Radio Phoenix: music from earth, name from space

An interview with PSU’s hip-hop/funk/R&B trio

Did you know that listening to local music can add approximately 85,001 seconds to your lifespan? What’s that? No, I apologize, unfortunately the scientific journal was consumed by green wildfire. Cue Morgan Freeman narration: “From the ashes of that green inferno, a Radio Phoenix was born, and with it, dope beats were dropped.” Joining us to discuss the classification of said beats: Radio Phoenix, starring Ben Spriggs on keys, Lee Hauser on drums, and Alden Zac on bass.

Vanguard: First off, what type of genre would you use to label Radio Phoenix?

Alden: We usually go with “the funk/hip-hop/R&B trio.” Certain types of instrumentals can at times be right in your face, this is more of a “come listen to what we have to say”—not a “I’m going to force you to listen.”

Ben: Literally everything that we like. I mean we all have jazz backgrounds, so really everything that came out of jazz—as nebulous as that phrase is. We’d need a King Henry-esque type of a family tree to find each of the specific influences, but I’d say most of the later branches of jazz for sure.

VG: How did you come up with the name Radio Phoenix? How did the band form?

Ben: I went on to NASA’s site for whatever reason, and found an article about an electron cloud that resurfaced due to nearby star activity, some 1.6 billion light-years away from Earth. Hence the Phoenix rising from the ashes, but [NASA scientists] found the formation through radio waves. Ergo, Radio Phoenix.

Lee: Even the way the group came together was this sort of cosmic occurrence. When I first started going to PSU last year, the very first day I was on campus I passed a guy on the street who was handing out flyers for a rehearsal. I met Alden from that band, who knew Ben. Needless to say, without grabbing that flyer, who knows if we’d ever get together at all.

VG: I like it. So far you’ve released two EPs; any future projects we should be aware of?

Alden: So this spring we’re recording Live Beats: Vol. 1, which is up to fifteen hip-hop beats that we’re giving to our fan base as well as to other artists and producers who might be interested in using the tracks for their own recordings. On top of that, we back several singers and rappers from time to time. CJ Mickens, who was Oregon’s soloist of the year for 2016, just took us to the Roseland Theater, and we have an event coming up mid-February at the Paris Theatre. We also back a local singer, Moonbeam Kelly, who has a fantastic voice but hasn’t really had a band to play live with yet. We had a show scheduled, but unfortunately it was postponed due to the snow.

VG: With the closure of Jimmy Mak’s, how do you view the overall jazz scene in the city?

Alden: For people who play just jazz, Jimmy Mak’s closing could be a problem; it might hurt the PDX Jazz Fest as well. We deviate from [jazz] intentionally, which makes us more diverse, so-to-say, and is what we had in mind when we started playing together. 

Lee: I haven’t been in Portland long enough to know from first-hand experience, but it seems like it’s a lot of older guys playing in there 5–6 days a week, and the younger guys really have to know the older performers to have a chance to play there. Jimmy Mak’s was a pure jazz spot, with a great stage, so it’s definitely a loss to the community, but for younger performers especially, there are plenty of other spots in the city that you’re still able to play live venues: Solae’s Lounge, The 1905, Living Room Theaters.

VG: Favorite newer/older music?

Ben/Lee/Alden: Robert Glasper, Snarky Puppy, Hiatus Kaiyote, D’Angelo, Lettuce, Galactic, Marcus Miller—really anything that can be considered music for your brain and booty.

VG: Most memorable moment playing together?

Alden: The Roseland Theater with CJ Mickens. [Vanguard photo editor] Silvia’s house party. Actually, our first show on the road takes the cake—we played for a crowd in Seattle who were not expecting us at all. We ended up playing with all indie bands, and when we got on stage we went for it with some of our hardest, funkiest, most driven stuff; needless to say you could tell the crowd didn’t know how to feel. Afterward they told us we could crash at their office, so we go to this old warehouse downtown, and when we pull up to the warehouse, they immediately usher us inside. Long story short, inside of the place there are hundreds of old neon signs—apparently the dentist who owns the building is an avid collector—the rest of the warehouse is empty. We go to this corner office with a bookshelf and a few torn-up couches. Nothing special. Turns out the bookshelf leads into a secret room with a ton of records and a box of Red Vine licorice. Definitely one of the reasons why I love being a musician: the unexpected adventure.

VG: What advice do you have for people who want to form their own bands?

Ben/Lee/Alden: No winter tours, period. Winter’s a good time to write and to rehearse. Record all of your rehearsals and shows!

VG: Any last words?

Ben: Check us out! is our home site, from there you can explore our current music and our upcoming projects.