen would be, because Foxygen is a buzz band and people are looking, and it would be really sort of confusing to people if there was—like, there’s a certain amount of care taken with Foxygen.”

He’s right that a Foxygen comedy record probably would raise a few eyebrows—especially when, less than an hour after our interview, touring member (and girlfriend of France) Elizabeth Fey makes a pretty serious Tumblr post, painting him as cold and controlling and adding fuel to the breakup rumors. (Save for a tweet from the Foxygen account that simply reads “ALWAYS, DEFINITELY, BELIEVE THE INTERNET,” Rado declined to comment on Fey’s post.)

But outside of Foxygen, Jonathan Rado’s just a goofy guy with an affinity for genre music and a broken 8-track. While his primary band may require a certain amount of care, his solo work is breezy, delivered with a wink. And there’ll be plenty more to follow Law and Order:

“I’m just always doing stuff with Foxygen and without it,” Rado says. “Forever and always I will be doing that.”

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