By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
This is, more than likely, the biggest crowd that has ever seen Radiant* in Deep Ellum. The place is beyond packed, and there's a line streaming out the front door onto the sidewalk. They probably won't all make it inside before the group is finished.
The members of the band--singer-guitarist Levi Smith, drummer Daniel Hopkins, guitarist Dragan Jakovljevic and Jon Schoemaker on bass and keys--don't seem too concerned by the amount of people here. Their conversation turns from Michael Jackson and the strongman competitions on ESPN to people passing out at Sigur Rós concerts and the merits and demerits of various local clubs. Nothing too serious.
Before we go any further, two things. One: The asterisk is part of the band's name; this isn't a Dave Eggers book. And two: This isn't a Radiant* gig either. The band is at the Angry Dog on Commerce Street, stuck in the middle of the lunch rush.
Maybe in the near future Radiant* will be bringing in crowds bigger than this one, and to actually hear them play music, but they're not to that point yet. They're still understudies, opening acts, waiting for their chance. The band hasn't even headlined a show around here yet. No rush, though, considering the group has only really been playing live for a year or so, since their first gig at the Galaxy Club. "We consider that the kickoff point for us," Smith says, over the din of the hungry crowd, "as far as where we finally nailed down our goals and what we want to do, where we want to play and that kind of thing."
Even before then, Radiant* was pushing in the right direction. The group's been busy since it formed a couple of years ago, releasing an album (2001's Year of Holidays) and recording two sets of seven songs during the next year or so, the latter of which will be released in the next month or so as The Sound of Splitting Atoms EP. And, actually, scratch what I said before. There's no maybe about the future of the band--or there shouldn't be, at least. This is a group destined for bigger and better. The members of Radiant* are too modest to say that, even if they believe it.
"That second seven songs was getting there," Smith says. "We all felt, after we recorded, we were like, 'We're almost there. We've got our sound. We've narrowed it down. Now we just need to keep working on it.' Our newest stuff, it's not there exactly where we want it, but we definitely feel we've found our sound and our direction."
Smith is a little too humble. One listen to The Sound of Splitting Atoms and it's clear why Radiant* won't be a bottom-of-the-bill band forever, or even for long. The disc grabs you in a hug from the first few notes of "Wondermaker" and doesn't let go until "Save Us" comes close to doing just that, suggesting a Texan version of Coldplay without putting too fine a point on it. That said, "Way You Make Me Feel" might be the best song not credited to Berryman/Buckland/Champion/Martin, bridging the gap between Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head with a chorus that knocks you to the floor and is nice enough to help you up after. It's rock music, but so much more--there's soul to spare, emotion you can't deny. You can't help but get caught up in it. Which is exactly what the group is after: "We want to make music that moves people," Hopkins says.
That's been the goal all along, but it took awhile to figure out exactly how they wanted to go about doing it. Hopkins met Smith through a mutual friend, and they were friends for more than a year before the idea of Radiant* came up. Schoemaker was dating a girl they both knew, so he fell into the fold easily. Jakovljevic--a friend of Schoemaker's who moved to Dallas from Bosnia almost four years ago--came aboard last, after the original guitarist left.
"The first thing we recorded, Dragan was just barely part of the band," Smith explains. "We had just lost our other guitar player, who wasn't a lead guitar player at all. I mean, I did all of the lead guitars and a lot of the vocals, and the other guy did vocals and guitars, too, but he left the band. Dragan had just started. So most of those songs weren't written as a group at all. Most of 'em, either I wrote or this other guy wrote. And Jon and Dan wrote a song.
"Since then," he continues, "we've really developed co-writing as a band, and that's helped our sound out tremendously, as far as everybody catching the vision for a song and being able to, you know, pull the right stuff out of it. Not to mention we'd only been playing together for six months when we recorded our first thing...And we were happy with that at the time. But we had such a huge variety of sound, you know, and it wasn't narrowed down to..."
"...a specific style," Hopkins says, finishing his sentence.
For a local band, especially one just starting out, finding your own voice is only part of the process. They also have to find a way out of the endless loop of Wednesday-night, five-bands-for-five-bucks shows, which is pretty much what the first Radiant* gig at Galaxy was. One thing that has helped the group move ahead is that it's sought out bands whose core audience could also become Radiant* fans, and it's found them in OHNO, Midlake and Eisley. They also bring a spool of CD-Rs to every show they play--each with a few songs and the band's Web address (www.radiantmusic.tv) on it--and hand them out to everyone who wants one, and even people who don't. "We think that's what's helped us, like, move a little faster, just the fact that we give out free music at every show," Hopkins says. "That gets the buzz around hopefully."
The plan is working so far. "I mean, it took a little bit of time, you know, to start playing shows and people hearing about you," Smith says. "But doors just started opening. You know, we'd play a show and people would like us and they'd call us back."
"We paid our dues, of course," Hopkins adds. "We still kind of are." Everyone laughs. "But I think we moved through it pretty fast, you know? Hopefully soon we'll be headlining some shows."
That might not be so important. Radiant* was recently invited to perform at this year's Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, Illinois, an annual gathering that brings in around 30,000 fans to see and hear more than 100 bands. The group is booked on Cornerstone's new band showcase, which happens to be the same slot Eisley played at last year's Cornerstone. Since then, Eisley signed with Warner Bros. and will release its first record for the label in May. And they still haven't really headlined a show in Dallas.
No reason the same thing can't happen for Radiant*. Not that anyone in the band is counting on it. Or anything. They just want to keep doing what they've been doing.
"Our main goal is to just really write songs with hope, you know, songs that inspire people to be better people--people who are in a bad place in life, to be able to lift them out of it. Rahim [Quazi] from OHNO said, 'When you guys play, it really changes a room, as far as just the spirit of it. It lifts people up.' That's really what we aspire to do. Everything we do, it goes back to that."