The band Radiant Children is moving into a new studio.
Tyler Acord, Marco Bernardis and Fabienne Holloway are standing in an empty room with green walls in North London — once a temporary space for them to lay down tracks while their permanent studio was under construction. The new spot is right across the street; they don’t have to go far. But it was important for them to have a space all their own. Creatively speaking, they’re interested in freedom, doing their own thing. But on a more practical note, they were paying out of pocket for studio time. Acord said they shelled out hundreds of dollars per hour to mix their recently released EP “Tryin.’”
“I was like, dude, we can’t do this,” Acord remembers. “It would be sick to just have one place that’s professional-grade where we can just do everything: write, record, mix, just complete our work.”
They’re going to need it. The band, which first caught the attention of American listeners after two of their songs were featured on Issa Rae’s show “Insecure,” is heading on a debut U.S. tour. In many ways, they’re just getting started from a mainstream point of view — but they’ve been creating tunes all their lives. Although Bernardis and Holloway are English (from Newdigate in Surrey, and Bratford, respectively), Acord hails from Lake Stevens, a town 45 minutes north of Seattle. He says if anyone told him 13 years ago that he’d link up with two Brits to “make crazy music” he would never have believed them. Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. But a unifying dedication to music, need for creative independence and constant search for authenticity in a sea of contrived personal brands keeps them gelled.
An obsession with musicality united them before they had even met. Bernardis grew up hearing the Oakland soul band Tower of Power on his mom’s car radio. At that time, he consumed everything he could get his hands on by Average White Man, James Brown and the JBs. Meanwhile, in Washington, Acord says his childhood was surrounded by pop bands like the Backstreet Boys and what he refers to as “skater music” — Blink-182 and the like. But he wasn’t into that; he liked Jurassic 5, Stevie Wonder and various metal and hardcore punk bands.
“I was living this double life,” he says. “None of my friends in metal bands understood why I listened to Al Green, and none of my friends who liked Al Green — there were very few of them — understood the metal thing.” Once he attended classes at Seattle’s Cornish College of Arts, he then tumbled headfirst into jazz.
Holloway, who has a contemplative nature about her and deep creases around her mouth, says she was raised by a single mother who gave birth at a young age. Her mom loved Erykah Badu (which, at times, you can hear in Holloway’s voice — just a tinge of it at the very end of a note), and Mary J. Blige — especially her “What’s the 411?” album. As a child, Holloway spent lots of time alone in her room writing and listening to all the greatest divas: Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, trying to figure out how they generated such raw passion in their tones.
Separately, the members of Radiant Children got their start in the industry working for other artists. Lead singer Holloway made music with Janelle Monae, producer Acord bounced around — from hardcore bands to electronic music, then R&B folks like Gallant and H.E.R. — and multi-instrumentalist Bernardis worked with Moss Kena. They all agree they learned a lot from these musicians, and soaked up every moment of time, every lesson they could. But during major-label sessions particularly, things were planned out, signature sounds couldn’t be compromised and personal brands had to be on point. This ethos didn’t jibe, no matter how much Acord, Bernardis and Holloway respected and worked around it.
Then Acord met Bernardis. They had one good session that turned into two good sessions, which then became three. While working on a project together, Bernardis flew to Los Angeles to do some writing with Holloway. Acord came along, and the trio ended up having a day off at the same time.
“I remember going to the studio and we were like, ‘Oh, we’ll take it easy today,’” Bernardis says. “We were in there for 14 hours. We wrote the craziest tune, we were buzzing off of it. From then on, we just wanted to keep chasing that feeling.”
What resulted was “Tryin’”: a slim volume of five songs, trimmed of all fat, that spans the genres of funk, jazz, classical, soul and pop. The thing came together in a wholly organic manner — the band didn’t follow a detailed framework of what they wanted each song to sound like or represent.
“When I was writing lyrics, it was a look at myself, and advice for us,” Holloway says. “A lot of it was notes that I’d written in my journal just to try and stay sane. It’s only now that the EP is out in the world and looking at it that we’re like, ‘That is a body of work and there is a thread.’ But you don’t know that when you’re just pouring your heart out.”
From inside the empty green room, where their memories of past lessons lie, Acord, Bernardis and Holloway sign off. But before they do — before they move into the new spot and start getting ready to tour the United States — the producer says one last thing. It’s a message of where they’ve come from, and where they intend to go. It says everything about what they’re trying to do as a band, and what’ll surely happen the second they step foot in their new studio.
“We just pull from a bunch of different places and are really cautious of it,” Acord says. “I have been in a situation where it’s like, ‘We’re gonna do a song like this!’ or ‘We’re gonna do a song like that!’ And you end up just making a s–t version of it. When you go in and all the years of you listening to music take over, it just happens naturally.”
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